Archive for the ‘Tips’ category

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.

The Dog Test

November 15, 2010

Except for the ones who are off-leash while I am running, I generally like dogs.  Well, to be truly honest, I like them from a distance.  And as a distance runner who is always working on improving my speed and form, dogs are part of the way I check in with how I am doing.  It’s all about what I call stealth running.

When a runner is out there on the street or the sidewalk, each footfall’s impact affects the whole body.  With each step, the brain is jarred in its cranial shell.  The joints get pounded, especially the hip, knee, and ankle.  To lessen that impact, the runner must land as softly as possible with each and every step.

With a traditional running shoe, the shoe causes a heel strike. The heel strike allows the runner a longer stride and perhaps an increase in speed.  Over time, that heel strike, which is not a natural body response to running, causes damage and injury to those joints and the muscles, ligaments, and tendons supporting them.  Listen the next time you see a runner coming up the street.  Chances are you will hear their feet striking the pavement well before you can see their face. Thunk, thunk, thunk.  The more expensive, cushioned and supportive the shoe, the louder the thunk.

Barefoot, or in a minimal support shoe, those muscles, ligaments, and tendons that are built-in shock absorbers are recruited to do their jobs.  Try running around your house barefoot— you will find your body protects itself by forcing you to land on your mid-sole to toe area of your foot.  The result is a shorter stride, but in time, learning to increase the turnover in that stride, the runner may actually improve in speed and find a lower incidence of injury.  You won’t hear much thunking in your living room if you try the barefoot test, and you won’t hear much from the runner who zips by in a minimal support shoe.

The job of the runner in a minimal shoe is to focus on the foot strike and the landing.  The softer the runner lands, the lower the impact on the body.  It’s a lot to think about, especially if the runner is trying to relax and unwind during a run.

So— back to the dogs.  I have been working on my foot strike for months and months.  I try to run as lightly as possible.  It’s challenging to assess my progress.  Other people out there— the walkers, the runners, the gardeners— are focused on themselves and their headphones, their fitness partners, their flower beds and their thoughts.  I usually wear headphones myself and although I don’t have my music too loud, I have a hard time hearing if I am making a lot of noise when I run.  The leashed dogs, the ones out with their kind owners on their early morning walks and enjoying the smells of the shoreline and the fire hydrants— they are my best measure.  Dogs are always listening.  They listen for other dogs, for squirrels, for mice rustling in the little wooded areas along the streets.  I don’t believe they are big thinkers.  They are present in the moment, sniffing and peeing and loping along, very aware of what is going on around them.

An older couple who live on South Street own two sheep dogs and walk them faithfully each morning.  They take the long loop from their house down Penzance Road, the dogs on fairly short leashes.   The dogs are slow and friendly, tuned into their walk.  Once in a while only one of the couple walks the dogs, but dogs are always together.  When I see them, I prepare for the test.

I approach from behind, easing my breath and running as lightly as I am able.  When I began to do this test, the dogs would turn their heads when I was still yards and yards behind them.  The owners never noticed me until I was quite close, maybe about 10 feet away.  I promised myself that by autumn of this year, I would be able to run quietly enough that the dogs would not turn their heads until I was almost beside them.

Last week, I spotted them by the two marshes before the beach.  I had just rounded the hill coming down from Eden Road.  I was sprinting the hill, trying to stay on the middle of my foot.  I ran onto level pavement and looked ahead.  This was it.  It was well into autumn, there were the dogs.  This was my chance.

I ended the sprint to control my breathing but continued to run at my normal pace.  I approached, working hard, even shutting down my iPod so I could hear my own steps.  Pretty quiet!  The dogs never turned their heads.  I was alongside them and only when I came into their line of vision did their great white muzzles turn to me in unison.

“Good morning!”

The owners, such sweet and friendly brief companions on my daily run both looked over to me, surprised.

“Good morning to you!  We didn’t hear you coming!”

“I’m working on my stealth running.  Guess I’m doing pretty well.”

“I’ll say.  Have a nice run.”

They always say that.  And also that they can count on seeing me no matter what.  They must think I’m nuts to be out there every morning in any weather.

As I wave my goodbye and turn my music back on, I congratulate myself on making my goal.  I finally passed the dog test.


October 26, 2010

I am running at full speed this morning, my legs and arms pumping madly, my heart pounding like a kettle drum, for the distance between one telephone pole to the next.  I slow down and jog easy, trying to recover.  Until the next telephone pole.  I am running fartleks.  (I know, it’s a weird word, bringing to mind visuals you probably don’t want to entertain—but click on the link and look it up anyway.)  I should really leave my watch at home, because this kind of training doesn’t count for time, yet I cannot help looking to see how my time is.  It’s a hard habit to break.

I wear my favorite running shorts— the “naked” ones— and the feeling of the morning air on my legs is delicious.  For the last couple of weeks, the mornings have been downright cold.  My winter training pants do their job, but I have already been missing the feel of bare skin, wind, the freedom of wearing less.  I am still wearing the same pair of Nike Free sneakers I bought last winter and they are going strong, despite the many miles I have put on their thin soles.  I am weightless this morning.  Weightless and winded.

I run along Marmion Way, dreading the long uphill end of the street, where I know the sprinting will be a challenge.  I know it will also affect the rest of this training session, but this is what fartleks are all about— pushing to the edge again and again.  I am lucky today.  I increase the distance to two telephone poles fast, then two to recover, and I only have to sprint up part of the very steep end of the hill.  The recovery poles take me almost to the corner and I round it picking up speed.  I burst onto South Street where the road is nice and flat and challenge myself to run three in a row, then recover for two.  I make it all the way to Eden Road.

I fly down the hill past Lynne’s house.  She is backing out of her driveway and I hope she doesn’t see me.  I don’t look back to check.   I continue to the third pole on her street.  I slow down again, then reach the next pole near the bend.  I don’t consider looking up and across to the Twin Lights, but rather put every single ounce of energy into the next sprint.  By the time I reach the third pole I can barely breathe.  I stop for a minute and bend over, resting my hands on my thighs.  I am panting hard and a little nauseous, wishing I had skipped that quarter of a bagel my daughter left in the kitchen this morning.   A woman I know is walking toward me, and I welcome the break as we chat for a couple of minutes.  When I take off again, all my energy has returned.  I run full-tilt for three poles, recover for two, and continue this way to the end of Eden.  My running friend Susie passes me in her car and I think  I must look crazy, speeding up and slowing down like this.  I laugh at myself, then decide to take the entire road between the marshes at full speed.  The road here is flat and smooth, so I let myself run right down the middle like a maniac— legs flailing, elbows pumping wildly, sweat running into my eyes.  At the end of that stretch, I allow the recovery to be a walk for one pole distance, then a light jog for one more before picking up speed again.

Pebble Beach is cool this morning.  The tide is low.  The smell is clean and sweet, the seaweed damp, freshly washed in to the shoreline. There are no telephone poles to use here, so I mentally break up the dirt road into quarters, leaving the sharp, steep curve at the end to split in two. I steal a few glances to see where the swans are as I push myself along the firmly packed sand, turning my head quickly so I don’t lose my footing.   I spy them on the beach this morning, poking around in the sand.  It both breaks my heart and brings me joy to witness their swan one-ness.  I press on.   I am so exhausted after the sharp hill that I just jog up the long hill of upper South Street to the corner before resuming this speed workout.

The rest of South Street is easy.  I go back to the two and two distance, really pushing hard, still hoping no one is watching me.  I feel ridiculous doing these intervals.  It’s just that after last week’s session, I ran two and a half miles at sprint speed the next day and it was the easiest run I have ever done.  I would like to run that speed for a full 10K.  This urge for speed came on suddenly– I think maybe I’m bored with my usual running schedule, and a bit disappointed not to have run a seven minute mile for a couple of months.  Five or six days a week, about 40 miles, split into four or five easy runs with one long day should be enough, but I feel the need for a change.

I turn onto Dean Road, run a couple of more high speed lengths, then ease up for a three minute cool down.  I check my watch and see I have been at it for almost an hour.  My legs ache; the muscles strain and protest even at this relaxed pace.  I think about how good a cool glass of water will taste, followed by a big mug of my favorite recovery drink: coffee with steamed soy milk, sprinkled with cocoa and cinnamon.  It’s enough to get me to my front door without falling down.  That, and the pleasure of knowing I just ran six miles of fartleks in my “naked” shorts one last time this year.

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.

Rant and Rule

March 18, 2010

Grocery shopping is becoming more and more of a challenge.  Just trying to find a box of cereal can take me up to ten minutes.  Why?  Because the shelves are crammed with a zillion different brands and types.  I need to read each box I might buy for the ingredient list.  The criteria:  I have to be able to pronounce the list, the list has to be short, preferably less than five items long, and the first ingredient has to be a whole grain.  I don’t want it to be fortified or “enriched” because that means all the natural nutrition has been stripped and removed in the processing of the actual food used.  Our family has managed to find a handful of cereals we like; our favorites have just one ingredient on the label, be it wheat or oats.  There are days when it still takes ten minutes to find cereal because I cannot see the ones we like in the deep, deep forest of brightly labeled boxes of sugar disguised as healthful food.

I duck in and out of the center aisles for the paper goods we use, and the pet food, but mostly I stick to the perimeter of the store.  Dairy, fish, meat and produce— the groceries that spoil if I don’t use them pretty quickly— the foods I have to actually cook— that’s my list.  It can be tempting to buy a “cheater chicken”, as I call them.  Those are the chickens the store has cooked and wrapped in thick layers of plastic wrap, keeping warm under red lights in a heated case.  When I am feeling busy or just plain old lazy, I stand there looking at those chickens, considering buying one.  But then I start to wonder how long it’s been sitting there under those lights, and if those chickens were at their expiration date and had to be cooked.  I think about all that hot plastic leaching chemicals into food I will serve my family and wind up walking right on by.

I am stunned every week by the variety of juices and bottled water drinks that each take up a complete aisle (which I skip entirely) and at this point find myself amused by the crazy entrees in the freezer section.  I do buy some frozen fruit and vegetables, especially raspberries, blueberries, mangoes, spinach, and peas.  They are so much less expensive when fresh ones are out of season, and frozen fruits and vegetables retain their nutrients better than the fresh ones, when factoring in the shipping time and shelf time before they reach my kitchen.  We love frozen fruit in smoothies, muffins, and cereal.  The vegetables work well in soups and stews, and there’s no need to wash them or cut them up.  They save money and time.  I love that!

The rest of the frozen aisle is mind boggling.  Entire boxes and bags of meals stand icy and waiting in bright packages in their cases, ready to be heated and eaten .  Many do not contain vegetables, and few are made with whole grains.  That leaves fat, mystery meat, sugar, and stripped carbohydrates, which our mouths crave and our bodies aren’t sure what to do with.  Even the vegetarian foods are highly processed.   Preservatives and additives, many derived from processed corn and corn by-products, are listed on the labels.  How can I tell what they are?  What is hydrolyzed corn protein, anyway?  I’m certain I cannot grow it in my garden!

Eating real food might seem silly, or at least like a lot of work, when there are all those foods prepared and waiting for us.  We work hard all day as it is.  Why buy whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder,vegetables, fruits, etc., and figure out how to cook with them when Mrs. Paul, Stouffer’s, Tyson, Jim Perdue, and Aunt Jemima have done it all for us?  What could be bad about a frozen lasagna, or a box of waffles?  What’s wrong with chicken nuggets?

Have you eaten a chicken nugget lately?  What does the chicken look like under that beige coating?  Does it look like the chicken your mom used to roast on Sundays when you were a kid?  Is the meat tender and juicy?  The last time I examined one, a friend was feeding them to her little kids.  I did  not recognize chicken in there anywhere.

Fitness tip:  Eat real food.

This is not new information.  It’s a hot topic right now in the news, and in books and magazines.   Even the president’s wife is getting in on it, making it her “cause”, although she is focused on feeding children healthful food.  I wonder why she is so intent on children.  When is the last time your child did the grocery shopping, or decided what the school cafeteria serves for lunch?  Perhaps she is using our children as a catalyst to trigger our guilt response, in case we forgot that we make the decisions about what our children eat.  We feed them.  We set the table for dinner.  We shop, stock the fridge and pantry, and set the menu.  If we aren’t eating real food, why would our kids?

I have been told that children won’t eat real food, and maybe some of them won’t, at least not while you are watching them, and certainly not if they don’t see you and I eating it.  If they get hungry enough, they will.  If they see real food— vegetables, grains, fruits, whatever we cook for them— often enough, they will, because it becomes familiar.  Remember how your child cried on the first day of school, or the first time with a new babysitter?  And then, most likely, that child couldn’t wait to get to school quick enough after the first week, or cried when the sitter left?  New foods, experiences, and people are strange, and only become familiar in time.  (My kids didn’t cry going to school— they were glad to get out of the house for a while, but also glad to come home at the end of the day… but I’ve witnessed other kids…)

Dr. Oz and Michael Pollan,  a couple of famous experts in the areas of food and health, speak and write about eating real food.  They cover the benefits of a nutritionally sound diet.  They both address the effects of a Western diet and processed foods in regard to childhood and adult obesity, Type II Diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and overall health.  Although I respect both of these men and listen to and read what they teach, none of the information is new to me.  I am a vegetables, fruits, and whole grains-eating-person.  It’s how my Nana and Grandma fed me, how Mom fed me, and how I feed my family.  I think I like what Dr. Oz and Michael Pollan preach because they both confirm what I have always known.  Eating real food tastes good and makes me feel good.  It helps me stay healthy.  My energy is high; my body feels best when I eat real food.

There are exceptions, of course.  Few of us have the time to turn out a perfectly nutritionally balanced three-meal-a-day plan every day for ourselves and our families.  We expect an occasional treat.  Maybe we go out to a restaurant once in a while, or bring in a pizza on Friday nights.  I’m not looking to eliminate the exception.  When I say eat real food, I mean buy and prepare the foods that provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and all the anti-oxidants in the rainbow of foods available at the regular old grocery store.  The brighter and fresher, the better.  Steam them, roast them, blanch them, or eat them raw (except for the eggs and meat)  if you like.  Know what you are eating.  Eat real food.

Shake It Up, Baby

March 15, 2010

Here on Cape Ann, the rain and winds have been relentless for the past three days.  Heavy downpours have left puddles big enough to row boats across, and wind gusts has been strong enough to knock giant limbs to the ground and uproot trees.  Our gardens are underwater; the seas are crossing our streets without looking both ways, leaving piles of seaweed and driftwood strewn across yards and parks.  We are lucky we are on granite ledge, otherwise our homes would be floating out to meet the fishes.

I ran early Saturday morning, before the heavy rains began.  Two remarkable things happened on that run.  I saw the first red-winged blackbird of the season.  Actually, I saw three of them.  Two flew across my path as I blasted along Penzance Road between the two marshes.  One came so close it nearly grazed my arm.  But there was one in the marsh, balanced boldly on one of the few remaining stalks of timothy grass, its bright orange-red wing tips the only brilliant mark in the gray, drizzly morning.  I also ran my fastest pace yet.  I did 6 miles, averaging 7’28” min/mi.  No run yesterday or today; I guess the weather is giving me time to focus on core and strength training, and on flexibility.

Fitness rule for today:  Cross-train.

Cross-training keeps our bodies guessing.  It keeps our muscles from repeating the same old motions in the same old ways, which can cause overuse injuries.  When our bodies grow accustomed to doing the same exercises every day, the muscles don’t have to work as hard, so we burn less calories.  But what exactly is cross-training?

Cross-training is working on all aspects of fitness:   muscle strength, muscle endurance, flexibility, and cardio-respiratory.  It’s also shaking things up a bit in each of those areas.  Try different core exercises on alternate days.  Focus on plank, side plank, table, and Pilates one day, then switch to lotus crunches, oblique crunches, and reverse crunches the next time you work on your core.   Lift free weights from different angles— try them balanced on one foot!   My personal favorite is to do curls while standing on one leg, with the other leg straight out at a 90 degree angle behind me.  Still too easy?  Close one or both eyes!

Change up walking, cycling, swimming, running, rowing, or whatever you enjoy.  Take an aerobics class at your gym, or rent a video from the library.  Aim for at least 30 minutes of cardio-respiratory exercise on most days.  One of my clients told me she did 20 minutes on the elliptical machine at her gym, then hopped onto the rowing machine for 10 minutes right afterward.  Great idea!

Work on flexibility for 10 minutes each day.  Stretch on the floor, in a chair, or on your bed.  Try standing.  Try varying angles slightly, hold each stretch for about 30 seconds,  always being gentle and never to the point of pain.  Mild discomfort is as far as you should go with a stretch.

Not only does cross-training keep our bodies guessing, it helps our minds.  Mixing up a fitness routine prevents boredom and burnout.  Learning new steps in a dance class, new yoga poses in a different style of yoga, or taking a walk on a new trail forces us to think differently as we try to get our bodies to redefine movement.

It can be challenging.  I love to run!  Since I have been wearing the Nike Free shoes, running has become easier for me.  I am much faster, and don’t seem to have any of the little twinges or annoying side effects I had in my old running shoes.  I have been running most days, and although I have stretched some, done drop sets, and made very good use of the gigantic ball in the living room to keep my core strong, I have had a hard time buckling down and taking the time to train my whole body.  The weather has kept me inside for the past two days, so I have had to be creative with my fitness routine.  I know my body and mind will reap the benefits of the extra cross-training.  So will yours.