Archive for the ‘Fitness Rules’ category

The Power of Choice

February 16, 2012

I am standing in the kitchen, hungry, trying to decide what to eat for lunch.  I have cooked every night this week, and the fridge holds an abundance of choices:  green curry vegetables and purple sticky rice; chili-infused soba noodles with broccoli, red bell peppers, sweet green onions and sesame seeds (from The Vegan Table); quinoa burgers stuffed with grated sweet potatoes and spinach and roasted red pepper sauce (Thanks, Michelle!  They were delish!).  There’s smokey tempeh salad, creamy artichoke spread, sprouted sunflower seed pate.  What to eat?  How to choose?

Greens.  That’s my first thought.  I love the bright color of stir-fried kale or southern greens with chopped garlic, and I love the feel of tender baby spinach leaves on my tongue, right before I chew.  Whatever I choose, it’s definitely going to be served over a pile of lovely greens.  And tea.  It’s damp and cold out, and a steaming mug of tea will warm me all the way through.  And maybe something sweet.  Yesterday I made a couple of batches of my Five Star Bars.  I gave one batch, the apple pie ones, to my friend Billy.  I have left a batch of peanut butter cup ones, thick and chocolatey, the salty ground peanuts chunky enough to still have some crunch.

I choose a salad, topped with one of the quinoa burgers.  I add a handful of fat, juicy blackberries, some sliced red bell pepper, a little leftover grated raw sweet potato and a handful of raw pecans.  I quickly whisk together a spoonful of sesame tahini, the juice of a lemon, and a bit of water to pour on top for a dressing.  I make my tea and sit down to a perfect lunch for today, savoring each bite, tasting the crisp, complex flavors.  My dessert is over the top—rich with the chocolate, sweet with dates, satisfyingly chewy.

I realize how fortunate I am to have this power of choice.  The thing is, we all have it.  It can be hard to recognize or acknowledge, but we all have this power.

The power of choice transcends my lunch—we have this power to choose in every aspect of our lives.  We can sit or we can walk.  We can fall and stay on the ground, or we can brush ourselves off and get right back up.  We can react and be angry when we encounter something or someone we don’t like or agree with, or we can relate and respond kindly in the same situation.  We can make compassionate choices by what we choose to eat, by how we treat each other and every living creature.  We can choose to be satisfied with who we are, how we are, and where we are, or we can choose to grow toward who we want to be, how we want to be, and where we want to be.

I can’t imagine being perfect.  I don’t want to be perfect.  I just want to do my best, be my best, try my hardest.  I know there are days when I make choices that could be better, but I refuse to let one poor choice cast a dark shadow over the rest of my day.  Each time I open my refrigerator, I have the opportunity to make a choice.  Each time a lift a fork, I am making a choice.  Each time I tie my running shoes, I am making a choice.  Each time I make dinner for my husband and daughter, or for my parents or guests.  At the market.  On the highway.  With my friends.  At a party.  Each moment.

It is impossible to cover each moment, but quite possible to be aware of each moment.  And to choose.

Fitness Rule #19:  Recognize your power to choose, and take responsibility for those choices.


Humble Brag

February 25, 2011

While watching NCIS: Los Angeles the other night, I heard a new phrase:  humble brag.  I immediately perked up.  Humble brag?  What is that?  The character has been complaining that although she was tired, sweaty and wore no make up, she still got hit on at the gym.  Later in the show, the term came up again when her partner mentioned that she complained that her size 2 jeans were baggy.  Hmmm.  Humble brag.  Do I do that?

It really made me stop and think.  Yes, I think I do.  It’s not a conscious thing, really; I want the people in my life to know how hard I work.  Or work out.  Or what a good cook I am. I don’t like to brag; it’s not a quality I admire.  But I may have mentioned a few times that although a certain recipe didn’t seem to come out as well as expected, everyone gobbled it up and there were no leftovers for my lunch the next day.  Boo-hoo.  And in a recent conversation with my mom:

“I could only run eight miles today.  It was just too cold to run any farther.”

I just want to make it clear that I run long distances on a regular basis but am a bit ashamed to actually come right out and brag for real.

This is starting to feel like a confession.  Growing up Catholic, confession was supposed to be a healthy thing.  I remember slipping into the dark little confessional box in our church, my face burning as I confessed my darkest sins, like teasing my sister, or dreaming about boys when I should have been doing my CCD (Catholic Cristian Doctrine) homework.  I eventually stopped going to confession, then to church altogether.  Yet, there is something to be said for unburdening myself of transgressions.  Is a humble brag a transgression?

I notice a lot of other people do the same thing— they want you to know how cool they are, or how popular, how thin, or how rich.  But the information is delivered in such a way that it seems like they are complaining or burdened by their good fortune or hard work, when in fact they are letting you know how awesome they are, or think they are.  Facebook seems to be the perfect place for this.  How many status reads have actually been humble brags?  It’s not necessary to be famous to spout a humble brag—even my mom does it occasionally, although it is very popular among the truly rich and famous.  There is even a Twitter Humble Brag site.  Is this catching on everywhere?  Have people been doing it for ages and it just finally received a proper name?  Or am I the one of the only people left who never knew?

I mentioned this topic to my friend Robin the Mermaid and she had never heard of it, either.  Today she called to tell me that, now familiar with the term, she heard someone toss out a humble brag at work.  She thought it seemed to make more sense to go for a real brag.  If you’re going to do it, you may as well go all the way.

Perhaps I’m giving this too much thought.  Or too much press?

Well, from my trainer’s point of view, maybe it’s good to go for the humble brag about fitness.  Why wouldn’t anyone want to show off how fit they are?  Fitness rule # 17 :  Earn a humble brag! (Or a real one!)

Covers (Co-vahs)

February 8, 2011

This post is for my sweet friend Billy— the man from the party, a faithful reader and a true “Co-vah”, born and raised.

The first time I heard the term “Cover” was at a party shortly after we had moved to Rockport.  One of my son’s new friend’s mothers invited us to a gathering in her home on Drumlin Road.  We arrived, bottle of wine in hand, to a lovely home with a large open first floor.  A fire was roaring in the fireplace and dozens of strangers milled around the room, carrying glasses of wine, bottles of beer and huge plates of delicious looking food.  Our hostess welcomed us in, but was soon sucked into the mass of people and we were left alone.  A handsome man introduced himself to my husband and me.  He asked where we were from, and we told him we had just moved to Rockport.

“Where are you from?”

“Pigeon Cove.  I’m a Co-vah.”

I looked to my husband, puzzled.  He met my gaze, my expression mirrored on his face.

Our new friend explained that Pigeon Cove was technically part of Rockport, but was really a separate place.  He was proud to begin to explain the distinction between his end of town and the rest of Rockport.   Pigeon Cove begins at the bridge right before Granite Pier on Granite Street. Or it begins at the end of Beach Street.  Residents who live between Beach Street and the bridge vote in Pigeon Cove, but residents of Pigeon Cove say the line is truly the bridge.  People who live  in Pigeon Cove are called Covers.  Every time he said that word, I smiled.  His strong New England accent came through loud and clear, and made me feel right at home.  “Co-vah.”  I laughed to myself.  This tiny town— about 7ooo residents— and Pigeon Cove was separate?

Now that we have lived here for almost eight years, I have a better understanding of that separateness.  There is no pretentiousness about “Co-vahs”, but there is definitely a distinction.  It has become most pronounced since I have changed my running route to that side of town.

“Co-vahs” keep their dogs on leashes almost all of the time.  And, if their dogs are off-leash, the owners hold the leashes at the ready.  The moment I come into view, either loping or charging up the street, co-vahs call their dogs.  And co-vah dogs are obedient.  Immediately.   By the time I have reached the dogs, they are leashed and their owners rein them in tightly.  Since November, no dog in Pigeon Cove has even barked at me,  let alone come close to chasing me.

“Co-vahs” drive differently, too.  As I run along the side of the road, even busy Granite Street, hugging the edge, trying to stay on the  inside of the white line, drivers notice me.  I do not get the evil eye.  Ever.  Sometimes drivers even wave.  Even if I don’t know them.  If another car is approaching from the other direction, everyone slows down.  Almost as if I have as much right to be using the street as they do.  If there are big puddles, co-vah drivers go around them, rather than through them.

If I have not sufficiently made the distinction:  when I used to run in the south end of town, some snowy mornings it seemed almost as if drivers looked at me as a moving target.  Nasty looks, honking horns, eye contact that made me cringe were all part of my morning run experience.  Puddles?  I came home soaked to the skin many days, having been the object of puddle rage of an early morning south end driver.

And I know it’s not just me.  My friend Susie, who wears a bright neon-yellow vest, had what she calls a three finger morning, just this morning.  She said something like, “I wear it (the vest) so you won’t hit me, not so you can have a better aim at me!”  My running partner, Sue, also from today’s run, “It’s like they want to stare you down and then run you over!  Are they jealous or just mean?”

I have friends in Rockport proper, and friends in Pigeon Cove.  Outside of the running arena, they stand on level ground.  When it comes to running, though, I am grateful for the distinction between “Rockporters” and “Covers”.

I guess today’s fitness rule is this:  Count your blessings.  Especially the “Co-vahs”.

What’s Up, Doc?

November 21, 2010

I’ve been writing this blog for almost a year, beginning with writing mostly about running, then adding in recipes that have evolved in my experimental kitchen over the years.  I started adding in my fitness rules, some that I have figured out on my own, others that I have learned in the process of obtaining my personal trainer certification.  Somehow I overlooked writing about the most important fitness rule of all:  Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise or fitness program.

If you hire a personal trainer, that trainer will ask you to see your doctor for a note clearing you to begin a fitness program.  You should expect to have a full blood work up and physical, tell your doctor you are about to begin working with a trainer, and then give the trainer the note from your doctor.  The note should include any health concerns and activity restrictions.  The trainer will keep that letter on file as a safeguard to protect him or herself should anything unexpected happen during the duration of your training relationship.

Without a trainer, it’s easy to forget to see your doctor and get clearance to begin exercising.  What could happen if you are just walking a couple of miles a day, or lifting free weights, doing an aerobics video, or some core work in the middle of your living room?

The answer is—- you don’t know.  Anyone can have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a blocked artery, a subtle heart arrhythmia, or Type II diabetes and not know it, putting them at risk for a serious adverse reaction to a fitness program.  Although the side effects of exercise are almost always positive (weight loss, increase in strength, endurance, flexibility, improved mood, improved energy, to name a few), without being aware of the health risks that increase with certain medical conditions, exercise can have side effects you do not want, sometimes effects that place your overall health at risk.

Your doctor will let you know what is safe for you.  Your doctor will be happy you want to start to exercise because you are  actively seeking to work on your own health, and because patients who work on their fitness tend to be healthier overall, making the doctor’s  job easier in the long run.

So, although this is technically my 15th fitness rule, it is really Fitness Rule #1— Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

The reason today seems like the perfect day to add this fitness rule is that the first of the big holidays is Thanksgiving, just a few days away.  Then Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s come tumbling right behind being thankful, and before you know it, you are making another New Year’s resolution about fitness.  If you take the time to squeeze in your check up before you make that resolution, you can begin right away on January 1st— and feel confident that your body is as ready as your dream of improving your health.


November 18, 2010

My client arrives this morning and I greet her at the door, two medicine balls, two short fitness bands, and two pairs of gloves in my arms.  I have warned her to dress in layers, as we will be going outside for a good part of our session today.  We walk to the stop sign at the top of the hill, sharing the load of equipment.

“Go!” I urge, and we begin a power walk interval to the little park by Old Garden Beach.  We drop the medicine balls, 4 and six pounds, and the bands.  She looks at me, a bit nervous and self conscious.

“Okay.  We’re starting with push ups, just to get warmed up.”

We both groan as we do as many as we can— not the girl push ups with our knees on the ground, but the real thing.  We go until I look over and see her straining hard.

“Okay.  Little break.”

I count to ten.

“Go again.”

And so on.  We do jump squats, then grab the medicine balls.  We slam the balls into the soft, damp grass until I can see the green mashing into the dirt.  Then we smash the balls to the left and catch them, them to the right.  We toss the six pound ball back and forth.

“Throw with the left, catch with the right.  Now after you catch it, go around the world.”

I demonstrate, twirling the ball around my waist after I catch it, then toss it back to her.  We toss and catch standing on one foot.  We toss and catch, pass the ball under one leg and throw again.

We race back and forth across the park, tossing the ball, dribbling the ball.  We do squat throws.  We get down on all fours, move to plank, then walk like that half way across the park.

We are both panting and laughing when a man comes along with two big dogs.  (I know, more dogs!!!  Sorry.  But it’s true.)   Off leash.  The dogs are friendly, but it’s time to go back to my living room and finish up the session with glute strengthening and Super-sets.

When we are done, my client is tired, but she hugs me.

“Thanks, Elizabeth.  I love being your guinea pig!”

I can’t help it.  I am pumped after attending a fitness conference hosted by Exercise Etc., Inc. in Natick, MA last weekend.  The hotel conference rooms were packed with trainers; it was the first time I have been in the presence of so many of my professional peers.  The presenters were knowledgeable, experienced professionals in the fitness and nutrition fields.  Armed with the newest information in the areas of exercise science and nutrition, each expert gave a dynamic two hour PowerPoint presentation.

I had to choose between two classes for each two hour session and had a tough time prioritizing which lectures to attend.  Because my clients are all women, I chose the ones most pertinent in training them, talking myself into attending “Boot Camp Workout Drills” because I knew there would be new, fun exercises to mix into my personal training sessions.  I was smart enough to bring my laptop; I would never have been able to remember even a fraction of what I heard, especially during the boot camp workout drills presentation, as it was participatory.  Just to see where I stood along side my professional peers in fitness, I turned on the recorder on my laptop and jumped (no kidding— there was a lot of jumping!) right into it.  Since I did not have time to run on either day, and also because the first day was all lecture, two hours of drills felt mighty good.  I realized a couple of things on a personal level.  The first is that I have a lot of energy!  The second is that, although I sometimes still feel like the little girl I was in gym class with Mrs. Hermann, I was able to see that I am equally as fit if not more so than my peers.  I did my “barefoot thing” and although some of the trainers seemed a little bit freaked out about that, I demonstrated that you can be barefoot, safe and fast all at the same time.

I know it will take weeks of reviewing my notes and listening to the recorded lectures for everything presented to sink in.  I came home totally wired, demonstrating the 30 second push up to my son, revving up my clients’ sessions right away with new moves and fresh ideas.

Fitness rule for today:  Educate yourself.  You don’t need a trainer or a conference to do it, although it’s nice to have one or both.  There are lots of resources on the internet and on the newsstand to help you learn what the newest trends are in fitness.  Learn what you can, implement it into your fitness life, and pumped will replace boredom every time.

Fitness Rule #14: Break It Up

October 5, 2010

The holidays are approaching quickly, and many of us are starting to think about how we are going to maintain our fitness through all the preparations and parties that fill our autumn and winter months.  It’s time for a fitness rule to support all of us wondering how we are going to squeeze in those early morning workouts, after-work gym time, or into that little black dress we bought last year.  Today’s rule addresses staying on track through a goal-oriented approach.

The first thing I ask my clients when they hire me to train them is about their goals.  I ask them to prepare for our first meeting by coming up with three goals they would like to achieve with a personal trainer.  What do they want to get from training?  Are they interested in being fit?  Do they want to lose weight?  Both?  Do they want to feel/look better in their clothes?   Are their goals around lowering their blood pressure or cholesterol?   Sometimes it’s as basic as maintaining their current level of mobility and improving it a bit.  Many times, a new client doesn’t have a concrete answer to my question at all.  They simply know they need support to get their bodies moving.  Jumping in without a plan can be overwhelming.  Part of my job is to support a client to decide what they really want, then to help them find the path that works  for them.

When we meet, we sit down and talk about the different aspects of fitness.  I help them turn their goals into measurable goals, a fitness rule I have already written about.  Measurable goals are ones that have a start marker and an end marker.  A simple example:  a client can walk a mile.  They would really like to do a 5k walk to raise money for a cause.  Or they might want to lose some weight in time for a special event.  We set the big goal— 5k or 25 pounds, write it down, and then make little goals to support the big one.  So how do I break up big goals into smaller ones?

I work with each client to determine a time line.  If they want to be able to walk a 5k event, I break up the time frame into weeks, planning a fitness program designed to support it by lengthening their walking distance each week, and by including some intervals to build speed and endurance.  Each week, we examine their personal fitness goals and when a goal is met, we create a new one based on their current level of fitness and the time frame of their big goal.  If the goal is to lose weight, we examine their level of fitness and their diet, look at changes to support their goal, choose a reasonable time frame for achieving the goal, then note what is working each week.  There is lots of tweaking— the individuality of each client is taken into account; what works for one person might not for another.  The one thing that seems to be  consistent from person to person is breaking the big goal into smaller goals that support attaining the big one.

Fitness Rule #14: Break It Up.

Breaking up big goals into little pieces has great advantages.  The feeling of success comes much earlier when a small goal is achieved and checked off.  We made it to the gym.  We didn’t walk the 5K— we ran it!  We can fit into our favorite old jeans again.  That feeling carries over into the next goal or set of goals, urging us to continue to move forward and stay on track.  The big goal suddenly becomes manageable.  When we maintain our fitness logs, food journals, or use whatever tool we have chosen to monitor our behaviors and celebrate our successes, the big picture takes form and becomes real.

Break it up can be applied to other areas of our lives—  work, home, garden, even relationships can benefit from us looking at the big picture, writing down a long-term goal, and figuring out how to break that goal into smaller pieces.  Sitting around thinking about the work and preparation it takes to run a marathon, lose 50 pounds, give a Power Point presentation, or clean the whole house in one day can consume every ounce of our energy, leaving us none for the actual doing.  Preparing ourselves for success by reaching our goals one step at a time helps keep us from that stuck ‘thinking about it, how will I ever get there’ place to a place of action. Checking off a list of accomplishments increases self-efficacy.  It leads to strength, confidence and success in all aspects of our lives.  It leads us to the place where our dreams come true.

Measuring Up

April 15, 2010

I love to know how far I run every day.  I also enjoy discovering that I have increased my speed.  It’s not really something I am able to guess, though.  Before my sister bought me the Nike+iPod last Christmas, I used  to burst into my house at the end of a run and head right to the computer to Google Maps and trace my route that day.  I had to remember every turn I took, and to find my pace, I had to keep track of the  minutes on my watch.  Not really a big deal, probably not all that accurate, but I always felt a certain satisfaction in knowing how my progress was coming along.  There were plenty of days when I spaced out on my run and could not remember what time I left my house.  There were even a few times,  (I hate to admit this) that I forgot the exact roads I chose and could only guess my distance.

I do know, because I wrote it down in a fitness journal, that my first run was about 2.5 miles, and that it took me about 32 minutes.  Because I measured and kept track, I have been able to see my progress. I now know that my time and speed have increased considerably.  I am now running at a speed of about 8 mph and have been able to run more than 13 miles in one run.  I also know that I have lost about 20 pounds since I began to run.  I wrote that down, too.   I fell in love with running and the calories burned one day at a time.

I didn’t start running to lose weight.  I did it to exhaust myself so that I could fall asleep at night— to keep the nightmares associated with my father-in-law’s death at bay.  It seemed important to write it all down— the running, the distance, the time, my weight— and so I was able to really see what happened.  After a few weeks, I decided to measure my hips and waist, and since then, my waist is only about an inch smaller, but I lost seven inches from my hips.  Although exercise was only about stress relief and trying to sleep better, it became a big enough focus in my life that I went back to school to become a personal trainer.  I feel better than I ever have before in my life!  I wanted to learn how to share that with other people.

Fitness rule for today:  measure and keep track.

This is another one of those double-meaning fitness rules.  The first aspect is about taking measurements at the start of a fitness and/or weight loss program.  Without taking specific measurements, like body weight, waist, hip, arm, calf, and thigh circumferences, body mass index, or any combination of these, it is impossible to measure and assess progress.  Sure, there might be a little bit more room in your pants after you have been watching what you eat and exercising, but knowing exactly how far you have come is an intrinsic reward that cannot be either matched or assumed without having a starting point to go by.  Saying “I lost 10 pounds!” or “My waist measure two inches less than it did a month ago!” feels much more concrete than “I think I may have lost some weight” or “I think I might need to wear a belt with these jeans.”

The other meaning is about measuring food to get a general idea of calorie consumption.  I attempted to explain measuring to one of my clients the other day.  She is pretty resistant to measuring anything.  I made an analogy to money.  When in a store,  let’s say what you want to buy an item that costs $15. You hand the clerk a hundred dollar bill.  The clerk gives you your change.  You count your change.  You want the right amount back.  $85 is a lot of money!  You also have more shopping to do, and you need to plan how you are going to spend what is left.  You need to make sure you have enough to get what you need.  (No, there are no credit cards in this analogy!)  Maybe if you had a couple of pennies coming back you might not be so careful, but when it comes to dollars, knowing what you have spent and what you have left to spend makes or breaks your shopping trip.

That’s how I think about calories.  I don’t believe in measuring everything consumed— in fact, I think of vegetables and fruits as pennies.  But unless you know whether you ate a serving of rice— that’s a 1/2 cup cooked— you just remember that you ate rice.  You could easily consume a double portion.  “So what”, says my client, who wants to lose twenty pounds.  “It’s whole grain.  It’s good for me.  I like it.”   It’s just like counting your change.   1 lb. is equal to 3500 calories.  If you want to lose that pound, you must create a deficit of 3500 calories.  Easily done— eat less or burn them.  A combination of each is most efficient.  But, you will never know how many calories you have “spent” unless you pay attention to them and figure out how many you have left over for later.

I don’t think anyone should go around every day of their life measuring each morsel they are going to pop into their mouth.   I do believe, though, that measuring cereal, rice, pasta, oils, and meat, fish or nuts for a few days will give a good general idea of what a serving actually looks like.  Seeing one cup of cereal in a bowl for a few days lets your eye get the idea.  Soon, pouring the right amount becomes second nature.  Everything we buy at the grocery store has a portion size and calorie count.  It’s a simple step.  Look at the package.  Pay attention to how much you eat.

There are all kinds of little tips for assessing amounts.  A palmful of nuts is a serving.  A piece of meat or fish the size of your palm is about one serving.  (3-4 ounces.)  A cup is about the size of a tennis ball.  2 tablespoons of peanut butter is about the size of a ping-pong ball.  After just a few days, you will be able to eyeball a serving and know how many calories are in that portion.  When you add up your calories and deduct the number you have burned during exercise, you can closely estimate how long it will take to lose a couple of pounds, or twenty.