December 30, 2012

Two Easy Ways To Lose Belly Fat

OK, to lose belly fat you need to do all of the below, but “two easy and two hard ways to lose belly fat” is not quite as catchy.

  • Eat and drink less.  You already know this, but you cannot lose weight or fat without it.  Pay special attention to your liquid intake.  Whatever you think of Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative, he is correct about the detrimental effect of empty calories.  Soda, juice, lattes, and all types of alcohol (there is a reason it is called “beer belly”) can add up to major calories. Cutting back can make a significant difference in how you look and feel.
  • Do HIIT (high intensity interval training) at least twice a week. Start slowly, just ten second intervals followed by thirty to sixty seconds of active rest, and build up to high intensity intervals of one minute.  Almost any type of activity will do; walking, running, biking, plyometrics or swimming.  Try ten seconds of going as fast or hard as you can.  Keep in mind that what is high intensity for you will not be the same for someone else.  My running “sprint” is probably equivalent to my triathlete daughter’s warm-up.  You should get close to breathless, then recover at a slower pace and repeat.  This type of training helps the body stay in a higher gear; you will burn more calories the rest of the day.  This greater metabolic demand will help you get rid of that stubborn belly fat. You can also workout for a shorter period; ten to twenty minutes of true HIIT can replace up to forty minutes of steady state endurance training. 
The two easy ways:
  • Get more sleep.  Study after study has shown that rest is critical to weight loss.  Many attribute it to a hormonal change caused by sleep deprivation.  Decrease in one (leptin) makes it harder to stop eating, and the increase in another (ghrelin) causes you to want to eat more.  Many of us also eat more when we feel tired.  Getting enough sleep will help your body crave only the calories it really needs.
  • Get a massage. Stress causes an increase in cortisol, another hormone, which makes us hold onto fat.  Women in particular are prone to high cortisol levels in response to stress.  It does not have to be a massage, but search out ways to decrease your stress level.  A walk, book or hug may work for you; just make sure it is not food!  Take time to treat yourself, and you may see your waist decrease as your energy goes up and your stress goes down.

December 16, 2012

No Fitness Post This Week

There is nothing I could write this week that would not seem senseless or trivial.  I cry for pain that I can only imagine.  There will always be sick and evil people in the world; however, we need to ask why our country leads the world in such senseless tragedies. Guns are not the only problem; look at the violence in our tv shows, movies and games.  How many children are playing shoot to kill video games right now?  When did pretending to kill in graphic violent games become considered fun? We may blame it on the mentally ill, but with funding decreased, how can we identify and help those who are sick?  Look at the media and the coverage of mass murders; you know the killers, but do you know the names of the victims?
No one is talking about taking guns from sane and responsible gun owners, but opponents of gun control block laws to keep them from the criminal and mentally ill. I have yet to see anyone come up with a remotely plausible need for assault rifles.  
These are the names of the adults killed by the shooter at the school.  All were school employees, who died protecting their students. I cannot even contemplate writing the names of the children.  Remember also the unnamed teachers who helped keep so many others safe. 
Mary Sherlach,
Anne Marie Murphy
Lauren Rousseau
Dawn Hochsprung
Rachel Davino
Victoria Soto
Perhaps we can honor their memory with a civil discourse on our problems.  Take responsibility for your own words and behavior.  May we all hug our loved ones and seek to make this a better world.    

December 9, 2012

Eight More Holiday Survival Tips

In honor of Chanukah (a happy one to all who celebrate), here are eight easy ways to stay healthy:
  1. Park further away: You will burn a few more calories, and save yourself the frustration of circling for a space.
  2. Shop locally: You will save gas, help the local economy and get some fresh air.
  3. Drink one glass of water before each meal: You will eat less and stay hydrated.
  4. Share a fun activity after a big meal: If you can’t convince everyone to go for a walk, suggest flag football, ice skating or turn on the music and dance.
  5. Choose a slinky dress or snug pants:  Your clothes will tell you when you have eaten enough.
  6. Limit alcohol consumption: You will avoid empty calories and the reduction in willpower.
  7. Chew gum while cooking: It will be harder to consume extra “tasting” calories.
  8. Do just ten minutes of exercise: Even ten minutes can burn a few calories and help keep blood pressure and blood sugar in check.

December 2, 2012

Have Your Cake And Eat It Too

Okay, I admit I never quite got this cliché (I mean really, if I have my cake why can’t I eat it?), but the reverse seems appropriate for this time of year.  Defend yourself against the onslaught of fattening goodies by making a healthier version yourself.  Volunteer to bring it to a party or dinner, so you CAN have cake and eat it too.
Most baked goods can be made with fewer calories and less fat with little change in flavor:

  • Substitute unsweetened applesauce for an equal amount of butter or oil in muffins, quick breads and cakes.  (This does not work in cookies or pies).  Experiment with switching out up to 75%, the texture may be a bit denser, but the flavor will not change. 
  • Use skim milk instead of whole; this is another switch that will pass unnoticed.
  • Try using less sugar or one of the sugar blends.  Most baked goods can handle a reduction in sweetness.
  • Substitute two egg whites for one egg, you will save fat and calories.
  • Brownies are an easy place to hide healthy ingredients.  You can blend in pureed white or black beans in place of up to half the shortening.  Try an equal amount of pureed silken tofu to replace half the oil without shortchanging the flavor. 
Of course, you do not want to incorporate all these changes at once, but each of them can make treats a little healthier, while leaving the deliciousness.  Just don’t make the mistake of advertising your ingredients in advance: Wait until everyone has complimented your black bean brownies, then you can let them know the secret ingredient.

November 25, 2012

Barre Method: Risk Or Benefit?

The Barre (Bar/Pure Barre/Physique 57) Method is a workout fad touted by several celebrities and passionate fans.  Classes promise long lean muscles and pound shredding workouts, but do they live up to their promises?
First off, these classes are nothing new.  In fact, they are very similar to the original Jane Fonda workout from the 80’s.  They do a variety of movements inspired by ballet (at the bar), combined with core conditioning and flexibility.  Participants perform multiple repetitions of each exercise, flexing and pulsing, until their muscles shake and burn.   However, just because it is painful does not mean the exercise is effective. Continuing through pain can lead to sloppy form and injury. Most classes have little warmup or cooldown, and the stretches are not held long enough to increase flexibility.  The classes focus on spot reducing (a big myth), and there is no cardio or full body strength work.  You may see results at first (if you are new to exercise or dramatically change your routine), but there can be little progression in this type of class.  In addition, many instructors are not certified as group fitness instructors, leaving safety and correction of form a chancy gamble.  That said, if you believe you need the burn to get an effective workout, and you enjoy this type of class, go for it.  Just make sure to watch your form, and get your cardio and strength work in elsewhere.

November 18, 2012

Six Tips To Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

The season has come; time to worry about holiday weight gain.  Truth is most Americans only gain between one and two pounds over the holidays, however, most hold onto those pounds, and year after year it adds up.  Some strategies to prevent the weight creep:
1. Choose well: Do not try to sample everything.  The more variety, the more likely you are to overeat.  Pick just a few special dishes; take the time to really enjoy the food.  Ask yourself if it is worth it (really, stale fruitcake?), before every bite.
2.  Eat before you go: Do not starve yourself before a big meal or event.  This usually backfires with gorging and extra calories.
3.  Get over a setback: If you have overdone it at one meal, do not use it as an excuse to throw healthy eating out the window.
4.  Drink one glass of water between every drink:  Whether it is alcohol, soda or eggnog, most beverages are merely empty calories.  Drink a glass of water in between and you will be less likely to over indulge on liquid calories.
5.  Give what you would like to receive:  If you bring a fruit basket instead of candy, your hosts and friends will be more inclined to do the same.  Perhaps we can slow the regifting of cookies and candies and nudge the population into a healthier cycle.
6.    Move more:  If you do not have time for your regular workout, up the intensity, but go for a shorter period.

Remember, the holiday itself lasts only a few hours.  It is the days after that can really add to permanent weight gain.  Refuse or give away leftovers.  You will be left with room for healthier choices.

November 11, 2012

Think You're Fit? Better Not Sit!

Many of us are complacent that our three (or even seven) day a week cardio workouts protect us from health risks such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  However, a recent study corroborates what other studies have shown; if you sit too much, your exercise routine is not enough to counterbalance the damage caused by underactivity the rest of the day.
It makes sense if you think about it; even if you exercise an hour a day (and how many of us do even that?), you still have another 23 to account for.  The women in this recent study (who were regular exercisers) still sat for an average of nine hours a day!  And nine hours of sitting a day is what most Americans do.  Unfortunately, exercise is not enough to counterbalance the health effects of such long periods of inactivity. 
To offset this negative effect, make an effort to get up at least every fifteen minutes.  This does not mean you need to go out for a jog.  Stand up when on the phone, walk around your desk, walk to your colleague instead of sending an e-mail. You can download reminder apps for your phone or computer to make sure you get up every fifteen minutes.  You will get a physical break, the movement will  refresh you, keep you mentally sharp, and may help stave off the damage of inactivity.

Lynette L Craft, Theodore W Zderic, Susan M Gapstur, Erik H VanIterson, Danielle M Thomas, Juned Siddique, Marc T Hamilton. Evidence that women meeting physical activity guidelines do not sit less: An observational inclinometry study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 2012; 9 (1): 122 DOI:

November 4, 2012

Women And Weights

I am astonished that I still hear women say they do not want to lift weights because they are afraid to “bulk up”.  Just look at this picture of my beautiful friend Janet McGovern, and you will see the proof that muscles make curves.
I do not want to get your hopes up; you will never get a body like this by doing hundreds of reps with 3-pound dumbbells.  You do need to lift some serious weights.  I am sure Janet would be the first to tell you how hard she works.  In addition, this picture is of her in competition shape; where grueling workouts and stringent dieting are the norm.  Bulking up?  Most women simply do not have the testosterone to get huge.
However, you do not have to work out as hard as Janet to get the benefits (aesthetic, mental and physical) from lifting weights:
  1. The more muscle you have the more calories you burn at rest.  This is why most men have an easier time losing body fat than women.
  2. Weight training helps build stronger bones, helping to prevent osteoporosis.
  3. You will live longer. According to Tufts University, two of the biomarkers of longevity are muscle mass and strength.
  4. Women with a leaner (more muscular) body mass have a lower incidence of diabetes.
  5. Yes, you will get a great butt and look better.
  6. You will feel better and be able to do more.  Is this not the best reason of all; how could anyone not love feeling strong?

October 29, 2012

No Power? No Gym? No Problem!

Use this quick workout to keep you fit when other options disappear:

Warm up 3-5 minutes by slowly walking up and down your stairs and around your house.
Sprint up and down the stairs 5 times.
Walk slowly around the house for 1 minute.
Do 20 squats. (See this post for tips on form:
Repeat the stair sprints and the walk.
Do 20 back lunges each leg.
Repeat the sprint and walk.
Do 20 perfect form pushups (You can use your knees or a wall if your form is not perfect for all 20). (See this post for pushup form:
Repeat the sprints and the walk.
Do 20 triceps dips.
Repeat the sprint and walk.
Do a plank for 20 seconds. (See this post for form on planks)
Repeat the sprint and walk.
Keep walking until your heart rate and breathing are normal.

(No stairs? Do 45 seconds of jumping jacks instead)

October 21, 2012

Should You Work Out Before Breakfast?

My friend’s daughter overheard a fitness instructor tell his students to “skip breakfast so they can burn more fat”.  I am happy to say that her daughter was horrified by this, and she is right: For years some exercise professionals have been telling their clients to work out before breakfast to burn more fat.

The reverse is true.  Recent research shows that you burn more calories and fat when you eat a light breakfast before exercise.  Metabolism increases during and after the session for those who eat, compared to those who fast. 
In addition, you should know that the area of nutrition advice is a big controversy in the fitness industry.  Nutrition is critical to a healthy lifestyle and weight loss, and trainers should be up to date with the latest information.  However, only a RD (Registered Dietician) is qualified to give specific dietary advice.  In most states, anyone can call him or herself a nutritionist, but there are strict standards for RDs.  Be very wary when listening to advice (or buying supplements) from a personal trainer who is not a RD.
For those who are just not hungry in the morning, you should know that study after study show that those who eat breakfast weigh less and have a lower rate of diabetes than those who skip.  Try eating something light, such as a yogurt and fruit or whole wheat toast with peanut butter, you will have a better workout, burn more fat and calories, and feel better all day.

Paoli, A., Marcolin, G., Zonin, F. Neri, M. Sivieri, A., and Pacelli, Q.F. (2011). Exercising fasting or fed to enhance fat loss? Influence of food intake on respiratory ratio and excess postexercise oxygen consumption after a bout of endurance training. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 21, 48-54.

October 14, 2012

The Myths Of Zumba

When people learn that I teach Zumba, they often say, “I can’t do Zumba, I’m too uncoordinated (have two left feet, can’t shake my hips, can’t dance etc).”  I tell them they are missing the whole point of Zumba.  Zumba is not a dance class; it is a party that happens to be a great workout.  The beauty of Zumba is that anyone can do it.  There is no right or wrong as long as you move. Some instructors abuse the principle and turn Zumba into a hip-hop or dance class.  If you stumble into one, try another; do not assume all Zumba classes are like that.
Music is a big part of Zumba’s success (most health clubs, gyms and fitness studios now have Zumba classes on the schedule).  Zumba gives each instructor freedom to choose his or her own music, but classes should include 70% international music, especially Latin based, with the remaining 30% up to the individual instructor. This is why Zumba can seem so different from class to class, the music is an essential part.   
The main drawback with Zumba is the failure of the Zumba fitness company to insist that each instructor be certified for group fitness. It is highly recommended, but not required.  Unfortunately, some of the licensees do not follow this recommendation; therefore, you should check that your instructor has an accredited group fitness instructor certification before taking class.  
Zumba has branched out by adding other variations, including classes geared to baby boomers, seniors and kids.  The Zumba Toning classes use light weight training sticks that purport to increase toning and sculpting.  The drawback is the sticks are really too light to do much “toning”, and the use of weights (even light weights) at a fast tempo increase the risk of injury.  This is especially true when unqualified instructors lead; I have watched Zumba Toning classes that make me cringe.
One other myth you may have heard is that Zumba burns 800 calories a class.  Zumba is a great workout, but you would have to work at an extreme high intensity to burn that many calories.  Most Zumba classes combine a mix of high and low intensity songs to give an interval like effect.  One would need a full hour of all high intensity songs to come near to burning 800 calories.  Zumba burns about as many calories as any aerobic type activity (spinning, treadmill etc).  Take Zumba because it is fun and a great aerobic workout, but don’t expect to burn 800 calories.  Their catch phrase is “party yourself into shape”, try it, you may find it to be true.

October 7, 2012

Rest For Better Results

The most neglected part of many fitness programs is rest. Progress from training occurs during the recovery, not from the training itself.  Your body repairs and strengthens during rest; continuous training can actually make you weaker. If you workout every day you need to create a routine that allows your muscle groups and energy systems to recover.
This does not mean you need to rest every other day, but you should cycle your workout to ensure this repair process.  This is why many lift weights every other day, or split their routine to work different muscle groups on different days.  Cross training is another great way to aid your body.   Running and swimming are great aerobic complements, as they each stress different muscle groups.  If you do high intensity workouts then a rest day is even more essential, some may need more than one day to recover.  For those who feel too guilty to take a day off, aim for active recovery after a high intensity day.  This means an activity that is easier for you, for example if you ran some serious hills, take an easy jog on the flats.
For athletes and those into serious training, periodization is highly recommended.  This is a structured program that can be up to a year long.  It breaks training into various cycles that can include preparation, competition and transition.  This allows for maximum preparation and rest to avoid injury and overtraining.  You can do this with any activity.  One example is to lift heavy weights for strength one cycle, and for endurance (lighter weights with more reps) on another cycle.  However you choose, just make sure to give your body adequate rest (including sleep), and it will thank you by showing you better results.

September 23, 2012

Five Common Weight LossTraps To Avoid:

1.      Thinking it is ok to eat more because you exercised.  Exercise is key to keeping weight off, but one hour on the treadmill does not give you license for a second dessert.  Ignore the “calories burned” display (they are seldom accurate), and treat yourself with a non-food reward.
2.      Maintaining that you do not eat much.  Most people severely underestimate how much they eat.  The only way to be accurate is to keep a food journal, and to record each item when you eat it.
3.     Eating only “low fat, low carb, organic, vegan, vegetarian, natural or gluten free foods”.  None of these terms mean low calorie (or are necessarily even healthy).  Read labels, make note of ingredients, nutrition data, and especially serving size.
4.      Keeping your exercise routine the same.  Not only is this boring, but your body will adapt, and results will be harder to come by.  Change up your sessions, add intervals, try a different machine or class.
5.       Hating to exercise.  It is almost impossible to keep weight off without exercise.  If you hate it, I believe you just have not found the mode right for you.  I go into each class and session with a client hoping to make it the highlight of her day.  That may be a little too optimistic, but I feel there is an enjoyable fitness option for everyone.  Zumba is popular because it is fun and accepting of all, boot camps are popular for the sense of camaraderie and “getting through it” they inspire.  Keep trying, and you will find an activity that makes you feel and look good.

September 16, 2012

An Easy Roll To Pain Relief

The tennis ball is great tool for reducing pain all over the body.  (See link:  Using it under your foot is also a great example of how our whole body works as a unit: By releasing the fascia in your feet, you can reduce pain in connected areas of your body.
Try this experiment: Reach down to try to touch your toes, do not push or bounce, just notice how far you can go.   Next take a tennis ball and roll it under your foot (without shoes), and apply a little pressure.  Take about 30 seconds for each foot.  If you feel any sore areas, pause over that spot, point and flex your toes until the soreness lessens.  Once you have done both feet try to touch your toes again; you will notice a big difference. This is because the connective tissue that surrounds our muscles forms lines that wrap around our body.  The fascia at the bottom of the feet is also connected to our hamstrings and back.  Releasing this fascia with the tennis ball helps everything “let go”.
Try this simple move twice a day (before and after your workout are ideal times).  Some may feel more results with a golf ball, but the technique is the same.   Whether you exercise or not, this easy step will help you move and feel better.

September 9, 2012

Is The Biggest Loser Bad For Personal Training?

Whether you are inspired or repelled by the The Biggest Loser and other weight loss “reality” shows, I can tell you that most in the fitness industry are horrified. Contestants perform high-risk exercises in poor form, they are shouted at and humiliated.  Trainers yell and belittle the clients while showing no regard for progression or form.
The concern of many in the fitness industry is that consumers will believe this to be normal behavior for personal trainers.  There is also the worry that many will believe losing hundreds of pounds is achievable with the “right” trainer.  Remember that the producers of these shows decide exactly what we do and do not see. The shows are edited for dramatic effect, and you can be sure that the mundane and tedious are left in the digital equivalent of a cutting room floor.
Despite the tactics, one cannot argue with the results, in fact they are life changing.  However, while it is never easy to lose weight, results are practically guaranteed when you are removed from your home environment and monitored by nutritionists, personal trainers, psychiatrists and medical personnel.  Were we all to have those resources available (and free) there would be no obesity crisis.  On the positive side, the shows do emphasize personal responsibility, making it harder to blame obesity on McDonald's or soda, but their extreme training methods make them hard for me to watch.  I do not agree that these shows are “ruining personal training”, but we should all remember when watching these “reality” shows, that it is just TV.

August 26, 2012

How To Afford A Personal Trainer

Before you can fire your trainer ( you need to be able to afford one.  There are several easy ways to economize:
1. Train at off peak hours.  Most trainers are busy in the morning, late afternoon and evenings.  If you have flexibility in your schedule, see if you can find a trainer who will discount an early or mid afternoon session.
2.  Book a shorter session.  If an hour is out of your price range, book for 30 or 45 minutes. Suggest that you perform your warm-up and cool down on your own.
3.  Share a session.  If you have a friend with similar goals, see if you can split the cost.
4.  Try small group training.  Many gyms and training studios offer small group classes.  These are a great way to get personal instruction at a reduced cost. 
5.  Buy just a few sessions.  Ask the trainer to write a program for you to follow on your own.  You will benefit from an assessment and an individualized plan.   Arrange to meet with the trainer a few times a year to update your program.
6. Barter.  See if the trainer will accept your services or products in exchange for training sessions.

August 5, 2012

Six Reasons To Fire Your Personal Trainer

  1. He talks on the phone, chats with other gym members or texts during your session.  (This is your time, need I say more?)
  2. She sells or recommends vitamins or supplements, or gives you a diet to follow.  Personal trainers should be up to date on nutrition, but unless your trainer is a Registered Dietician, she is stepping out of her field of practice by the above.
  3. He times how many reps you can do in a minute.  Competition, either with yourself or a fellow trainee can be fun and motivating on occasion, but it mostly leads to poor form, and eventually injury.
  4. She gives you the same program as every other client.  We all have different goals and fitness levels, if the program is not individualized, what are you paying for?
  5. He gives you the same exercises every session.  It is true that you will see strength gains when you repeat the same exercise over time, but if you never change your routine your muscles will adapt, and you will hit a plateau.
  6. She yells or pushes you too hard.  This is another avenue to injury.  You should never be in pain after a session.

There are plenty of excellent trainers out there, do not let yourself settle for less than the best.

July 29, 2012

Less Can Be More

The longer days of summer offer a chance for many to step up their fitness programs.  Others find that changed schedules and vacations make it harder to maintain their exercise.  A frequent question I hear is, “how long does it take to lose my conditioning?”
The good news is that research shows that your fitness level can be maintained if you keep your intensity up.  If you totally stop exercising, the reversal of your fitness gains can occur within one to two weeks.  However, even if you workout for shorter periods of time, and less frequently, if you workout just as intensely you will not lose your conditioning.  This goes for aerobics and resistance training.  For example, if you usually do two sets of lifting weights four days a week, you will not lose strength if you only lift one set two days a week, but lift the same amount of weight.  Do not allow missing a few workouts to deter you from your goal; workout just as intensely and you will be able to get right back on track when your schedule allows.

Swank Ann M. Maintaining Your Fitness Gains. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal. 2012:16(4):35-36.

July 22, 2012

Five Ways To FIre Up Weight Loss

!. Give up on the “magic pill”.  Despite the infomercials, there are no quick fixes or easy ways to lose weight. Those who lose weight quickly usually put it right back on, and add a few pounds in the process.  Ask yourself how long it took to put the weight on.  Take it off slowly and you are more likely to keep it off.
2. Write it down.  Keep a journal of what you eat, as well as your physical activity.  Most people underestimate how much they really eat.  Keeping an honest account will make you more aware, and inspire you to eat less: Seems most people do not want to write down that second piece of cake, so a journal helps them avoid eating it.
3.  Measure your food until you are familiar with appropriate portions (  Read labels carefully.  A quick glance of a product might show only 100 calories per serving, but the package that you demolish in 5 minutes may contain two servings.
4. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.  You can do it all at once, or in 10 minute chunks.  Exercise helps raise your metabolism (which slows as you lose weight), and plays a crucial role in keeping the weight off.
5.  Before you eat anything, focus in on your hunger.  Are you really hungry, or do you just feel like eating?  Are you stressed, tired or bored?  Are you eating out of habit (tv goes on, food goes in)?  Identify the real reasons causing you to eat.  You may find that you are not really hungry. Change the habit causing that trigger and the hunger (and pounds) will melt away.

July 14, 2012

Beware The Smith Machine

I will brave it and take on another fitness staple; the Smith Machine.  The Smith Machine is a weighted bar that locks into place to allow you to perform squats, bench presses and lunges.  It is theoretically safer because the bar can be secured at any point during the movement, giving you the “safety” of lifting heavy weights without a spotter.
The main problem with this is that it locks you into one plane of motion.  There is a good chance that this is not your natural movement.  Performing a squat or lunge in such a fixed pattern can lead to back, neck and knee problems.  A bench press in such a fixed position leads to stress on the shoulders.  Since the machine helps balance and stabilize the weight, the tendency is to lift heavy, compounding the problem.  In addition, our bodies are made to move in 3D, and the straight up and down motion takes that away. 
If you have been relying on the Smith Machine, switch to dumbbells or barbells.  Without the machine to lean on you may need to lessen the weight, but you will work your stabilizing muscles, increasing your balance and coordination. 

July 1, 2012

Do You Tell Rational Lies?

Are you telling yourself rational lies?  Rationalizing is something we all do, but it is especially common in health and fitness.  However, most rational lies are just dressed up excuses. Below are some rational lies you may be telling yourself about fitness:
  • “No time to workout”.  Do you think all those who do workout have more free time than you do?  Of course not, they have simply prioritized exercise. Take a realistic look at your schedule; how many hours do you spend at the tv or computer?  You may choose to keep sitting, but admit that the screen is your priority, not that you have no time to exercise.
  • “I’m too tired to workout.”  Most of us are exhausted from our stressful and busy lives, but exercise is a better energizer than caffeine.  Force yourself into “just five minutes” of activity, and you will probably find you feel good enough to complete a workout.
  • “I have back/knee/hip/etc problems.”  Exercise makes almost every physical ailment better.  Find a reputable trainer and learn to strengthen the muscles supporting the injured area, you will feel better all over.
  • “I can’t afford a gym”.  This may be true, but walking and running are free. If you are on medication for diabetes, high blood pressure or cholesterol, sticking with a fitness program can lower your medical costs as your need for medication goes down.
Rethink your rationalizations, are they a real barrier or rational lies?  Take responsibility for each one and you will be left with no excuses and the results you want.

June 24, 2012

A Plea To The Fitness Industry

I am posting this on the blog with hopes you will add this link to your Facebook page, and that you will forward it to any fitness professionals you know.  Next week I will resume my usual posts.  Thanks for your help:

To all fitness professionals:
For those of you lucky enough to work in the fitness industry, I ask that you start to question about where the industry is going.  I know research backs the effectiveness of metabolic/interval/HIIT/boot camp type training programs.  I have read the studies promoting the effectiveness of HIIT for even deconditioned people, and yet I ask if this is the path the fitness industry should take. 
Look at any of the brochures for fitness conferences and you will see at least a three to one ratio of hard core type classes compared to those designed for the less fit.  Certainly a few sedentary people may brave (and succeed at) high intensity classes, but, we are preaching to the converted.  Most of those who love these high intensity workouts do not need us.  They would work out on their own.  We are missing the huge inactive population, and I believe, turning them off.  High intensity may be effective, but it is not going to draw the sedentary into fitness.  The beauty of HIIT may be that you can achieve better results in less time, but many in the industry seem to promote it as an excuse to workout harder and harder.
If you are only out to make money then you may not care whether we reach the inactive.  However, most of us got into fitness because we love it and want to share it with and help others.  We cannot reach the majority by training the minority.  I am not saying to give up on HIIT or on training the fit. However, we do not need to spend so much of our time finding new ways to make exercises harder and more complex. The inactive make up the majority of our population.  If we work together to find a way to reach them, we will have more clients and have made a real contribution to the health of our nation.

June 10, 2012

Think Small For Big Results

Most people fail at their dieting or exercise resolutions because they have set unrealistic goals.  Upon hitting a roadblock (going off a diet or missing an exercise session), they give up, using the detour as an excuse to pack it all in.
Instead of setting huge goals that few can achieve, aim for success by finding small changes that you can actually stick with.  Try to make just one change a month, and your success will keep you motivated, making a healthier you.
  • Give up one soda a day: This will save you over 54,000 calories a year, which can help you lose 15 pounds!
  • Drink two glasses of water before one meal each day.  You are likely to eat 100 calories less at that meal; adding up to a loss of another 10 pounds a year.
  • Switch the milk in your coffee to skim, or even better; drink it black. That small amount of whole milk (or cream) can add up to 100 calories a day.
  • Go for a 20 minute walk after dinner.  Even a leisurely pace can burn up to 60 extra calories, adding to a loss of about 6 pounds in a year.
  • If you are exercising, add one interval session a week.  Intervals (see post from Sept. 30, 2010) will help you burn more calories before and after exercise.
These are just a few ideas of relatively easy ways to improve your health.  The important thing is to pick something you can succeed at.  Try just one at a time, and you will find that thinking small can lead to big results.

June 4, 2012

Vote For This Blog

This blog has been nominated for best blog of 2012. Scroll to the bottom of this page to "25 Best Fitness Blogs", click on "view this list", scroll to me and "like" (that's your vote).

June 3, 2012

Beware The HIIT

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is getting lots of press.  For good reason; it works. HIIT involves alternating short intervals of very high intensity with longer intervals of active recover or rest. Training like this (previously reserved for athletes) can get you results in a shorter amount of time.  New studies are showing that HIIT can be effective for clinical populations, including those with cardiac disease or metabolic conditions such as diabetes.
This does not mean that those with high-risk conditions should be running to Boot Camps, CrossFit, Tabata, P90X or other such high intensity programs.  You need to be prescreened by a physician (he or she should know the specifics about the program you plan to follow) and carefully monitored.  Ideally, such a program would be undertaken one on one. 
If your only option is a group class, make sure you watch before you participate.  In a group class it is easy to be caught up in the high intensity environment. "Workout until you vomit" is the unbelievable mantra of some of the more extreme instructors and participants.  Keep in mind that a high intensity interval for you may be a fast walk, even if the rest of the class is sprinting.  Resist any pressure to do more than what is appropriate for you. Many seem to believe that pain and sweat are indications of a good workout.  Check to see if there is air conditioning.  If you are in a high-risk category, exercising in the heat is not a great idea.  The instructor should be watching participants and correcting their form.  One hundred pushups is not a great achievement (and can cause serious injury) if they are done with poor form.
If your doctor clears you, and you opt to choose HIIT training, you need to build a base layer of fitness first, gradually increasing training about 10% a week.  Once you start the HIIT program, do no more than one day a week at first.  Two and perhaps three sessions can be gradually added in, but never more than three.  This goes for the already fit, your body rebuilds with rest; no one should be doing more than three HIIT workouts a week. You still need to do moderate intensity training another three to five days a week. The benefits of HIIT can be great, but the risks are serious and real. CrossFit instructors joke about “Uncle Rhabdo”, a reference to a potentially life threatening condition rhabdomyolysis, where the break down of muscle (from too intense exercise) can cause kidney damage and possibly death.  Train responsively with a good instructor and you can get the benefits without the risks from HIIT.

May 27, 2012

Another Machine You Can Do Without

The pec deck, also called the chest fly machine is designed to work your pectoral (chest) muscles.  However, it can put your shoulders in an unstable position, causing stress and possible impingement of the shoulder joint.  Users often roll their shoulders forward; adding weight to this position leads to damage and pain.
A much better way to work the chest (and your shoulders, triceps and abs) is the pushup. (See post from Feb. 2011 for tips on pushup form:
 If you feel you must isolate the chest muscles try a dumbbell fly instead. For those who absolutely cannot give up the pec deck go light on the resistance, and try to keep your shoulders from rolling forward.

May 20, 2012

Tennis Balls To Reduce Pain?

Tennis balls are a great tool to help reduce muscle pain in the neck and shoulders.  This pain is often caused by constrictions in the fascia (the connective tissue that surrounds every muscle, bone and organ in the body).  You may have heard of this technique as myofascial release.  This helps release adhesions, and frees up the connective tissue so you move and feel better.
To relieve pain in the neck and shoulders, place a tennis ball on your shoulder blade near the spine.  Lean against a wall and apply gentle pressure to the ball.  If you have knots or adhesions, this will hurt!   Try to hold for about 20 seconds.  You will feel the pain lessen (though it will probably not disappear).  Then roll the ball to a new spot and repeat.  If you feel you need more pressure you can try this on the floor, lying on the ball.  You will need to support your head with a pillow or it will be too uncomfortable. Once you have found the sore spot, move your arm in a slow circle across your body.
Most of us have chronic neck and shoulder pain caused by too much sitting and poor posture.  Performing myofascial release for just a few minutes twice a day is an easy way to help reduce the pain.

May 13, 2012

Inspirational Mom

At age 84 my mom is still working, and in great shape mentally and physically.  You can chalk some of it up to healthy eating and good genes, but I know she will agree that exercise has a great deal to do with it.  She works out at least three days a week and in fact was the star of her fitness class this week: After finishing a difficult move, her instructor announced to the class that my mom was the only one to complete it at the hardest level (and it was NOT a class for seniors). 
I tell you this hoping she will inspire those of you too tired or unmotivated to exercise.  On this Mother’s Day I realize how lucky I am.  Think of fitness as a gift to yourself and to your children.  Exercise will help you live longer, and make those years more comfortable both mentally and physically.  Some day your kids may even thank you for it.

May 10, 2012

Fitness Magazine's Meet and Tweet

I had the privilege of attending Fitness Magazine's "Meet and Tweet" event for fitness bloggers and tweeters.
It was an invitation only event, filled with info, networking and amazing giveaways.  (In addition to Reebok shoes, Birkenstock sandals and Oakley sunglasses, the colorful bags above were filled with products).  Thanks to author and speaker  AJ Jacobs (his book "Drop Dead Healthy was another bonus), I am changing the blog name to "Research Based Fitness".  I will post more about the event and AJ's book (funny and informative) in the next few weeks.

May 6, 2012

A Better Press

You can add the “behind the neck press” to the list of high-risk exercises.  A barbell (or dumbbells) is placed behind the neck on the upper back, and the arms are pressed straight overhead.  This causes you to jut your head forward and puts strain on the cervical spine.  It also places the shoulders in an unnatural position, causing stress on supporting muscles of the shoulder, especially the rotator cuff group.

You can make this safer by sticking with a press in front of the neck.  This can be done seated or standing.  If standing, make sure to keep your knees slightly bent. Keep the weight heavy enough to work your shoulders, but avoid lifting so heavy that you need to over arch your back.

For those of you who can't get enough of fitness blogs check out  Kim is a personal trainer who specializes in nutrition.  Her blog is excellent.

April 29, 2012

Tune In To Screen Free Week

April 30 through May 5 is national “Screen Free Week”.  It is designed to encourage families to turn off the screens (televisions, computers, phones, video games and hand held devices) and celebrate family fun and face-to-face contact.
American adults average over 151 hours of television a month, and an additional 27 plus hours on the internet.  (And that does not include work related screen time).  Preschoolers spend over 30 hours a week in front of a screen, and older children even more.  Excess screen time has been linked to poor school performance, childhood obesity, attention problems and the erosion of creative play.  There is a link between unhealthy behaviors and poor eating habits in adults who watch a great deal of tv.   Mindless snacking is just one consequence of screen time.
For those who cannot or will not limit any screen time there are a few things to make it healthier:  Set an alarm or timer so that you need to get up and walk around at least every 15 minutes.  (And no, a trip to the pantry is not part of the plan). Prepare snacks in advance, so you can portion out what you will eat, and do not refill.  If you are watching tv get up on every commercial.  This would be a great time to do some squats, lunges or planks.  Even those who exercise regularly need to be aware of the risk from prolonged sitting:  Studies have shown that excessive sitting is a cardiovascular risk factor, even if you exercise every day.
As I write this in front of my computer screen I can hear the howls of children (and adults) rebelling against any reduction in screen time.  You can get help by clicking on  This free site can help families organize and enjoy their own screen free (or at least screen reduced) week.  Who knows, you may have so much fun that you cancel the cable!

April 22, 2012

Nine Ways To Love The Gym

The gym can be intimidating.  Loud music, great bodies, frightening machines; it can be overwhelming for first timers. However, if you take a closer look and change your mindset, you too can learn to love (or least not hate) the gym.

  1. Not all those bodies are great, and even if they look perfect to you, realize that every one of us has body flaws we are self-conscious about. 
  2. No one is looking at you.  In fact, the majority or gym goers (especially weight lifters) are looking in the mirror, either criticizing or admiring their own bodies.  (Though to be fair, many use the mirror to perfect their weight lifting technique).
  3. If you are self-conscious about your weight, be aware that many gym rats used to be in your shoes, and will be very supportive of your efforts.
  4. If the mirrors bother you (and research shows that overweight people are more likely to stick with an exercise facility with few or no mirrors), see if you can find another gym with fewer mirrors.
  5. Take advantage of the club.  Many gyms offer free introductory personal training sessions.  The best way to be comfortable with all that equipment is to learn how to use it.
  6. Let your group fitness instructor know that it is your first time.  A good instructor will find a way to make your class experience enjoyable.  If you do not like one class make sure to try another, you may be surprised at how much fun group fitness can be.
  7. Speak up.  If the staff if playing music you hate at a high decibel level ask them to lower the volume and change the station.  They are paid to keep the customer happy, not program their own music.  If you get no results, speak to the owner.
  8. If you are germ phobic, bring your own towel for the equipment.  Most clubs supply cleaners to wipe off the machines, do so before and after you use each piece.  Bring your own water bottle (reusable please!), and wash your hands before and after you workout.
  9. Counteract boredom by bringing your own music, varying your routine and cultivating friends.  Going regularly at the same time will bring you in touch with other gym goers.  If you are uncomfortable with the other regulars, try the gym at a different time of day. One of the most rewarding aspects of joining a gym or club is finding other exercisers to befriend.  The social aspect goes a long way towards helping you enjoy the gym and look forward to working out.