Climb Every Mountain

About a month ago, I did a Spartan race at a farm in Barre with my daughter. It was raining, and I got a sizable rope burn on my lower leg that became infected.  I was put on some strong antibiotics, and they killed the leg infection, but gave me a secondary infection that made me very sick.  My leg has pretty much healed, and I am finally finished with all of the antibiotics and feeling back to normal.  For a person who has always been pretty healthy and felt good and advised others how to live a healthy life, this has been quite an eye-opening and humbling experience. 

I was feeling great going into the Spartan: had been running a lot and working out hard and felt I was ready for the race.  However, I was unprepared for the conditions, which were very wet and slippery. Following my rope burn, I had to run through an actual mountain of cow manure (yes, you read that right) as well as crawl and run through some pretty thick mud.  As a result, my wound was very dirty when I was done, and it sat that way until I got home and tried my best to wash it thoroughly a couple of hours later.

I am not surprised my wound got infected given the conditions I had to run in after my injury.  But I am surprised at how difficult my recovery has been.  I thought I would get the antibiotics, take a few days off to give them time to work their mystical medical magic, and be back to my old self in a few days.

It didn’t work out that way.  I got cellulitis in my leg, which made it swell up and hurt anytime I moved.  The wound covered a large surface area and when it rubbed up against my shoe or the skin got stretched out (basically every time I moved) it was painful. Despite my best efforts, I ended up walking differently to avoid the pain, and the muscles in my calf and hamstrings got tight and sore.  The antibiotics burned my throat so much that eating and drinking was painful and they also made me feel nauseous.

Just as I was starting to feel better, I came down with a secondary intestinal infection, which made me feel like I had a very bad stomach virus and made it erally difficult to go to work and teach peppy fitness classes.   I had to change my diet and eat foods I never even think of eating, such as pasta, rice, and other bland carbohydrates, and give up the salads I eat at least once a day, just to let my stomach get back to normal.  All of this has opened a window into another world for me, making me realize just how very difficult it is to exercise, eat right, go to work and deal with household chores when you aren’t feeling well, something some of my clients deal with every day.

The takeaway from all this?  We all face our own adversities in life, but some of my clients have illnesses, injuries, and other mountains to climb before they can even get to the workout, and they climb these mountains each and every day.  No matter what their mountain is made of (hopefully not manure), all of these amazing people have a formidable spirit that keeps them coming back and working to be their best despite feeling lousy, having pain or fighting a mental battle just to get through their day.  Some days are harder than others, and not I realize more than ever just how hard that effort can be, and I am able to appreciate how amazing they are all that much more.  Whatever your mountain may be, always remember that it is so worth that climb. 

The Right Recipe for Workout Success

A couple of weeks ago, I was teaching a class and one of my students said I was like a chef making up a workout recipe.  I really liked that analogy and I think it makes a lot of sense.  I am not the best chef in the kitchen, but in the gym I am very comfortable concocting a bouillabaisse of exercises that are tailored to the people I am working with to help them achieve their goals. 

A lot of people digest a very bland workout diet, consisting of the same workout done over and over each week. This is like eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day for lunch for years.  Not only is it boring, but it also leaves you tight in some areas and weak in others, making you more prone to injury. 

Many people are repetitive exercisers, doing their one sport (running, cycling, golfing, skiing, or working out on the same piece of cardio equipment in the gym) countless times as they try to get in shape. Repetitive movement patterns force heavy loads on the same muscles, joints and tissues over and over again, which can lead to chronic tightness, pain and lack of mobility. Over time, the wear and tear on these body parts can lead to injuries that can stop you from doing the very thing you love the most. 

You can prevent all this by going to your workout kitchen and choosing exercises that work the body in all the different planes of motion, so that your body can withstand those loads and forces placed against it daily.  Think of your workout like a multiple course meal:  the appetizer is the warm-up to the main course, with foam rolling, stretching and dynamic movements to get the body ready for the main course: strength, core and cardio training geared toward your specific needs and goals.  The final course is the most relaxing part of the workout, like the dessert part of a meal: stretching and foam rolling designed to cool the body down and minimize post-workout muscle soreness. Those are the basic components of a workout.  You can add a little extra spice to your workouts by tossing in some high- energy cardio bursts or some speed intervals. 

Here are a few workout recipes you may want to try:

Are you a runner? You will want to loosen the ankles, hip flexors and thoracic spine and work the glutes, abs and hamstring (core) muscles, throwing in some interval speed work. 

Is soccer your thing? You should do the same mobility work on the ankles, hip flexors and thoracic spine and work the core but add in some single leg training for the quads and hamstrings as well as working on quick shifts in direction over small bursts of speed, mimicking what happens on the soccer field. 

Training for an obstacle course race? Make sure you do plenty of upper body training and rotational training as well as some plyometric work. 

They say that “variety is the spice of life;” that same motto applies to exercise. The best part: these recipes don’t add calories, they burn calories!

An accomplished workout chef knows that adding a blend of  multi-planar exercises to your regime will help you become more balanced physically and functionally, prevent injuries, and make you a better athlete.  

What Are You Doing with Those Other 23 Hours?

You go to the gym regularly, log those miles on the treadmill, hoist those weights, workout at least 3 times a week just like everyone tells you to, so why aren’t you feeling good?  Why do things hurt?

Take a good hard look at the rest of your day, the time when you’re not exercising.  What are your movement patterns like?  What are the movements you do most repetitively, and are you doing them right?  Because some of those repetitive movements could be hurting you.

Sitting:  How many hours do you sit in a day?  How often do you get up and move or stretch to counteract all of that time spent in the same posture?  What is your posture like when you are sitting?  Are you sitting upright with your shoulders back and down, your stomach drawn in and your glute muscles squeezing? Or are you slumped over a computer or phone that is causing those hips and shoulders to tighten up? Tightness in the hips and middle back can cause low back pain, among other problems.  A 2015 CNN article (“Sitting Will Kill You, Even If You Exercise” April, 2015) says you should stand and move around 1-3 minutes for every half hour of sitting.  Get a standing desk, take a walk down the hall to get a glass of water, or run up and down some stairs every half hour.  Lay on a tennis ball an inch away from your belly button on each side and then kneel and put your other foot up on a wall and rock forward while squeezing your glutes on the kneeling side to loosen up those hip flexors. For those tight shoulders, sit tall with your elbows behind your head and twist as far as you can left and right without tilting your chin a few times in each direction, then bring the shoulders back and down, squeeze the shoulder blades together and hold for a second or two.  Ten reps of those two or three times a day will help a lot. 

Standing?  Do you stand for long periods as part of your job?  What is your posture like?  Are you a dental hygienist or hairdresser who spends hours bent over with your shoulders slumped forward and your back rounding?  Or are you arching your back and tilting your hips forward? Take a few breaks throughout the day to walk forward, backward and sideways, do those shoulder squeezes and hip stretches I mentioned and squeeze your glutes ten times as hard as you can and hold for a few seconds.

Smartphone usage:  Bad phone posture often results in neck, shoulder and hand pain.  Frequent texting can give you tendinitis in your thumbs.  Try to hold the phone so your thumbs and wrists come in from the side at a 45-degree angle to decrease joint irritation.   Holding the phone by your ear or keeping your arm bent while you use the phone can damage the nerves in the elbow or wrist by compressing them for too long. A simple solution: switch to earbuds and keep moving the phone to different angles during use.

Walking or running is great exercise but can cause some chronic issues if your posture and gait are compromised.   Again, take a look at your posture:  Are your shoulders rotated forward, causing your head to drop and your shoulders and back to round?  You need to do the scapular squeezes I outlined above. Where is your foot striking the ground?  Do you strike first with your heel? Are you driving through the mid-foot up and up through the toes or are you using the outside of your foot more, pushing off without using the big toe? Some simple big toe and ankle mobility drills before and after running can help a lot.  Faulty movement patterns repeated time and time again, run after run, eventually cause some muscles to be tight and weak.  Runners need mobility through the ankles, hips and shoulders to have an optimum running gait, as well as stability in the core muscles.

Sleeping:  sleeping on your side or back is considered the best position for most people.  If you are waking up with leg cramps or low back pain you will want to take a look at your sleeping position and make sure it is the best one for you.

If you have chronic tightness or pain in certain areas of your body, take a good hard look at how you move (or your lack of movement) throughout the day and night, and then take the steps to change.  Find a good massage therapist who can help loosen up those tight muscles and give you feedback on what areas are tight so you can do the detective work to figure out why this is happening.  Your health is your most precious asset, and some minor changes in your daily movement patterns can keep you feeling good and moving well in the years to come!

Gabby's Super-Healthy Banana "Bread"

Gabby's Super-Healthy Banana "Bread"

- 1 banana (the riper the better)
- 2 eggs
- pinch of cinnamon
- drop of vanilla
- pinch of sea salt
- protein powder if you want extra protein (I like adding vanilla pp or pumpkin seed pp)

- maple syrup or honey
- strawberries, blueberries or blackberries

Blend everything together in a blender (I have one of those mini blenders) until it's really blended well (or just use your muscles and stir by hand). Pour into an oversized coffee mug. Microwave for 3 minutes. I recommend taking it out after 2 minutes and letting it settle and then put it back in for another minute because sometimes it bubbles over! Remove the bread from the coffee mug and cut it into slices, top with maple syrup or honey and fruit or nothing at all! Enjoy!! :) 

Do You Need A Personal Trainer?

I think people have a lot of misconceptions about personal trainers. They think they’re all going to be like Jillian Michaels on The Biggest Loser and yell and scream in your face, or work you so hard that you collapse from exhaustion.  Or, people  think, “why do I need a personal trainer; I can do it on my own.”  I am going to tell you why you need a personal trainer to help you achieve your health and fitness goals.

The world of exercise can be scary.  People get hurt exercising all of the time, and YouTubes’s plethora of exercise “Fails” is a testament to that.   Exercise is supposed to make us stronger and help us feel better; not hurt us.

A personal trainer is an exercise coach.  In its simplest terms, a coach is defined as someone who educates, teaches and instructs.  But a good coach is much more than that.  A good coach is someone who ignites, lights a spark within, gets you to reach for and achieve goals you never thought you could. At first.  But a good coach and trainer believes in you—and then gets you to believe in yourself.

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson

A trainer gets you to show up.  And that is the first—and most important—part of exercising: showing up.  For many people, having their workouts scheduled into their busy days means they will actually do it.  Again and again and again.  Until they reach their goal, whatever it may be: to play with their grandchildren, run faster, play soccer without getting hurt, or tone up for an upcoming wedding. 

Do you find yourself talking about how you want to lose weight and get into shape but just can’t seem to get started?  A good trainer will help you convert those thoughts into action. 

A good trainer will keep you accountable.  You will probably only spend about two hours a week with your trainer.  What about those other 166 hours?  Are you eating right, getting enough sleep, and moving every day?  Although those two hours with your trainer are meaningful and important, those remaining 166 hours in your week are far more important, and a trainer will help make and keep you aware of that and stay on track.

A good trainer will also practice what they preach and hold themselves accountable, too.  They will eat right, get enough sleep, move every day, and bring their “A” game to every session with you. 

“Even greater than the ability to inspire others with hope is the power to motivate them to give as much to the lives of others as they would give to their own; and to empower them to confront the worst in themselves in order to discover and claim the best in themselves.” –Aberjhani, Journey through the Power of the Rainbow: Quotations from a Life Made Out of Poetry

A good trainer or coach can positively affect someone’s life forever.  Getting you moving, teaching you how to do exercises properly, and gain strength, mobility and speed are some of the reasons you hire a trainer.  But far more important than that is gaining the confidence, belief and tools to become your very best self! 


Craft Night with Jules & Gabs: Painting & Planting

We had a great group of women at Friday's Craft Night with Jules & Gabs.  We painted terra cotta pots and added a hardy succulent plant to take home and enjoy.   Here are a few highlight photos! The next Craft Night with Jules & Gabs will be on Thursday, April 21st @ 6:30PM. Stay tuned for more details! 

My Top Eleven Tips for Healthy Living

If you have decided that you really are ready to make some changes in your life, here are my top eleven tips for living well:

1.     Everything in moderation.  Too much of anything is bad.  Being aware of what we eat and what we do is the key for living well.  Too much sugar, too much processed food, too much alcohol, too much of one type of exercise; you name it; too much of anything is not good for you.

2.     Do something every day.  This is a big one.  You should make an effort to do some sort of exercise every single day, whether it’s taking a 15 minute walk, dancing to some music, doing a full workout or just running around with your kids outside.  Moving is the best thing you can do for your body, mind and soul, and you need to without question do it every single day.

3.     Change up your exercise routine.  Do you always do the same kind of exercise?  Go for that 4 mile run at the same pace three or four times a week?  There’s a few reasons why you should differ your exercise routine:  your muscles get used to doing the same thing and you don’t get the same physiological benefits out of your workout that you used to.  It can also cause certain muscle groups to become weak, leaving you prone to injury. Try adding intervals to that daily run, building in some core exercises and trying out a new workout class.

4.  This next tip is a follow-up to the last one: Work out hard.  Working out at a high intensity at least a couple of times a week does great things for your heart, your muscles, your bones, your brain and your mental state (see last month’s column for more information on those last two). Up the ante in your strength workouts by doing the exercises in a circuit fashion with little rest between sets.  Add some short bursts of cardio done at your all-out max level of energy sandwiched between recovery periods of lower-level exercise.   Try one of my HIIT classes to really ramp up the intensity!

5.     Work your butt off.  Your glute muscles are the largest group of muscles in the body and they work to stabilize the hips and extend the leg in certain movements.  All the sitting we do now as a society tends to tighten the hip flexors and effectively “shut off” the glute muscles.  Bridges, band sidesteps, birddogs and squats are just some of the exercises we can do daily to activate and strengthen the glute muscles and restore functionality to the hips.

6. Prepare your own meals as much as possible.  Eat food that is as close to its natural state.  Processed food has too much bad stuff in it, and you eliminate most of that when you cook homemade.

7.  Eat fat.  Good fats help you absorb essential vitamins and minerals, and are important for the function of our nervous system.  Some good fats are olive oil, olives, nuts and nut butters, seeds and avocados, and salmon and other types of fish.

8.  Eat less sugar.  Processed sugars like fructose can overload the liver and turn fructose into fat in our body, wreaking havoc on our metabolism and causing tooth decay.  It also doesn’t give us long- lasting energy, and causes us to crave more sugar. 

9.  Live in the moment.  Being aware of your choices and not just repeating mindless habits gives you the power to choose your path and be the person you want to be. Don’t be afraid to try new things.

10. Go easy on yourself.  Don’t beat yourself up when you slip back into old habits or make a bad choice.  Life is a journey and we are constantly learning from our environment.  Some of our best successes in life come from our mistakes. 

I just couldn’t limit my list to ten because this last one is just too important to leave out:

11. There is no magic pill to be healthy, no one thing that will make you skinny, give you energy, or get you strong.  No shakes, pills, gadgets or prescriptions are going to give you what plain old hard work will get you.  So there you have it, my top 11 tips on living well. Now get started!  It’s never too late to make some positive changes in your life!