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The dumbest thing I’ve done

Many fitness professionals have a difficult time looking at their own bodies as objectively as they do with clients. I have fallen into this category on several occasions. We have the knowledge, we put together a plan, we do corrective exercises, and we push beyond our limits. But, like 16 year olds with license to drive, we think we are invincible… until our bodies remind us that we are human, just like everyone else. To date, one of the dumbest things I’ve done to my body as a fitness professional was that I stopped deadlifting when I started running. If you are a runner that battles with cross-training, you will understand my case.

deadliftI had never been interested in distance running, but I decided to start training for 5ks about 3 years ago. I didn’t want to be sore or in recovery from a workout when I had to run, but I knew it was neglectful to cut my lower body training, so I put some “maintenance leg work” in my weekly workouts. I didn’t know at the time that my 1″ leg length discrepancy with this type of training program would result in sacroiliac joint dysfunction, which led me to 3 years of lower back pain.

In 2009, before I started running, I had my best deadlift PR at 305lbs. I spent a little over a year training for that and I loved every minute of it. My body and my mind love deadlifting. In hindsight, when I was deadlifting regularly, the muscles surrounding my SI joints were strong and capable of stabilizing my pelvis. When I finally figured out this new non-deadlift training program was causing me damage, and hours of sitting at a desk in grad school exacerbated the issue, I was stuck in a cycle of back pain I couldn’t get out of. It has taken 2 months after graduation to finally report that my back pain is gone and I started deadlifting again. I had spent a lot of time on my Rumble Roller, stretching, getting deep tissue massages, and seeing the chiropractor over those 2 months.

The moral of this story is not to tell you not to run, or that you have to deadlift. The moral of this story is that everyone’s body is different, and each body has its own quirks and kinks. Your body will tell you what it likes and what it doesn’t like, and you should always listen! I do not believe we are all built to be runners, nor do I believe we are all built to be weight lifters, for example. If you are doing something that your body is not responding positively to, stop doing it. Just because Jane Smith loves her xyz workout doesn’t mean it’s going to make your body happy. Find what your mind and body agree on, and love your workouts!

Cheat Meal: Friend or Foe?

Many fitness coaches and nutritionists have different thoughts on cheat meals and how they play into your weight loss journey. Some programs do not allow cheat meals at all, which I find to only work for people short-term. If you don’t learn how to incorporate “bad food” into your diet on occasion without completely falling off the wagon and rolling down the hill, or you live your life terrified of ever eating a cupcake again, you will have a very difficult time maintaining your weight loss results long-term. While I don’t have a degree in nutrition, I have worked with many different clients over an extended period of time on their eating habits, and I have developed my own opinions on cheat meals based on my clients’ success. Cheat meals can be your friend or your foe, depending on how you choose to utilize them.

Woman and pizzaThe bodybuilding school of thought is that a cheat meal sized and placed appropriately can actually speed up your metabolic rate if your metabolism is working effectively. I have seen this work with many fitness competitors and with my clients. The key terms here, though, are “sized and placed appropriately.” Here are some tips on how to do just that:

1) Make a cheat meal a cheat MEAL, not a cheat DAY! Your metabolism has the ability (if it’s working effectively) to rev up and burn off a cheat meal as energy, but a cheat day will most likely end up as stored fat. I like to use the analogy of your metabolism as a bonfire. If you throw one log on it, the fire will grow and burn up the log. If you keep throwing logs on it before it has a chance to burn them for energy, the fire will get smaller, and burn less efficiently.

2) Don’t have more than 2 cheat meals per week. If you love food and are feeling restricted, I find that 2 cheat meals allows you to space them out to psychologically keep you on track. It’s easier to talk yourself through eating well for 3 days than 6 days (or forever) until your next cheat meal. Or, if you like to go out on the weekends, you can allow yourself a small break on Friday and Saturday nights. If you’re going to have 2 cheat meals per week, though, that means the other 5 days must be CLEAN eating! If you allow small bits of cheat to scatter throughout the week, the 2 cheat meals will not work to your advantage, and you will have a much harder time reaching your goal.

3) LOG THEM! And don’t let them grow to more than a few hundred additional calories. Back to my point about not having cheat days, you’re more likely to keep control of your cheat meals if you log them in your food journal. Face the music and let the numbers stare you dead in the face – pizza calories add up quickly! Keep your cheats to a reasonable size and don’t eat the whole pizza because it’s a cheat meal. If you throw 20 logs on the fire all at once, the fire won’t be burning normally for quite some time. The goal is to always keep the fire burning strong!

Spaghetti Squash with Garlic and Basil

Spaghetti Squash Recipe

  • 2 spaghetti squash
  • 1 sweet vidalia onion, diced
  • 1 sweet red pepper, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4tbsp basil, minced
  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • 4tbsp salted butter
  • 4 chicken breasts, cubed
  1. Put spaghetti squash in the microwave for 5 min to soften. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut spaghetti squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place inside up on cooking sheet and bake for 40 minutes.
  2. Heat a large skillet to medium heat. Add 1tbsp olive oil and cubed chicken. Cook until it’s no longer pink and set aside.
  3. Heat another large skillet to medium heat. Add 1tbsp olive oil, garlic, onion, and basil. Cook until onion is opaque then add red pepper. Cook until pepper softens a bit.
  4. Scoop out insides of spaghetti squash with a fork into the skillet and mix together. Remove from heat and melt butter into the mixture.
  5. Add chicken and mix everything together.


– I got SIX meals out of this recipe. I usually weigh out my chicken first and then portion out the veggies on top.

– If you wanted to make this paleo, you could use KerryGold butter but make sure to add salt to taste. It definitely needs some salt.

– You could also substitute olive oil for coconut oil, but I like the taste of olive oil in this better!

My Business Team

Business TeamI always had a feeling that I wanted to be a business owner, but I wasn’t sure what my business would look like. Until I figured that out, I pictured myself as a corporate “suit” with an important title and an expense account. It’s funny how life rarely works out as you planned. Fitness sort of found me and it guided me to where I am today – and now I can’t picture my life any other way.

There are a lot of things people don’t tell you about being a business owner, but the one I was thinking about this week is the trial and error of finding your “business team.” You need a good accountant, insurance agent, lawyer, etc in order to have the foundation of a strong business. It may sound easy enough, but it takes a while to find people that you can work well with and also feel confident that they have your back no matter what.

After several positive encounters this week, I realized after 3 years of owning a business, I finally have a solid team of really good people around me. And I also realized that, after spending my life trying to do everything on my own, nothing makes you feel stronger than a solid support system. There are good people with good businesses that want to help you, but you have to weed through the questionable ones to find them. This can apply to all aspects of life, really, because we all need a team of good people we can rely on, and it’s well worth the trial and error to find them!

A Few Success Story Secrets

SuccessIn the time I’ve spent working with clients as a personal trainer, I’ve noticed there are a few things that all of my success stories have in common. None of those things include diets with excessive calorie or macronutrient restriction, deprivation, or crazy workout programs. None of the success stories did pyramid scheme diet programs that included shakes and “metabolism boosters” with a hefty price tag. They all do what most people don’t like to hear: eat a balanced diet and exercise.

1) They all food journal… EVERY DAY… no matter what. I believe in food journaling because, if you’re overweight, chances are that you eat too much or you’re not making appropriate food choices. For example, it’s easy to walk by the candy dish in the office and pop a 20 calorie candy in your mouth without even thinking about it. Over the course of the day, and the week, those 20 calorie candies add up. Food journaling will make you aware of the “extras” that are adding up and preventing you from reaching your goals. My success stories log everything, good AND bad, every day.

2) They’re honest with themselves. I don’t know if you know this, but I always know when you’re not honest in your food journal or about your exercise habits. Bodies tell the truth. It doesn’t much matter if you are not honest with me, but the real issue is that you’re not honest with yourself, and will never reach your goal if that’s the case. We are all human and we eat ice cream and pizza and get lazy and don’t exercise sometimes. Nobody is judging you for that. My success stories accept when they are derailed and jump right back on track.

3) They find balance. Being aware and pro-active is healthy, being obsessive is not. My success stories are able to stay on track without being obsessive about food and exercise. Do you have to give up some things on a daily basis (ie donuts and cupcakes)? Yes. Does that mean you have to avoid going out to eat or bring your own diet food to a restaurant? No. It’s a great idea to get 30-60 minutes of exercise in daily, but if you don’t, it doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel. Some exercise is always better than none. Finding your own balance means you will be happy while working toward your goals and you will be able to maintain when you reach them!

Jack of All Trades, Master of None

Jack of All TradesFor most people, it takes a while to figure out where we belong in the workforce and where our talents lie.  We often start on one path and head in another as different opportunities present themselves and we figure out what really gets us out of bed in the morning. I believe it’s important, though, to become the best at what you do best and not try to be the best at everything.

I’ve been certified as a personal trainer for almost 13 years and it has taken most of that time to figure out who I am in the fitness world. I’ve dabbled in many aspects of fitness training, educating myself thoroughly on each along the way. One of my passions lies in fixing physical problems with exercise. Nothing gets me excited like a new client that asks me for help with pain resulting from a muscle imbalance or that needs further strengthening after physical therapy. I’m an anatomy and physiology nerd and love a challenge.

This is not every trainer’s area of strength, however, and that’s okay. Fitness competition and sport-specific training are not my strengths, but I know some great trainers that specialize in those areas that I refer out to. When I hire trainers at my studio, I plug them into classes and watch how they work over a month or two so I can identify their strengths and place them appropriately. I encourage them to focus specifically on developing their strengths while continuing to educate themselves on other aspects of fitness as the opportunities come along.

I watch many trainers get lost in the shuffle trying to be a master of all things fitness instead of finding their areas of specialty. If you are a jack of all trades, you are a master of none. Or, as my mother would say, “you can’t be everything to everybody.” All trainers can help clients “lose weight and get in shape” because that’s what we are trained to do. But how are you different than the rest? Every industry has its basic training but it’s a good idea to take the next step to find your passion and be the best at it. A well-rounded specialist is the most useful and productive in any industry.

5 ways fitness is like gardening

Gardening FitnessMy new hobby when I’m not doing something fitness related is gardening. While I’m not any kind of master green thumb, I was thinking about how building and maintaining a garden is much like building and maintaining a healthy body. I love analogies, so hopefully these will light your fire, too:

1) Quality matters. If you take the cheap and easy way out of building a garden, your plants likely won’t flourish and grow as you would like. There is value in purchasing quality plants, soil, plant feed, etc. The same holds true for the food you put in your body. You can eat cheap processed food and not balance your macronutrients (fat, protein, carbs) appropriately, but you likely won’t get the results you’re looking for.

2) You have to be consistent. If you only water your garden once per week, it may maintain its current state (if you’re lucky), or won’t be seeing lush and healthy foliage by the end of the season. Plants and bodies respond to consistency. Only exercising once per week is better than not at all, but it’s not going to result in substantial body changes. The ACSM recommends cardio activity daily and strength training minimum 2-3 times per week.

3) The rewards are worth the efforts. It’s exciting to see a plant you cared for last year flourish and bloom when it’s back in season. As you continue to put effort into the plant, it continues to grow each year. You will think back to when it was a sprout and feel a sense of pride that your efforts paid off. There are many days that go by that you don’t want to exercise and would rather eat cake instead. Those are the days you should do your workout no matter what. You will always look back and feel proud when you are stronger and healthier as a result of your efforts.

4) Results take time. They say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” You can’t expect to plant a garden today and have it looking like Home & Garden magazine by the end of the season. Before setting goals for your body, it’s important to be realistic about where you are starting from. If you haven’t exercised in years or if you have gained weight over an extended period of time, you won’t be at peak fitness in 6 weeks. Patience, in addition to consistency, is key.

5) The project never really ends. Once your garden is flourishing and beautiful, you will likely still find yourself moving plants around and planting new ones. Likewise, when you reach one fitness goal, there are always others to aim for. Weeding, mulching, and feeding plants are on-going projects. Maintenance of a fitness goal once you have achieved it is the most challenging part of a fitness journey. You put in a lot of time and effort to get there – don’t let it go to waste!

Muscular Endurance vs Strength

Workout programming can be based on muscular endurance or muscular strength (or segments of both). Incorporating both into your weekly routine can help you build and maintain a well-rounded body. Some workouts are meant to be performed at a fast pace for longer durations with minimal resistance (endurance) while some are meant to be performed at a slow pace for shorter durations with greater resistance (strength). Before we break it down a bit further, here are some examples of endurance and strength training at Active Lifestyle Fitness:

Muscular Endurance:
Indoor Cycling
Boot Camp

Muscular Strength:
Guts & Butts/Guns
Small Group*

*(sometimes also includes segments of muscular endurance training)

Booty BarreMuscular endurance is defined as the ability to sustain a muscular effort for an extended period of time (1). This type of training can be beneficial to you in every day life performing tasks such as raking leaves, shoveling snow, and climbing stairs. Success in a Cycling class, for instance, is being able to maintain the RPMs recommended by the instructor at a given resistance. The resistance will be different for everyone, but if it’s causing a decrease in your RPMs, you should lower the gear. Similarly, success in a barre class is being able to to do all of the repetitions to the beat of the music. The arm segment has added resistance (dumbbells and bands), but if you’re not able to perform all of the repetitions to the beat of the music, you should lighten the resistance.

Muscular strength is defined as the maximal force a muscle or muscle group can generate (1). This type of training can be beneficial to you in every day life performing tasks such as moving boxes or furniture and picking up your children. There are many ways to design a strength training program so it’s important to consult with your instructor, but generally speaking, you should feel a struggle to complete the reps at the end of a set while maintaining proper form. If your resistance is not high enough to feel this struggle, your strength will not increase. Also, if you are trying to fly through a strength workout without adequate rest in between sets, you are not allowing enough time for your energy supply to re-generate (ATP) and will not be getting the most out of your workout.

It is important to understand the purpose of your workout as well as how to perform it properly. Your instructor will be able to help you gauge proper resistance, pace, and rest periods for each workout. All workouts do not have the same purpose. It may not be appropriate to use as much resistance as you can or to move as quickly as you can because our bodies have different types of muscle fibers that we train in different ways. It’s a good idea to take advantage of both muscular endurance and muscular strength training while making sure to follow the instructor’s guidelines for each!

(1) Boone, T. (2014). Introduction to Exercise Physiology. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC.

Sciatica!… Or is it?

SciaticaSciatica is a catchy term often used when referring to low back pain that shoots into the hip or back of the leg… but is it really “sciatica”? Your first step should be to visit your doctor and have some tests done to determine what is causing the pain. A disc problem or other issue with the spine may be causing the nerve irritation and may need to be addressed by a specialist. If everything looks normal with your spine and you walk away without an answer, it may not be an issue with the nerve itself, but an issue with the muscles around the nerve.

Each of our muscles have a “job” and they work together to execute a movement. If one muscle isn’t doing its job, the result is usually pain. A muscle not doing its job is usually due to lack of strength and/or inhibition. When I meet with a client that reports sciatica-like symptoms and received no answers from the doctor, I almost always find weakness in the glutes and muscles of the hip. A tight muscle is compressing the nerve while another is not doing its job. We can often resolve this by correcting the imbalance, increasing range of motion, and performing myofascial release with a foam roller or working with a massage therapist.

Screen shot 2015-05-22 at 12.39.30 PMSacroiliac joint dysfunction is also often mistaken for sciatica. This is an issue related to the bones shifting in the back of the pelvis. Strengthening the abdominal muscles and muscles of the hips and low back can help to support the area, alleviate pain, and prevent subluxation. Stretching and myofascial release will also help in cases of SI joint dysfuction.

Often times we don’t think of exercise as a treatment for pain, but if you spend some time with a physical therapist or exercise specialist that is familiar with your issue, you may find that you are able to resolve the issue fairly easily. All exercise is not created equal, however, so it’s important to understand how your therapist or trainer is planning to resolve your pain. You will also find quicker and longer lasting recovery by combining exercise training (strength/flexibility) with massage therapy and/or chiropractic care.

How to Choose a Personal Trainer

The process through which some of the general public selects a personal trainer is faulty. Just like any service that you are paying for, you should choose someone who has the proper credentials and the proper experience to get you to your goal. Because many people aren’t sure what questions to ask (or are too intimidated to ask questions), they end up not seeing results and become skeptical of working with personal trainers. The only way to match up dedicated clients with GOOD trainers is to educate individuals outside of the fitness field about what qualifies us to do what we do.

General view of Personal Trainers 7/7/2013Personal Training Companies within a “gym”: beware of training companies who chase you around at the gym or “require” you to meet with them when you sign up. Many of these companies have become the “fast food” of personal training. The “menu” of exercises never changes, the service is poor, and you’re just a number in a line of clients. Ask these questions:

1) Will you always have the same trainer? If the answer is NOT “yes, absolutely” – move along. If you have 10 different trainers over the next 6 months, how are you supposed to make any progress?

2) Do you have to sign a contract? If you are unsure about whether or not you will like the trainer or the system, ask if you can purchase some trial sessions before you commit. Never sign yourself into a contract without having a good understanding of what you’re buying.

3) Ask to speak with the trainer you will be working with before you buy sessions (see below about questions to ask). If you’re not allowed to do that, move along.

4) Lastly, if you feel like you’re being pushed into buying training, move along. A good trainer will never pressure you into anything because we understand that you will ONLY see results when you are READY to commit.

The GOOD training companies are usually led by an experienced personal trainer that is selective about the trainers who work for him/her. This person will be more than happy to answer any questions you have and likely appreciative that you are doing research to make the best decision for you. You will often find these companies set up as independent training studios or privately owned gyms.

If you have found a trainer you might like to work with, here is what to look for:

1) Most importantly, do you LIKE the person? It sounds like a silly question but you will be spending a fair amount of time with this person and probably sharing some things about yourself that you might not share with other people. You want to make sure you can build a relationship based on trust with your trainer. Just like friends and co-workers, you won’t like every trainer you come across, even if they are well qualified.

2) Does this person sound like he/she is willing to work with your needs? Does the trainer seem distracted or flighty? Is the trainer asking you a lot of questions, listening to and understanding you… or is the trainer just talking AT you? You will NOT reach your goal by hiring a trainer that does not listen to you.

3) What are the trainer’s credentials? There are nationally accredited personal training certifications… and then there are certifications you can get in a cracker jack box. Some of the certifications I like and am familiar with are: ACSM, NSCA, ACE, NETA, WITS. This is not a complete list, but it’s important to be aware of whether your trainer has valid credentials.

4) How long have they been training? Would you hire a mechanic that just started working on cars last week? I would hope not, but, we all have to start somewhere. If the trainer has been in the field for less than 2 years and they are working within a good training company being mentored by an experienced trainer, you’re likely in good hands.

5) Are they experienced with clients similar to yourself and do they have testimonials and/or references? If you have a specific health issue or are training for a specific event, you can seek someone who has experience in that area though most trainers are versatile. A good trainer will be glad to give you references and/or VALID testimonials.

6) What’s the plan? You’re paying for it, so what is it?! A good trainer will be able to give you a general idea of how they will progress you toward your goal. Also, how will they track the progress? There must be a system in place.

7) Is the trainer trying to sell you on some kind of “miracle plan” pyramid scheme that consists of special supplements and a “lose weight fast” type of program? There is no replacement for hard work and healthful eating habits. If this is not the trainer’s belief system, move along. He/She is just trying to get you to empty your wallet exchange for short term results.

8) And lastly, and perhaps most obvious, if the fitness trainer is not “fit”, do not hire that person! Your trainer doesn’t have to look like a fitness model, but trainers must look like they practice what they preach!

Do not be shy about asking questions – it’s YOUR money and YOUR time! All personal trainers are NOT made equal. If something doesn’t feel right with one trainer, look for another. Make sure you choose the trainer that is right for you because it’s the difference between wasting money and achieving your goal!