I’m Back…

Hi friends … I know, I know. It’s been a long time. To say that the summer (okay, and I guess I have to say fall since we are more than a month in now)  was pretty busy. I assure you, I’ve been teaching, I’ve been training, I’ve been working, I’ve been enjoying life … but I think it’s pretty obvious what I haven’t been doing.

But I’m back. I know that before my short (okay, let’s be honest, it’s been like 4 months) hiatus I promised to be better about blogging. Clearly, I did not follow through. So I’m only going to promise that I’m going to try.

So, what have I been up to since (gulp) June? Quite a lot, to be honest. Sometimes I start to wonder how I have time to sleep, let alone breathe. I’m still teaching regularly, but my schedule has changed a bit (we’ll get to that). In July, I spent the annual week at the beach with the family. In August/September, I had the pleasure of attending my girl Emily’s wedding (my first trip to New Hampshire), and the boy and I returned to Hawaii (six days for me … a month for him). I got to the pool whenever I could on the weekends. Football season started, so I’m spending a lot of time watching ESPN (yes, often on the treadmill or elliptical).

As I mentioned, my teaching schedule has changed pretty dramatically in the last couple months. I first cut back on my Sunday classes, and eventually just gave them up all together. I loved teaching them, and I’d been on Sundays for what seems like forever … but at this point in my life, I knew that the only way I was going to get the balance that I really needed into my life was to actually have real weekends. So I cut back (just in time for the boy to start what I can only call insane amounts several weeks at a time of work travel … which is finally close to winding down). In September, I made another change – giving up my Piloxing class on Wednesday nights. I haven’t had the time to put into the prep that I really needed to give the class my all, and I was offered a cycle class at Sport&Health around the same time (and after a year of subbing and turning down my group fitness director – because I was already teaching on the nights she could offer me a permanent class). I decided that it was a good move – and a good change – for me at this point. I was proud to turn the class over to my girl Kim, who had worked hard training with me throughout most of the previous year. I’m sure she’s doing great … I mean, she did train with me and all 😉 So  yes, I’m teaching a ton of cycle now (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday). But I’ve never made it a secret that cycle is my favorite class to teach (and pretty easy to prep for).

That said … life has been crazy, and I apologize for my absence. I know I’ve said I’ll place more priority on blogging (and quite honestly, I’ve thought about it many, many times without actually taking the initiative to, you know, write a post), and I do mean it. I’m going to try my best to be back and present, friends. And if you are in the NOVA area … come take a class with me:

Tuesdays (XSport Alexandria): 6 p.m. Cycle, 7:15 p.m. Pilates

Wednesdays (Sport&Health Skyline): 6:15 p.m. Cycle

Thursdays (XSport Alexandria): 6 p.m. Cycle

…and I tend to pick up weekend classes when the boy is out of town, so I’ll keep you posted on the “bonus” classes I’ll occasionally teach.

 

Good Form: The Key to Quicker Progress

People vastly underestimate the power of good form. But it’s amazing how this one little thing can make such a big difference.

One of the most important things to focus on not only when you are new to exercise, but at any time, is the positioning of your body – what is commonly referred to as your “form.” It’s an easy way to make your workout more effective, lessen your chances of injury, and, quite honestly, keep you from looking like you don’t know what you’re doing.

I’ll admit to being a bit of a stickler for form. If you’ve ever taken a class with me, undoubtedly you’ve had to endure the repeated chorus of “use your muscle, not your momentum,” “tuck your bellybutton into your spine,” “drop your shoulders down into your back pockets,” “keep your heads up,” “make sure your arms line up with [fill in the blank],” or one of the many other form cues I have a tendency to throw out there. I can blame – and thank – a particularly fantastic trainer I worked with several years ago, who to this day I still credit for teaching me all the little form, routine and nutrition tricks that really do have a huge impact on my workouts today.

That said, here are a couple quick little fixes that can help you get the most out of your workouts, with less chance of ending up with an injury:

  • Stand up straight. It doesn’t matter if you’re lifting, running, walking, or doing something else upright. It makes me INSANE when I see someone crunched over a cardio machine (You know why it feels easier? Because it is. Don’t be lazy.) The more you focus on your posture, the better your body will feel both during and after. Remember: pick standing over seated when you can – it engages the core muscles for a little extra work.
  • Think about your joints. Keep your elbows tight to your sides for bicep curls. Focus on keeping your shoulders down and lifting with your wrists for lateral raises. And whatever you do, don’t let your shoulders creep up into your ears (it’s terrible for your neck)!
  • Be aware of your core. There’s a reason it’s called a core – it is the center of your body, the powerhouse for everything you do. A tight core means stabilized muscles … which are easier to control … which are easier to keep in good form. This is exactly why I recommend Pilates for everyone – it strengthens the core (abs, back, hips), which is only going to make it easier for you to strengthen everything else.
  • Don’t be afraid to start light. I know, women are constantly being told not to be afraid to lift heavy, and men aren’t going to be seen lifting 10 lb. weights. But it’s always best to lift a little lighter than you think you really need to if you are new to something (or trying to correct form). It’ll help you build muscle memory … meaning good form can come naturally from there on out.

Take a little time to focus on your form during your next workout. It may feel a little different at first – but that’s a good thing! And please, PLEASE … stop hanging all over those cardio machines and throwing your weights. You people make me nervous.

Strong-Fit-Beautiful Turns 2!

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Today is an exciting day here at Strong-Fit-Beautiful … we are turning 2! I would have never imagined that, when I took my girl Helen’s advice and started writing about what I love, it would have turned into something so incredible. I’ve been blessed that, as a result, I’ve had a lot of great opportunities – and been able to share a lot of great stories and advice – along the way. I’ve “met” some great people from around the world who are here for the same reason I am – because health and fitness are my passion, my love, the one thing that I can always get excited to talk about.

One thing that a lot of people don’t know about me is that I’m not naturally as outgoing and enthusiastic as I am when fitness is involved. While there is no greater feeling than stepping in front of a class, and chatting with those who have, truly, become my friends week in and week out, I can be pretty shy. I have a hard time letting people in a lot of the time. Which is why I think that I love teaching – I have the opportunity to be someone else. To be the me I wish I was. To feel like, even if only for a short time, I’m not being criticized or judged. In a lot of ways, I get the same feeling when I’m sharing my posts and communicating with all of you – it’s incredibly rewarding. Makes me feel as if I’m making a difference. Having an impact. And at the end of the day, that is the one thing I want out of my life – to know that I have made someone’s life better.

When I first started Strong-Fit-Beautiful, I was in kind of a sad place. I’d recently  had my heart broken – again – and I often found myself wondering if I had wasted many of my “good” years, too focused on the things that didn’t mean as much to me, and not enough on the ones that really did. I felt like I’d done a lot of work, lived a lot of life, and maybe didn’t have too much to show for it. But the truth is, I have realized that it’s the lows that make the highs that much sweeter. And there really is something better just around the corner – and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that when we feel we’ve been given all we can handle, the prize for surviving is within our reach (I can honestly say that in the last six months, I’ve had a lot more highs than lows … and everything kind of all hit at once … and yes, I wasn’t sure I could get any lower before that trend started a rapid climb upward). There have been many ups and downs since then, and though I don’t make a practice of sharing too much personal stuff too often, I’m glad to say that while life isn’t perfect right now, it is looking pretty good. I know that I have a lot of great people around me, supporting me, loving me and standing by me through those ups and downs. And I’m fortunate enough to do what I love part-time … even if it is only a few hours a week, teaching classes is truly the best food my soul could ever hunger for.

But enough of the sappy stuff, right? I’ve had a really great time writing Strong-Fit-Beautiful these last two years, and I’ve had some amazing opportunities come out of it. I’ve been fortunate to connect with some other incredible bloggers, both here in the U.S. and across the world. I’ve met a few of my readers here in the local area, and I’ve even enjoyed my five minutes of fame when one of my classes was featured on the morning local ABC news. I’ve had some great laughs from some of your comments (trust me, it makes me feel much more normal knowing that some of the same weird crap I see in my gym is not exclusive to my area … there are weirdos all over). More than anything, I’ve had FUN doing something I love (writing), and even more fun getting to discuss one of my favorite topics (fitness) on the regular.

So, to all of you who have helped Strong-Fit-Beautiful become what it is today … THANK YOU! You’re the best. As long as you’ll keep reading, I’ll keep sharing. I  know I haven’t been as good as of late about keeping up as I have in the past, but life has been crazy, so I’m trying my best (as my mom says, it’s tiring having a life, isn’t it? It’s something that’s kind of new to me). Here’s to another year of fun and fitness!

 

Back from My Hawaiian Adventure (Part 2)!

Let me first apologize for omitting one major point in Part 1 of my Hawaii recap … we definitely saw sea turtles while we were surfing on the North Shore. How I missed this, I’m not quite sure, because I was pretty excited about it (thanks to the boy for, 1. noticing that I missed one of the highlights of my surfing experience, and 2. reading my blog). They were pretty cool.

So, while yesterday was about surfing, today is about some of the other ways we kept ourselves active in paradise. We were fortunate in that we stayed at a resort with both running trails and a pretty nice (definitely above hotel standard) gym. We took advantage of both once in the three days we were in the North Shore.

As I mentioned yesterday, the weather was warm the entire trip, but overcast and rainy for all but the first two days (and the few hours we were out surfing with instructor Mike). We woke up on Saturday to overcast skies and drizzle, and figured it was a good time to check out one of the trails along the resort. It was pretty cool to run through the forest, next to the ocean. I wouldn’t say we were exactly pushing ourselves – enough to raise our heart rates and get a little sweaty (not a surprise, based on the temperature and humidity) – but there were so many beautiful things to see along the trail that we had to stop a few times just to take it all in. There was something between a drizzle and a light rain falling during most of the run, but it was actually really nice. I’m the type who is sweating within about three seconds, and is easily drained once the temperature gets above 70 degrees, so the additional cool from the rain was welcome. I will say, though, being accustomed to running on a treadmill … running trails is TOUGH! We had to maneuver around trees, fallen coconuts, and yes, even horse “presents,” as we trekked through the sand. The instability of the ground definitely made it a lot harder, and my lower legs were feeling it a little the next day (or maybe it was just because at one point I slightly twisted my ankle on a rock).

One ugly afternoon we decided to hit the gym. It was one of our less active days – we drove a bit farther up north to check out the scenery and some of the local shops (and discovered an amazing Mexican restaurant) and took a nap, but little else – so we figured we had better do a little something. It was getting close to the end of the trip, and I think we both were at the point that we were starting to miss our regular workout routines. And maybe feeling a little guilty?

Other than the surfing, running and gymming, we also did a ton of walking. Between walking to dinner or shopping in Waikiki, walking around the sites at Pearl Harbor (there was actually a lot more to see than I had realized – ships, submarines, planes, and museums explaining all of them…), and walking around to see some of the local sites, we definitely logged several miles each day.

Overall, the trip was amazing – and proved that just because you are on vacation (in paradise, when the snow is falling at home) doesn’t mean you have an excuse to be inactive and eat or drink whatever you want (though, admittedly, we did have some great food and drinks … probably why we put some form of physical activity on our list of priorities). But, just like it’s always great to get away, it’s always great to get back to routine, too. Back to home sweet home and the normal grind!

Back from My Hawaiian Adventure! (Part 1)

Hello again friends … long time no … uh, post? The last several weeks have been nothing short of insanity, and luckily, I was able to unplug, unwind, and take some time to just relax throughout the last week. But that certainly doesn’t mean that I spent my week in Hawaii sitting on my butt (although, truth be told, that is typically a big part of my beach vacations).

Last week, the boy headed to Honolulu for work for a few days, and with Valentines’ Day being last Friday and the Presidents’ Day holiday this past Monday, he invited me to join him out there for a little sand, surf and relaxation. We had both been working ourselves ragged lately, and it was a good excuse to get away from the winter that will never end (lucky for me, I flew out of D.C. about 12 hours before last Wednesday’s dumping of snow started falling).

One thing you have to know about both of us is that we are typically pretty active. I joke with him that his garage looks like a miniature REI. He’s an outdoor sports type. I’m more of a gym type, but I’ll try just about anything once. So needless to say, between the beaches, sites and fancy tropical drinks (in moderation, of course), we managed to stay pretty active. I tried a few new things. Saw some beautiful sites. Spent some time on former movie sites (we’ll get to that). And got a black eye.

So here’s Part 1 of the story:

I was informed going in that I would be learning to surf during our trip. Now, I’m typically a only as deep as my ankles kind of girl, so I was a little nervous as to how this would turn out. I was afraid I’d drown. Or get eaten by a shark. Or knock out my teeth. But I promised the boy I’d try. So I did … twice. Let’s say that while one instructor was not so great and left me unscathed (physically – emotionally may be a different story), the other was fantastic … and I came away with a story to tell.

We spent a few days in Waikiki, and apparently the gentle waves are perfect for new surfers. The boy claimed the waves were super-gentle (in fact, I think he was a little bored with them). Thus he hired pro #1 to show me what to do.

I was a little terrified of “Uncle Gil” from the start. He was this tiny man who I’m fairly sure was missing a few teeth, and kept talking about how he’d been surfing for 50 years (oh, and that he’d been in Vietnam). I’m usually the type who has to try something a few times before I get it down … and Uncle Gil took that as me not listening to him (because of course it wasn’t that he wasn’t explaining what he wanted me to do). Long story short, he yelled at me a lot, but I was able to get up a few times. I walked away thinking I was much better suited for beach sitting. And that Uncle Gil was terrifying. Desire to become a surfer? Zero.

But the boy was persistent, and once we made our way up to the North Shore a couple days later, surfing lessons were once again on my agenda. I will admit – and he knows this – I was less than thrilled with the prospect. If the waves outside of our hotel were any indication, I may be risking death. But Mike, the instructor (who was about 40 years younger than Uncle Gil – and a WHOLE lot nicer) assured us we were in good hands. So we loaded up into a van and drove to another beach not too far away to get started.

I’ll admit to being a little cranky-pants on the trip over there. I’ll also admit to perking up considerably when the girl who took us over to the site informed us that we’d be surfing on the beach that Hunger Games: Catching Fire was filmed (yes, I got a little fan girl. So what). It was a long swim out to the waves – definitely longer out than I think I’ve ever been in the ocean before – but, thankfully, the area was relatively shallow thanks to a reef (though the reef brought additional challenges: Would I break something? Would something try to eat me? Were there jellyfish?). Mike took his time finding what he called the “perfect wave” before he pushed us out – taking the time to explain what we were looking for, why it was important, and really just putting us at ease before we were thrust out into the wave. Needless to say, I started to get a little more of the why behind the how – and for me, that made a big difference. I still don’t know that I’d say I have much surfing in my future, but yes, I can see how it could be fun when you know what you’re doing. The boy claimed Mike told him I had great form, so maybe it is just a matter of practice makes perfect?

However, I did walk away from the lesson with a memory that will take a few days to go away… yeah, I got hit in the eye with the surfboard. Talk about one heck of a souvenir…
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More on my adventures coming tomorrow … now this girl’s gotta get to bed in the hopes of lessening the chances of severe jet lag…

How Can You Teach if You Can’t Talk?

Well, as I learned yesterday, it isn’t easy.

I’ve been fighting one thing or another (cold, sinus infection, whatever it’s morphed into now) pretty much since Christmas. It started with a tickle in my throat on Christmas morning, which I assumed was a result of my parents’ dry house, and those terrible incense they spread around at Midnight Mass. By that weekend, I had no voice. And by New Year’s, I was sniffling and sneezing. There were a few good days in there somewhere, and then last Monday, the sinus headache creeped in. Tuesday, I felt like death might be a good option. Finally, by Thursday, I thought I was in the clear. Friday, I woke up with a case of laryngitis that was definitely worse than the one I’d been through a few weeks earlier (I still sound like a frog who has spent the last 40 years chain smoking).

Which brings me to my question of the day: how can you teach if you can’t talk?

In another case of “make it work,” I found out yesterday. I was squeaking out little more than a whisper most of Saturday and Sunday, so let’s say that making through one class would have been tough enough. Yet I forced myself to make it through two.

It kind of puts into perspective how difficult it can be to do something that normally comes so easy. It was torture to not only bring the same sense of excitement that I like to bring to my classes. But at the same time, it was so nice to see some of my regulars take charge, help me out with the counts, or demonstrate something as I tried mightily – and unsuccessfully – to vocalize.

The one thing I really feared the most – even more than not being able to get the class to do what I wanted with some hand gestures and a squeak – was that people would leave, or tell me that it was terrible. A couple people left, but I’m used to one or two walking out before the end of class on any given day (heck, half the time I look up from my final stretches at the end of my cycle class, and the studio that had been full 10 minutes earlier is only at quarter-capacity). For the most part, people were very understanding. I got a lot of well-wishes on my way out the door. And though I know that I was certainly up to the standard I’d like to be during class, I was proud of myself for making it through.

My voice, however? I probably did some kind of irreversible damage to my vocal cords by pushing instead of resting them. But as any instructor will tell you – you do what you have to do sometimes!

The Gym in January: People Watching Gold.

I love people watching. I always have. One of my favorite classes in college was an interpersonal communication class, in which the teacher sent us out one day with instructions to watch people – and then report back the next class (I’m pretty sure we were looking for something specific, but it’s been like 12 years, so give me a break). The gym can be a great place to people watch – for numerous reasons. And it tends to be even better in January.

Tonight’s post was inspired by the girl I witnessed doing something that looked like a cross between the Chicken Dance and jumping jacks. Now, I’ve taken a lot of classes (and taught a lot of classes) that required me to do some odd thing from time to time. But in the middle of the gym? Not usually. Which got me thinking about some of the top “what are they thinking?” moments I’ve encountered throughout the years.

Cirque du Soleil. Now that football and pool season is behind us, I’m not getting to the gym quite as early on Saturday mornings … but for a while there, I’d get a (people-watching) treat on my way out. There were three people who, for some unknown reason, would practice what I can only describe as Cirque du Soleil … in the middle of the cardio floor. Not in a studio, not even in a somewhat less-traveled space, but right in front of the escalators to the cardio floor. Weird.

Old Lady REALLY Likes Her Weights. This one dates all the way back to my Clemson old bookstore while the real gym is under renovation days. This woman enjoyed lifting weights. REALLY enjoyed lifting her weights (think Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally”). It was uncomfortable to be around. I may still have nightmares.

Competition Prep. I get that fitness competitions require participants to strut around in a couple sequins and sky-high heels that would make a stripper blush.  But do you really need to “practice” (strut around) the gym floor? At least go into a studio. And please… keep the lights dim. Because I can’t decide if I want my body to look like yours or I want to give you my sweatshirt.

Overzealous exercisers. Yesterday morning, I saw a guy I actually feared would fly off of the elliptical he was working – at about 100 miles an hour. Here’s the thing … the resistance is adjustable on those things. You’re going to get more out of it if you slow it down and add some resistance.

Sweaty twins. For a while there, I thought there was only one of them … but they are in fact two. These girls spend at least an hour on the stepmill, going pretty quickly, and sweating EVERYWHERE. Never a towel in sight. Wearing long sleeves. Mind you, these girls are extremely thin. There is no reason they need to be working that hard or losing any extra water weight.

So … what have you seen around the gym? Is January your favorite people watching time, with all the Resolutioners running (or panting, or wandering confusedly) around the gym?

For When Your Workout Motivation is Lacking…

Most people can come up with a good excuse to skip a workout. When faced with one of these times, it can be smart to follow this easy flow-chart to help you get a little more motivated to get yourself to the gym:

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See the original here. Thanks to my mom for sending it my way!

Merry Christmas!

I wanted to take a quick moment to wish you all a very Merry Christmas! This is truly the season of giving, and though I don’t know many of you personally, I’m so grateful for the support and suggestions I receive from so many of you. It’s been amazing to see this little blog that could grow into something so rewarding!

Hopefully you are spending your holiday among friends and family. I’m back home in Illinois for the first time since last Christmas, and though I’m reminded why I left (10 degrees is NOT habitable for my always cold body), it has served to prove once again that family truly is the most important thing. So, go sing some carols, open some presents, maybe even eat a couple cookies (you can work them off tomorrow). I’m going to head down for my dad’s not likely healthy breakfast, open some gifts, and watch “Christmas Vacation.” And no, I’m not planning on changing out of my pajamas.

Merry Christmas!