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An Intro and a Discount

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We are so excited to announce that after many months of work and planning; of shooting exercise videos and testing software platforms; of brainstorming program names and designing web pages; we are finally launching the online version of the workouts we do with clients in our Tacoma, Washington, studio! Online personal training may sound like kind of an oxymoron, but it's really not. For many people, coming in to a gym or studio isn't feasible. Schedule, or budget or some self-consciousness about exercising in front of another person, can be huge roadblocks for many people who could benefit from working with a personal trainer. And technology being what it is, we can communicate, schedule and demo workouts, and even check our clients' exercise form via our computers and iPhones.

Here's how it works. It's actually pretty cool.

We do a consultation, just like we'd do for an in-person studio client, only it's done via our online training app and telephone. We then design a workout program, customized to each individual client. Each workout includes a demonstration video and text instructions for each exercise, as well as warm-up and cool-down videos. Clients login, complete their workouts and submit feedback to us. That feedback informs how we design subsequent workouts.

Let's be honest--you could exercise at home without a trainer for free, right? The reason to work with a trainer, online or in-person, is to have someone to hold you accountable to your fitness goals. To have someone who can give you practical support and advice, to ensure that your workout time is safe, effective, efficient and customized to you and your body. To have someone to offer encouragement--who will notice and celebrate your accomplishments and cheer you on to success.

That's what we're offering here. Now, no matter where in the world you live, you can workout with us at Fitness for Life. And to help you kickoff 2018 in good health, we're offering a discount on our online personal training memberships for a limited time. If you sign-up between now and midnight on January 1st, 2018, you'll get 20% off your first month's membership. Enter the code ONLINE18 at checkout to receive your discount. 

Click here for more information or to sign-up!

A Good Defense

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Hello everyone and happy December! If you've been paying attention to the news the last couple of months, you've been inundated with stories about people who cannot keep their hands to themselves. I had to stop reading/watching/listening after a while because I noticed that it was making me miserable. So... Where to channel all that anxiety and frustration? Well, I don't know if it's the answer for everyone, but, I am going to the Women's Self-Defense Seminar at our Tacoma studio this Saturday, December 9th, from 10am-noon. During this class, led by Robb Thornton, we will cover prevention, protection and evacuation techniques. We're going to leave feeling empowered to defend ourselves and knowing how to recognize potentially threatening situations. Taking a class like this is something I've been meaning to do for a while, so if you've been thinking the same, please join us!

By way of background on our instructor: Robb began taking Tae Kwan Do in 1984 and went on to compete in the Junior Olympics in 1988. He has spent decades in the martial arts, earning multiple black belts, world championships and competing in Muay Thai kickboxing competitions and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Rob currently teaches at NW Kickboxing.

The cost is $35 per person + tax. Space is limited, but there are a few spots left. Click here to register!

Time Waits for No One

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Time is so interesting. It seemed to pass so slowly when I was young--when each year that passed got me closer to some amazing privilege, license, ability or new level of freedom. And then, sometime after college, it was like someone pressed the fast forward button on my life. And all I wanted was for life to slow down so I could get my arms around it; so that I could figure out how I felt about it; so that I could figure out what I wanted to do with it.

The fast forward button feels like a thing. I swear it does.

But I know for a fact that the pause button isn't real. It doesn't exist. I can't stop time to catch my proverbial breath. And neither can you. (Although I do admit that in my old job I attended some Friday afternoon meetings in which I could swear time was at least standing still, if not moving backwards.)

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I think that the relative speed of adult life is partly due to the immense pressure many of us feel to be achieving something. Whether it's career advancement, financial security, marriage, kids, buying a house--whatever success means to you--once you're out in the real world, the clock begins ticking. Loudly.

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Years ago, before I had even started college, I worked in an office with a woman who had two grown daughters. One of them was 27 and thinking about going back to school and finishing her degree. But she kept telling her mother, "I'll be 30 by the time I'm done!" (Oh, the days when 30 seemed old...)

Her mother had the very best response and it's one that I've repeated to myself many times in the years since. She said, "You're going to be 30 anyway. Wouldn't you rather be 30 with a degree than without one?"

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The point of this story is not that having a degree is better than not having one. The point really is how often we say things to ourselves that don't stand up to even the mildest of critical thought. The idea that what age you are when you've reached a particular goal should govern whether or not you do it is limiting and illogical. Time will pass regardless of what we do, or don't do; regardless of what we want; regardless of whether or not we're ready for it.

That applies to health too, by the way. As long as you've got breath in your body it is never too late to improve the quality of your life. It's never too late to make your health your first priority. It's never too late to start exercising, whether for the first time or after a break. It's never too late to nourish your body with good, whole foods. It's never too late to commit to sleep or drinking more water or any other nurturing act of self-care.

Whatever age you are now. Whatever your body feels like, or looks like. Whatever size, shape, fitness-level or level of natural athletic ability with which you were gifted.

You can have the life you want.

You can decide that however many years are behind you, that they don't dictate the years in front of you.

Sometimes we all need to hear that and then repeat it on a loop in our brains. I know I do. So, when I saw the quote about time that began this post, it reminded me of all of that. And I wanted to share it with you all.

Happy Wednesday, friends!

Can This Be Done?

Love, love, love this quote. If you're wondering who Phil Lawson is, he was my guitar teacher for a couple of years. He was an amazing player. He could listen to a song I brought in on cd--one he'd never heard before--and after listening to it a couple of times, figure out the chords and teach me how to play it. He was trying to teach me how to do a particular finger-picking techinique, in which I played the base notes with my thumb while simultaneously playing the melody with my other fingers. It's called Travis Picking. And it's a thing.

An impossible thing. Or at least it feels impossible. And that's what I told Phil.

And he said...

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I think Geothe had a similar quote, but I like this one better.

During the hours and hours I spent trying to get my thumb and fingers to pluck the right strings at the right moments, and ruing the day I ever decided to learn to play the guitar, I repeated this quote like a mantra.

And darn it if he wasn't right. One minute I was gritting my teeth in frustration, and in the next minute I could do it. Just like that.

My brain had to make the right connections with my fingers and then the muscles in my fingers had to develop the memory of how to move in the right way without my thinking about it.

And then, boom--I'm Travis Picking my way through Willie Nelson songs and ready to take it on the road.

This knowledge of the impossible being possible has helped me immensely in my fitness journey. Because the process is basically the same as learning to play the guitar.

My brain and body have to make those all-important connections, so that I can move things in the way they need to move. Often my muscles need to get stronger in order to do a particular exercise, so I start with modifications and then work my way up to advanced movements. I break it down into manageable pieces and keep trying until what once was impossible, not only seems achievable, but is actually achieved.

The thing is you only need one experience of this in your life to believe it's true of almost anything else you attempt. That's what learning to play the guitar did for me. It was so, so difficult in the beginning. But it was the first time in my adult life that I had stuck with something that I wasn't good at right away--stuck with something that frustrated and challenged me--and succeeded.

The lesson for me was never to limit what I believed I could do. If you're struggling with exercise right now, whether it's struggling just to do it regularly or struggling with a particular exercise, keep at it. Break it down as far as you need to in order to make it achievable. Maybe that means a few short walks instead of one long one each day. Maybe that means holding onto a chair during squats until you can squat without one. Maybe your planks are on your knees for a while before you graduate to legs extended.

It's okay if your goal feels impossible to you right now. One day it won't. And if you need help breaking down your goal into steps, ask for help. You can always reach out to Nikki or I--we are happy to answer questions and give advice. Or find a personal trainer in your area who can help you with exercise the way Phil helped me with guitar.

 

We Lie to You.

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We lie to you. We do. We fitness professionals. We don't always mean to. Sometimes it's because we've fallen in love with exercise. And as often happens when we're in love, we see what we want to see and ignore the rest. Love is blind, as the saying goes. And like an awesome girl with a shady boyfriend we desperately want our friends to like, we often gloss over what sucks about exercise and present it as it feels to us, and not how it feels to most people.

We describe exercise classes as invigorating, refer to sweating as sparkling and cheerily lead "beginner" workout sessions at an intensity-level the average person would more accurately describe as "vomit-inducing."

The truth about exercise, even when it's done at an appropriate intensity, is that it's uncomfortable. It just is. Your heart and breathing rates increase, your muscles burn and sometimes shake and your body temperature rises and you sweat. It is the antithesis of comfortable.

So, we don't say those things on our websites, or in our class descriptions. They don't look good on t-shirts or water bottles, you guys. And honestly, for a lot of fitness professionals while those things I describe above happen to us, we kind of like it.

I know, I know.

Here is where I confess my own participation in all of this. I mostly love it when my muscles are shaky and I finish a workout as a sweaty mess. But I recognize that isn't normal. And I wonder whether we (the collective we, that is) are doing a disservice to people by not always acknowledging that.

I suspect we are.

The reality is that as a trainer you can (and at our studio, we do) try to mitigate the discomfort. We plan breaks into each workout; we encourage you to drink water; we try to mix in less intense exercises with the higher intensity stuff; we play fun music and chat with you to distract you; we do everything we can do to make the experience a positive one so that you walk out the door feeling empowered and with an increased confidence and appreciation for your body.

But I've been to the other kind of class. And if that was my intro to exercise, I would have thought there was something wrong with me. For feeling tired and shaky instead of energized and invigorated. For feeling awkward and clumsy instead of empowered and strong. For wanting to go lie down in the fetal position rather than take on my day with confidence and joy.

Because no one, not the instructor or the class description, told me it might feel bad. And I get it--that's a terrible sales strategy for one thing. (The endorphins coursing through our veins from all that exercise, combined with that whole love analogy I made earlier, are other factors.)

However, it is counter-productive. Because whatever fun words we use to describe exercise, at some point that person is going to take our class or sign-up for a session and the truth of it, whatever that is for them, will come out.

Maybe they'll love it. Great.

Maybe they'll hate it but sign a silent agreement with themselves to gut it out until they lose those 30 pounds and then peace out. Not so great.

But maybe something worse will happen. Maybe they'll think we're delusional because their experience in no way resembled what was marketed to them and decide never to come back. Or maybe they'll internalize it. Maybe they'll think something is fundamentally wrong with them because they don't feel all of the wonderful things they were promised. Maybe they'll decide they just aren't meant for exercise.

And that would be the very worst outcome, in my view.

So, what's the solution? Well, maybe there's some kind of middle ground we strike in our communication between what we hope you will feel and the range of experiences people can have on the path to that outcome...

But that's really a fitness industry conversation. I guess what I'm trying to say to you here, friends, is this:

  • It's okay if you take a barre class and feel like the exercises could be used to extract state secrets from you, if you had any.
  • It's totally fine if the only thought that gives you joy during a circuit training session is imagining punching the instructor somewhere it will hurt. (Just to be clear, actually hitting them would be very bad. And possibly a felony.)
  • You're normal if your conclusion about Pilates is that you will never feel okay about a workout that requires you to spend that much time with your feet inches from your face.
  • You don't need to feel ashamed if your favorite part of a yoga session is that pose where you lie down with your eyes closed and nap.

It's "normal" to feel all of those things, or their opposites.

It's okay to love exercise. I hope you mostly love it.

It's okay to think it sucks. Some days I think it sucks.

What isn't okay is for fitness professionals to be disingenuous. Or to fail to acknowledge the struggle that exercise often is. Or to forget that our relationship with exercise is a committed, loving partnership, while for many of our clients it's a first date with someone they met online. They may get married one day, but it may not be today or tomorrow or next month.

So, if this post is nothing else, it is written acknowledgement from me of all of that. For whatever that's worth.

Something a Blogger Shouldn't Admit...

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First confession. If you've been wondering what in the world the featured images on some of my recent posts have to do with the topics of said posts, I have two things to say. First, thank you for noticing. I'm thrilled that anyone pays that close attention. Second, you're right. It's rare that I can find images that relate directly to topics--there are only so many pictures of weights and exercising people I can stand to post. So, lately I've just been picking pictures I like. Similar to how I pick racehorses or bottles of wine. If they have a fun name and/or a pretty label, that's good enough for me. And lately I've been drawn to pretty pictures; aspirational pictures; pictures of places I'd like to be. Because... It has been unbelievably difficult to write this blog this summer. Probably against the rules of blogging to say that, but it's true. If I could write about whatever I wanted, maybe it would be different. But this blog is about health, and fitness and being kind to ourselves. And honestly, I don't feel like I've been doing well at any of those things here lately.

I've been craving comfort food and familiarity and sleep and funny YouTube videos and articles about soldiers reunited with the service dogs who protected them in Afghanistan.

What I haven't been craving is 6am workouts and trying new exercises and vegetables and de-bunking frustrating articles about "magical" foods that eliminate body fat.

But, I've been figuring out ways to make those healthy things I know I need to do appealing and achievable given my current attitude. For example...

There are three workouts that actually sound appealing to me at the moment--my treadmill time (aka rocking out to iPod time), a stretching/barre workout and a lower body strength training one. So, I alternate between those, depending on how I feel that day. Not a ton of variety in my workouts on this plan, but variety isn't always necessary.

The advantage to this plan is that I actually am getting exercise into my day, and by repeating the same few workouts and exercises, I can see improvements in strength that I might not notice if I were alternating between a dozen workout options.

Those two things constitute a win in my book.

I know we hear a lot about why we should mix up our workouts, and there's a lot to be said for variety. But there are ways to add variety that don't require doing a totally different workout every day of the week. You can up the amount of weight you lift, play around with the tempo of exercises, alternate between the beginner/intermediate/advanced modifications of an exercise. You get the idea.

And when you are doing something different every day, you can miss out on the opportunity to feel mastery over a particular exercise or movement. You simply don't get enough repetitions of one thing to experience that. And that is an awesome feeling and one you don't want to miss out on. It's confidence-boosting and morale-boosting and motivating.

That's one example, but I'm trying to do that with the other areas of my health and fitness life too--find ways to get as much of the benefit of healthy choices as I can when everything feels so difficult.

What are some ways you all find to make healthy eating or exercise or sleep easier when you're overwhelmed? Please share below!

Here's a little gift I wanted to leave you with. It was recommended to me by my best friend and it is one of my favorite YouTube finds of the summer. Enjoy!

I Swimsuit Season So Hard. This is awesome. I'm not even going to summarize it because I don't want to step all over the funny.

'Til next time...

My Simple Recipe for a Healthy Life

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It's a really simple equation, health. Note that I said simple here, not easy. Sometimes life is just hard and there's no way around that. Over the years I've made healthy living way more complicated than necessary, which got me nowhere but frustrated and feeling like a failure.

Eventually, I distilled my recipe for good health into one line and I'm going to share it with you now. Here it is: sleep, eat whole foods, exercise and drink water. Do these things every day.

That's it. There's nothing particularly original about it. I get that.

For a lot of people sleep is the most pleasant healthy activity to incorporate--I know it was for me. I feel like water might be the second. And there are some ways to make it easy and palatable, which I'll share with you below.

Why water? Our bodies are about 60% water and every part of your body needs that fluid in order to do what it does. Water gets rid of the toxins that build up in your organs. It is the conduit for bringing nutrients to your cells, including those muscles you target during exercise. Water keeps the parts of your body that need moisture (ears, nose and throat) hydrated. It's a multi-tasking powerhouse.

As you deplete your internal fluid reservoir through activities like breathing and perspiring, you need to replenish those fluids to avoid dehydration. Dehydration is not good. Dehydration is bad times. Dehydration = tired and sick.

So how much is enough? Well, how much you need depends on many factors. The Mayo Clinic has an article about recommended fluid intake, which you can read here.

How Water? Here are my tips and tricks for happy hydrating:

  • Invest in a stainless-steel water bottle like this one, or this one, designed to keep water cold for long periods of time. Cold water just tastes better than room temperature water. I keep a bottle at work and at home—basically I have one in sight all the time to remind me to drink but also to make it really easy to do so.
  • Notice that the recommendations now are for “fluids” not “water.” This means that not just plain tap water counts. You can count tea, sparkling water, soda, coffee, juice, etc. for some of it. But be careful about how much added sugar and caffeine you’re ingesting. Oh, and you'll get some fluids from the foods you eat too.
  • Add some flavor. I like plain water. I especially like it during and after a workout. But sometimes I get bored. So if you’re tired of plain water, add a slice of lemon or lime to your glass of ice water. You get the flavor of it in the water, but you also smell that fresh citrus-y smell every time you take a drink. It’s kind of a nice pampering thing to do for yourself. You’ll feel like you’re in a fancy restaurant.
  • I also love a sparkling water. La Croix makes really nice flavored ones with no sugar, just a little bit of flavor. The grapefruit and coconut flavors are my favorites. Just saw that they have a peach-pear flavor, which it is now my mission to track down.
  • You can use an infused water bottle like this one. These are water bottles that contain little internal baskets into which you can place slices of citrus, sprigs of mint, or berries. As you refill the bottle with water throughout the day, whatever you put in the infuser will add a bit of flavor to your water.

The goal for this week is to figure out your daily fluid goal and reach it. Make a plan for success (i.e. buying some reusable water bottles to keep in the places you spend the most time, slicing up some lemons or limes, or keeping some sparkling water in the fridge to reach for when you need some variety).

Good luck!

 

From Love to Hate in 10 Seconds Flat

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Several years ago I was OBSESSED with Pilates. The kind you do on those crazy-looking machines.

I loved how it felt. My favorite thing was when we got to put the jump boards on the bottom and hop around.

It was a tough workout, but…

…You got to lie down for an hour in the middle of the day. And that was all kinds of awesome.

The only thing I didn’t like was how expensive it was. Ultimately, I had to give it up for budget reasons. So, when I could afford Pilates again last year, I was so excited. I booked a whole bunch of sessions and headed in for my triumphant return. And…

…I HATED it. Like really hated it.

I hated how it felt.

It was tough in all the wrong ways.

I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

There was about a half a minute where I thought maybe I could talk myself into liking it again, but here’s the thing: my body was telling me that this form of exercise did not work for it right now. That’s all.

I hadn’t failed. There was nothing wrong with me or my body because I didn’t like it. I didn’t need to talk myself into anything. I just needed to move on.

It simply was not the right match for me anymore. And while I have some theories, it doesn’t really matter why. And that’s my message to you. Whether you’ve never worked out before, or are returning after a break, or are a regular exerciser who’s looking for a new kind of workout—if you try one form of exercise and it doesn’t feel right, try something else.

There is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with your body. The simple truth is that you haven’t found the right method yet. A form of exercise can be wrong for your body. Your body is not wrong.

Don’t give up. Keep trying. Go to a class that sounds interesting. Put that Amazon Prime membership to work trying out different exercise DVDs. Call a personal trainer and try working out with him or her. One of the great things about personal training is right there in the name—it’s personal. Trainers have an exercise library in their brains and can help you try different kinds of movement until you find something you like.

Depending on the demands being placed on your body, or the kind of workout program you’ve been following lately, certain kinds of movement will feel better than others at a given time. Pay attention to how you feel and to what your body is trying to tell you. Don’t force it to bend to your will. Give it the opportunity to exercise in a way that makes you feel strong and healthy.

July in a Flash

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I seriously want to do a cannonball into the pool in that picture right now, you guys. Actually, I'm getting less picky about how I cool off at this point. I was at my aunt and uncle's this week, chatting with them on their patio in the 90 degree heat. And I was seriously tempted to just go sit in the in the birdbath in the middle of their courtyard and wait for autumn. Autumn is really my season. The season of sweaters and cozy socks and leggings and boots. But summer? Summer with its heat and its sunburns and its flip-flops and its terrible weekend traffic? Summer is not my jam.

But...good things did happen on the blog this summer. So that's something, right? Here's what you might have missed in July...

That Time I Exercised Less & Got Stronger. Yeah, the story about how exercising less was more. A happy tale.

I shared my favorite exercise DVDs in 18,057 Results.

I told you where we go to find our workout threads in The 5 Best Places for Inexpensive (but Cute!) Workout Wear.

Amazing Summertime Treats You Need to Try. Like, Yesterday. It's summer and if you have a sweet tooth this post is for you. It's possible to have something sweet and delicious without compromising your commitment to healthy eating.

I told you my Secrets to a Great Workout Every Time.

Sometimes things are hard and then you find stories about 101-year-old sprinters and you're happy again. That was the story in Tough Sailing & Thursday Musts.

And that's a wrap for July everyone! See you here again in August. Take care.

 

Tough Sailing & Thursday Musts

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Ever feel like there's something really important that you're forgetting to do? Like no matter how many lists you make, your brain is holding back something vital? Something that's going to rear its ugly little overdue head just when you think everything is under control? This has been one of those months where I just felt like I couldn't get a handle on everything. Honestly, there's just been a lot going on--a lot of responsibilities--and I couldn't shake the feeling that I wasn't doing anything particularly well.

At a certain point, things on my list had to be good-enough; they didn't get to be perfect. I had to say no to some things. Others got pushed back until after my big, temporary project was finished.

If you struggle similarly, while I don't have the magic answer for you, I can tell you some things I found this month that are worth sharing.

This Southwest Potato Salad is one of those one-pan dinners--two if you add black beans and rice like I did--that makes a healthy dinner possible during a busy week.

Sitting Behind a Computer All Day Can Wipe You Out. I knew it.

I know we're not officially in "leggings" season, what with it being 80 million degrees outside as I type this. But, I love leggings and have been on a quest to find the perfect ones for months. I found these from Lands End. I like them a lot, actually.

This is What Happens When You Don't Drink Enough Water. I'm filling up my water bottle. Right. Now.

When I need a little food inspiration, Shutterbean is one of my favorite places to healthy-recipe window-shop. Is that a thing? Doesn't really matter. She makes vegetables look beautiful and delicious. I'm in it for her vegetarian and vegan recipes, but there are tons of main dishes, breakfast dishes, baked treats, frozen treats, drinks...well, you get the idea. It's food. Lots and lots of food.

Julia "Hurricane" Hawkins is 101 and breaking speed records. I kind of want to be her when I grow up.

Spending money to have more free time makes you happier, says science.

Here's to a joyful August for us all! Have a great weekend!

 

Amazing Summertime Treats You Need to Try. Like, Yesterday.

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Just because you want to put healthy food into your body doesn't mean you don't get to enjoy delicious summertime treats too! I promise these recipes are as good (or better!) than anything you'll find in the store and they're filled with ingredients you can actually pronounce. And they're pretty. And they'll make your life sweeter. And they're all vegan or easily made vegan, if you're a plant-based diet person like me. And you don't have to turn on the oven or the stove, which is a requirement for summer desserts in my house. I've made them all. I love them all. So, here they are, from me to you... Creamy Coconut and Blood Orange Popsicles. These are like the creamsicles I remember from my childhood, but a more beautiful, healthier and grown-up version.

Frozen "Snickers" Bars and Bites. These are a little more labor intensive than a popsicle, but you're worth the extra time :-)

5-Ingredient Homemade "Twix" Bars. Let me just say that if you are trying to cut back on your refined sugar intake, but love caramel, then Medjool dates are your new best friend.

Frozen Peanut Butter Banana Cups. Chocolate. Peanut Butter. Ice cream-like frozen banana. Need I say more?

Coconut Lime Popsicles. I leave out the green food coloring and I use non-dairy milk for these, but otherwise I love this recipe. Sort of mojito-like, but without the mint. I'll bet you could add a little fresh mint if you wanted. Or maybe infuse the coconut milk with some mint flavor by soaking the mint leaves in it for a while...I wonder if that would work?

Black Forest Cake Popsicles. To make these refined sugar-free, I made a cherry compote using frozen dark sweet cherries, a little water and some cornstarch to thicken. You could also use juice-sweetened cherry jam, if you can find it.

Dole Whip. If you've ever had this at Disneyland, you know the magic of Dole Whip. This version has two ingredients. Super easy. I've also made this with a little frozen banana to make it creamier.

Strawberry Banana Nice Cream. Only change I  make to this one is using non-dairy creamer instead of heavy cream.

Enjoy! Share your favorite summertime desserts below.

At War With Vegetables

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I want to love vegetables. I really, really do. Fruit, I love. Fruit is, has been and will always be, my friend.

But vegetables?

Vegetables are a challenge. I'm better than I used to be, but it takes effort. Sometimes I have to puree them and sneak them into things that I actually like the taste of, in order to get them into my system. You know, like you'd do for a child.

Anyway, whether you're like me and have the vegetable leanings of a picky toddler, or whether you're like my  mother and grandmother who actually love the taste of them, you can get something from these tips. So, here we go...

Roast them. How you cook vegetables makes a huge difference in how they taste. Roasted tends to be my go-to method for cooking: asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and even radishes. Generally I toss them in a little olive oil, salt, pepper (and sometimes garlic powder) and roast them at 400 degrees. The amount of time varies depending on the density of the vegetable.

Add citrus. A little squeeze of fresh lemon juice goes a long way with roasted, sauteed or steamed vegetables. A good friend of mine who's been a vegan for 20+ years once told me that the key to cooking vegetables is you need some fat and some acid. I usually opt for lemon, but lime would work on some things and I often use balsamic vinegar on things like sauteed greens.

Sneak them into other food. I often do a smoothie in the morning, and it's really easy to throw in some fresh spinach, pureed pumpkin or cooked carrot without changing the flavor at all. Other things I've tossed pureed vegetables into include: brownies, muffins, veggie burgers and cookies. Pumpkin or other squashes are easily to blend into a puree and use in place of things like butter, oil, applesauce or yogurt in some baked goods. I also often blend them into soups. I make a really good tortilla soup and blend up tons of veggies into that that I wouldn't eat if they were in chunks, floating in broth. You can add veggies to spaghetti sauce, or meatloaf without too much trouble too.

Refer to vegan and vegetarian cookbooks. Because vegetables are often the stars of vegan and vegetarian meals, they treat them especially well. My favorite recipe for collard greens came from a vegan cookbook. Even if vegetables are going to remain a supporting player in your meals, you can learn techniques for making them taste delicious and special by looking to the people who eat them as a main dish.

Try as many vegetables as you can while they're in season. It matters where and how a vegetable was grown. The taste of a tomato from my garden is very different from the ones I can buy in the store. So, eat seasonally as much as you can. Try buying at least some of your produce from your local farmer's market. Try new ones, even if you aren't sure what to do with them. Ask the vendors at the market about their favorite ways to prepare the things you're buying. They very often have great recommendations. And remember that it can take several tries of a vegetable before you begin to like it. So, play around with different ways of preparing them before you decide you don't like a vegetable.

Grow your own. I find that if I grew something myself I'm way more likely to eat it. I think that's partly because they often taste better than the store-bought stuff, but it's probably also a mental thing. There's an investment of time and energy in the stuff I grew myself, so I take pride in it and want to enjoy it.

Anyone have any other tips for hitting your daily intake of vegetables? Please share in the Comments section!

Crunches Are a Pain in My Neck & Other Truths

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Raise your hand if you dread crunches. Anyone? Everyone? If you were here, you'd see me with both hands in the air, jumping up and down and saying, "ooh, I do, I do!" Do I do them? Sometimes. Do I like them? Almost never. But it used to be that the reason I hated them was that they were a literal pain in my neck, not because they were a challenging ab exercise. My neck would always wear out long before I ever felt anything happening in my abdominals. Big thumbs down to that. I hate wasting exercise time and energy, so I made it a project to see whether there was something I could do about that.

This post has a few tips that might help you if you struggle similarly. But first, here are some of the reasons why the neck pain happens in the first place.

Often the cause of neck pain during crunches is not keeping your head and neck in line with the rest of your spine; meaning your head is either lagging behind the rest of your spine, or it's jutting forward past the rest of your spine. Both of these scenarios put a lot of pressure on your spine and the muscles of your neck. In some cases, this can result in serious injury. So, in short, it's about form. Bad form = bad times for you and your spine.

So, how do you make sure you're doing crunches in correct form? Here are some things that have helped me. First, just a note that everyone's body is different and I'm not attempting to diagnose your neck pain as being due to poor form during crunches. If you are having pain of any kind anywhere during exercise, you should consult a professional--either your personal trainer, physical therapist or your doctor, depending on your specific circumstances.

I don't place my hands behind my head during crunches. Having my hands behind my head causes me to pull my head forward, often ahead of the rest of my spine. My chin ends up jutting out and causing strain to my neck. Remember we want our head, neck and torso to move as one piece, with our abdominals driving the movement, not our upper bodies. Sometimes I place my hands on the floor or across my chest instead, but the thing I've been doing lately is placing my right hand hand gently on my jaw. I know it sounds weird, but I read a study about how doing that, combined with the next tip, actually relaxes the thick muscle that runs from your ear to your collarbone and reduces strain. Also, the study showed an increase in muscular activity in some of the abdominal muscles themselves. (You can check out the article here. )

I tuck my chin slightly. The first tip is about making sure my head isn't pulling forward ahead of the rest of my spine, but this tip is about making sure it isn't lagging behind (another cause of neck strain). This is a visualization I learned in Pilates class years ago and it's a good one. Imagine you have an orange tucked between your chin and your chest. If you don't squeeze it a little bit, it will roll right off and onto the floor. If you squeeze it too hard, you'll smash and juice it. You're looking for a middle ground--a slight tucking of the chin in toward your chest so that your head and neck are in line with the rest of your spine.

I think about my abdominals doing the work. This is that mind-body connection thing again. If I want the movement to come from my abdominal muscles, then I need to communicate that to those muscles. I do that by thinking about those muscles engaging and lifting my torso up off the floor.

I skip the crunches altogether. If you try all of these things and still feel strain in your neck, opt for non-crunch-based ab exercises. There are tons. Planks are a fantastic total body exercise and there are several variations--side planks, hip drops and knee drops, just to name a few--that are really effective for working the abdominals. There are also standing abdominal exercises--teapot crunches, mountain climbers, wood-choppers, and many more--that target your core muscles really effectively. There is actually an argument to be made that some of these exercises are better than crunches. The reason being is that they mimic the movements in which the muscles of the core actually have to work in our daily lives.

I'm thinking it might be worth doing a video or picture post of my favorite non-crunch ab exercises...Next month, maybe. Anyway, that's it from me for now. If you have a favorite ab exercise or a tip for avoiding neck strain during crunches, please leave it in the Comments section below. Thanks!

 

 

See That? It's a Clue!

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Have you ever thought about something or worked on something for so long that when it actually happened--when it was actually reality--you kind of couldn't believe it? That's  where we are today with this news. And the image at the top of this post is a clue. A bit of a sneak-peak, if you will. Ready?

Okay....

Pretty soon we aren't going to be Lean Body Lifestyles anymore! And it's exciting, not sad. I swear.

We aren't going away. The studio will be in the same place, and you'll see the same shining faces of trainers and staff you've been seeing. Nothing will change about your experience or the studio, except for maybe a new coat of paint on the walls and some new decor.

But we are re-branding and re-naming the studio, Fitness for Life. We think it is a name and a brand that better reflects who we are, how we do what we do, and puts us in a position to take the business to some pretty exciting places in the future.

I'll pop back in sometime in the next week or so when we've officially launched as Fitness for Life. I'll share some details about why we made this change and give you all the information you need about our new website and social media accounts, so you can continue to follow us without any interruption.

Thank you all for your support of Lean Body Lifestyles over the years! We look forward to serving you as Fitness for Life for many more years to come.

If you are a current or former client, we'd also appreciate hearing what you like(d) most about working with us. We're going to be doing some radio ads and would love to share those things with prospective clients, so that women looking for a similar exercise experience will join us. You can leave your thoughts in the Comments section below. But if you'd rather have your feedback remain private, feel free to email us through our website here.

Thanks all!

 

 

Make Friends With Your Abs

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This post is about one of those things you hear trainers, or group fitness class instructors say a lot: engage your core. Incidentally, you know what form of exercise is a great one for getting really good at engaging your core? Pilates. They talk about it all the time and I had great instructors who taught me how to do it well.

Anyway, it's a great cue and an important thing to do in almost every exercise (Pilates or otherwise), but it's only helpful if you know what it means, right?

Right.

So, here's what I mean when I say it.

But first, a little context.

Your core is more than just your abdominal muscles. It encompasses your stomach muscles for sure, but it also includes muscles in your back as well as your gluteal muscles. This group of muscles: supports your spine and your pelvis;  it promotes healthy posture; and is responsible for moving your torso through all of the activities of daily living (including exercise) safely.

Ignoring your core muscles can lead to pain and injury--bad times, really.

So, that's what your core is and what it does. Now on to how you go about engaging it.

Let me preface this by saying that this is a subtle combination of movements, which makes it kind of difficult to explain, but I'm going to do my best. It's not sucking in your stomach. Don't do that. It will make it hard to breathe, and breathing is important.

You might remember that I've said before that the way to communicate to any muscle is simply to think about it. That applies here for sure.

I tighten my stomach muscles slightly. You do not need six-pack abs to do this. You have stomach muscles whether you can see them or not. Sometimes I think about them bracing up against my spine, or sometimes I imagine someone is about to bounce a coin off my stomach. (Bracing for a punch to the stomach probably also would work, but that's a little more violent than I like to be with my visualization techniques.) That's usually enough to get the subtle tightening of those muscles that I'm looking for. Another one that might help you is to think about how your stomach feels right before you're about to laugh or cough. If it helps, laugh or cough and then try to hold that level of muscular engagement. You might feel kind of silly, but once you get the hang of how it's supposed to feel, you won't have to do the coughing or the laughing anymore.

Then I think about lifting up through the bottom of my pelvis, or tucking my pelvis forward. At the same time I tighten my gluteal muscles slightly.

And finally, I roll my shoulders up and back and imagine them sliding down my spine. Ever heard someone say, "shoulder-blades in your back pocket"? I heard that visual years ago and it stuck with me. Use it if it helps you too! Anyway, now my shoulders are down and back and my chest is open.

That's it. Core is engaged. If it feels difficult at first, that's okay. Like anything new, you have to practice before it feels natural or easy. You can practice it outside of the context of exercise as well. Try it while you're sitting at your desk, or walking through the grocery store.

If you have questions, please post them in the Comments section below.

See you back here again soon!

Final (Maybe)Favorite Things

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So, the posts where we share our favorite things from the last month (products, articles, websites, recipes, exercises, etc.) has been a more challenging list to compile as the months go by. That's partly due to the fact that we are pretty specific when it comes to what we will and won't recommend. Our industry is bursting with advice, programs, products and information that we often find problematic. In a bikini-body-obsessed and hyper-aggressive fitness world, it's sometimes difficult for us to find things that we feel comfortable sharing with you and recommending to you.

So. The favorite things post is kind of on the bubble, as they say in the world of television. It could be canceled, or it could be renewed. If it is renewed, we think it needs to change. And that change will involve you.

What we'd like to see this post become, in-part, is a response to you all. To your questions about things you've read or heard about health and fitness. To your curiosity about whether a particular fitness product (could be clothing, shoes, or exercise equipment, books or dvd's) is really worth the investment.

We'd also like to see it become a place where you share what has worked for you or inspired you in your health journey. Are there recipes you've relied upon to bring flavor and excitement into your healthy diet? Are there specific exercises, or types of exercise that you love and want us to share with others? Are there tips, quotes or advice someone else shared with you that you think might inspire other people?

Whatever you post in the Comments section, we'll check out. So, please share your questions or thoughts there and you may see us include something you wrote about in an upcoming post.

Thanks to all of you who read the blog and have sent kind comments along the way. We hope you'll engage with us in our effort to share the best of the health and fitness world with our readers!

In the meantime, here's a mini-favorite things list for you...

I'm apparently late to the ThredUp party, but I recently discovered it and have added it to my list of favorite places to shop for inexpensive (but good quality) workout gear. You can sell them your gently used stuff, or just scour their inventory for nice things at a good price. I've purchased things that literally still had the original tags on, and I've purchased other things that had very minor signs of wear. I love it.

These PB&J bars from the Katalyst Health blog. They're refined sugar-free (sweetened with a little maple syrup and dates), and delicious.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had cut back on the duration and intensity of my workouts and was following a plan by another personal trainer I really like. I'm almost 6 weeks in and I've absolutely loved it! For those of you who've asked, it's Jessica Smith's Walk Strong series. You can purchase it from Amazon here. Each workout is 30 minutes and they provide a schedule (including active rest days) for you to follow.

This article, When Self-Improvement is Self-Destruction: The 4 Warning Signs.

This is Not the End. Immunotherapy is pretty amazing you guys.

Let's get started now with the new version of favorite things, shall we? The Comments section is open for your questions and contributions!

Pace Yourself

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Hi all! Hope you had a great weekend. We had our first ever movie night at the studio last Friday and it was so much fun. The movie was really interesting; the food from Happy Belly was amazing; and the conversation was encouraging and supportive. If you are in the Tacoma area and couldn't make it for this one, I hope you'll be able to make it to one in the future! We'd love to have you there. Okay, now for the post for today. It's probably not what you think, given the title. I want to talk a little bit today about the pace of repetitions in exercise. One of the ways to vary your workouts and increase the challenge to your muscles is to change the pace at which you complete a repetition. Changing the demand on your muscles is how you get stronger and continue to see results. Adding weight or repetitions are a couple of ways you can do that, but pace is another.

We often assume that we should complete the upward and downward phases of an exercise at the same pace. So, up for two counts and then down for two counts. But, it can be fun to switch it up a bit. Here are some ways I like to do that.

Up for a count of three and then down for a count of one. Note that in this scenario I'm maintaining control on the downward phase (not swinging or allowing the weight to drop), just moving a bit quicker.

Up for a count of one, and then down for a count of three. On many exercises (biceps curls among them), most of the work is actually happening on the downward phase of the movement. Unfortunately, that part of the exercise often gets rushed because we have gravity to help us bring the weight back down. One way to counteract that is to go very deliberately slowly on the way down.

Do the first half of your set (so 8 repetitions if your total set includes 16) at a slow pace and the second half at a quicker (but controlled) pace. So, maybe you start out at a three-counts-up-three-counts-down pace, and then switch to a one count up and down pace for the second half.

Do the first half of your set (so 8 repetitions if your total set includes 16) at a quicker (but controlled) pace and the second half at a slow pace. (See the above option and just reverse it.)

Try pulsing squats, lunges and leg lifts. Instead of a slow two-counts-up-two-counts-down pace for these lower body exercises, play around with smaller movements. For example, drop down into a squat and then instead of coming all the way back up to standing, only come back halfway and then drop down again.

Try three-count squats. Take a count of three to lower down and then push back up on a count of one.

Break the range of motion into segments. This works well for some exercises (biceps curls, for example) and less well for others. In the case of biceps curls, I do five repetitions where I only bring the weight up halfway (so that there's a 90 degree angle at my elbow). The next five repetitions are just from that halfway point at the elbow, up to my shoulder and back down to elbow level again. Then I finish with five repetitions of full curls--all the way down, all the way up.

Can you think of other ways you might play around with the pacing of exercises you love? Are there things you do now to change things up that I haven't mentioned here? Feel free to share in the Comments section below.

May In-Review

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In case you missed any posts this month, here's a little catch-up. When Hiring a Personal Trainer…Some questions to ask when meeting with potential trainers.

We posted a Fitness Tip of the Month to help make your workouts safer and more effective.

I talked about cutting back on my workouts for a bit in the post, When Change is Good.

In When to Up What You Lift we shared some pointers for knowing when to increase the weight you're using in your workouts.

And we finished up with our monthly list of Favorite Things.

Thanks for spending some time on the blog this month! See you in June.

Favorite Things: May

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Happy Monday, friends! Our monthly collection of things we love or things we found interesting in the preceding weeks is here. We don't get paid to promote any of the products or people listed here, but if that ever changes we'll let you know. These shoes, made from plastic bottles recovered from the ocean.

This effort by the royal family to shatter the stigma surrounding mental health.

Slack.com. This app is a lifesaver for Nikki and I. We have channels for all of our major projects and we can post documents and discuss, keeping everything related to that topic together in one place. And it's searchable. If you work with a team on anything, check it out.

Shut Down Body Shamers with this One Line.

Chocolate and peanut butter for breakfast? Yes, please. I'm trying these Chocolate Peanut Butter Pancakes as soon as I hit publish on this post.

What Mindfulness Looks Like in the Age of Social Media.

My favorite dinner this month was super simple. I roasted some vegetables in the oven (I used grape tomatoes, asparagus, sweet onion, and green beans); tossed them with some orzo I cooked in vegetable stock; dressed the whole thing with the juice of one lemon, 1T olive oil, salt and pepper; and topped it with fresh basil and toasted pine nuts. Delicious and done in about 30 minutes.

Farmer's Market Season is here (!!!) and I love tote baskets like this one .

7 Ways Dermatologists Protect their Skin. 

Okay, that's it from us for today. We'll be back with new posts for you next week!

 

Fitness Tip of the Month

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Hi there! Here we are in a new month, with a new fitness tip to share. And I love this one because it involves that ever-important mind-body connection thing. As always, no exercise or fitness tip works for everyone's body and this post should not be considered a recommendation that you do the exercises mentioned below. Your body is different than mine, and our injuries, histories and limitations are different. So, please consult a physician before beginning any exercise program and stop exercising and consult a physician if you experience pain, dizziness, nausea etc. I have bad knees and bad wrists. By that I mean I have treated them badly, not that they've done anything wrong. Injuries, a sedentary lifestyle and many years sitting at a desk and working on a computer took their toll, so now I have to be careful with them.

In terms of workouts, it has meant that anything that requires that my wrists be flexed (as they are in push-ups, planks or other quadrupedal exercises) is off the table.

But, I heard a tip recently that has helped me a lot and it's this: don't sink into your wrists. Think about using your larger, upper body muscles to support your body weight instead of relying on your hands and wrists to support you. This applies even if you don't have wrist issues or pain.

If I haven't shared this before, the way to communicate with a muscle is simply to think about it. So, I think about pushing away from the floor and lifting that pressure out of my wrists.

Try it next time you exercise. And it doesn't have to be with push-ups. It can be with anything. Doing squats? Think about your glutes pushing your body back up to standing. Biceps curls? Think about those biceps engaging and bringing those weights toward your shoulders. Got a set of crunches to do? Think about those abdominal muscles pulling your shoulder blades up off the floor.

I swear it works. Being mindful and checking in with our bodies throughout our workouts is so important, both in terms of keeping us safe and making each exercise as effective as it can be.