Being New

I was not what you'd call an athletic kid. I was not particularly strong. Or fast. Or coordinated. I was a reader. I was quiet and analytical and thoughtful. It has always been easy for me to get lost in my own head; to daydream; to imagine. Being present and confident in my physical body has been a tougher assignment. I once missed my whole part in a dance recital because I was sitting on my lily-pad in my little tutu, staring out into space.

I was an indoor kid, introverted and shy. And the things I liked weren't the things that were valued culturally. And they sure weren't valued in P.E. class. It didn't take many failures at the rope climb, or last place finishes in races for me to get the message that physical activity was not for me.

I say all of this only to make it clear that walking into any exercise experience that’s not me at home alone, is scary. Even now, with a personal training certification and years of exercising in groups behind me, when I'm heading into group class I still fight the urge to turn around and go home.

But the thing is that I get a lot out of group classes (camaraderie, new challenges, fun), so I thought it would be a good idea to write a bit about the strategies I use to cope with the anxiety. Maybe they'll help you too.

Meet the Instructor. Before signing-up, ask to come by the studio or gym and meet the instructor. Ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable. Let he or she know about any concerns you have. This is not an inconvenience. Any good trainer or teacher will want to meet you in advance too. Their job is to create a safe and effective experience for everyone and they cannot do that if they don’t take the time to get to know you. If they don’t ask you about your exercise history, injuries or illnesses, or about any limitations your physician has placed on your physical activity, do not sign up to work with them. If they seem uninterested or annoyed that you want to meet, find a different instructor.

Show Up Early. Arrive 5-10 minutes early if you can, and re-introduce yourself to the instructor. Remind him or her that you are new and ask them where they’d like you to station yourself for class. Often, instructors want you up front when you’re new so that they can keep an eye on you, check-in with you periodically and assist you with form or modifications if necessary.

Scope Out Your Surroundings and Make an Exit Plan. Find the water fountain so that you can get water when you need to. Identify the exit nearest you so that if you need to take a bathroom break or if you need to leave during class, you know the route.

It's Okay to Leave Early. No one knows your body better than you do. No one. Not a personal trainer. Not a group fitness instructor. Not the person next to you in class. If you are in pain. If you are physically or emotionally uncomfortable, leave. You don’t need to explain yourself. You don’t need to feel guilty. If a class or an exercise feels wrong to you, it’s wrong for you. It doesn’t mean that you failed or that exercise isn’t for you. It just means you need to find something that’s a better fit. That’s all.

Take Breaks. A good instructor will work breaks into the class. But you are the boss of you, so you can take breaks whenever you want, as often as you want. During the first barre class I took (when I was already a certified trainer and was in pretty good shape), I got about 1/3 of the way in and thought I was going to either pass out or throw-up. So, I walked over to the water fountain, had a drink and took a few minutes to myself to gauge whether or not I thought I could continue. I went back only when I felt ready and I chose the easier modifications for the rest of class. The instructor told me after class that she was glad I'd done that and that I should always do what I need to do to get through the class in a healthy way.

Bring a Buddy. Having a friend with you can be a great way to dial down the fear.

Remember that Most People Are Focused on Themselves. One of the things that causes anxiety around exercise is the idea that other people will be watching and judging you. But here’s the thing: most people are so focused on what they’re doing that they aren’t paying any attention to you. Truly. No matter how long they’ve been taking the class, everyone is probably learning something new and worried about doing it right. If you find that someone is looking at you, chances are they aren’t sure whether they're doing the movement correctly and are looking to you for guidance. I know I’ve done that!

One Last Thing...One day, probably much sooner than you think, you won't be the “new” person anymore. You’ll walk into class and see an unfamiliar, maybe slightly apprehensive-looking, face in the room. Please introduce yourself. Offer some tips or practical advice based on your experience. Tell them something you love about the class. Be one of the reasons why they have a great first day.

The Morning Routine Helping Me Thrive Through Stress

Routine is important to me. Which may sound strange, given what I’m going to tell you next.

I crave change. I seek it out. I might break-up with it for a month, but before I know it I’m knocking on its door again. Because I like new challenges. I get bored if things stay the same for too long. I love a change of scene—a new adventure.

But it’s the fact that I have the routines I have that make the change I pursue doable for me. It’s what prevents life from being one non-stop panic attack, basically. My morning routine centers me for the day ahead. My evening routine helps me wind down.

Since October there have been a lot of changes in my life and I’ve struggled to find the magic combination of self-care that will make it manageable. During the worst of the chaos, it was all I could do to get enough sleep and feed myself. But I’m currently spending my mornings in a way that’s been working really well for me, so I thought I’d share it here.

6am. I get up; contact lenses go in; I throw on my workout clothes (if it’s a workout day); and I grab a glass of water and a pre-workout snack. I take about 20-minutes to sit quietly and adjust to being awake.

Motivational workout tank is not essential, but highly recommended

Motivational workout tank is not essential, but highly recommended

6:30am. I do a 30-minute workout. Some days it’s intervals on the treadmill (my favorite thing). Two days a week is strength training. But 30-minutes is my max. I add on about 5-minutes of gentle stretching after. I exercise five days a week. I’ve played around with longer sessions on fewer days. I’ve gone through phases where I exercised 7-days a week (10/10 do not recommend). But 30-minutes, 5-days a week seems to be my magic number. It’s enough, but it doesn't exhaust me.

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7:15am. I shower, get ready for the day and make breakfast. Usually that’s a smoothie with some spinach, berries and protein powder. Oh, and coffee. Always coffee.

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8:30am. I read a few pages of whatever inspirational book I’m into at the moment. Lately I’ve been re-reading WE: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere. Still love it. Then I’ll spend about 10-minutes journaling and writing my gratitude list for the day. This is also usually the time where I’ll jot down the major tasks (work and otherwise) I want to get done. Then I’ll take another few minutes to meditate.

9am. I start working. Maybe I have another cup of coffee. Maybe.

So, that’s it. Pretty simple, right? I have the essential self-care practices in there—movement, food, sleep, meditation, journaling/gratitude.

I’m not perfect at it. There are days when I forget to do it, or prioritize other things over it. But I always come back to it because I feel so much better when I’m consistent about those things. Even if the rest of my life is unpredictable, that time in the morning centers me and strengthens me for the day ahead. I’ll write in a later post about how I wind down at the end of the day, especially during times of stress and overwhelm.

The Magical Healing Power of a Retro Dessert

Yes, dessert heals. In my case layers of meringue, ice cream and cake heals. Forget self-help books and wellness retreats. I’ll take British people baking on PBS to help me through the traumas of life, thank you very much. While I’m no stranger to comfort food—macaroni and cheese has softened many an emotional blow over the years—this was different. Here’s the story…

Without getting into the details of what happened, toward the end of 2018 there was a fairly traumatic event within my family. It was the kind of event that makes your life unrecognizable for a long while. For me, it was emotionally draining. It triggered anxiety and a low- grade depression that lasted months.

But, I had an epiphany back in January. The thing I realized was that I couldn’t take the stress and trauma away. This thing that happened, and the fallout from it, were not going to go away anytime soon. If ever. That wasn’t something I could control. But, what if feeling better wasn’t about this bad thing going away? What if feeling better was about adding good things into my day? Actively doing things that brought me joy? As many as I could think of?

So, I decided to try it. I decided to pay attention to anything that sounded even remotely appealing to me. It didn’t have to make sense. It didn’t have to be anything I’d done before. But it had to ignite some kind of spark or interest, even if it was just a tiny flicker. The first thing that fit the bill came to me courtesy of The Great British Baking Show. Specifically, the episode in which they made Baked Alaska.

Baked Alaska isn’t something I’d ever eaten before. Or seen before, for that matter. I don’t know why I wanted to make one. In case you don’t know what it is, it’s a layered dessert. Cake, ice cream, more cake, more ice cream. You layer it in a bowl and freeze it, so it has a dome shape. Then you cover it in Italian meringue, which is kind of like marshmallow fluff. You bake it in the oven for a few minutes on a high heat to brown the meringue. (The egg whites in the meringue are cooked before you bake it, by beating it with really hot sugar syrup.) The thick layer of meringue insulates the ice cream underneath. And then, ta-da! Baked Alaska.

It made no sense to make this dessert. It was the dead of winter. There was literally two-feet of snow outside my window. But it was like this sugary glimmer of light after many weeks devoid of anything approaching happiness.

So, I made it.

It was delicious.

But that wasn’t really the point.

It became the first step toward healing. It was a little paver on the road back to a life that felt manageable. That paver was followed by others. Coloring—I bought colored pencils and a coloring book. Baking macarons. Re-finishing two old pieces of furniture. Starting a bullet journal. Collaging. Anything that caused an, “ooh, that might be fun!” reaction in me, I pursued.

In addition to having some joy in my days, there was another benefit. There was something about investing in myself in these relatively small ways, that was psychologically powerful. It was sending a message to myself that I was valuable. I was worth time and energy and care. That whatever was going on in the outside world, I have to treat myself with love and kindness.

So, if you are in crisis. Or if you are just slogging through the stress that comes from being alive. Or if you feel like the joy, the spark, is missing from your days. Find it. Bake that dessert. Go on that walk. Take that class. Play that instrument. Dance in your living room. Paint that canvas. Do the thing that speaks to that unique little soul of yours. You deserve it. Do it even if it seems silly. Even if it won’t make you money, or impress anyone else. Even if you don’t document it for social media. Even if no one else “gets it.” Find your Baked Alaska. Get your hands into the meringue of your life…Okay, I think I need to stop now. But you get the drift.

Now, behold my joy…

 
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February Faves

This month was a short one, but it was full of fun new(ish) finds! Read on for details on what made my February a bit brighter…

Dove’s Go Fresh Body Wash in the Blue Fig and Orange Blossom Scent. I’ve found this at Target and Amazon. I was on the hunt for something less expensive than the Philosophy body washes and stumbled on this. Love it.

Vaseline has been saving my chapped lips this month. My lips were dry and severely cracked at the edges—it was really uncomfortable, actually. I tried all kinds of lip balms, from luxury brands to drugstore brands. In the end, the only thing that made any difference was Vaseline and it was, by far, the least expensive thing I tried. I also used a little aloe vera gel on the corners, which helped heal the most severely damaged areas.

This Crockpot Chicken & Stuffing with Green Beans recipe, from Spicy Southern Kitchen. It is total comfort food, and was just what I needed when we were snowed in earlier this month. It also took 5-minutes to prepare and then the slow cooker did the rest.

Things to Remember When Your Body Changes. I love this YouTube channel.

If you have a Smart Food Service Warehouse (formerly Cash n’ Carry) near you, and you are a smoothie person, look for the Flav-R-Pack fruit cubes in the frozen section. My favorite are the strawberries, but they have other options too. It’s exactly what it sounds like—frozen strawberries in tiny cube form rather than in big whole strawberry form. This has been a huge time and energy saver for me in the morning.

This two-part podcast on anxiety. If you, like me, suffer from anxiety, give this a listen. First, it made me feel less alone in it. But it also offered some new ways to think about my anxiety and ways to handle some of the symptoms in a healthy way.

Meg Ryan in the New York Times magazine.

Joy the Baker. If you aren’t following her blog or cooking delicious things from her cookbooks, you’re missing out.

I’m already on the lookout for March favorites, so until then…

Five Things I No Longer Believe About Exercise

I saw a writing prompt the other day that asked me to answer the question, “what do you believe about exercise?” I thought about that for a while. I think it’s an interesting question and one that is probably worth answering one day. Today is not that day. What it got me to thinking about, though, was what are some of the things I used to believe about exercise that no longer ring true. Below are five of them. I wonder if you believe/d them too?

It should be everyone’s number one priority, always. I used to say this, or some variation of it quite often. . I’m not saying I don’t believe that eating well and moving your body is important. Self-care, of which exercise is a component, is critical. I just mean that I know that sometimes other things take priority. Sometimes those things only temporarily take priority (think crisis or acute stressful event). But for some people, exercise isn’t ever going take the top spot, or if it does it’s not going to be anytime soon. There’s too much going on and too many other things they want to be doing. And that’s okay. Life evolves and what appropriate self-care looks like for each of us changes accordingly.

It’s not supposed to be fun. If I wasn’t suffering through a workout, I didn’t think it “counted.” Now, if there’s nothing about it that I look forward to, I find something new. A new piece of equipment, a new playlist to listen to, a new format, a new class, take it outside, etc. If I don’t, I’m not going to stick with it.

It’s a means to an end. My relationship with exercise was instigated at the age of fifteen when a doctor told me I was fat. He encouraged me to exercise, and this married weight loss and exercise in my mind for the next couple of decades. I do exercise to change my body. But now it’s to make it stronger. I exercise because I like the feeling of it. I exercise because it improves my mood and my sleep. It makes the rest of my life easier.

Strength training is not for me. I took a weight training class in school and failed the final exam, which was to bench press the bar. You’ve seen a bench press, right? It’s a long bar with circular weights added to the end of each side. You lay down on a bench with the bar over your chest. You lower the bar toward your chest and then push it back up so that your arms are straight. I couldn’t do that, even with no weights on the bar. So, for many years I only did cardio. But what I’ve learned is that strength training is important. I’ve learned that I like feeling strong. I like lifting heavy things. And I can train to do almost anything. I could have pressed that bar back in high school. What I lacked was the knowledge, training plan (and motivation, if I’m honest) to learn how to do so.

I will always love barre/Pilates/rocking out on the treadmill. I thought that once I found a form of exercise that I loved, I would always love it. I haven’t. As with many things in life, you can go through phases. When you connect with something, its an amazing feeling. But I have taken breaks from certain kinds of exercise, sometimes for financial reasons, injury or just plain lack of access to classes. And when I’ve gone back, I have sometimes found that the exercise I was evangelical about isn’t the same. Or, to be more accurate, I changed. My body changed. What I needed or wanted from exercise had changed. Or the spark was just gone and who knows why.

There you have it—what I no longer believe about exercise. Are there things you’ve changed your mind about as you get further along in your own fitness journey?

Our Valentine to You

It’s Valentine’s Day! Maybe you love this day. Maybe you hate this day. Maybe you don’t care at all about this day. Whether you’re single or part of a couple. Whether it’s Valentine’s Day or just a random Thursday. We hope that loving yourself is your permanent relationship status. On this day celebrating love, we’ve collected some of our favorite quotes about self-care, body image and just plain digging life and yourself just as you are.

 
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Making Peace with My Dark Circles

I have undereye circles. They are purple. And dark. They run the length of my whole undereye. I've had them since I was a kid. They aren't improved by creams or lots of sleep or allergy medicine. They're genetic. Like the fact that I have hazel eyes--they are just a part of me.

I've been self-conscious about them since childhood. People have always asked me about them. I've had people tell me I look tired; ask if I've been punched in the eye (nope, fortunately never had that experience!); or tell me about some great concealer that they're just sure would cover them right up. 

I've tried every concealer known to woman-kind. Inexpensive ones. Ones that cost what I would normally spend on a week's worth of groceries. Creamy ones in a tube. Thicker ones in a pot. Concealers on their own; concealers on top of color correctors; concealers set with powder; and concealers not set with powder. 

And the results? They varied from looking like I did nothing, to creating a cakey, dry, slightly less purple-y streak under my eyes. 

But, I had a bit of an epiphany recently. I had just returned a really expensive concealer. One that had been marketed as the magic cure for undereye circles and one that works really well for many people. And I was so discouraged. 

Then I thought: slathering all this stuff under my eyes--caking them with product--doesn't make them look better. It just makes them feel gross. What if, instead of obsessing over hiding them, I accepted and loved on them?

To do that, I had to decide what loving treatment of this part of my body I’ve hated for so long would look like. I decided that it looked like giving them time to breathe--time not spent caked in spackle-like makeup. It looked like putting lovely creams on them—creams that hydrated them and made them feel good. It looked like breaking out those undereye masks cluttering up my makeup drawer and using them. Not because I thought they'd make the circles go away, but because they feel nice under my eyes.

We all have something we’re insecure about. We all have something about our bodies that we wish were different. Some things, like my circles, aren't changeable. Only our attitude about, and our treatment of them, is within our control. 

This is a metaphor for how we feel about the size and shape of our bodies. Unlike my dark circles, I have changed the size and shape of my body. And I imagine it will change many more times in response to things I do, or don't do, to it in the future. 

But whether your body is the shape or size you wish it were or not, you can love it. And like my love for my circles, love in this context is a verb.

How do we actively love our bodies?

We feed our bodies. We make sure they get plenty of water. We move our bodies in ways that challenge them, stretch them and make them feel strong and healthy. We pamper them, with our favorite face masks, or by lighting a delicious-smelling candle, or by getting massages or soaking in relaxing baths. We say kind things to and about our bodies. We make a list of things we enjoy doing and then we give ourselves time to do those things. We take our lovely bodies out on coffee dates with friends, or walks down beautiful trails.

Loving your body means that how you treat it doesn't change based on the size or shape it is--it's not deserving of love only when it looks a certain way. It means that instead of viewing the things I listed above as punishments or rewards, depending on its size, you see them as acts of love that are non-negotiable and dependent upon nothing more than the fact that your body exists.

A Shout Out to Brave Souls

It's an act of bravery to be vulnerable. Especially on something like YouTube or Twitter, where the comments sections are often rolling dumpster fires. So, on any platform available for public consumption, being honest about some element of your experience is courageous. But people do it anyway. 

Stories that have resonated with me lately have been stories from outwardly successful people--people I admire--about fear. Their fear. Their anxiety. Their self-doubt. The knots in their stomachs before they did that impressive thing I read about, watched them do or heard them say. 

Speaking of being vulnerable, here's my confession: I've always secretly believed there was a fundamental difference between myself and women who achieved impressive things. I thought they did amazing things because they weren't scared or plagued by insecurities like I was. But in reality, many of them do those things in spite of that fear not because of it's absence.

I wish I'd known that earlier. I wish that I hadn't, in Elizabeth Gilbert's words, let fear hold onto the steering wheel and pick the music on the road trip of life.  

I wish I'd told fear to get in the back seat and let me drive the darn car. I wish I'd felt the fear and done it anyway so much sooner than now. But we're all a work in progress, doing the best we can with what we know.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a few of the things that have inspired me lately. Maybe you'll find something in them too.

There was this video, which I shared on the blog last month. Any video where someone talks openly about body image gets my attention, but I then found this one where she spoke about how intimidating doing that original video was for her. 

Someone else whose videos I always click on are Mayim Bialik's. She made this one today about living with social anxiety. Another about regrets. And this one about shame, which was so powerful. 

This book. The concepts aren't new, but there's something about the way they're presented, the exercises they have you do, and the order of them that has been a really good fit for me. 

And finally, but firstly in a way, was the first episode of the Lady Bam Podcast. The interview guest was Stacey K. Black. She's now a television director, but she's had this really interesting career, moving through several roles in television production. I heard this podcast several months ago and was so inspired by the way she spoke about navigating a male-dominated and competitive industry, and pushing through the fear she feels with each new thing she does. 

Have you come across something lately that inspired you or made you feel less alone? I hope that if you're struggling with something, big or small, that you've got people who love and support you. And I hope you have found examples of others who've walked a similar road to inspire and uplift you on your journey. 

Take care, friends!

Doing Battle with Summer Heat

I am not made for the heat. I know this.

I don't glow; I wilt. I don't tan; I burn. I don't enjoy lazy afternoons while the sun bestows its radiant heat upon me; I park myself in front of a fan and wait for the sun to set.

You get the picture. 

Everything healthy just seems harder when it's hot out--cooking, exercising, sleeping--so, I'm always on the look out for ways to make it easier to stick to the things I know are good for me.

Here are a few I thought might help you too. 

 
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Sleep

If you aren't blessed with air conditioning, here are a few of my favorite ways to sleep despite the heat. 

Pick the right fabric for bedding and pajamas. Cotton and silk are good choices and stay relatively cool.

Ice packs. Some people swear by icing your neck and wrists, which I'm sure works. I tend to just go to sleep with an ice pack (wrapped in a towel) laying across my chest or under my back. (When I say ice packs, I'm talking about those reusable gel ones not ice cubes in a bag.) 

Take a cool shower before bed. I have done this when I've been desperate to cool off. And it does work.

Run a fan in your room and lie still in its path. Tossing and turning won't help you stay cool. If you can lie still on your bed, in the path of a fan, with your little ice pack on, you have a shot at getting comfortable enough to fall asleep.

 
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Food

The last thing I want to do when it's already hot in my house is turn on the oven to cook. So, here are a few of my favorite recipes and hacks for sticking to my healthy eating habits.

Smoothies are your friend. I eat smoothies for dinner on days when I just can't face cooking. And if I load them up with veggies (fresh spinach is a good one), some healthy proteins and fats (peanut butter, avocado, protein powder, even canned white beans), fruit and milk, I've got a fairly nutritious meal for myself. No oven or stove required. I might have a little toast or something too, just for some variety of texture.

Buy things you would normally have to cook, already made. You can get rotisserie chickens at the grocery store. Toss that on top of a salad and you've got a meal. I'm sure the deli at your grocery store has other protein options too. Is it the most cost-effective way to eat? Probably not long-term. But it's a decent short-term solution on especially hot summer days. I don't eat meat, so I tend to throw beans or crunchy edamame on salads for protein. I'm not big on the faux meats, but there are versions of those in some grocery stores that would be good salad toppers or fillings for wraps.

BBQ. Cook outside. If you can stand to be out there, hovering over a grill, you can cook without heating up the house. And if you want something besides the typical burger/chicken/hot dog fare, check out these pizzas you can grill using ingredients from Trader Joe's!

Avocado toast. This is one of my favorite things. I toast some sourdough bread in the toaster. Slather it with some mashed avocado and then...Well, the toppings vary. But I will usually get some protein on it. The pre-roasted crispy chickpeas and edamame you can get at the grocery stare are two options that don't require any cooking. If you're a meat-eater, leftover chicken might be a good choice.  I'll toss some herbs and spices on there--salt, red pepper flakes, maybe some Everything But the Bagel seasoning from Trader Joe's, or some fresh basil. One of my favorite combos is avocado, fresh tomato slices, salt, pepper, fresh basil and some reduced balsamic vinegar. Maybe a little tempeh bacon on top if I've got some. So good.

Pasta salads. If you can stand to have the stove on long enough to cook some pasta, or if you can plan ahead and cook some on a cooler day, this summer pasta salad is delicious and really easy. One I love that requires no cooking at all, is this White Bean Caprese Salad. And this Black Bean, Corn and Avocado version is really good with some healthy tortilla chips or wrapped in a tortilla (which you can warm in the microwave).

 
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Exercise

Oh the misery that is doing something you know will make you hotter when it's already blazingly hot in outside and/or inside your house/apartment. Yes, I'm talking about exercise. So, how do we stick to our commitment to move our bodies when we're already fighting hard to stay cool? Here are a few ways I switch things up with my workouts when summer hits. 

I change the kind of exercise I do. I add things like swimming into my workout rotation. There are aquatic fitness classes, but just swimming laps is a great workout. I'll do things like gentle yoga too that are a little less taxing and a bit more relaxing.

Location, location, location. My house now has air conditioning, but when it didn't, I would join gyms that were air conditioned, just for the summer. I'd go for my walks near the water where it was sometimes a few degrees cooler, or in parks where there were trails with tons of shade.

Timing is important. In the summer I have to exercise in the morning before it gets too hot. Afternoon or evening workouts when I've just spent the day fighting the heat are impossible for me. So morning it is. Fans running. Windows open to let in some cool air. 

Wardrobe is key. I'm normally not one for wearing shorts and tank tops when I work out in public places, but I'm also not a huge fan of heat stroke. So, I bare my arms and legs in the summer, even though I don't want to. It maximizes the opportunities for evaporative cooling, and that's worth the tiny little bit of self-consciousness I feel. 

Feel free to share your favorite ways to stick to your healthy activities when it's blazing hot outside in the comments below. Take care, friends and stay cool!

We Can't Stop Making This Snack

I was thinking the other day about what the ratio is of Pinterest recipes I try to Pinterest recipes I like. And it's probably pretty low. So, when I find a winner I want to shout it from the rooftops. Which is kind of what this blog is--a virtual rooftop :-) These are crackers that Nikki makes a lot, and has brought in to share with me a couple of times. They are really good and they satisfy that need for something salty and crunchy in a way that's pretty darn healthy. The recipe is a slightly modified version of one from Nutritious.com.

 
Image Courtesy of Nutritious.com

Image Courtesy of Nutritious.com

 

Seed Crackers

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup Chia Seeds
  • 1/4 cup Oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup Almond Flour
  • 1/2 cup Pumpkin Seeds
  • 2 tablespoons Flaxseeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 cup Water
  • 2 tablespoons Olive Oil

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300-degrees.

Combine all ingredients and let them soak for at least 30-minutes.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Spoon the mixture onto the parchment paper, then cover with a second sheet of parchment paper. Smooth the mixture thin, using a rolling pin.

Bake for 1-hour or until golden and crisp.

 

 

Where Have We Been?

Hello friends! It seems like it's been a long time since I was last on this space, sharing our go-to stores for cute workout wear. How have you been? I hope June is treating you well. This post is going to be kind of a mish-mash of things. Part studio update, part life update, part cool things we think you should know about. So, here goes...

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Come walk with us! We're starting a weekly walking group and our first walk will be this Tuesday, June 26th at 9:15am at Wright Park, at the corner of 6th Ave and South G Street in Tacoma. If you're in the area, come join us! And bring your health and fitness-related questions. A personal trainer (or two) will be leading the walk and it's a great opportunity to get your burning exercise questions answered. It's completely FREE and You can find details on our Facebook page here

We're jumping in to YouTube! Nikki and I are a good working team in that very often the things I'm not good at, she is. And the tasks that she hates doing, I actually enjoy. But one way in which we are the same is that we both struggle with being on camera. Unfortunately, exercise kind of requires a visual. It's much more difficult to write out how to do a plank than it is to show someone how to do a plank, for example. So, we're ordering vlogging equipment and will be wading into the wild world of YouTube very soon. Wish us luck on that!

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Speaking of YouTube, I saw this video recently and loved it. There are so many great things about summer, aren't there? But it also brings with it renewed opportunities to be critical about our bodies and to compare ourselves to the curated images we see on social media. But let's not. Let's be kind to ourselves. Let's dress the way we want. Let's show ourselves the same grace we show others. Let's take full advantage of everything we love about this season. Let's be creative with solutions to the things that make us uncomfortable in summer, physically or emotionally. That's what this video is all about.

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Badminton is making a comeback at the studio. Nikki is always trying to think of ways to make workouts a little bit less like work and more like play, and badminton is just one of the new things we've got going on. I remember playing this game for hours in the backyard with my brother. It was so much fun! And I'm telling you, people play this game in the studio and they look like kids again. It's so much fun to watch. I'm tempted to buy a new set for myself...

Dry lips? You might need a lip sleeping mask, like this one from Laneige. It might sound ridiculous to buy a mask for your lips, but I struggle all year round with my lips drying out at night. It's especially bad when the weather is cold and dry outside. But it's also a problem when it's hot outside and I've got the air conditioning going inside, drying out the air. This stuff smells like bubble gum and a little goes a long way. So even though it's kind of pricey, it will last you a while. 

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Any of you as clueless as I am about applying eye makeup? No one ever really showed me how to do it, so I mostly just avoided it most of my life. But, I discovered Kate at The Small Things blog earlier this year and have been devouring her tutorials on everything makeup and hair. One of my faves is this one on the basics of applying eyeliner. But they're all great! She's got loads of videos on YouTube as well, so check her out for all the things you wish you'd had a big sister to teach you about being beautiful.

Game-changing sauces. I've been throwing this delicious sweet chili and garlic sauce on almost everything lately. I started with edamame, as the recipe suggests. But, really, it's good on vegetables, rice, you name it.  It would probably be good on meat too, if I ate meat. As simple as the recipe is, I've made it even simpler. I literally only use garlic and the sweet chili sauce. And I buy the already minced garlic, so it's just a matter of sautéing that for a minute, adding in a couple of tablespoons of the chili sauce and heating it up for a minute. Done.

As always, thanks for reading the blog even when we go AWOL for a month. Always feel free to post in the Comments below if there are topics you'd like us to tackle, exercise or otherwise. Take care and we'll see you again here soon!

8 Places for Cute, Inexpensive Workout Clothing

Because we wear workout clothes all day every day, we've become experts on where to find reasonably-priced, cute, comfortable, non-transparent workout clothes. And because we love ya we're sharing our favorite places to shop for threads to wear to the gym/studio/yoga class/living room gym.

Seriously, life is too short to wear clothes that are too tight or too loose or just plain uncomfortable. Sometimes we tell ourselves, "when I lose 15 pounds, then I'll shop..." But, you deserve to feel good in your clothes at every size. And working out is so much less uncomfortable when you wear pants that are the right size for your body as it is now.

Here's where we love to shop.

ThredUp. I am, admittedly, obsessed with Thred-Up. I have the app on my phone and have spent way too much time on it lately. BUT. In my defense, you can find really good prices on almost every brand of active-wear. And other wear. But for the purposes of this post, we'll focus on their selection of workout gear. I've found Lucy, Old Navy, Eddie Bauer, Nike, New Balance and Zella stuff I love there. They've got a wide range of sizes too. It's hit and miss since the selection depends on what people have sold to them. And you have to act fast if you see something you like. I've taken to just adding anything that I think might be a winner to my cart and then I go in and review it later, taking out things that don't look so great on second glance. But if you see something that's a "maybe" and you don't grab it, it's really hard to find it again.

Old Navy. Ah, Old Navy. It's not just for flip-flops and denim short-alls anymore, people. Nikki gets a ton of her stuff there. If she's wearing a cute, colorful tank or fun workout capris, chances are they came from Old Navy. 

Kohl's. Yet another Nikki recommendation. Again, most of the big active-wear brands at a reasonable price. I get my Asics workout shoes there for around $40. Also love their workout jacket/hoodie collection.

Target. Yep, Target has everything, including workout gear. 

Macy's. Macy's is always having a sale and you can get screaming good deals on name brand workout clothes and shoes. 

Amazon. The selection at Amazon is quite large, so browsing is difficult. But if you have time and kind of know what you want, you can get some good deals.

Poshmark. Another online secondhand store, like ThredUp. However, unlike ThredUp you are buying from individuals who have items for sale, not from a centralized PoshMark store. But, Poshmark is where I found a replacement for my very favorite Eddie Bauer active tank.

Etsy. Etsy is my favorite place to buy workout tanks because they have so many fun ones! 

Where do you like to find inexpensive workout wear? Any places I need to add to my list of favorites? Let me know below!

Give Yourself Permission

I have the very best doctor. I found her through a Google search for, "best doctor in (my city)." Patients had given her amazing reviews online and so I called and got a spot as a patient. Even though I've now moved about an hour away, I still go to her. She's awesome in so many ways. She never makes you feel like she's got somewhere else to be, even though I know she's got a full schedule of patients. She has a sign above the scale in her office that says, "It's Just a Number." And she shares my first name :-) 

During one of the first appointments I had with her, I was lamenting my weight. How it had gotten out of control and how hard I was trying  to lose it without success. I was tired. And stressed. And basically just miserable. 

She asked me about my schedule. How much sleep did I get? What did I eat? What was going on at work? How many hours was I working between my two jobs? What was my commute like? What kind of social support did I have? I answered all of her questions and then prepared myself for the diet and exercise recommendations--the tough love--I was sure was on the way. 

But instead of a lecture. Instead of warnings. Instead of a prescription for Weight Watchers or the local gym, she said...

Sleep. She told me my only job right now was to make sure I got 7-9 hours of sleep every night and then figure out which quantity of hours made me feel my best. That’s it. I didn’t need to worry about changing my diet. Or getting up at the crack of dawn to exercise.

Just sleep. 

And when I had done that consistently for a few weeks, I could add in one other healthy activity. Just one.

She gave me a tremendous gift in that moment—the permission to be kind to myself. I am telling you, when she said “just sleep” I felt like crying, I was so happy. And relieved.

Sleep? Sleep I could do. Take everything else off the list for now and just focus on sleep? Yes. Yes, please.

I had to trust that if I did that one thing, that I would know when I was ready to add more.

And I did. One day I woke up and felt like trying to exercise again.

I had to reset a couple of times. I tried to do too much, too fast. But I caught myself each time and went back to the basics. Back to sleep. Then adding one thing at a time.

There are good reasons why my doctor had me focus on sleep first. There is not a single function of the body that does not rely, in large or small part, upon getting adequate sleep. Here are just a few:

  • Sleep helps to regulate your hormones, including the hormone that generates feelings of hunger (ghrelin) and the one that gives you the signal of being satiated (leptin). If you don’t get enough sleep, the former goes up and the latter goes down. So, you feel hungry more often and have trouble feeling full, both of which can lead you to eat more.
  • Your body repairs itself during sleep. Your muscles, blood vessels, heart and other major organs use the time when you are asleep to fix damage and (in the case of your muscles) increase mass. If you exercise, sleep is when that microscopic damage you did to your muscles during your workout gets repaired and additional muscle fibers are generated.
  • Your immune system relies on sleep to function at its optimal level. Inadequate rest leaves you vulnerable to infections like the common cold, but also to chronic disease. Studies have found a relationship between insufficient sleep and an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
  • Your ability to complete basic and complex tasks at work, school or at home is compromised. Things can take longer, and you are more prone to making mistakes when sleep deficient. The National Institutes of Health reports that, “after several nights of losing sleep—even a loss of just 1–2 hours per night—your ability to function suffers as if you haven't slept at all for a day or two.” Your memory, athletic performance, creative powers and the ability to learn new things are all improved with adequate sleep.

Okay, so how much sleep is enough and how do we make sure we are consistently getting enough sleep? For adults ages 18-64, the National Sleep Foundation (yes, sleep is so important there are research foundations dedicated to it!), recommends between 7-9 hours per night. For adults 65 and older, the recommended range is 7-8 hours. They have a sleep duration recommendations chart, which you can access here.

The foundation also has tips for ensuring a good night’s sleep, including: sticking to a sleep schedule (even on the weekends); exercising regularly; avoiding caffeine, alcohol and using electronics in the hours before bedtime; and making sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and not too warm or too cold.

Here's some homework for you, if you're up for it. If you aren't getting your 7-9 hours, commit to doing that and determining your magic number of hours. It's 9 for me. Come up with your own bedtime ritual to follow too. Maybe you light your favorite scented candle and read for an hour before sleep. Maybe you do some yoga (there are some great evening yoga dvds out there). Maybe you meditate, or journal or just sit and think about your day.

And let us know how it goes!

What I'd Buy Again

There's a particular kind of video that all of the beauty vloggers I follow on YouTube have made; some of them several times over. And it's some variation on the theme of, if they lost all of their makeup and skincare products, which things would they absolutely go out and buy again right away. It's an interesting exercise, especially for people who have massive collections of makeup. I do not, but sometimes even the relatively small amount of products I have feel like too much. Like I can't really "see" everything I've got because there are too many options. I thought that theme could be adapted to fitness, which is what I'm going to attempt to do here. 

If somehow I lost all of my fitness stuff--weights, bands, mats, workout clothing, shoes, DVD's--what would I go out and replace immediately? What would I need in order to stick with my workouts? I narrowed it down to a few essentials. So, here we go...

Dumbbells. I would definitely get at least two sets of dumbbells, maybe three--a heavier set and a lighter set at least. 

Resistance Bands. I would get a few of these, mostly for lower body stuff. 

My Asics Training Shoes. I have tried lots of different brands of shoe, and Asics are hands-down my favorites. I usually get them on sale at Kohl's or DSW.

Extra Thick Workout Mat. This I couldn't live without. I workout at home a lot and we have hardwood floors. So any floor exercise would be miserable without this mat. 

Jessica Smith's Boost Metabolism and Muscle DVD. I thought a lot about which DVD I would choose if I lost all of mine, and I settled on this one. If you've read some of my previous posts, you know I've tried many, many, many DVDs in my time. I picked this one because there are three strength-training workouts included and they are effective and safe ones. By opting for different modifications on the exercises and playing around with the weight of the dumbbells I used, I could make this work as my strength-training routine for quite a while. 

High-Rise Cropped Yoga Pants from Old Navy. If I'm honest, I would probably look on ThredUp for my favorite Lucy brand cropped leggings, but since I can't predict what they'll have at any given time, I chose these ones. Old Navy has some good, inexpensive active wear, including these pants which are about $15. 

Workout Tank from Athleta. Again, I'd check ThredUp for a Lucy tank, but this one is good too and at a decent price point. 

Stability Ball. I debated whether or not I needed this, but ultimately its versatility won me over. I love the variety of exercises I can do on it, and it's one of the ways I work on balance training. So, it made the list. 

There you have it. A relatively short list, but it's truly what I would purchase again if I had to. I've got more than this in my home gym now, but these are my essentials. All of this stuff can be found secondhand, if you have the patience. I've found workout equipment of all kinds on Craigslist and ThredUp is the first place I look for clothes. 

Act Now, Feel Later

I used to think motivation (for workouts or anything else) was a feeling that led to action. But I think that was wrong. Now I believe that action generates the feeling, rather than the other way around. That's a good thing, because feelings are transitory. And I don't want something transitory as the foundation upon which I base my life decisions, especially the ones that pertain to my health. I really don't. It's too important. 

What I want are habits.

What I want are things that make acting in a healthy way, even when I really don't feel like it, easier. Foolproof.

What I want is to set-up systems that support my goals.

What I want is to make sure it's as difficult as possible to get in my own way, because I know I will try. Basically.

Here are some things I do that ensure my workouts happen when the feeling of motivation appears to have taken a long sabbatical, far, far away.

Put on the workout clothes. If I can get myself dressed, I'm halfway there. Once the clothes are on it feels silly not to take them on a field trip to the gym. 

Only commit to 10 minutes. The upside to this little trick is that even if I stopped after 10 minutes, that's 10 minutes more than nothing. But once I've done 10 minutes, I'm probably going to finish the whole thing because, again, acting generates motivation. But the knowledge that I could stop if I wanted to is often enough to get me to the workout.

Exercise first thing in the morning. If I wait until later in the day, I'm way more likely to fill up my time with other things and/or be too tired. Working out when the house is still quiet and I'm not fully awake and immersed in the activities of the day, is actually kind of awesome. There's a great quote I found on Pinterest recently that says something to the effect of, "Workout early before your body figures out what you're doing." That's a fair statement some days.

Find the fun. Do whatever it takes to create some element of your workout that you look forward to, other than the results. My cardio days are a treat for me, but it's because I made them that way. I have my treadmill in the room in my house with the big television. So, I put an episode of my favorite show on Hulu, mute the TV, activate the closed captioning, get my headphones on and go. 

Resort to bribery. You can bribe yourself. It's totally fine. I do it all the time. Would a new workout tank make your workouts more appealing? Awesome, get your Etsy on. Would a shopping spree on iTunes mean that tomorrow you woke up itching to hit the treadmill? Sweet. Do it. The only thing I don't bribe myself with is food, because I don't want exercise to become a punishment or a price I have to pay in order to eat. But pretty much anything else is fair game.

Literally surround yourself with encouragement. Okay, this one I know is going to sound super-cheesy. But. I used to have a workout tank top that said, "Impossible is Nothing." And I loved it. I also used to have post-its with words of encouragement stuck to my bathroom mirror. I may, or may not, currently have a vision board with words and images that motivate me toward healthy choices. It probably doesn't sound "cool" but bathing my brain in positive, supportive, and sometimes funny messages does help. 

Put it in writing. Spend a few minutes writing down how you feel after your workouts. Do you feel ready to tackle the day? Do you feel stronger? More flexible? Less stressed? More awake? Being aware of how your body feels, both during and after exercise, can be a powerful motivational tool. For many people exercise is something they're glad they did after it's done. Remembering exactly why you're glad can help you start on days when enthusiasm is lacking.

Schedule it and eliminate roadblocks. Plan which workouts you're going to do each day and the time you are setting aside to do them. Write them in your planner. Add them to the calendar on your phone. Get your workout clothes laid out the night before. Make sure your water bottle is full and chilling in the fridge. Get your pre-workout snack ready to grab quickly in the morning. Make it as easy as possible to get from where you are to where you work out.

Never skip Mondays. Mondays are the first day of the week and making sure I get my workout in that day sets up the rest of my week for success. It's a mental thing. But it works.

I'd love to hear your tips for getting motivated for your workouts! Share them with us in the Comments section below.

Unstable

There are joints in your body that are more unstable than others. Did you know that? Their instability makes them more prone to injury, especially when the muscles, ligaments and tendons surrounding them aren't healthy and strong. Score another point for strength and flexibility training, right?

Last month we showed a little love to our triceps, those muscles on the backs of our arms that often get too little of it. In keeping with the theme of getting to know and appreciate the muscles of our upper body, I wanted to write a little bit about shoulders. 

The "ball" at the top of the bone of your upper arm is actually larger than the "socket" of the joint in which it fits. So, the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the shoulder complex are responsible for keeping the joint stable and preventing dislocation and other injuries. 

It has the largest range of motion of all the joints in your body. The shoulder has only one bony attachment to the rest of your skeletal system, via the clavicle. This, combined with the shallowness of the joint (described above) is responsible for its wide range of motion. It moves laterally away from your body (abduction); it moves forward (flexion); it moves backward (extension); and it rotates laterally and medially. 

You use your shoulder muscles all the time. Anytime you reach overhead, lift and carry something in your arms, rake leaves--do any kind of manual labor really--you are placing demands on that complex structure. That doesn't even take into account any formal shoulder exercises you do in your strength-training routine. Overhead presses, front and lateral raises, upright rows, Arnold presses, planks and incline flyes are just a few examples. 

You see the results of training your shoulders more quickly than other muscles. While there are many differences between our individual bodies and where we carry extra tissue, the shoulder is a place where, universally, there is simply less tissue between the muscle and the skin. So, when you begin training the muscles of the shoulder and they increase in size, you see them relatively early compared to other muscles of the body. They have a nice shape as they get stronger, and the way they taper down your upper arm can make your arm appear smaller. 

Your shoulder is not just one muscle, but many. You've heard the term "rotator cuff," right? That refers to four small muscles that surround the shoulder joint (supraspinatus, subscapularis, infraspinatus and teres minor). They are responsible for holding the head of your humerus bone inside the shoulder joint. You don't see these muscles, but you need them to be as strong and as healthy as they can be. Then there's the deltoid muscle (you can see this one) and the teres major. This is a really short anatomy lesson, I know. But the point is that when you train the shoulder, you aren't just training one muscle, but several. 

I hope one or more of the little tidbits I shared above encourage you to spend some time on your shoulders. As I said in the triceps post, the more we know about our bodies and how interesting and amazing they are, the harder it gets to hate them. Many of us spend an inordinate amount of time criticizing them for not being the size, shape or whatever that we wish they were. What would happen if we shifted even half of that effort into celebrating them?

5 Moments I Loved From Today's Workout

In an effort to take the advice I'd give to a client, I'm trying to focus on what I love about my workouts. And it's not always easy...

Sometimes it's hard because I want to see different results than I'm seeing, or I want to see them faster. Sometimes it's hard because I'm in a bad mood, or I'm tired, or I'm distracted by something else I need to do that feels more important than squats, and biceps curls and planks. Sometimes it's hard because my muscles are sore from the day before, or because my knees are hurting more than usual. Sometimes it's hard because I'm doing a workout that's actually, objectively, more difficult than the one I did the day before. 

Because I know that the words we say to ourselves matter--that the things we focus on expand--I'm making a concerted effort to notice the moments during my workouts that are good. Some of them are physical, others mental/emotional. But here are five moments I loved today.

I listened to a beautiful version of the song, Riptide, during my cool-down. (You can watch the video here, if you're interested.) There's nothing like finding a new song to love, or in this case, a new version of a song I already knew. 

The house was quiet. Sometimes I crave silence. Probably because I so rarely ever get it at home anymore. Being awake while it was still dark outside and the house slept, felt like such a gift today. Soon enough other people were up and moving around and saying words :-)

Finally, finally, something felt easier. I've been doing this series of abdominal exercises over the last few weeks, and there's one exercise in particular that's just been...I don't know...it just has felt difficult and like I wasn't quite strong enough to do it correctly. It just felt off. Anyway, today I noticed that while it was still challenging, I could finally feel my muscles engaging and doing the work.

My wobbly legs. Don't know why, but I love it when I finish a workout and my legs are kind of shaky. I got that today and relished that feeling as well as the feeling of stretching them out at the end of the session.

I had a much-needed moment of clarity. Exercise is one of the things I do to stay emotionally balanced, and to work out frustration or anger or fear about things that are going on in my life. While I was on the treadmill for the cardio portion of my workout today, I had a breakthrough in my thinking about a problem I've been having with one of my freelance clients. Not that I solved it, but there was a shift in the way I've been thinking about it that helped me to let go of some anxiety I've been carrying around. 

If you've never done it, I would highly recommend spending some time thinking about what you're grateful to your workouts for. Maybe it's not five things. Some days maybe you struggle to find one thing, while other days you could list ten. But the exercise of shifting your attention from what's uncomfortable or difficult about it, to what it gives you that's valuable, makes such a huge difference. 

Our Favorite Healthy Fast Foods

We always say healthy food should taste delicious, but have we mentioned it can also be really easy and convenient to eat healthily? In an ideal world would we all be cooking from scratch? Maybe. But how many of us exist in the world of ideal? The key is to recognize that ideal isn't always going to happen and to stock your kitchen accordingly. 

Here are a few of our favorite, convenient, packaged foods. You don't lose much, if any, in the way of nutrients with these.  Maybe you'll see some of your favorites here too...

Microwaveable Rice. Cooking rice from scratch isn't the most difficult thing in the world, but it does take time. And sometimes the 45-minutes to an hour is more time than I have, especially when I haven't given much thought to dinner. So, I usually have a box of microwaveable brown rice in the cupboard (I like Minute brand, which you can get at Target), and a box of jasmine rice from Trader Joe's in the freezer. When I need a whole grain, there they are.

Canned beans and pre-cooked lentils. It's cheaper to buy beans dry and then cook them. But again, time. So, I usually have a variety in the pantry in their canned form. The lentils I get from the produce section of Trader Joe's.

Rotisserie chicken. I mentioned this in another post recently, but Nikki swears by these. Probably more expensive than buying a fresh chicken and cooking it yourself, but way easier. If you take the time to break it down when you get it home, you can add chicken to salads, stir-fry's and burritos, among other things.

Frozen steel cut oats and Instant Cream of Wheat (whole grain version). These are great, quick breakfasts. I get my frozen steel cut oats from Trader Joe's and the Cream of Wheat you can find anywhere. Ready in minutes. 

Sweet potato spears. These are ready for a drizzle of olive oil, some seasonings and 30-minutes in the oven.

Nutter Puffs by PopChips. These are a great snack. Five grams of protein, less than 2-grams of sugar. 

Guacamole cups from Wholly Guacamole. I love guacamole, but I'm never going to make a batch just for myself. I get these from Costco, but they're probably available everywhere. I usually dip vegetables or whole grain tortilla chips in them. 

Fresh whole wheat pizza dough. I always have a ball of this in my fridge. I often make lentil calzones out of it, but you can throw vegetables and a little cheese and/or leftover meat inside too for a quick dinner. 

Jarred sauces. There is nothing like homemade marinara or pesto sauce. But there are some jarred versions that are good in a pinch too. I know I mention Trader Joe's a lot, but they really do a good job stocking pre-packaged food that's fairly healthy. Their roasted garlic marinara is especially good and I've had a pesto from there that's also delicious. Just check the sugar content on any jarred sauce you buy. Sometimes they sneak a lot of that stuff in there. But a little whole grain pasta and some jarred sauce is a quick weeknight dinner. 

Frozen vegetables. You really don't lose many of the nutrients of the fresh version when they're flash frozen. Heat them up with some rice, edamame or some chicken for a quick stir-fry.

There you have it. Some of our favorite ways to make eating healthy as easy as possible. Feel free to share your favorites below!

Burpee is a Bad Word

We used to have a banner at the top of our website that said, "No Weighing. No Measuring. No Burpees. See You Soon." I feel like we've addressed why we don't weigh or measure in several posts, but I don't think we've ever talked about why we don't do burpees. 

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of the burpee experience, here's a quick description. A burpee, also known as a squat thrust, is a four-count combination exercise popular in both cardio and strength training classes. You begin in a standing position; drop down into a squat with your hands on the floor in front of you; jump your legs backward and drop into a plank position; return quickly to the squat position; and finally, stand back up. You repeat this many, many times. Until you are left questioning every life choice that got you to a place where burpees are a thing you do. Maybe that last part's just me.

Anyway, I hate doing them. But I also hate them as an exercise for clients for many reasons. Chief among them is that there are so many ways to injure yourself, even if you do them correctly. The pressure you're putting on your wrists and your shoulders alone makes them risky to do even once, let alone in the quantity and at the speed in which they're typically done. 

In addition, they are so physically unpleasant that they negate the outcome we're trying to achieve with every client. We want exercise to be, at the very least, doable. And our dream scenario is that exercise becomes something that the client actually likes and looks forward to. If we make them miserable, what are the chances that they come back for their next session let alone develop a lifelong, positive relationship with exercise? 

Trainers who advocate for burpees will usually cite one of three reasons why. One is that a burpee is a plyometric exercise for the lower body. Plyometrics, sometimes called jump training,  falls under the category of advanced exercise. They require your muscles to exert a maximum amount of force in a short amount of time. Things like jump squats are examples of plyometric exercises. We would only introduce plyometrics to an experienced client who we knew was strong enough to do them correctly. And we'd watch their form like a hawk. So, the it's-a-plyometric-exercise argument doesn't really carry much weight with us.

The second burpee argument I've heard is that they're an upper body/total body exercise. Great. But, so are lots of other things. Push-ups and elbow planks, to name just two, and they're way safer. 

And finally, you'll hear people say burpees add a cardiovascular challenge to strength-training routines. Again, there are a lot of other ways to achieve this result that are safer. Moving quickly from one resistance exercise to the next, aka circuit training, can also add a cardio element to your session.

So, the reason that we don't do burpees can be distilled down into this: they're risky, and there are other exercises that achieve better results, with less risk and that result in a much more pleasant workout experience for our clients. 

What do you think of burpees? Do you do them? Do you love them? Hate them? Want ideas for other exercises you could do instead? Leave your thoughts below.

Don't Wait on the Weights

Does weight-lifting intimidate you? Maybe you had a bad experience in high school gym class and have avoided the weight rack ever since. Or are you afraid that if you strength train you'll get bulky? Or do you believe that cardio is the key to weight loss, and strength-training shouldn't enter the equation until after you've reached your goal weight? 

Here's what I would tell you in response to those concerns: it shouldn't; you won't; and untrue, respectively. Let's address each of them one by one though. As always, I recommend consulting a physician before beginning any exercise program. 

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The intimidation factor. The good news is that I'm not telling you to buy a gym membership and start racking hundreds of pounds on the bench press bar tomorrow. You don't need to do that. I recommend having two sets of dumbbells--one lighter set for the smaller muscles of your upper body, and one heavier set for the larger muscles. When I started, I had a set of 3lb dumbbells and a set of 5lb ones. Then I moved up incrementally as I got stronger. The 5lb dumbbells became my light set and I bought 8lb dumbbells for my heavier set. Then I moved up again to 8lbs and 10lbs. And so on. I knew it was time to upgrade when I finished a set of an exercise and knew I could keep going, with good form.

Let me tell you, I LOVE when I have to buy new dumbbells. I feel so proud of myself and my body. That's one of the great things about strength training is that I can see and feel improvements in a way that I don't necessarily with cardio. If you aren't sure how to go about strength training on your own, you have a couple of options. Invest in DVDs you can do at home. Any of Jessica Smith's workouts would be a good choice. I use this one and this one quite often myself. I also like these ones from Coach Nicole and SparkPeople.

If you're new to exercise I would recommend at least a session or two with a personal trainer. If training this way isn't something you can afford to do regularly, you have some options. Take the workout DVDs you're going to do at home and ask him/her to watch them and then coach you on proper form. That way, you'll have some idea of how to do the exercise safely and effectively on your own. Or ask them to design a workout you can do at home with the equipment you have, and then come back every 6-weeks or so for some new exercises. 

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You won't get bulky. This is one I hear a lot, actually. It's rare for a woman who engages in a normal strength-training routine to get bulky. Women have less testosterone than men, and it's this hormone that is responsible for the larger muscle gains men experience from weight-lifting. You may find that strength-training actually has the opposite effect on your body. A pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat, so your body can look and feel smaller at the same weight, depending upon the ratio of lean muscle to fat. 

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And finally, the old do-cardio-first -to-lose-weight rule. Any of you who read this blog regularly or are familiar with our studio know that we never talk about weight loss as a goal of exercise. And I'm still not really going to. But...I am going to address it in this context for two reasons. One: because the idea that you do cardio for weight loss and then worry about strength-training is a fitness theory we reject as fitness professionals. And two: because regardless of whether we think weight-loss should be a goal, the reality is that it is why many women start exercising. So, for us not to address it at all seems irresponsible.

Here's the short version of why we recommend an exercise plan that combines cardio exercise and three days each week of strength-training: it's more efficient and effective.

It's generally true that if you engage in cardiovascular exercise (walking, running, biking, etc.), and change nothing about your diet, that you will run a caloric deficit. Meaning, you will burn more calories on the days you do that exercise than on the days you don't, which may lead to weight-loss. But muscle is more metabolically active than fat, 24-7. So by increasing your lean muscle mass you burn more calories at rest every day, not just on the days you work-up a deficit by spending an hour on the treadmill. There are many good reasons to include cardio in your workout plan (I do it), but focusing on it to the exclusion of strength, flexibility and balance-training is a mistake. That's true whether your goal is weight-loss or just being holistically healthier and fitter.  

If there are other reasons you're reluctant to weight-train, leave them in the comments below and I'll do my best to address them in a future post. Take care, friends!