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Self Perception and Body Image in Exercise — May 29th, 2014

On my ever growing wish list of books to read is one called Spark:  The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.  It was written in 2008, but the studies and conclusions from the book no doubt resonate today.  The below tidbits were pulled from this blog, one that I’ve posted and expanded upon before.  Some of the book’s findings include:

“A massive Dutch study of 19,288 twins and their families published in 2006 showed that exercisers are less anxious, less depressed, less neurotic, and also more socially outgoing. A Finnish study of 3,403 people in 1999 showed that those who exercise at least two to three times a week experience significantly less depression, anger, stress, and “cynical distrust” than those who exercise less or not at all.”

“In a landmark study affectionately called SMILE (Standard Medical Intervention and Long-term Exercise), James Blumenthal and his colleagues pitted exercise against the SSRI sertraline (Zoloft) in a sixteen-week trial… Blumenthal concluded that exercise was as effective as medication.”

“Researchers tracked 8,023 people for twenty-six years, surveying them about a number of factors related to lifestyle habits and healthiness starting in 1965. They checked back in with the participants in 1974 and in 1983. Of all the people with no signs of depression at the beginning, those who became inactive over the next nine years were 1.5 times more likely to have depression by 1983 than their active counterparts.” 

So, according to Spark, exercise can reduce anxiety, depression, promote social function and is just as good as popping a pill, maybe better.  For myself, I know this to be absolutely true.  I notice that on the days that I exercise I have more energy, I feel healthier, and can focus more easily on work and daily tasks.  On days that I don’t exercise or are not active in any way, I’m much more reserved than I already am and find it a lot harder to muster up the energy to take my son to the park or even get off the couch and give my dog a bath.  When I am active, the simple and mundane tasks become easier, which in turn makes the big stuff a little easier as well.  At least for me.  Now, some of you might be nodding your heads while others might be a little more skeptical.  And that’s fair.  So what I did last week was ask a few of my clients to write a short paragraph with their opinion on how exercise has helped them over the years, and if the above findings and my own conclusions from personal experience, make sense to them.

One client, who I’ve been working with for just under a year, has used exercise to tackle issues she struggled with in the past and has also used it as an outlet to enhance her own self perception, which is just as important as simply being healthy and in good shape:

“I’ve struggled with an eating disorder and poor body image for years. Having children and a husband, it’s important for me to be healthy and whole for not only me but my family. Once I started weight and strength training to help me stay on track with diet and exercise, I started to notice a difference in my body, my energy levels, and my mood. I’m starting to see my body for more than just a number on the scale.  My body is strong and this strength motivates me to keep pushing myself to be better and to see how amazing and strong my body really is!”

Another client has used her age as motivation, along with simply looking in the mirror and wanting to look and feel better about herself.  Exercise can be a bit of a chore, perhaps, but one that can have extrinsic motivation as well:

“I know that since I got up to a certain age I have to exercise.  It’s good for me mentally but I also notice that when I don’t exercise on a regular basis I get aches and pains associated with age.  Self image and fitting into your clothes is my major motivation.”

Staying and feeling young can be motivating as well, as my next client relates.  Or, more specifically, the feeling she gets when she exercises makes the battle against aging seem like a more even fight:

“We are all getting older everyday.  Holding on a bit to youth for me happens through diet and exercise. It makes me feel good that I am stronger, more fit, and able to ask way more of my body than I could when I was 20.  At 43, it definitely provides self esteem to ask my body to do things at a high level of intensity and see results.  The results for me are clothes that fit and a body image that I can live with while I fight the inevitable fight of aging.”

Sometimes exercise can be a necessary evil that will almost inevitably leave you feeling a bit better when you are done.  Getting to the gym and starting a routine can be hard but in the end, it can be worth it, as one client explains:
“As much as I complain while I’m exercising, I almost always feel better than I did when I started. Somehow the rest of the day I have more energy and a spring in my step. I’ve noticed that when I focus on doing core exercises, particularly Pilates, I find that even my posture is better.  I also find that when I’m really stressed, taking a walk really helps calm me.”
My final client simply makes exercise a priority as part of her hectic life:
“Exercise has always been a foundation in my life. With an innate need to be active as much as possible, playing sports, working out, and even doing household chores involving movement are part of my best days. Without activity, my body aches and my mood plummets! Of course, with increasing responsibilities as a wife, mother, daughter to aging parents, and working professional, finding the time to exercise has become more challenging — but I’ve learned to prioritize my health and fitness needs and MAKE the time for exercise. I can always count on exercise to increase my energy, improve my sleep, put a smile on my face, and simply make it a great day!”
I’m sure many of you have your own examples of how exercise, activity, and just simply being healthy has helped you tackle day-to-day tasks and other obstacles.  I’d really like to hear about them.  Or perhaps it could be the other way around.  Either way, with summer upon us, I’m ready to get outside, get active and encourage all of my clients to do the same.

Why Habits Matter — May 1st, 2014

Ever since I can remember, exercise in some way, shape or form, has been part of my daily “routine”.  When I wasn’t playing an organized sport I was always headed somewhere to workout, whether it was a gym to lift weights, a park to play basketball, a club to play tennis or golf or finding some sort of outdoor activity where I knew I was going to get moving.  Some days I would even go so far as to schedule my activities around my workouts, even to the point of making my parents and friends crazy because I would pester them to make sure they could give me a ride to where I needed to go.  The days when I don’t get to exercise are pretty few and far between given my profession, but when that routine gets thrown into a tailspin, everything feels off — my body, my head, my metabolism, my energy level, even my attention span, which truly doesn’t need to get any shorter.  Exercise, for me, is a daily habit, and I know that no matter where I am or what I am doing, I have the tools, knowledge and environment to satisfy that habit, and that’s a good feeling.

I’ve been a trainer now for almost 5 years. One of the things I’ve noticed is how hard it is for people to get into the routine, or habit, of exercise and healthy living.  Most people seem to know that exercise is a good thing.  Most people also seem to know that sitting on a couch for hours on end, drinking soda and munching on cookies, is not.  That’s mainly clear.  The difference for most is that sitting on a couch and munching on cookies is simply a habit, as is stopping at McDonald’s for a snack after work, taking the elevator when the stairs are just as accessible, or going to the gym at the same time, every day, to work out.  Bad habits are very hard to break and good habits are very hard to create, but here are a few things that I’ve tried, seen, heard or read about that should help:

  • It’s Not About Willpower, It’s About Planning Ahead.  If you have trouble getting to the gym every day, have you ever tried laying out your gym clothes before you go to bed?  If you are headed to the gym the next morning, how about actually wearing your gym clothes to bed?  What about writing a note to yourself on the bathroom mirror that says GYM, so it’s the first thing you see in the morning?  Little triggers can provide big motivation, and a friendly reminder as well.
  • Figure Out The Cue.  Charles Duhigg, author of the fantastic book, The Power of Habit, did a personal experiment to figure out why he craved a cookie every day at work around 3:30 in the afternoon.  He discovered that it wasn’t the cookie he craved, but actually the opportunity to head to the cafeteria and socialize with friends.  If you crave an afternoon snack at work, are you really hungry or is it something else?  Conduct your own experiment to see what’s really bugging you when that craving comes on.
  • Ask For Help.  Do you have an accountability partner? Someone to look out for you and keep you honest when you slack off or eat and drink just a little too much?  Your friends and family members can be your biggest allies and partners in your quest to lose weight, eat healthier, etc.  My most successful clients are those that exercise regularly with friends, attend classes in groups and engage themselves socially at the gym.  Why?  Because they are motivated and accountable.  If someone from the group doesn’t show up, the others want to know why and they’ll ask the other person why they weren’t there.  Also, there is bound to be one member of the group who is more fit than the others, providing extra motivation for the group as a whole.  I’ve seen this in action, and it works.
  • What’s Your Reward?  For me, the reward of exercise is the feeling I get when I’m done.  I feel good, energized, awake, alert … sometimes enthusiastic, although that depends on the day.  I have a craving for that feeling, and if I don’t get it at least once a day I don’t feel right.  I have clients who exercise because they want to fit into a bikini in a few months, or impress a significant other, or win a contest at work, or because they are going to a happy hour later in the day and want to justify having a few drinks.  As long as you know your reward, you can figure out how to execute the routine to achieve it.  Rewards are powerful and important because not everyone has the will power to motivate themselves without them.  And that’s ok.
  • You Have to Believe It to Achieve It.  Super corny, right?  Well, Duhigg writes about how huge belief is when you are trying to change a habit or achieve a goal.  I preach to my clients the importance of baby steps, practice, and taking it one-day-at-a-time, all things that we were taught by our coaches or parents when we were young, but which still apply today.  If you want to learn how to balance on one foot for 30 seconds, bench press your body weight, or lose 20 pounds, you have to believe that you can do it, otherwise, why even try?  Every once in a while I’ll see someone do a wacky exercise and think to myself, there is no way I can ever do that.  But then I give it a shot, and sometimes it’s just not so bad.  But I’ll never know until I try.

Exercising and eating right, in and of themselves, aren’t hard.  Most of us can freely take a walk, order a salad, or take 5 minutes in the morning to stretch our arms and legs.  The hardest part is creating and cultivating those good habits and making them part of your daily routine.  Hopefully with the aid of some of the tips from above, it’ll be a little easier to make those good habits a reality.

Exercise Questions and Answers — April 2nd, 2014

It is almost impossible for me to get through an entire training session without answering some sort of question; that question, however, may or may not come from one of my clients, but possibly from another gym member who is curious about what we are doing or might just need help adjusting a piece of equipment.  The questions can come in many different forms: from the trivial (Do you have any tissues?), to the specific (Where should my hands be placed on a push-up?), to the complex (How do I get rid of the jiggly skin under my arms?).  The specific and complex questions are fun because they force me to dig into whatever knowledge I have to try and relay that back to people; and if I don’t know the answer, I have to go home and do some research or call on people who have more experience then I do and ask them for a little help.  Just last week I encountered a woman with a severe degenerative back condition and asked one of my friends who is a physical therapist for his advice, advice which was incredibly helpful and beneficial.  With every question that comes my way I learn a little more, and that’s a good thing.

Recently I’ve been making note of the most common questions I get in the gym, thinking they would make an interesting blog post.  Some of my answers might be a bit of opinion, but hopefully made clear by facts, links, and other resources.  So without further adieu, my top 6, in no particular order:

  • Question #1:  I just don’t have any time.  What can I do to get some sort of workout?  Do you have 5 minutes, or can you make 5 minutes of time?  Most people can, so let’s start there.  Set a timer to a 5 minute countdown and group 5 body weight exercises into one minute sets.  How about 1 minute of push-ups, one minute of sit-ups, one minute of jumping jacks, one minute of squats and one minute of lunges?  There’s your workout.  5 minutes.  It’s better then nothing, right?  Or, check these out.
  • Question #2:  I had surgery, did physical therapy and am still in pain.  Why?  Surgery and physical therapy are not means to an end.  You are never truly 100% after surgery, especially if you don’t continue to do the work.  I meet many clients who had some sort of surgery years ago and are still in pain, simply because they didn’t keep up with the exercises that were prescribed by their physicians and/or physical therapists.  You have to continue to put in the work, no matter how tedious that work may be.
  • Question #3:  How DO I get rid of the jiggle under my arms?  According to the American Council on Exercise, the triangle push-up seems to be really effective at getting rid of that jiggle.  That’s a good one, although my advice to clients and gym-goers is pretty specific:  start lifting weights, and lift them HEAVY.  You can’t spot reduce or eliminate fat in an arm by doing tons of tricep work, for example, but you can certainly build some muscle by pushing and fatiguing directly on a muscle.  And, obviously, if you shred your diet and start eating real, wholesome foods, that’s a good place to start as well.
  • Question #4:  Do I need to eat before I workout?  Do I?  Absolutely.  I’m a mess if I don’t have something in my stomach before I exercise.  My combo is a banana, peanut butter and a big glass of water about 45 minutes before I start, but I’ve discovered that everyone has a different answer here.  Some of my clients get sick if they have any food or water in their stomach pre-workout, while others get sick if they DON’T have anything in their stomach.  My annoying answer is find out what works for you and stick to it; but I think this well known personality has other ideas, and she knows what she’s talking about.
  • Question #5:  My balance is terrible.  How do I improve?  Simple.  Sort of.  There are many things that can effect balance.  I have clients that have Vertigo and other disorders that can throw them off without any warning, but when there are straight balance issues, I work on simple one-legged exercises while facing the mirror and increasing basic core strength.  Balance is one area where I think practice makes perfect.  If you have poor balance, practice holding one leg up in front of a mirror or even while you are watching TV at night.  Then work on that core with a variety of planks and ab exercises to stabilize your mid-section.  Other quick tips include a really sturdy and stable pair of shoes, focusing on a specific spot on the floor while standing on one leg, and my personal favorite, the Bosu ball.
  • Question #6:  I exercise all the time.  Why am I not losing weight?  Ah, the holy grail of questions to which there are truly thousands of answers and also … none.  This is a whole blog post in itself, the subject of hundreds of books and TV specials, but the one conclusion I’ve found is that everyone is truly different.  The exercises, routines, classes, and activity levels for one person might not work for another, and a certain “diet” or food plan might be great for one person but not the next.  I’ve had clients work their tails off and struggle while others can take it a little easier and be just fine.  All of us are different, but you have to find out what works for you.  And that’s why trainers are around, because it’s part of our job to help you achieve your goals and make sure that it’s a bit less of a struggle along the way.

There are dozens of other exercise questions that I hear during the course of a day, but those are the ones I get the most.  When you’ve gone up to a trainer in the gym and asked him or her a question, what did you ask?  Feel free to e-mail me at and I’ll be happy to do some research and find some more answers for you.

Old School Workouts — March 6th, 2014

Last October the American College of Sports Medicine conducted a survey asking more than 3,800 fitness professionals what they thought would be the top fitness trends for 2014.  Not surprisingly, a few of the top trends predicted for the year were High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Strength Training, Body Weight Training, Yoga, and Functional Fitness, to name a few.  Towards the end of last year and into the beginning of this year, I’ve noticed another trend taking place, both men and women alike: the return of the “old-school” workout, i.e., using both body weight exercises and Olympic-style weight lifting techniques to achieve maximum strength and achieve the best possible results.  Those of you that are Cross-Fit crazies and heavy lifters probably think I am a bit behind the times here, and you are probably right, but to me, this is probably the #1 new trend I have noticed in the past handful of months, and it is here to stay.

My own foray into old school workouts started a few months ago when I decided to forget about my fear of injuring my lower back (which has bugged me on and off for the past year or so) and hit up the Smith Machine to do some basic squats.  I’ve always been leery of overworking my hips and lower back so they don’t get too stiff, but after the first few sets and some minor adjustments with my feet and the weights, I realized that my back actually felt better when I was done.  Plus, I was sweating bullets and breathing like crazy.  An epiphany, one might say, and although I’m sure many of you have been doing weighted squats for years, for me this was a huge breakthrough.  In my almost 5 years as a trainer I have never felt comfortable teaching this technique to my clients and I still have a lot to learn to properly tweak it to fit each individual, but doing this on my own opened up a whole new area of training.  Instead of kicking myself for being years behind the times I decided to dive in and get rolling.  So here is a list of my new/old favorite exercises that big dudes have been doing for decades and it took me until 2014 to fully discover:

  • The Squat:  Doesn’t get any more basic, or important, then this one.  When you do this correctly you have to use your entire body and concentrate like crazy on your form to prevent injury and maximize strength.  I’m still working on myself in various stages to make sure I am doing all the motions correctly and to build some confidence and strength, but it’s become a staple for my clients in their workouts as well.  Quick tip — Don’t worry about lifting tons of weight to begin, just sit back on those heels, keep your core tight and make a full range of motion.  This one will get your heart ticking.
  • Bench Press:  When I was in high school and college everyone and anyone wanted to know how much they could bench.  So, we did it all the time, constantly trying to one up one another and see how high we could go.  For whatever reason I stopped doing bench presses a handful of years ago, but now I’m doing them again.  Why?  Because, like those squats from above, they work multiple muscle groups, are a fantastic way to measure upper body strength, and are a great gauge of progress.  Quick tip — If you have any lower back problems, put your feet up on the bench instead of the ground.  When I do this it forces me to concentrate on my core and not arch my lower back.
  • Dead-lifts:  Just started doing these a few months ago.  I suppose I was hesitant because of my back until a friend with back issues said that his back actually felt better after doing these for a while.  And he was right.  Strong dudes have been doing these lifts for ages, as they force you to really concentrate on your hips, thighs, lower back, glutes, and core.  I’m a huge fan of compound exercises and movements and this might very well be the best one.  If you do them correctly your whole body should be shaking towards the last rep.  Quick tip — Keep your abs as tight as possible during every rep, you’ll take some pressure off of your back and double your effort.
  • Pull Ups:  When I was in middle school I think I could do like, none of these.  Now I can do, well, a few more than none but they are still pretty hard.  Another of the most basic of moves, these work a whole lot of everything in your upper body and all you need is your body weight and a bar, another staple of my favorite exercises for myself and clients.  Rather than doing set after set, I like to mix these in with other upper body exercises to keep moving.  Quick tip — If you can’t do a full pull up, no worries, have a partner give you a boost under your feet with your ankles crossed over.
  • Push Ups — One of my clients a few months ago remarked to me that, during one particular session, I had her do over 100 push-ups with different variations.  Sounds about right.  My guess is that of all the exercises out there, this is the one I do the most with my clients, and for good reason.  If you do them properly, virtually every muscle in your body is working together.  No equipment necessary and you can do them anywhere.  A personal favorite, for all-time.  Quick tip — Try to keep your elbows and arms as tight as possible as opposed to your shoulders flying out.  A bit harder, but you’ll work more muscle groups and build strength a whole lot quicker.

Once you master the basics listed above you’ll be able to take on any other exercise in the gym.  But the best part is that all these movements will work your entire body in very little time.  Not a bad way to go.

Quick Tips to Maximize Your Time in The Gym — February 6th, 2014

Many years ago I used to be what I call a gym “wanderer”, i.e., the guy that would go in and workout at the same time every day but never really have a plan of action.  I did what I thought of as a “routine” (weights on Monday’s and Friday’s, cardio from Tuesday – Thursday), and was able to maintain my weight and stay in pretty decent shape, but I never really thought I was making any progress, nor was I really enjoying what I was doing.  My first two experiences working with a trainer turned my so-called routine upside down, but it wasn’t until I started doing this as a full-time gig that I realized how important it is to have a plan of action, or at least be as prepared as possible even before you step foot into the gym.  For many, this is a tough task, given our long, stressful days at work, balancing time at home with family and friends, and trying to prioritize health and wellness with the rest of our busy lives.  I see and hear it all the time, so I get it.

However, when I first meet someone for a consultation prior to setting up personal training, I find myself repeating the same lines over and over again to this potential client:  I don’t want you to get lost in the gym and be the wanderer that I used to be, with no purpose or focus to what you want to do.  One of my first goals is to help clients get into the habit of doing the little things to make their gym experience more efficient which then allows me to step in and take over the big stuff, whether it’s putting together a workout program or helping with a diet plan.  As I’ve said many times before, I believe that little things do make a difference, so here are some little things that you can do to get the most out of your workouts even before you hit the elliptical or throw yourself onto the foam roller:

  • It’s Gotta Be The Shoes!  I’ve written before about my love for my feet and my gym shoes, but I really believe that a good pair of shoes can make a huge difference in your expectations and your performance in the gym.  This doesn’t mean that you need to go and buy the most expensive pair of shoes out there, but if your feet aren’t comfortable then your whole body is going to be thrown off balance, especially if you are trying to push yourself or try new exercises and new things, something I ask of my clients on a regular basis.  A fresh pair of kicks might not make you run faster, jump higher, or improve your actual balance overnight, but a little extra bounce in your step and an extra layer of comfort certainly can’t hurt.
  • That Said, What You Wear Is Important As Well.  I’ve seen people exercise in sweat suits, track suits, business suits, jeans, jean shorts, t-shirts, cut-off t-shirts, tube socks, low socks, barefoot, sweatbands, wristbands, shorts in winter, sweatshirts in summer, spandex, tights, hats, scarves, gloves, etc.  Do some of these people make me a little crazy?  Absolutely.  Do some of them look a little crazy?  Absolutely.  But if you aren’t comfortable in your clothes you most certainly aren’t going to be comfortable working out.  So wear what works for you, no matter how nuts it makes your personal trainer.
  • Write It Down.  The only true way to measure and track progress is to write down what you are doing, day by day.  Trying to increase your bench press, sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups or dead-lifts?  Start keeping a journal of the weight you are using with those different exercises.  One of my friends is a competitive power lifter.  He has a journal about an inch thick of all the days he has completed and all the lifts he has done with the exact weights written down for each.  Similar to keeping a food log or a food diary, tracking your progress at the gym can have a similar positive effect, and you can really see if you are achieving your goals.
  • Be A Good Copycat.  Some of my most favorite exercises that are staples of my repertoire include dozens of moves that I ether stole or copied from others, and not just personal trainers but regular, random gym-goers.  Just the other day I saw a guy doing 360 degree feet lifts as an ab exercise while holding on to a pull-up bar, so I tried it a few times and I was hooked.  I went over to the guy and thanked him for setting me up with a new move and he was more than happy to let me take it.  Some of my other favorite moves I have “borrowed” from local high school and college athletes when they are home from vacation, because the good ones are usually on the cutting edge of the newest routines.  My only rule of thumb with this is that if I can’t perform the exercise properly and without risk, then I won’t use it with my clients.  But that doesn’t stop me from trying something new.  Disclaimer though:  Most trainers are totally fine with you asking them questions, but wait until they are in between sessions so you don’t interrupt them with clients.  I love it when people ask me questions and I am happy to help, but only when I am not with another client.
  • Bring Your Nutrition With You.  Many of my clients, when they are done training with me, will head right home to start or complete their day right after a session.  However, many of them will get distracted by errands, kids, etc., and forget to eat or drink anything post workout, so I encourage them to bring food and drinks with them to the gym.  That way, if distractions do occur when they are done exercising, they always have some nutrients in their system to hold them until they can get a proper meal.  Keeping food on you also means you are less likely to stop at a convenience store or fast food restaurant on the way home as well.

So feel free to steal some of those ideas above and maximize your time at the gym when you are there next.  If you are going to go, you might as well make it worth your while, right?

Happier and Healthier in 2014 — January 6th, 2014

Last year at this time I wrote a blog post that highlighted some simple things that each and every one of us could do to be healthier and happier in 2013.  It wasn’t necessarily a list of “resolutions”, per se, but rather a list of ideas to incorporate into every day life.  I thought it was a pretty good list, but when I was thinking of ideas on what to write for my first blog post of this year, I decided that I should look back on the past year in my life and see what I did to make my days just a little bit easier. I found that most, if not all of them, had little or nothing to do with exercise!  Shocking, I know, but while obviously, I hope that many of you are thinking about making the gym a part of your resolution to be happier and healthier in 2014, here are a few things I did this past year and some ideas to make the most of 2014, even without picking up one dumbbell:

  • Once you wade through the craziness, Twitter is pretty amazing.  I joined Twitter a few years ago and am sort of obsessed with it for various reasons, but I really didn’t figure out how to make it useful and worth my while until a few months ago.  The key is to get through the garble and find and follow the people that make you read and think.  So a few months ago I cleaned out my Twitter account, checked the accounts of those who I followed regularly, saw who they followed and started following them as well.  As an exercise nerd, I found dozens of brilliant people and companies posting thought-provoking and insightful ideas and articles. They make Twitter worthwhile, especially when I am in-between clients or killing time at the gym.  So clean out your Twitter account, start over, even, and let your mind wander.
  • Always have a book in your bag.  I don’t get to read often, but I always have a book at the ready. Even if I only have a few minutes to read a few pages a day, it’s one of the best stress relievers I know.  Whether you are reading for fun, for business, or for learning, a book should always be handy.  This was the best one I read last year.
  • Can’t remember someone’s name?  Write it down.  I am absolutely, positively horrible at remembering people’s names. At the gym, everyone knows mine because I wear a name tag and my picture and bio are on the wall.  I discovered last year that when I need to remember someone’s name, all I need to do is write it down.  Somewhere.  Anywhere.  Preferably somewhere where I’ll see it often, like my black appointment book.  Remembering names is very meaningful for people in business, especially in a field like mine.
  • Carry a snack.  I hear this all the time from clients:  “Sometimes I just forget to eat” or “I’m on the road and in a hurry so I stop at the nearest place and grab whatever I can.  Usually something bad.”  My solution is simple.  Take a container from your kitchen and fill it with Cashews, Almonds, Pistachio’s, dried fruit, whatever.  Something that quick, easy, portable, and filling.  Most trainers I know carry around some sort of small cooler with them during the day, but if you plan ahead you won’t go hungry and won’t be tempted by the fast food joint on the corner.  You’ll also save money and time, which is a good thing.
  • Do something or be a part of something that occupies your time outside of work.  I’m a member of a business networking group that meets once a week and it’s invaluable for me both personally and professionally.  Just being able to get out of the gym and socialize and network with people that I wouldn’t normally meet is the perfect outlet when I leave the gym.  It doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, lawyer, or a stay-at-home-Mom, have something outside of your everyday life that you are a part of and make it your own.
  • Good deeds really are good.  Something as simple as giving an unused gift card to a stranger, helping someone with their grocery bags, or going out of your way to give a lost person directions can be a very powerful, pay-it-forward type action that also feels extremely good.  When something like this does occur the jolt of adrenaline that I feel can more than make up for a cancelled training session or the 3 inches of snow we are supposed to get later this week.
  • E-Mail yourself!  I do this almost every day.  I e-mail myself tasks, ideas, errands, random thoughts and reminders, sometimes up to 5 or 10 times per day and always in ALL CAPS.  And if that errand or task or thought is in my inbox, I see it over and over again so I never forget to take care of it.
  • Drink more Cocoa.  Not only does Cocoa taste good and warm you up on a winter day, but studies have shown that raw, organic Cocoa powder can take away some of those cravings for something not nearly as healthy.
  • One phone call a month.  This was one of my more modest goals from last year, but when it’s so easy to just text, e-mail or drop a quick Facebook message to someone and “think” you are staying in touch, I wanted to make sure I actually talked to one of my friends, once a month, on the phone.  E-mail and texting may be convenient and quick, sure, but when I really want to know what’s going on in someone’s life, I schedule a phone date or better yet, a FaceTime chat.
  • Take a day off.  Easier said then done, sure, but I’ve had 2 full days off over these last few weeks, two days where I didn’t put on any workout clothes and didn’t step one foot in a gym.  And it felt great, even though I know those days are few and far between.  I don’t have a normal, salaried job so when I’m not working I’m not getting paid, but those real days off totally recharged my batteries and cleared my head to prepare for the long and hopefully eventful year ahead.

Hopefully by the end of this year I’ll have a whole new set of ideas to add to the above, but I’m always searching for better ways to grow and learn, and that’s a pretty good way to start the new year.

My Top Ten Exercises of 2013 — December 16th, 2013

This is typically the time of year when numerous magazines, websites and TV shows put together some sort of “Top” or “Best” list, a.k.a, The Top People of 2013, The Top Teams of 2013, The Best Movies and Songs of 2013, etc.  Being an exercise nerd, I am naturally curious to see if any of the major national fitness publications have any lists on their end, similar to Men’s Health’s very interesting Top 12 Fitness Studies of 2012.  I’m sure a few of you have been introduced to a few new fitness trends in 2013, namely Cross Fit Gyms, Ultra-Marathon competitions, Body Pump classes and High Intensity Interval Training, to name a few, but being a fan of lists myself, I wanted to offer up one of my own:  My Top 10 Favorite Exercises of 2013.

This list isn’t at all scientific, meaning these aren’t necessarily the best exercises you can do or even ones that will get you the best results.  You’ll have to wait for another year end list before I put that one together.  Rather, these exercises are more personal favorites, ones that I seem to use repeatedly in classes or in training sessions, or even exercising on my own.  Most are compound body weight exercises that stress different muscle groups and combine strength and cardio at the same time, and those of you who have worked out with me before know how much I love to combine the two for maximum efficiency and intensity.  So without further adieu, my favorite exercises for the year 2013. And please, yes, indeed, do try these at home, preferably with friends:

  • #10:  Push-up into wide toe jumps.  A push-up could possibly be my all-time favorite exercise anyway, but the toe jump adds a little extra cardio jolt that forces you to engage your hips and core.  Get into a push up position, feet together, and do your normal push up.  Right after that push up, do a quick hop with your toes wide and then bring them back together while holding the push-up position.  Simple.
  • #9:  Squat Jumps.   Squats (or their variations) are probably my second favorite all-time exercise, and adding the jump just makes them even more worthwhile.  Get into a nice wide squat position, sit way, way back onto your heels and then explode into the air on your toes with your hands high.  Repeat these 20 times in a row as fast as you can and you got yourself a nice warm-up.
  • #8:  Sprints.  I really started to get into sprints last year when my workouts became shorter and shorter and I needed a quick jolt in a small amount of time.  The great thing about sprints is that they not only jack up your heart rate, but they are fantastic for your abs and core as well.  Time efficient, fat burning and intense, these are best performed on a track outdoors, going no more than 50 or so yards for full effect.  I like to do a sprint, take a nice easy jog back to the starting line and then go again, maybe for a set of 12.  You can also do these on a treadmill or on a basketball court.
  • #7:  Crawl Outs.  I saw someone doing these one day last year, I totally stole it, and added my own variations either for warm-ups or basic exercises.  Stand straight up with your feet together and crawl down on your hands into a plank position.  Hold for one second and then use your hands (not your legs) to crawl back into a standing position.  Repeat 10 times, and now you are warmed up and ready to roll.  The best thing about these is that you can add (push-ups or side planks when you hit the ground) or subtract (try these on one leg and you’ll really test your balance).
  • #6:  Squat Jumping Jack.  Very similar to a squat jump, obviously, but instead of just jumping straight into the air you go from a wide, low squat into a tall jumping jack, and then repeat.  The lower you get on the squat and the higher you get on the jumping jack make the exercise worth while.
  • #5:  Sit-Ups with weights.  For this one, I like to have my feet secured under a chair, apparatus or even free weights so I’m not wiggling around.  Get into a sit-up position, knee’s up, feet flat, with free weights in each hand.  Perform your normal sit-up with your arms high and straight in the air, weights up as high as you can.  Great for core and shoulders, and feel free to add a shoulder press at the top if you like.
  • #4:  Push-ups with your legs on a flat bench + hip twist.  Another one I stole from a fantastic trainer, it sounds complicated but it’s really pretty simple.  Get into a push up position with your toes up on a flat bench.  Do your push up, and then after your push up keep your hips high and extend one toe all the way down to the ground, then back up to the bench.  Repeat with the opposite leg.  Amazing for core and strength building.
  • #3:  Single Leg Balance Reach.  When I need to really test someone’s balance I do this one.  Best balance exercise I know AND great for your butt.
  • #2:  Pull Up.  Old-fashioned, functional strength.  When I was younger I couldn’t do any of these.  Not one.  Now I can do a few, so by the time I’m 75 I’ll be good to go.  I really just started practicing them for real a few weeks ago, and I’ve already improved.
  • #1:  Plank with a Hip Dip.  Do this one on your elbows or your hands.  Hop into that plank position and lower your hips slightly up and down, moving slowly.  When I feel like my lower back is sore or weak for whatever reason and I need to stretch while also working my abs and core, this is my go-to.

So there you go, the best I have to offer from the past year.  Excited to see what is on the exercise horizon for 2014!

The Turkey Burner — November 11th, 2013

It’s only a handful of days after Halloween, which means two things:  each and every household I know has way, way, way too much leftover candy sitting in a big bowl on one of their kitchen counter-tops, and holiday shopping ads and sales are creeping up on TV and in department stores.  It seems like it comes earlier and earlier every year, but it’s almost that season again, and millions of us will be hitting the road sometime this and next month to see family and celebrate by eating too much food, drinking too much ale (or whatever your drink is of choice), and watching too much football.  Those are just three reasons why the Thanksgiving/Christmas season is one of my favorite times of year, and I’m just as excited as any of you to partake in the festivities.  In years past I’ve celebrated on Thanksgiving with self-induced food comas, buffet competitions with cousins, a sampling of 4-7 different desserts, the occasional suspicion that my liver was about to completely break down, and even asking family members if they were a donor match if I were to spontaneously combust at the table.  All in good fun and way too many servings of Pumpkin Chiffon Pie, but I’m looking forward to it, the impending rebellion of my internal organs notwithstanding.

Even amidst all the eating, drinking, revelry and tomfoolery of the holidays, I’ve always been pretty consistent with my exercise routine.  Some years I felt like I needed to be more active to keep up with all the empty calories, others I just wanted to continue with whatever current workout routine I was on anyway.  I tell my clients headed out of town for a family gathering to enjoy it, eat, drink and be merry, and try not to make yourself feel guilty about an extra helping of mashed potatoes or one too many Christmas Ales.  For some, holidays can be stressful enough without having to worry about saturated fat and cholesterol, but I find that it’s not so much the food that is the biggest issue (although some will struggle, for sure) but it’s just finding the time and energy to exercise even just a little bit, or not having enough resources at their disposal (equipment and otherwise) while traveling to and from family events.  I’ve written about ways to use small spaces and simple body weight exercises to “create your own gym” but I wanted to send out a few suggestions for holiday travelers to stay consistent with their routine and make sure they were getting just enough activity in to make it through the holiday season.  We can worry about January 1st and all those new year’s resolutions down the road:

  • Turn a Rest Stop into an Active Stop.  This one is a lot easier if you have a dog or kids, because you can use them as props to get a little exercise.  Depending on where you are and where you are going, some rest stops will have walking trails and playgrounds to loosen up your legs, but if not, give yourself a good 5-10 minutes to stretch those hips, hamstrings, arms and lower back which get super tight in the car.
  • Bring along my first two favorite travel items.  Those of you who train with me know how much I love these guys:  my TRX and Foam Roller.  They are both small, light, take up virtually no space and you can use them anywhere.  The foam roller is especially awesome both before and after a long car ride.
  • And if you have any back issues, or a really, really long car trip ahead of you:  I’ve been using this guy for a while now in the car, and it really helps keep my lower back loose and comfortable.  Highly recommend, even if just for daily use.
  •  And my last favorite for a trip:  The agility ladder.  Also small and light, takes up very little space and can be used inside or outside, if you are looking for a little cardio jolt on your travels.
  • Although if you have one of these, you can exercise anywhere without even thinking about it.  Once I was introduced to the Gymboss (or I introduced myself, not sure) it changed my entire outlook on the how, when and where of exercise, because I realized that I didn’t need a gym or weights or anything.  I’ve written about this before, but all you need to get a good workout is your body and a timer, and you are good to go, anytime, anywhere.
  • If you have a timer, or a TRX or an agility ladder, or any of the above, you don’t need a lot of time, all you need is a bit of creativity.  Staying at your in-law’s for a few days, can’t get out of the house to the gym and don’t have a lot of space or free time?  Hang up the TRX, roll out the agility ladder and set the timer.  How about mixing and matching a few TRX row’s and some agility runs, maybe 30 seconds for each exercise with a 5 second break in between?  Mix and match however you like, but the excuse of time, space and family goes out the window.
  • Play football first, then watch.  A tradition unlike any other (except, of course, everywhere in the United States) happens the day after Thanksgiving when my friends and I get together to play tackle football.  This has been our tradition for almost 15 years, and it is definitely a tradition for millions of other Americans as well.  No matter if you are with the boys, family or friends, doing some sort of family activity outside is always memorable.  And when you are done, there is plenty left to watch on TV and throughout the weekend.
  • Guess what’s open the day after Turkey Day?  The gym!  Little known fact, but the day after Thanksgiving is a super busy day at most gyms, for obvious reasons.  Take advantage of a group class or workout with a friend or family member you haven’t seen in a while.  Definitely makes the impending leftover meal much easier to tolerate.

So my advice to my clients is to enjoy themselves this holiday season, no guilt allowed.  Unless, of course, enjoying yourselves means doing absolutely nothing, which should be a little more difficult if you apply some of the ideas above.


The Best Health Care of All — October 8th, 2013

One morning last week I spent about 20 minutes reading newspaper articles about The Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), it’s pro’s and cons, glitches, positives and negatives, impact on certain groups and individuals and what it may or may not accomplish (and cost) after it is fully implemented next year.  The Philadelphia Inquirer even had an entire bonus section dedicated to helping the individual consumer “navigate” through the requirements and resources that are now available, complete with enough diagrams, graphs and charts to make you dizzy.  It was confusing, fascinating and overwhelming, but it got me thinking not about the political ramifications (which I’m sure many of you have your own opinions) but on the mind-numbing statistics authored and presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding our nation’s health.  These included the following facts:

  • More than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7%) and approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese.
  • The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.
  • $1,026: annual cost of absenteeism per very obese male worker (BMI > 40). $1,262: Annual cost of absenteeism per very obese female worker.
  • Less than half (48%) of all adults meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines.
  • Less than 3 in 10 high school students get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
  • Inactive adults have a higher risk for early death, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and some cancers.

I’m sure some of you have seen these statistics before and they may or may not be surprising, but to me, every time I hear or read them I just shake my head.  No matter which side of the health care debate you come in on, whatever your political views may be, whether you support or oppose the new law or whether you believe the government should or should not have the right to mandate that every American has health coverage, those numbers aren’t budging and are only getting worse.  But, again, I’m just rehashing statistics from the CDC and I don’t want to focus on that.

As I finished reading those articles last week, I started to think about the simplest, easiest and most efficient things that people could do to try and bring those numbers down.  I’m not talking about joining a gym, getting a trainer, buying P90X or Insanity or training for a marathon, but just everyday activities that you can do almost anywhere, at any time, and with anyone else.  This isn’t about losing weight, burning fat or building muscle, but just thinking about being active, even if you have no interest whatsoever in joining The Y or JCC or taking a Spin Class.  None of these are earth-shattering ideas, but in our hectic lives, simple is sometimes all we have to work with:

  • Take a walk.  Not a power walk.  Not a walk with wrist weights or ankle weights or anything like that, but just walk.  Walk with a friend, a family member, your dog or yourself.  Walking is not only perfect exercise but also reduces stress and gives you time to yourself to think.  My brain is constantly muddled and filled with random thoughts, but sometimes walking will give those thoughts just a little bit of clarity.
  • Eat Fruits and Veggies?  Good.  Double up!  I don’t need to go into a whole diatribe on the health benefits of fruits and vegetables, but I’ve discovered as I’ve doubled my portions over the last few months I’ve felt ten times better and haven’t (knock on wood) been sick at all since last spring.  If you change your diet in any way it takes some time for it to take full effect, but there is absolutely a connection between what you eat and how you feel, which means you should pay attention to …
  • The Gut/Brain Connection.  Every once in a while I gorge on Pizza or Burgers or Candy or Ice Cream or Pasta, and it tastes amazing and it satisfies every craving in my brain, but sometimes by stomach rebels and my whole body reacts negatively.  I feel full, bloated, and lethargic and I also find it hard to get anything done.  When my stomach is right, my body feels better, I have more energy, I think more clearly and I get a heck of a lot more accomplished.  A “cheat” meal or day is great every once in a while, but focus on a healthy stomach for a few days and see how much better you feel.
  • Even if you can’t exercise, try to move.  Occasionally a client will come in and tell me they haven’t been to the gym in a few days but they’ve been running around like crazy doing errands, cooking and cleaning, fixing things up around the house and getting things done.  I’m all for it, because activity in any way beats sitting on the couch.
  • Volunteer your time and services to others.  According to Adam Grant, a Professor at The Wharton School and author of Give and Take:  A Revolutionary Approach to Success, “the act of giving to support programs strengthens employees’ affective commitment to their organization by enabling them to see themselves and the organization in more pro-social, caring terms.”  Or, as the saying goes in my networking group, “Givers Gain,” both personally and professionally.  No better way to feel better about yourself.
  • Swing on a swing set.  Kind of random, right?  But have you ever swung on one and been just a little out of breath when you were done?  Try leaning back and forth and extending your legs as far as you can both directions, and use your arms to pull yourself the opposite direction.  Core work galore.
  • Go to bed a little earlier than normal.  Just a bit more sleep can make a huge difference.  Like walking, sleep will reduce your stress level and also reduce your craving for junk food the next day.  On those rare nights when I get a good night’s sleep (I’m a horrible sleeper), the difference in how I feel and how much energy I have throughout the next day are truly amazing.
  • Turn off the TV and play with your kids.  Easier said than done, for sure, but every time I throw my little guy around I find new and improved ways to tire myself out.  And as I wrote about last year, using a baby as a workout prop can do wonders for an in-home workout.

Sometimes the simplest, everyday tasks can make us happier and healthier, and if we are all a little happier and healthier those awful numbers from above won’t seem so daunting after all.

An Ode to the Small Business Owner — September 10th, 2013

Over the past handful of years, various friends of mine from all over the world have started their own businesses, and, thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I’ve been able to follow them on their new ventures.  Some have bought or taken over restaurants or bars, others created their own clothing and/or jewelry lines, and others are simply working online to promote a side business, separate from their daily full-time gigs.  Most recently as the app world has seemingly exploded all over the place, a bunch of my close friends have created app’s which have then turned into full time work, and I’m continually amazed by their dedication, creativity and business acumen.  Rest assured, running a small business, or any business for that matter, is really, really hard work, and not everyone can do it.  I myself am learning that first hand, and these last 4 years have had their fair share of ups and downs along the way.

When people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them that I am a personal trainer and have my own business, I usually get very positive responses, some even a little envious because they want to start businesses of their own but have no idea where to start.  My response is usually the same:  I still have no idea what I am doing even after doing this for 4 years, and I am still trying to figure it out where I am and where I want to go.  Even though I am technically a small business owner, I still see myself as someone scrounging for hours and exposure wherever I can get them and am in a constant daily re-evaluation of the best way to achieve my goals.  Along the way, I’ve gotten a ton of great advice and some not so great advice, but the good thing is that after years of struggling I’ve finally found something that I like to do and something that I think I am pretty good at.  So now that I’ve figured that part out, I’m still trying to figure out the business side of things, and that, at least for me, is the hardest part.

Looking around town where I live, there are dozens of businesses that look like they have been around for years, dozens of new businesses cropping up all over the place and the forever empty store fronts where new businesses have come and gone, tried and failed for one reason or another.  I’ve always wondered why this is the case, why some succeed where others fail, and although I am far, far from an expert, there are a few things that I have learned along the way, and other things that I am trying to learn as well.  So, for what it’s worth, the best advice I can give to myself and to others as I plug along with the thousands of small business owners out there:

  • There’s no substitute for face-to-face, personal contact with your clients.  I realize that the business world is very flat, and tons of communication these days takes place online, on Skype, through e-mail and social media, etc., and for many businesses it is almost impossible to see people in person, but no matter how many times I e-mail or call someone there is no substitute for seeing them face-to-face.  I experimented a bit ago with an online training forum, and I couldn’t do it because it just felt way too awkward and impersonal.  Maybe this is a factor of what I do, but for me, it just wasn’t the way to go.
  • There is also no substitute for word-of-mouth referrals.  I’ve had a handful of people find me and hire me through my website or from another forum online, and that’s great and I hope it continues, but my absolute best referrals are from another person directly to me, whether it’s a client, a friend, a family member or a business associate.  When someone you trust tells you about a great plumber or lawyer or massage therapist, that trust goes much further then an online link or ad placed in a magazine.
  • That said, online consistency is still important.  I went a few years without having a website or much of an online/social media presence, and, in hindsight, that was pretty silly.  Even though I’m still learning how to put it all together, just the fact that I am active and in social media is important for the “brand”, and also because you never know who might be browsing on Google for one of your services.
  • It’s a constant struggle between work and rest.  Except for when I am sleeping, training or hanging out with the fam (mostly), my iPhone is attached to my hip as text’s, e-mails and Twitter posts and feeds fly regularly throughout the day.  It’s certainly a challenge finding a balance and I’ve gotten better at leaving my phone behind, especially on the weekends, but in a hyper-competitive industry (I’m sure others can relate, no matter what field you are in) I feel the need to be on top of everything and get back to people as quickly as I can.
  • Set goals and have a business plan, maybe?  I recently spoke to a business coach and she implored me to have a business plan.  I haven’t done this.  I should.  I need to.  Will it make me a success?  I have no idea, but that and setting specific, concrete goals, yeah, needs to be done.
  • Life changes, people change, always.  I’ve had clients drop training who I thought would be training forever, and I’ve had people sign up for sessions and remain some of my best clients after thinking there was no way they would stick around.  People move, they get jobs, they lose jobs, they have kids, they have grand-kids, they make money, they lose money, it happens.  Sometimes, circumstances change for everyone, all the more reason to …
  • Stay in touch!  One of my biggest failures, among others, is my lack of continued communication with past clients, be it on e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, e-letters, etc.  Even though they might not be in need of my services anymore, maybe they have a friend or family member who might need a trainer, or perhaps enough time has passed that they have gotten a better, higher-paying job, they are training for a marathon or just need to get back to the gym.  My first goal for the fall is to get back in touch with a lot of people, even if they don’t want to hear from me!

Many more years to go and many more things to learn, try, fail, and do again, but cheers to all you out there that are on your own, you deserve high praise and, hopefully, much success.