personal training

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. 

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!

When a Client is Stronger Than You Are

It's difficult to become something you can't see. That's the reason I wrote the post about the value of body size diversity within the personal trainer community. This week I want to address a specific concern I hear a lot from aspiring trainers--what to do if you have a client who is stronger than you in some way, or is ready for exercises that you aren't able to demonstrate?

My philosophy on this is pretty simple. I don't need to be able to do every exercise at its most advanced level. What I do need to be able to do is to communicate how to do an exercise properly. Sometimes that's me demonstrating exactly what I want them to do, and other times it's explaining it in words. And both of those things work just fine.

The other thing is that people don't hire me to exercise with them. They hire me because I have expertise that's of value to them, because I create workouts that are fun and effective for them, and because I keep them safe while they exercise. So, a workout isn't ever about what I can do. It's about what the client can do and what I can teach them to do. Does that make sense? I don't always demonstrate my full range of motion on an exercise with a client who maybe isn't as strong as I am. Conversely, I don't need to be able to demonstrate what a client who is stronger than me can do, in order to be effective as a trainer.

An assumption that a lot of trainers make is that the only reason a client is looking to hire a trainer is to lose weight. There are myriad reasons why someone decides to exercise that have nothing to do with getting thinner. Which brings me to the last point I want to make: focus on your strengths as a trainer and the right clients will find you.

Think about a university and the diversity of expertise it contains. You wouldn't expect a math professor to teach you all about history, or a biology professor to help you become a great writer. They each have their little corner of academia and that's where they live. You will have that too as a fitness professional. You won't be the right trainer for everyone. But you will be the right trainer for someone--many someones, hopefully :-)

If you have specific questions about becoming a trainer, wherever you're starting from, please leave them below and I'll do my best to answer. You can also email me directly at nikki@fitnessforlifeco.com if you'd rather your comment remain private.

Secrets to Making Midday Workouts Work

When I was working my full-time office job, I had good intentions when it came to exercise. Each night I would set my alarm for 5am, which would give me plenty of time to fit in a workout. And then my alarm would go off at 5am and I'd think, "I will feel much more like exercising after work than I do now." Snooze button hit.

But the thing was that I never felt like working out after work. I was exhausted by the time I got home. So, I'd give myself a pass--skipping one day won't hurt--and make big plans to go to bed early that night. That way, when my alarm went off at 5am the following day, I would bounce out of bed and into my workout clothes. 

And....that never happened. What I ultimately ended up doing was fitting my exercise in during my breaks at work. But that provided its own set of challenges--namely how to get myself looking, smelling and feeling presentable for the part of my work day that took place after my workout. 

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One part of the solution was to have the right products available to me at work. I kept a pair of workout shoes and a set of workout clothes in my office, so that I didn't have to remember to bring them with me in the morning when I was rushing out of the house to get to work. I also kept a bag with some post-workout refresh essentials, including:

Deodorant Wipes. I love these ones from Pacifica, but I'm sure other brands sell them too. 

Dry Shampoo. This was a lifesaver when I had a more intense workout and my hair ended up a little sweaty or windblown or whatever. Dry shampoos just soak up that moisture at the roots of your hair, and refresh the scent a bit. My favorite is this one from DryBar, but it's expensive. I also really like Batiste brand, and Hask makes a good one. Both of those are a little less expensive. 

A Washcloth, Hand Towel, and Travel-Size Body Spray. This is basically a makeshift bath kit. 

Travel-Size Facial Spray. I love this one from Mario Badescu. It's inexpensive and it smells like one of those high-end day spas. I'd just spray a little mist of this on my face to refresh my makeup after a workout. It was rare that I exercised hard enough that I had to reapply my makeup. But a little of this was so refreshing and kept my skin looking hydrated and alive. 

Travel-Size Powder and Blush. If my face was looking a little worse for wear after a workout, I found that all I needed was a little pressed powder and some blush to look like myself again. I would buy the travel-size versions and keep them in my bag. 

Make--Up Removing Wipes. I love these ones from Aveeno. These were great if I needed a bit more of a refresh than a mist of facial spray could give me.

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The second part of the solution was how I went about my midday workouts.

Let's say I wanted to get 30-minutes of exercise in each day. And let's say I couldn't, or didn't want, to do that all in one session. I would do 10-minute walks, three times a day--one during my morning break, one during my lunch break, and one during my afternoon break. There isn't a rule that you have to get all of your exercise in one long workout. Break it up as much as you need to, either for logistical reasons or because that's all you can take at one time.

On days when the weather prevented walks from being feasible, or on days when I just wanted to do something different, my phone was my friend. I was lucky enough to have my own private office with a door, so I could close it and do some YouTube yoga, or strength training exercise in there. I kept some resistance bands, a yoga mat and some weights in my office for that reason. If you don't have your own office, maybe there are other solutions. Are you allowed to reserve meeting rooms over the noon hour where you work? Could you do that once or twice a week?

Are there other people in your office who would like to work out with you? There are personal trainers who will come to you and lead a session. If you got a couple of friends together you could split the cost and have a workout with a trainer, without having to spend any of your limited break time driving to a gym. 

I hope some of these tips are helpful to you as you try to fit exercise into your day! If any of you have found things that work particularly well in making midday exercise work, please share below. 

 

When You Worry That You Aren't Enough...

This is a post I've wanted to write for a long time. I haven't written it, but not because I don't think it's an important conversation. I guess I haven't written it because it's such a loaded topic. It's one that, for other trainers who've spoken about it, has generated some pretty extreme reactions. So, to be completely honest, I personally just haven't felt prepared to tackle it or the potential response to it before now.

The "it" in this conversation is whether or not you can be a great personal trainer if you don't look like a fitness model--if you are, by standard measurements, considered overweight yourself. While I hope that everyone gets something out of this post, I am directing it at those of you who want to be a personal trainer. And it's especially directed at those of you who think you can't be an effective one unless you look a certain way.

I know that this is a real thing that prevents some people from pursuing careers in fitness. It wasn't an issue that came up for me when I was deciding to become a trainer. However, it did manifest itself in a different way later in my career, which I'll get to in a minute. 

I became a personal trainer because so many people were asking me to train them that it seemed like a viable business. I honestly never worried that people wouldn't hire me because of the size of my body, whatever it happened to be at any given time. That's proven to be true over these last fifteen years, by the way. I've been smaller than I am now. I've been bigger than I am now. And it just has not affected my ability to get clients.

Let me back-up for a minute though and tell you my story and then I'll get into my advice for those of you who are thinking about a fitness career.

I was working for a fitness equipment retailer in 2003, and was so bored at work that I spent a lot of time reading the exercise books and fitness magazines that were lying around the store.  I started to talk about what I was learning, and to play around with exercises while I was working in the store. People (customers, people who worked in neighboring stores, friends) then began asking me to train them or give them fitness advice. I was reluctant to do that without having some kind of formal education and certification, so I got certified and started a personal training business. 

Just because I didn't worry about people not hiring me doesn't mean that I was without any insecurities. I didn't attend a single professional development event or conference, in-person, for my first seven years as a trainer. I was worried that the other trainers would judge me. I thought they would think I didn't belong there. 

When I finally did begin attending conferences what I found was that there was a very diverse population of body types, shapes and sizes represented among the trainers at these events. There were people smaller than me, yes. But there were also people my size and larger. And what was also true was that I learned so much from the other trainers I met, that I can't help but think how much more I could have learned if I had gotten out of my own way sooner. I was guilty of assuming that all trainers looked a certain way, and that I was the lone exception. That simply wasn't true.

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Okay, so if you are someone who dreams of a career in fitness and really wants to help others live healthier happier lives, but you're insecure about the size/shape/whatever of your body, here's what I'd say to you. 

Do it anyway. Don't wait until you think you've reached whatever you define as physical perfection. My weight goes up and down, depending upon what else is going on in my life. I had a major trauma a little over a year ago. The stress of that has made exercise and other self-care activities almost impossible sometimes. I'm not working out as regularly or as hard as I have done in the past. But I do what I can do, and I'm honest with clients about my struggles and my successes. That doesn't make me perfect, but it does make me real. And my experience has been that people respond to what's genuine, not what's perfect.

Start to see your struggles, whatever they are, as an asset and not a professional liability. I cannot tell you the number of times clients have told me that they picked me as their trainer because I wrote on my website about struggling with an eating disorder and body image issues. I was less intimidating because they knew that I knew what it was like to struggle. 

My level of knowledge and skill doesn't decrease or increase inversely with my clothing size. And yours won't either. 

I'm going to write more in the coming weeks about the different reasons why body diversity in the personal training community is so beneficial to clients, and I'll address some of the concerns I hear most often from trainers. In the meantime, if you have specific questions about becoming a trainer, please leave them below and I'll do my best to answer. You can also email me directly at nikki@fitnessforlifeco.com if you'd rather your comment remain private.

Please Make Sure You Know This One Thing...

For me, the thing that has been a bit scary about venturing into the world of group fitness has been how often I use things I know, simply because I'm a personal trainer, to keep myself safe. It happens a lot. And I know it's happened to Nikki too.

It's really difficult to design a workout that's effective and safe for the wide variety of fitness levels an instructor sees represented in a class. And it's even more difficult to give the kind of personal attention and correction they'd like to each student, especially in classes the sizes of the ones you find in big gyms. An instructor can only be in so many places at once, right? This isn't a knock on small group fitness instructors at all. It's a difficult job and I have such admiration for the instructors who do it well. It's a specialized skill, that's for sure.

Small group classes are a great workout option for many people. It's less expensive than personal training. You get to experience a wide variety of exercise and you have the opportunity, when classes are managed well, to develop a strong support system among your classmates. So, I totally understand the draw. 

I've given some advice on this blog about how to approach group fitness classes--tips for getting the most out of them and for feeling less intimidated. But as Nikki and I have been talking about the topic lately, there's really one thing we can't emphasize enough. One thing that will serve you well, whatever shape your workouts take now or in the future. One thing we thought we needed to write a post about.

And that is: to know yourself and know your body before joining a group class. You must know when to slow things down; when and how to modify an exercise; and when to stop doing a particular exercise or workout. If you don't know these things, you run the risk of getting hurt. It is very, very difficult for a group instructor to know those things about you. No matter how good they are; you are the expert on you. You have to know what's good and safe for your body, and be empowered to act on those things in a group setting. 

That knowledge can come from practice; from experience. You can read-up on the mechanics of the body; you can research how to modify specific movements; you can try different things and notice what ranges of motion do and do not cause you pain. All are valid. But all take time.

The other thing you can do though is leverage the expertise of a personal trainer to speed up the process. Personal training on a regular basis is sometimes more than someone's budget will allow. But did you know that one or two sessions with a trainer can be enough to prepare you to thrive in your small group classes? You can literally tell a trainer the kinds of classes you're interested in taking and then ask them to help you learn how to stay safe.

Ask them how and when to modify something. Ask them what it should feel like when you're doing an exercise correctly, versus what feelings are signs that you're doing something that's going to lead to injury. Ask them how to know when to stop doing something altogether. Ask them how to know when it's okay to push through discomfort. They have knowledge to share and they want you to love exercise. You aren't going to love it if you hurt yourself or don't see any benefit from it.

So that's our one, overarching piece of advice when it comes to group fitness. It applies to at-home workouts too. If you're doing a workout DVD, the instructor can't see you and can't help you stay safe. You can do the same thing with workout DVDs as I suggest above--take it to a personal trainer and ask them to prepare you to do it effectively. 

Any questions, leave them below!

How to Treat Your Sore Muscles

Sore muscles are the wages of exercise. Unfortunately. I almost always get them when I return to working out after a break, or when I change-up my workout in some way. I wrote a post about how to minimize soreness with the former.

But, I have had people ask me whether there's a way to prevent it or cure it. The answer is that I don't know of a way to prevent it from ever happening. When I'm exercising regularly, there's always some muscle of mine that's a little (sometimes a lot) sore. 

However, you can mitigate the discomfort in some simple ways. I'm going to share a few of my favorite tips for that here. I hope one or more of them help you!

Drink water. Staying hydrated helps everything feel and function better.

Stretch. Make sure you're stretching after your workouts (and not before), and that you're building active recovery days into your workout schedule once or twice a week. Stretching returns muscles to their healthy resting lengths, and can provide short and long-term relief from muscle soreness when done correctly.

Get enough sleep. Seven to nine hours is the recommended range. I tend to fall more on the nine hour end, but you may need less. One of the many reasons why getting enough sleep is important, is that it's the time when the muscles you broke down during exercise repair themselves. If you don't sleep enough then those muscles don't get stronger.

Eat protein, including some right before bed. Amino acids are cellular building blocks, and there is some evidence that ingesting them before sleep is especially beneficial to the repair and rebuild process. 

Epsom salt bath. Epsom salt in hot water can provide some relief for those sore muscles. And they are really inexpensive. A soak in a hot tub is great too, if you have access to one. 

Foam rolling. I haven't talked a lot about foam rolling on the blog, but I did a ton of foam rolling when I was recovering from a knee injury a while back and it helped. It can be really intense though, especially if you have really tight muscles. If you don't have a foam roller, or traditional foam rolling is too intense and uncomfortable, you can use a rolling pin to gently massage your achy muscles. If you've never done it before, I would highly recommend getting a professional to show you how to do it safely. A personal trainer or physical therapist can help you learn the basics.

Massage. I read an article recently about a personal trainer who swears by weekly massages to treat muscle soreness. If my bank account would let me, I would totally try this experiment myself. If you can afford it, regular massage makes life better. 

Take an anti-inflammatory. Ibuprofen can provide some relief for sore muscles, but it's definitely not something you want to be taking regularly. If you're in so much pain from your workouts that you need pain killers, you may not be dealing with normal muscle soreness. It may be a symptom of overtraining or injury. When mine is especially bad, I'll take ibuprofen. But it's rare that I do that, and far more common that I use the other treatments listed here. 

Questions and Triple Axels

Hi all! Wondering how to start loving your body? Want to know how often you should be strength training, or doing cardio? Not sure how to do a plank correctly? Curious whether you're working out too much or too little? Or maybe you're wondering whether your muscles will always be so sore after a workout and what you can do to prevent it. 

Whatever your health and fitness questions, we're here to answer them. Starting next month we're going to be running a regular feature called, Ask Erin. I don't know yet whether they'll be their own posts or whether we'll just include a few questions and answers at the end of our regular posts as questions come in. It kind of depends on how many we get...

The point of our blog is to provide content that's of value to all of you reading. To that end, we'd love it if you would send in questions or even just suggestions for topics that you'd like us to write about in this space. You can share them in the Comments section below, or if you'd prefer not to share them publicly, you can email me directly at erin@fitnessforlifeco.com.

On another note, I'm not watching the Olympics. But, I've heard a lot over the last week about figure skater, Mirai Nagasu's, history-making triple axel at this year's games. If you're like me and are wondering why that's such a big deal, here's a video from Vox that tells you everything you need to know in less than five minutes. It is actually amazing that anyone can do this.