Keep it simple

I went to a boot camp exercise class this past weekend with a friend of mine and it made me reminisce of the classes that I used to teach while I was employed as a personal trainer. The instructor was very good. He used a circuit approach and the exercises were pretty basic, but you could vary your effort based on your level of fitness and comfort with the particular exercise so it was really for all types of people. Most of the exercises were done individually but a small few were done with a partner which kept it motivating.

This class reminded me of how simple it is to exercise and get in shape! Please don’t confuse simple with easy though because they really are different concepts. The exercises didn’t require and equipment other than your own body, although you could add weights if you wanted the extra boost. The group class was great and certainly helps those of us who need a little extra help in holding ourselves accountable or those who prefer the camaraderie. However, all of these exercises you could do at home your own motivation and a little bit of space so you don’t hit anything.

The exercises are timed and you did each more for one full minute (pacing yourself!) and you rested a minute before you went on to the next one. This gets your heart rate up just a little and works your large muscle groups. I would suggest you alternate between upper and lower body moves so you can finish the workout…alternatively you could do all the same body area if you are a glutton for punishment.

Simple ideas include: lunges, planks, sit ups, push ups, 6 inches, bicycles, jump squats, jumping jacks

I’m sure you can think of more…

Happy Training!

Flexibility in the Winter

We all know that we’re supposed to stretch. We have good intentions but maybe we’re not sure what to do or how to do it. Is it before I exercise or after? How long should I do it for? And our work out is done and over and we’re off to the next thing on the list. I know, I’m guilty of it to. But we need to remember that flexibility is a key part of our fitness health so we should make a concise effort to do it. The cold winter is especially a good time to focus on this because our muscles are colder and need a little more help warming up, plus it’s good exercise that we can easily do inside and in front of the TV.

So how do I increase my flexibility? I stretch before and after I exercise and I do it differently because they serve two different goals.

Before I exercise I prefer to do a more active stretch. The goal here is to warm your muscles in preparation for your workout. This could be jumping jax which raise your heart rate and stretches your extremities. You can do some pick ups (short sprints), or lunges.

After I exercise I do a more traditional stretch routine. The goal here is to stretch your muscles to gain flexibility because your body is already warmed up and loose. I make sure I cover the major muscle groups, especially my legs, and focus on my quads and hamstrings. In order to get the maximum benefit, I hold each stretch for AT LEAST 40 seconds and repeat the stretches on each side 2-3 times.

What do you do to increase your flexibility?

Stay healthy!

Cold, flu, and allergies – oh my! It’s that time of year and you can see it around you already. People are sniffling, coughing, sneezing all over. Being healthy and exercising is supposed to make you less likely to contract all these ills, right? Well, not necessarily.

Exercising regularly definitely makes us healthier individuals overall and therefore gives us more protection against diseases and other common sicknesses. Then why do many of us in training always get sick this time of year? I found the answer surprising but it made perfect sense.

Runner’s World published and article last year (about 2 weeks late in my circumstance) that hit the nail on the head. It stated that long distance runners – and other endurance athletes – were more susceptible to getting the cold or the flu after a long run. The reason was because the longer runs depleted the body of nutrients and made it more vulnerable to germs in the few days immediately following the run. The body was tired and less capable of fighting off infection and therefore these runners got sick.

My plan? With 8 weeks to go until my marathon and my ever-increasing distance training I’ve been more diligent about what I touch around me and washing my hands more. I’m taking my multivitamin and also started Echinacea which is said to support immune health. I’m also going to bed earlier, especially the few days after a long run.

Hopefully these preventive measures I’m taking now will prevent a repeat of the 3 week chest cold that I had trouble shaking from last year. Happy & Healthy Training!

Don’t forget to stretch!

As my mileage is steadily increasing in preparation for the marathon I need to remember to practice what I preach – that is to stretch.

I’m running more days of the week and I’m out there longer. I’ve also added interval training back into the routine to maximize my muscle capacity. What I realized that I need to pay more attention is my flexibility and more specifically, my hamstrings. I didn’t come up with this on my own – my body told me and it decided to tell me halfway through my Tuesday night run. You’re body has this amazing ability to get your attention and if you ignore it, it will only scream louder until you listen. So, my hamstrings are pretty sore and my calves are a little tight too now that I think about it.

The best way to gain the most from your stretching is actually after your workout when your muscles are already warmed up. Yes, I know – you need to stretch before you workout but that’s more of a warm up and doesn’t do much for your overall flexibility.

You need to focus on your major muscle groups for the most part. Your quadriceps, calves, and hamstrings are all importing but don’t forget about your back – those are core muscles there too! Most of know the basic stretches: lean against a wall with your feet flat give you a pretty good calf stretch, touching your toes is good for hamstrings, and holding your ankle behind you really gets the front of your thigh (Quad). However, to get the maximum benefit, make sure you’re holding the stretch for at least 30-40 seconds and two times each alternating sides. Anything less than that is not going to give you the flexibility needed to keep injury and soreness at bay.

Happy Training!

Strong Mind – Strong Breath

I have to admit it…it was a tough run out there tonight. Our normal Tuesday night 5 miler wasn’t as crowded. A handful of ‘regulars’ back out tonight and I don’t believe it was because they were coming off of a holiday weekend either. We were three ladies strong but we even had our tough spots.

The hot, humid, dead air tonight was more reminiscent of July and August rather than May so our bodies aren’t quite used to it. We haven’t built up that tolerance yet and the Canal path kicked our butts. But we pushed on despite the obstacles nature threw at us and finished our run. We finished it because of one main factor. No it’s not our training or just because it’s Tuesday night routine or because of a race plan that we’ve held ourselves to…all of those things absolutely help you stay on track. But it’s because of a strong mind that you can overcome the discomfort that running sometimes brings.

When you’re getting to the point when you’re in the middle of your workout (whatever it is) and you think that you can’t go any further or you’re struggling to finish, you need to reach inside – beyond any physical capabilities you may have – and mentally tell yourself to keep going.

Some runners have mantras. My coach always said “loose lips, loose legs”. I’ve heard some other pretty good ones over the years too. I personally focus inward and concentrate on my breathing. This has always had the biggest positive effect on me because I am able to block out all other external factors when I focus on my breathing…in through the nose and out through the mouth, nice and steady. It’s amazing how when I get my breathing under control I can calm the rest of me down, focus on my form that may have gone out of whack due to fatigue, ignore what everyone else is doing around me, and even ignore mother nature (to the best extent possible). Calming your mind and focusing on your breathing also allows your body to get the oxygen to where it needs it most. Some of us forget to breath when we’re exercising! They we get tight and crampy and then we get cranky and sometimes stop.

My mind and my breathing got me through my workout tonight and allowed me to finish the 5 miles I set out to do. Strong mind & Strong Breath.

Race Review – Sesame Classic

The Sesame Classic was held this past Sunday in Levittown, Pa. You had your choice of a 5K run or 1 mile walk and it was a typical Sunday morning local 5K with good water stations and post race munchies. The on site registration was very unorganized but a pre-registered person didn’t seem to have any wait time. Since I was not pre-registered, I had to wait and there was no T-Shirt for me 🙂 It was definitely a family event with a DJ, a visit from Elmo & Cookie Monster, and a kids race that rewarded future track stars with medals upon completion of a about a 25 meter dash. The local fire departments were there with the trucks kicking off the race with their sirens.

The 5K course was laid out to loop around the high school grounds. This was a move from previous years in which you started and finished at Sesame Place. It was fast and mostly flat…one small incline that you had to do twice. Everything was laid out nicely and the roads blocked off where appropriate. It was good enough that I got a PR (Personal Record) as did my running companion…albeit they were PR’s for our more recent running resumes as opposed to our younger days.

On of the nice things about this race is that it’s mainly sponsored by Sesame Place in Langhorne and your bib number gains you one free admission to the part. Only downside of that is that it needs to be used by the end of May, which only really gives you Memorial Day weekend to make it over there.

Overall I give it 3 out of 5 stars – good local race that’s fun for the family but I would strongly advise pre-registering

Beginner 5K Prep

If one of your goals this year is to run a 5K then now is the time to start preparing yourself. While you can find 5K races throughout the year, many of them are held in April & May before the summer vacations start and are usually held for a local charity or fund-raiser. I enjoy participating in the local races because it’s much less about competition and more about being a part of the event.

For beginners it’s the best place to start. You set a goal for yourself of running the race and finishing it which gives you the motivation to train for it and the committment to keep at it because you’ve already signed up. And for beginners who take that leap toward their first race, the satisfaction of crossing the finish line is exhilarating! It can be addicting – “runner’s high” is a real thing.

So, how do you get started? You just need to start…

This weekend is the perfect time to start your training. Try this:
Week 1 – twice this week alternate between walk and run for 15 minutes
Week 2 – same thing but bump it up to 20 minutes
Week 3 – again…this time for 30 minutes
Week 4 – drop it back down to 15 minutes but no walking this time
Week 5 – add in a 3rd day – 15 minutes straight running
Week 6 – keep with the 3 days 20 minutes – no walking this time
Week 7 – 3 days, 30 minutes run – walk a tiny little bit every 10 minutes but only if in you need it
Week 8 – 3 days, 35 minutes run
Week 9 – 3 days , 40 minutes straight run
Week 10 – your first 5K!!!!

If you have access to a track than I would suggest starting there. If you want to measure distance then once around a track is a quarter-mile. That can get a little boring if you do that every day so you may want to run around your neighborhood or in a park trail. This is also more realistic since your 5K is probably going to have your running on black top.

Happy Training!

One month to go!

It’s just under one month until Daylight Savings Time. Do you know what that means? Spring is almost here and the unofficial running season begins!

Of course running doesn’t have an official season. Plenty of us are consistently and diligently on our treadmills at home or at the gym all winter long, or just when we get the urge to move off of the couch. I personally despise the treadmill. Yes, I’m a runner who hates the treadmill and will do anything to avoid it. If I’m forced to get my cardio workout indoors you will find me on the elliptical, maybe the bike, definitely in the pool, but very rarely on the treadmill. I will run outside, albeit lower mileage, as long as it’s not so cold that it hurts to breathe…and even then sometimes I will brave it if it’s not windy.

So, this is why I personally get excited for Daylight Savings Time. There’s more light at the end of my workday that I can actually get some decent running in during the week. And with the daylight comes the warmth, or at least the progression toward warmth. I don’t have to cram my cardio in at the gym and hope that there’s a good movie playing in the cardio room :-). I’m not a morning person so the sunrise run is not for me. If you are one of those people who can manage to perform at those ungodly hours than I tip my hat to you!

The message that I want to convey is that it’s OK if you’re one of the many people who aren’t as motivated to exercise during the cold winter months. Most of us are in that same boat. However, with just a few weeks until the lighter and warmer weather, you may want to start thinking of what you want to do come early to mid March.

Things to consider and prepare yourself:
1 – Look at your sneakers and see if you need a new ones (if your soles look worn it’s time for a new pair)
2 – Spend some time at the gym or at home strengthening your leg and core muscles
3 – Check out your gear and make sure you have comfortable clothing to run in
4 – Determine a location for your first few runs (local track, neighborhood, park trails)

Having a plan and going through a few steps to prepare for your running will help you get motivated, increase your committment to your workouts, and reduce your risk of throwing in the towel after your first time out there.

Happy Training!

Spice it up!

Spice it up! Your workout that is…

I’m referring to Cross-Training. Since it’s close to Valentine’s Day I thought that I would remind everyone that it’s not only our love lives that need a little spice this time of year. Some people may be intimidated by the thought of Cross-Training and possibly have visions of buff Triathletes but Cross-Training is really for everyone.

Cross-Training is simple. All you need to do is choose something different in your workout. It could be anything!

– If you’re mainly a runner, then try swimming a few laps for a workout instead (most High Schools offer open swim time for a nominal fee).
– If you’re a cyclist, try running.
– If you’re just starting out at the gym, make sure you alternate between the different cardio machines.

When you Cross-Train, you’re challenging your body in a different way than its used to and your body responds. This happens your body becomes efficient when it performs one task over and over again and you through it a curve ball by changing the task. Your body will work harder to adapt and learn the new task, burn more calories doing it, and you’ll fend off boredom.

So make the effort to try something new in your workout.

Happy Training!

It’s all about abs

I think if you surveyed people on which body part they want to get in shape the most, it would be their abdomen. It makes sense. It’s usually the first part of us that starts to show our age and/or our lack of attention to our bodies and for some of us it’s stretched during pregnancy. For some of us it was never really flat after the 8th grade. But it’s also one of the most important parts of our whole self and why we need to take better care of it.

Our abdominal muscle group not only provides support for our body’s general movements and posture but they assist in our breathing and protect our vital organs. Pool muscle condition in this area leads to a wealth of health problems with the most common being chronic low back pain.

So, to those of you who are slaving away on the ab machines at the gym or curled up on the floor doing crunches – keep doing what your doing becuase it’s doing wonders for your overall health and not just for bikini season. But if you wanted to try something differnt and more challenging, try the plyo ball (aka exercise ball or body ball).

Spending just 10 minutes or so working with the body ball will engage more parts of your abdominal muscle group than the ab machine or crunches alone. The reason for this is because these exercises incorporate stabilization and balance into the mix. You have to maintain your balance and keep steady while still performing the crunch on the ball, so you get an added benefit from both sides of the crunch – on the way up and the way back down. The machines and regular crunches hold you in a particular position without forcing you to balance because the floor or the chair is doing that for you.

In addition, the plyo ball is cheap – about $10 at Wal-Mart. You can get then at any sporting goods store too and they come with their own little pump. They’re not an overwhelming size either so they can fit in either a closet or corner of a room…just make sure they don’t collect dust there 🙂 Many gyms have them as well. I recommend making sure you have sneakers on when you’re working with the ball…I tried it in socks once and I slipped.

If your ready to throw something different into your ab routine then try this:
1-lie on the ball with the arch of your back supported, keep your feet flat on the floor, & cross your arms behind your head
2-curl your upper body squeezing your abdominals and lifting your shoulders and upper back
3-return to your starting position
4-do 3 to 5 sets of these with anywhere from 10-20 reps in each set (this will depend on your ability-do what feels comfortable)
5-when you have that part down then add a little twist when you are at the top of your crunch to work more of your obliques.

Happy Training!