Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Scale

I'm not talking about your weight.  Actually, just forget your weight.  Shelve that worry for a few weeks, because right now, it doesn't really matter.

When you start or modify your workout program, begin by asking yourself a few questions.  Do you like the way you feel now?  Why?  Do you have past injuries that should be dealt with?  What are the exercises that you love and loathe?  In this initial conversation, the number you see on the scale is relatively unimportant.  However, you should ask yourself two important questions whose answers are on scales.

Question 1:  "On a scale of one to ten, how would I rate my current fitness level?"

The answer to this question establishes a baseline of your current fitness.  When answering this question, evaluate how efficiently you can walk up a flight of stairs, how easily you can get up from a chair, or whether getting out of the car proves challenging.  Consider whether you walk at a slow or brisk pace.  Is a brisk walk challenging?  Can you do a push-up?  Can you do a sit-up?  Yes?  How many?  Is a trip up the ladder an injury-in-waiting?  Can you run for 10 minutes without stopping?  Based on these reflections, confidently or gingerly place yourself on the scale.  That's it.

Question 2:  "On a scale of 'couch potato' to 'professional athlete', how committed are you to achieving your fitness goals?

This question has nothing to do with your current health and everything to do with how badly you want your current health to change into something better.  If you want it as bad as a pro wants it, you'll go after it with fury.  You'll be unstoppable in your quest.  If you want your life to change and are as motivated as a couch potato, you'll accept the first excuse you can find to quit.

If your fitness level is at a 3 and you've got the drive of a pro to make big changes, you're going to be successful.  The caliber of change should be measured by an increase in your fitness level.  A bi-product of this change will be weight loss, increased muscle mass, strength, power, and speed.  You'll look and feel healthier.

So today, your first challenge is to ditch the scale for about a month.  I'm not kidding.  Put it away.  Then, on one piece of paper, write out the following two scales:

My Current Fitness Level

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10

My Committment to Improving My Fitness

Couch Potato   Weekend Warrior   Fitness Buff   Semi-Pro   Professional

Give yourself one reasonable goal with a deadline.
  • I will do 5 boy pushups by Christmas.
  • I will do the plank for 15 seconds by the end of November.
  • I will run for 5 minutes straight in 4 weeks.
  • I will learn a proper squat.
  • I will attend a class at my gym three times a week for one month.
Stick to your deadline.  Sit down and give an honest assessment of what you've achieved.  Do you feel good about what you've challenged your body to do?  How many times did you make excuses?  Then, make two new scales.  Where is your NEW fitness level?  How committed are you to changing it?  Then, give yourself an entirely new challenge, something completely different from the last one. 

But most importantly, HOLD YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE! 

Keep it fun.  Keep it interesting.  Keep going!  This is your life and your health!  DO IT!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Getting Specific

Creating a well-formed fitness program is like writing a thesis.  It begins with a general question: What do you want to do with your body?

Your answer is your conclusion.  The body of your work is what it will take to get you there.  Your starting point is your fitness level right now.

Your fitness program needs to offer realistic goals based on your current fitness level.  For example, if your end goal is to play a complete tennis match comfortably, you must first evaluate the state of your current body.  Be honest with yourself, yet give yourself grace.   Do you have a difficult time balancing on one foot?  Do you get winded easily?  Do you have a lot of weight to lose?

If you've answered "yes" to any of these questions, then simply picking up your racket is, surprisingly, not your starting point.  Tennis is a sport that requires specific conditioning.  If you're getting back into shape, jumping headlong into a specific sport increases your risk of injury and will likely decrease your enjoyment of the sport.  If you're injured or you lose motivation, you're less likely to reach your goal.  You deserve to reach your goal!

So let's rethink the concept of your starting point.  If a full game of tennis is your goal, your starting point is off the court.  Begin with mastering the basics of balance and coordination.  Stand on one foot.  Then use the wobble board.  Then use the BOSU ball.  Build up your cardio strength on the treadmill, elliptical, or bike.  Or go for a brisk walk until you can run.  Then run until you can trail run.  Begin lifting weights to increase the strength in your tendons and muscles.  Then increase the weight.  Run some more.  As your body weight decreases, your cardiovascular capacity increases, and your speed quickens, throw a medicine ball up in the air or against a wall.  Jump on and off of plyo boxes.  Run sprints.

Only then, after your ankles, calves, thighs, hamstrings, hip flexors, abdominals, back, and arms have all made thousands of new connections with your brain on how to run fast, jump, slide, and hit without falling, pulling a muscle, twisting an ankle, blowing out your elbow or passing out, you will have reached your final goal of becoming fit enough to play a full tennis match.  Only then should you pick up your racket and step onto the court.

Playing sports are a great way to stay in shape.  They are not an effective weight-loss plan, however, because of the risk of injury.  People who wish to play sports should be relatively conditioned before they begin.  If you've decided that you want to play soccer, tennis, basketball, baseball, slow-pitch softball, water polo, or run wind sprints, take some time to get your body ready.  Begin with a general plan to get your heart and muscles strong.  Then get specific.  You should incorporate exercises into your fitness program that will help you reach your goal safely and enjoyably only after you've conditioned your body to meet the increased demands.

So the question is: What do you want to do with your body?

Monday, September 26, 2011


Good Morning! 

Congratulations to Shannan for winning my copy of Michael Pollen's In Defense of Food.

Please email me your address and I'll get it out by the end of the week!
E.T.A. My email is

Many thanks,

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Book Giveaway!

Hi Everybody!

It's time for another giveaway! 

As you might have noticed, I love learning about and discussing nutrition.  I recently finished Michael Pollen's In Defense of Food and I want to share it with you.  If you'd like my copy for free, you can enter twice.

  1. Leave a comment and tell me your very favorite way to eat your very favorite vegetable.
  2. Send a friend to enter and have them mention your name in their comment.
FUN!  Three steps and multiple chances.  Good luck!  The giveaway ends on
September 25, 2011 at 8 pm PST.

Have fun!

Friday, September 16, 2011


So, yesterday you went to the gym and you hit the elliptical for 45 minutes.   You sweat it out.  Then you went into the weight room and lifted for 20 minutes.  You stretched, drank a protein shake, hit the showers, and went home.  It’s the same workout you’ve done for the last 3 months.  Yet the weight still hangs.  You feel healthier, but your waistline isn’t really budging.  You’re beginning to think it’s hopeless.  Maybe you’re destined to hold onto those 20 pounds.  Maybe your body isn’t “supposed” to look like you’ve imagined.  After all, your parents and brother are overweight, your grandmother and aunt have diabetes, and your grandfather died of coronary artery disease.   This is part of your destiny, right?

Wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong, a thousand times wrong!

Your life is yours.  Genetics are not destiny.  Your health and longevity are yours to manipulate.  You can sabotage your life with complacency or embrace it with action.  (Hint: choose “action”.  It works.)

If your workout program isn’t working, it’s broken.  You need to fix it.  Your mind and muscles might be bored.  You might feel a sense of “ugh” at the thought of getting on that machine one more time, but you do it because it burns the most calories.  Right?  Yes, but what’s the point of burning a million calories if you’re not having fun doing it?

If your workout feels stale, here are some tips help you enjoy the journey again:

Do Something Else.  If you are sick of your cardio routine, you’re in luck!  The world of fitness is full of different activities!  Get a ball and a racquet and play racquetball for half an hour.  You can play alone or with a partner.  Jump in the pool and run (yes RUN) laps in the shallow end.  Get off the treadmill and head to the track or a trail and test your endurance.  How far can you run?  Hike?  Get on your bike.  How far can you ride?  How fast can you go?

Get Out of The Weight Room.  I rarely recommend this.  I believe in resistance training with every ounce of muscle fiber in my body.  But if you hate it, it’s not worth it.  If you feel intimidated by dumbbells, try working with a medicine ball.  Challenge yourself with functional movements that work your whole body and are FUN!  Some of my favorites include:

·       The Slam:  With your feet shoulder width apart, hold the ball over your head.  Then, slam it on the ground.  When it bounces up, catch it and return it to the starting position over your head.  Do this 10 times.

·       The Dribble:  Try to dribble a medicine ball like a basketball.  You’ll see…  Repeat 10 times on each hand.

·       Underhanded Toss:  Stand 4-5 feet away from a wall with your feet a bit wider than shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent.  Hold the medicine ball between your legs at knee level.  Keeping your back straight, toss the ball at the wall and catch it.  Return to the starting position and repeat 10 times.

·       Toss Out:  With your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent, hold the ball at chest level.  Toss the ball at the wall and catch it.  Return to the starting position and repeat 10 times.

·       Overhand Toss:  With your feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent, lift the ball over your head.  Throw it at the wall and catch it.  Return to the starting position and repeat 10 times.

These five basic movements activate muscle groups throughout your whole body.  Though you might feel slightly silly for throwing a ball at a wall, you’ll be building core strength, increasing upper and lower body strength and mobility, and reclaiming the power and speed you’ve been losing annually since your late teens and early 20s.  These movements welcome interpretation, as well.  What if you did all of those ballistic movements, but never let go of the ball?  FUN!

Try climbing the hanging rope, doing 5 pull-ups, or doing pushups on a plyo box?  The tools and toys at the gym crave YOUR touch!  Use every modality possible to build yourself the body you want.  Be creative, but safe, and for heaven’s sake, have fun!

Change Your Goal.  “Lose 10 pounds” has been your New Year’s Resolution for how many years?  Ditch it.  Set your sights on a goal unrelated to weight loss, and you might find that weight loss is a side effect.  Not sure?  Try these on for size:

·       Train for a race.  (5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon, ultra-marathon, triathlon, charity walk, century ride, you get the picture).  Setting a goal with a clear endpoint, like a real-life finish line, holds you accountable for your fitness.  Training without the goal of weight loss will likely lead to weight loss.  Go to to find a race in your area.

·       Take a class.  Set your sights on hardest class at your gym or recreation center, or find a personal trainer who holds a group class on Saturday mornings in a local park (they’re generally much cheaper than one-on-one, and are usually very challenging).  Make a goal of finishing the class strong and energized instead of depleted and fatigued.  It might take a few weeks, but you’ll likely notice a change in your strength, endurance, and maybe even your waistline!  Even trainers and professional athletes take spinning, Body Combat, and TRX classes.  I know of a very famous professional boxer who joins the ladies at his local gym for a class titled Rhythm Boxing.  See?  Have some fun!

·       Exercise for the greater good.  Follow a cause that fires your passion.  Local and national charities regularly host walks to raise awareness and funds for cancer, AIDS, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, animal shelters, child abuse, domestic abuse, the environment, public schools, private schools, preschools, and local arts programs.  Join one, and make it worth it.  Charities like Team in Training organize a fun group of athletes, train them, and set them loose with a GIANT cheering squad.   As an athlete, I am tremendously inspired when I see the purple, green, and white jerseys pushing for a higher purpose.

Hire A Trainer.  Even trainers use trainers.  Everybody can benefit from the motivation, creativity, and knowledge of a passionate personal trainer.  A good trainer integrates the latest science with proven techniques to guide you to your goal.  If you want someone to push you, to get one more rep out of you, to make you feel like an Iron(wo)man, then find a local trainer.  Many gyms and independents offer packages at a discounted rate.  However, if you’re looking to improve your current routine or simply break the monotony, hire a trainer for one or two sessions.  Hiring a trainer is akin to hiring your own personal cheerleader.  They want it just as much as you do.  You’re worth it.

A successful exercise program works your body and stimulates your mind.  If you’re not excited, indeed chomping at the bit to get out and move, the time has come to make a change.  Whether you include a new piece of equipment or restructure your whole program, infusing new ideas, movements, and energy keeps your program fresh, exciting, and motivating.  The job of losing weight becomes less like a job and more like playtime.  You deserve to have fun on your journey.  Your experience must be positive and engaging if you want to lose weight successfully.  This is your life.  You deserve to move and breathe and live with ease, and you deserve to enjoy it.  You have the power to make the changes that lead to a happier, healthier experience in living.  Do it!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Redefining "Fun"

When my babies were babies, finding time to exercise seemed impossible.  Many times, a sunny day beckoned me, urged me to strap my kid in the running stroller and go for a run.  Sometimes, the stars aligned and I got a mile or two in.  Most times, I would get ready and she would suddenly decide she needed a nap, or, if we got out and strapped in, she’d poop and I’d have to unbuckle her and get her changed.  For a new mom, this takes approximately 15-20 minutes.  Inevitably, she’d get hungry and the run would end before it began.  If she was well-rested and didn’t poop, we’d head out.  She was a busybody, so I’d spend half of my run stopping to get her another snack or picking up a dropped sippy cup.  She liked chatting, too, so I’d use precious breath to answer questions or acknowledge that bit of nature which she pointed at with such enthusiasm.  Sometimes, we’d be in a groove.  I’d be having a great run, moving at a pretty quick clip, when the worst of the worst would happen.  We’d run out of snacks.  I’d spend the final mile huffing it back to my car with a screaming child, effectively ruining what should have been the most relaxing part of my day.

Good news.  Those days are OVER!
This Labor Day weekend, Dave and I felt the full burden of babyhood lifted.  We started out Saturday morning by riding our bikes a few miles to Farmer’s Market with both kids in tow.  Afterwards, we braved the overly-cool ocean breeze and fog and rode along the boardwalk.  (In a few months, our Little Lady will be able to ride by herself!)  On Monday, we struck out for a hike.  The weather in Ojai was quite warm, and while we didn’t go too fast or make it too far, we all enjoyed the challenging terrain.  The Dude managed when he could and rode the shoulders when he couldn’t.  When we decided to turn around, The Little Lady decided she wanted to run.  Rocky trails on a descent?  Yes please!  Off we went.  She got her first lesson in trail running and rock-hopped like a pro! 

We’re only four years into our Adventure in Parenting and in most ways it’s tremendously easier than when we started.  We’re hitting our stride again, and it feels good.

In the beginning, the needs of my children dictated the day’s activities.  I built my errands and social interactions around their needs and schedules.  I often wondered if I even enjoyed the same things that I had prior to having babies.  I thought, “Why don’t I do those things* anymore?”  I felt like I’d lost some sense of my identity.  Foolishly, I lamented that I’d never get to do those things again.  Slowly and steadily, however, we do those same things again.  Sometimes the pace changes and we take more potty breaks, but we’re doing them.  We’re hiking and running and riding our bikes and loving it.

It’s work.  A lot of it.  But it’s worth it.  Turns out, my idea of fun hasn’t changed so drastically at all.  I still love a really tough gym workout or a quick-paced trail run.  I still love getting on my bike and coming home a few hours later.  I just don’t do those things as often (or ever) as I used to.  But when I get the chance to go alone, I GO!  However, the biggest change includes the little people.  Who’d have guessed that hiking with a 2 ½ year old on my shoulders or trail running with my four year-old would be more enjoyable than anything I could come up with at the gym? 

See, not that much has changed.  But really, everything’s changed.

 Kids do not need to hinder your progress in reaching your fitness goals.  Instead, try to find a way to include them.  Jillian Michaels has a great gig going, but there’s more than one way to get fit.  Get out!  Your kids will follow.  The Little Lady learned trail running from me.  She loved it, too!  Her little feet churned beneath her and she laughed when she leapt over rocks.  She’ll be my running partner soon enough.  If you feel stifled in your house, take your toddlers or teenagers with you.  You might not get as far, and it may be a bit of work, but if you keep your expectations realistic (you’re not going to get a challenging 6 mile hike in with a 5 year old), you’ll have fun as a family.  Your kids will probably even be excited to do it again.  And next time, you’ll go farther or faster, or both!  After doing it a few times, you all might notice a difference in how you feel.  Suddenly, your whole family is excited to challenge themselves with a longer hike or a steeper climb?  Really?  YES!  Maybe you’ll set out as a family on one of America’s best trails.  As parents, let’s take our kids with us, regardless of their age.  Let’s build “family time” around physical activities that challenge our bodies, minds, and spirits.  Let’s turn off the TV and put on our sneakers.  Together, family by family, weekend by weekend, we can combat lethargy, obesity, anger, selfishness, and negativity.  Each of us has the power to push back on forces that pull us apart.  Heck, you might even find that exercising together, as a whole family, really is your idea of fun.  You have the power to change everything.

*”Those things” include running 4-5 days a week, cycling, horseback riding, open-water swimming, quilting, sewing, knitting, wine tasting, going out to dinner with girlfriends, and reading until 3 in the morning because I didn’t have to work until 11.  You know, “single” or “married with no kids” stuff.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Truth About Sodium

I’ve got some great news: We need it.

Sodium is a naturally-occurring mineral found in most foods.  Sodium is essential for maintaining proper body fluid levels and transmitting nerve impulses.  Each time you drink water, the amount you retain to maintain blood volume is regulated by sodium.  Each muscle contraction is made possible by sodium.  Sodium is necessary for proper body function.
The problems with sodium, however, occur when we ingest too much.  Because sodium attaches to water, too much of it results in fluid retention.  Although not weight from fat, water weight can cause some serious problems.  Increased fluids signal your body to make more blood.  If your body creates too much blood, you increase your chances of suffering from diseases related to decreased blood flow, like stroke and heart attack.  Additionally, most would agree that the bloating, discomfort, and water weight gain caused by water retention is simply discouraging.
The great news about sodium is that it’s totally manageable.  When you are able to manage your sodium, you’ll find that water retention from sodium is a problem of the past.  You’ll rarely exceed the daily recommended maximum of 2, 300 mg per day, or 1, 500 mg per day if you’re 51 or older.
Here are a few simple rules to help you take control of your sodium:
·         Drink water!  Drinking water flushes your system and sends signals to your body that it doesn’t need to retain more water and minerals.  Regularly hydrating yourself decreases the amount of fluid your body holds onto.  You may lose several pounds of water weight in a single day through adequate hydration.
·       Take the table salt off the table.  While it adds “flavor” to foods, table salt adds unnecessary sodium to foods.  By simply taking the salt off the table, thus eliminating your ability to add salt habitually or absentmindedly, you’ll take a huge step to increase your overall health.
·       Add spices!  Salt adds flavor, and if you eliminate table salt, your food might taste a little bland.  Replace your salt with a low-sodium spice blend like Mrs. Dash, Spike, or Pappy’s.  Try a spoonful of salsa on your eggs or cumin, pepper, and hot sauce in your taco meat instead of prepared taco seasoning.  Spices enhance the flavor of foods without the negative health benefits.
·       Eat fresh.  Foods directly from Nature’s Pantry offer an endless variety of flavors and possibilities.  Familiarize yourself with recipes that call for fresh fruits and vegetables.  Enjoy an abundance of sweet, tangy, sour, spicy, and tart fruits and vegetables.  Bake, broil, grill, and pan sauté with fresh cut herbs and diverse spices.  Follow a recipe or blaze your own culinary trails.  The more you chop, slice, dice, julienne, puree, and crush, the healthier you and your family eat.  A diet rich in fresh foods is naturally low in sodium.
·       Rinse canned foods.  Canned foods are packaged in salt water to retain color and flavor.  Rinsing the foods of their salty coating removes much of the excess sodium.  It’s that easy.
·       Exercise.  With the permission of your doctor, work up a sweat.  Sweat consists of water, urea, sodium and other trace minerals.  By exercising and sweating, you’re giving your body a hand in eliminating sodium from your system.  Replacing those lost fluids with water will further aid in the release of excess sodium.
Sodium is an essential component of a healthy diet.  Eliminating the mineral completely is not only impossible, but it’s unhealthy.  Maintaining healthy levels of sodium challenges many accustomed to processed, salty foods.  However, learning to enjoy the natural flavors abundant in whole, fresh foods not only changes your palate, but changes your life.  This small but vital step in reclaiming your health will yield a lifetime of benefits.