Keep your chin up!

No, this isn't me; I slurped it from the Web.

Chin ups and pull ups; thought by many to be the holy grail of fitness. Lifting your own body weight, against gravity, using only your back and biceps. Excellent for building strength and burning fat, in particular, that difficult-to-budge fat around your middle.

This week, I started Phase 2 of The New Rules of Lifting for Abs. Workout B includes mixed-grip chin ups. (Instead of gripping the bar with both palms facing in, one palm faces out, thereby forcing the core to work harder to keep the body facing forward). Three to four sets of 8 mixed-grip chin ups, to be exact.

How did I fare? 3, 1 and 5 assisted (I couldn’t face not being able to do a single rep in my final set so I placed my foot, very lightly against the wall and gave myself a little help; this is widely accepted way to improve your chin up, or pull up, strength). Not great, but on the upside, lots of room for improvement!

Chin ups are not a beginner’s exercise. A moderate level of strength and experience with weight training is required. Men can typically begin adding chin ups to their training program sooner than women (can’t get around biology). Want to learn to do chin ups and impress your friends?

Rather than starting out at the chin up bar, we’ll begin at the Smith or assisted squat rack. Place the bar at approximately the level of your hip. Lie down under the bar and reach up to grab it, palms facing in (towards your face). Your arms should be in a straight line, with shoulders directly under elbows and wrists. Extend your legs (if this is too hard, your can begin by bending your knees and placing your feet flat on the floor). Engage your abdominals and pull your torso (shoulders to knees) off the floor, so you’re hanging from the bar.

Take a deep breath in, retract your shoulder blades and using your back and biceps, pull your chest towards the bar. Exhale as you pull up. Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. That’s 1 rep.

In the beginning, aim for 2 sets of 3-5 reps, resting for 60 s between sets. Once you’re able to do 2 sets of 8-10 reps you’re ready to move on (if you started with legs bent, progress to the straight leg version described above).

Come on over to the chin up bar! Place a bench or step below it. The bench should be high enough that you can reach the bar. Standing on the bench, reach up to the bar, palms facing in and attempt to pull yourself up. Use your legs as little as possible to assist. Again, aim for 2 sets of 3-5 reps with 60 s rest between sets. Get yourself up to 2 sets of 8-10 before you move on.

Ready for the next progression? Get rid of the bench. Jump up, grab the bar using a palms-in grip and place one foot against the wall at about waist height. Bend your knee, so that you’re still hanging directly under the bar. Using your leg as little as possible (but you will use it by pushing slightly into the wall with your food), attempt to pull yourself up. (Alternately, if you have a training partner, you can simply bend both knees and have them hold your ankles while you pull up, see photo to the left). Once again, you’re aiming for 2 sets of 3-5 reps with appropriate rest between.

Now you’re ready to go it alone (for 1 rep, anyways!). Jump up, grab the bar, starting from the bottom of the range of motion (arms fully extended), cross your ankles and up you go. You’ll likely only be able to do 1 completely unassisted chin up the first time. That’s fine. Place your foot against the wall and continue your set. Your goal here is to eventually be able to do both sets (as many as you can) completely unassisted.

In order to help develop the muscles you need to perform unassisted chin ups (and pull ups), you should make sure you’re including bicep curls and bent over rows in your workouts. Use dumbbells, barbells, cable and pulley machines, whatever you have available.

Putting it all together? Start your workout with chin ups. Give your back and biceps a break by working another muscle group for a bit (legs, core, chest; you choose), then finish with isolation exercises for back and biceps (rows, curls, lat pullovers and pull downs). Take a day off between strength workouts; your chin ups won’t get better if you attempt them daily.

My goal? To be able to do 3 sets of 5-6 unassisted chins by June 15th (my estimated date of completion of this phase of the program).

Let me know how you’re doing, and of course, keep your chin up!

Fly-by visit

Just a quick note to say that I haven’t forgotten about you all!

We’re on week 2 of spring break (yes, my kids have TWO WEEKS OFF SCHOOL this year) and between all of my usual classes, clients and around-the-home jobs, I’ve also been entertaining three very lively (and easily bored) children.

While I could take the easy route and let them become one with their electronics (they have a Wii, multiple computers, iPod touches and Nintendo DS’s), I’ve chosen to stick by the three-times-daily 30 minute electronics intervals that I deem reasonable (actually, more than reasonable). With all the studies showing relationships between ‘plugged in’ time and childhood obesity, I try and do the right thing…

We’ve been to the pool. Gone on several hikes. Numbers 2 and 3 are attending a couple of full-day Rec Center sports camps. Bikes, scooters and roller blades have been dusted off and hauled to the cul-de-sac around the corner for some high speed adventures. Play dates have been arranged with friends. I feel like the Love Boat’s social director, Julie McCoy.

While I’m happy to have this time with my children, I am looking forward to ‘Mom’s Spring Break'; starts next Monday, 9:00 am sharp.

Parenting your way to fitness

Today, March 22, 2011, my first born son turns 12. Amazing. (My thoughts alternate between ‘how did that happen?’ and ‘what took so long?’).

Happy Birthday #1 Son!

When I think about all the changes he and his sister and brother have brought to my life, the most profound and long-lasting has been an improvement in my overall health and fitness.

Before #1 Son was born, I lived only a moderately active lifestyle. While my husband and I cycled and hiked on weekends, my participation in ‘serious’, regular exercise was sporadic, at best. Oh sure, I went through phases where I attended fitness classes or ran, but I did it primarily to look good, and really didn’t enjoy the process at all.

Becoming a parent changed all of that. #1 Son was colicky and being in motion was the only way of keeping him calm. So I walked. And walked. And walked. Baby Bjorn, stroller, backpack, each in turn. My husband would drop us off at our local park on his way to work in the morning and baby and I would walk the entire 5 miles home. Every. Single. Day.

Feeling isolated, at home (or out walking!) in the suburbs with a newborn, I joined a mom’s group at the local recreation center. The center offered fitness classes and had child-minding. Desperate for an hour to myself, I started going to aerobics classes a few times a week. I noticed my energy levels pick up, despite severe sleep deprivation (#1 Son didn’t sleep through the night regularly until he was three), and was hooked. (I now teach group fitness classes and work as a personal trainer at the very same center!).

Throughout my second and third pregnancies, I continued to be active. In addition to daily fitness classes (the bigger my family grew, the more I needed that hour to myself!), I played chase, leap-frog, hide-and-seek. I pushed swings, pumped teeter-totters and ran through the waves at the beach. Some days it felt like I sat only during meals and car rides!

Teaching children to skate, swim, climb and bicycle is exercise, in it’s purest and most enjoyable form. Being a parent has given me the opportunity to make fitness an enormous part of my life and I thank them for this gift.

I only hope that they one day thank me for returning the favor!

Beware the saboteur…

Let’s go for lunch; you can skip the gym just this once…

It’s just dessert. Splurge, you’ve been working so hard, you deserve it.

Exercise always comes first with you. What about our friendship?

Honey, you look great to me. I like you with a few extra pounds around the hips.

You’re so boring now that you don’t drink. You used to be fun and let loose. What happened to you?

Sound familiar? Those are the words of the saboteur (you know, the friend/relative/spouse/child/co-worker/exercise partner), who’d rather you didn’t stick to your exercise and nutrition goals today (or tomorrow, for that matter), who constantly tries to sabotage your health and fitness plans.

Saboteurs come in all shapes and sizes; learn to recognize them. They often sound like they have your best interests at heart. They comfort you because they tell you what you’d like to hear. They tempt you into staying exactly where you are rather than moving forward. They smile and encourage while under-mining your health and fitness goals.

Why do some people feel the need to sabotage others’ good intentions? What’s it to them if you decide to skip dessert or forego the second glass of wine? Why does your going to the gym affect them at all?

Realize that more often than not, your saboteur’s desire to have you fall off the wagon has much more to do with them than you. Your good habits make them look and feel bad about their own poor ones. If they succeed in getting you to skip a workout, their decision to do the same is validated. They instantly feel better about themselves.

While I’m all about helping people find happiness and self-worth, I don’t do it at the expense of my own. Neither should you. Tips for dealing with saboteurs?

  • know who’s most likely to try sabotaging your health and fitness goals
  • anticipate their comments
  • prepare responses that emphasize your commitment to your goals and explain why those goals are important to you
  • encourage them to join you in your quest for health and wellness
  • use ‘when you say ____, I feel _____'; often people don’t realize the effects of their words on others
  • distance yourself; this is a last resort, but all too often we keep people in our lives even when their attitudes and actions are bad for us.

Stay strong, focused and true to your goals and aspirations. Don’t let the saboteurs sabotage you!

Knit, knit, purl, purl

Haven’t posted any progress reports on my non-fitness obsession lately. (Psst, if you’re not into fiber-arts, you’re allowed to leave now, but come back tomorrow, I will be blogging about fitness again soon!).

I’ve been slowly working my way through several KAL’s (knit-alongs) and have managed to finish two pairs of socks, two beaded shawls, a cushy, striped wrap, a luxurious mohair cowl and a vest (all for me, with the exception of a single pair of socks for my hubby). Selfish knitters unite!

Don’t have a hobby? Why not? We all need ways to combat stress and unleash the creativity within. Knitting is my yoga; what’s yours?

Here are a few photos for you to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over. Happy Friday!



Twenty percent down

This week is the 11th week of 2011. Twenty percent of the year has already passed!

Remember those goals you made back at the beginning of January? How are they coming along? Are you on track? Are you 20% of the way there?

If your goal was to lose 20 pounds, you should be down at least 4 by now.

Planned on getting to the gym 200 times this year? There should be forty swipes on your gym pass by the end of this week.

Not quite where you hoped you’d be by now? Not to worry, there’s plenty of time to get back on track and reach those goals by the end of 2011.

IF you get to it TODAY! Have a great one!

In celebration of women everywhere!

Today is International Women’s Day! Take some time to acknowledge all those fabulous women in your life! Thank them for their time, their love, their support and for just being themselves!

Me, I’m thinking of my fantastic mom, my terrific sisters, my fun-loving girlfriends and all the clients and class participants that give me such great energy and feedback on a daily basis.

You guys rock!

Women, treat yourselves especially well today. Do something to lift your spirits, stimulate your senses and improve your health. I’ll be heading to the gym and then home for an extra nutritious lunch and some quality time with my knitting needles.

Exercise, good food and relaxation; what more could a girl ask for?

Posture pointers

“How many times have I told you to sit up straight?”

“Don’t slouch!”

“Stand proud; shoulders back and down!”

Are you hearing your mother’s voice when you read the above quotes? I am, and I’m sure my children are hearing mine.

Apparently, the wonderful world of technology is making our collective posture worse. We sit for much of the day, hunched over our steering wheels, computers, Blackberries and iPhones. We are losing our ability to maintain upright posture.

So what?

Having good posture has both esthetic (how you look and feel) and functional (how you perform) benefits, including;

  • looking smarter and more attractive (always a good thing!)
  • feeling more self-confident
  • deeper and more efficient breathing, leading to
  • better concentration and clearer thinking (the brain needs lots of oxygen to work at peak performance)
  • avoidance of health complications, including lower back ache, poor circulation and slipped discs (to name just a few)
  • improved performance in recreational sports

Want to improve yours?

  • sit at the edge of your chair, with feet flat on the floor
  • imagine a string attached to the top of your head, pulling you upright like a marionette
  • strengthen the muscles of your upper back (traps, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi) and core
  • stretch the muscles of your chest (pectoralis major and serratus anterior)
  • Place your computer monitor at eye level and invest in a good, ergonomic desk chair

Want to know more? Check out this website on posture and ergonomics!

But what do you eat?

Despite the wealth of information out there about eating for health, weight loss and muscle gain, I believe that most people are still confused when it comes to nutrition. That they think there is some magic formula for eating correctly and reaching their health and fitness goals.

The evidence? Almost daily, in the gym, in the grocery store, after teaching a group fitness or indoor cycling class, someone approaches me and asks “but what do you eat?”. I’m assuming that they want my opinion because I teach fitness classes and look strong and lean (feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong).

I don’t follow any specific diet. Not Atkins or Weight Watchers or The Zone. I don’t count calories or points. I have a cookie when I feel like it (but only one). I have a weakness for chocolate. What, then, do I eat?

For the last three years, I have been following the tenets of Clean Eating;

  • eating 5 or 6 small meals per day
  • drinking lots and lots of water
  • consuming whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats at each meal
  • limiting my alcohol consumption (no more than 2 glasses per week)
  • avoiding processed and packaged foods (no crackers or store-bought cookies)
  • attempting (ahem) to eliminate white sugar (this one is really hard for me)

I didn’t always eat this way. My husband is Italian and we used to eat lots of pasta, often with creamy sauces and fresh-from-the-bakery bread. I would happily eat a Starbucks muffin for lunch, thinking that because it was a ‘bran’ muffin, it was good for me. Cheese and crackers were a common evening snack (with a glass of vino, of course!).

After the birth of my third child, I started lifting weights. My body responded quickly to this new (to me) form of exercise (although I went from a size 12 to a size 6-8, I lost virtually no weight on the scales!) and I began to get serious about the nutritional side of fitness.

So, what do I eat?

I always eat breakfast (the best way to lose weight and maintain muscle). Usually it’s the remains of my children’s home-made, whole-grain waffles (I add quinoa flakes and whey powder for extra protein, flax seed, wheat germ and wheat bran for fiber and healthy fat), dressed with a bit of non-fat yogurt and some fruit. I don’t drink juice; water is much better for you!

Mid-morning snack is usually fruit and nuts (and only a few; although they are a great source of healthy fat, nuts are extremely high in calories), although if I’ve had a tough workout, this is when I’ll have my fruit and whey powder shake.

Lunch is always veggies and lean protein; cottage cheese or turkey or left-over chicken mixed with a cup or two of whatever raw veggies are in the fridge (my favorites are red and yellow peppers, cucumbers and spinach). No dressing, but a handful of unsalted sunflower or pumpkin seeds for crunch and healthy fat.

Mid-afternoon snack might be an apple or banana and peanut butter (no salt, no sugar added), or a brown rice cake with almond butter.

Dinner is always lots of greens (I’m loving kale, right now) and lean protein (about 4 oz). If I’m needing a bit more energy (days I teach and train, or when I have to teach in the evening), I’ll add a whole grain (couscous, quinoa, brown rice) or starchy vegetable (sweet potato, squash) to the meal. During the week, I usually make a fruit salad for dessert.

Some evenings I find that I need a snack (whole grain cereal and 1% milk or fruit and yogurt), some evenings I don’t.

My daily splurges? A teaspoon of chocolate syrup in my coffee, a ‘clean’ cookie or muffin that I’ve baked myself.

My weekly splurges? A glass of wine on Friday and maybe Saturday night. A small piece of some decadent dessert on Friday and Sunday evenings (those are ‘dessert nights’ in my house, without which my children would not be so patient with the rest of the healthy foods I present them with during the week).

There’s really nothing magical about eating healthily; eliminating white sugar and white flour is tricky at the start, but with practice and some good recipes, you’ll be eating clean (and losing fat!) before you know it.