All Hail the Kettlebell

Is it weird to love – like REALLY love – a piece of fitness equipment? Especially one that has caused you so much pain?

Probably, but I’m owning it. I love kettlebells. They’re an incredibly versatile tool, and they’re so darn effective. So when I had the opportunity to pitch the “Belly Shrink” section of Shape, I went straight to the bells. Yes, they’re known for revving your heart rate and strengthening your posterior chain, but they’re also great for the core.

And just when I think there’s no improving the good, old-fashioned kettlebell, they go ahead and make ’em gold and sparkly!

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To read the full article, check out the April 2017 issue of Shape!

My Day as a Devil

As discussed in my previous post, I spend most of my days working independently at home in my sweatpants with a cat in my lap and a mug of coffee within reach. But every once in a while my job gets me out of the house and transports me to exotic, faraway locations like…

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Image Source: The Prudential Center

Newark, New Jersey!

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit The Prudential Center for a tour and on-site workout with the strength and conditioning team for the New Jersey Devils. Everything I know about training for the ice comes from movies like The Mighty Ducks and The Cutting Edge (toe pick!), so I accepted the invite in the name of continuing education.

The circuit workout that head coach Joe Lorincz programmed  wasn’t all that different from a typical CrossFit EMOM, or an AMRAP I might put together for a client interested in slimming down and building muscle. We cycled through a short warm-up of power moves like box jumps and medball slams, and then moved into a lengthier circuit filled with strength training exercises like weighted carries, sled pushes, deadlifts, and ring rows. But there were a few hockey-specific tweaks, like a focus on balance. After the workout, I had the chance to chat with Coach Lorincz for this article for Men’s Journal.

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I’m not sure I’m ready to hit the ice (unless it’s with my ass – that’s a guarantee any time I put on skates). But I am thinking about how to better address posture and balance in my own workouts. Even if you’re not zipping around on razor blades, being able to stand on one foot is important in everyday life (we do it every time we run, climb stairs, step over puddles…), and balance becomes increasingly important as we age and become more susceptible to falls and resulting injury.

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Post workout with the Devils’ strength and conditioning coaches

Looking for one small way to address balance training into your workout? Try adding walking knee hugs to your warm-up.  You’ll stretch the hips, glutes, and hamstrings and challenge your ability to balance on one foot.

Geek for Print

Please humor me while I geek out just a little over seeing my name in the October print edition of Men’s Journal.

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I’ve been contributing to MensJournal.com for well over a year, and it’s been great. I’ve written about everything from training plateaus and Olympic weightlifting to hand care and tattoo cover-ups. I’ve interviewed experts in experts in exercise science and nutrition, as well as the fittest man on earth. I’m excited every time one of my articles goes live, but I was particularly giddy to see a condensed version of a story I wrote on resistance training make it to print.

I’ve been hearing that the print magazine industry is dead for at least 15 years, and I’m sure there were rumblings way before that. When I worked in PR and marketing, I saw both new publications with tons of promise and old books with extensive histories fold. In less than two years of freelance writing, I’ve witnessed the same thing firsthand.

But, I refuse to think the industry is “dead.” I think it’s a hard industry, and maybe one that’s been too resistant to change and evolution. But I can tell you that there are some really smart, creative people in charge (at least on the editorial side) and tons of writers who are stoked to claim just a tiny corner of print real estate. Print is special for that reason – unlike the internet, which is limitless and dynamic, print is a carefully planned experience. And one that can’t be changed after the fact. I think that kind of curation and permanence is unique and appealing at a time when so much content feels instantly disposable.

I suppose I’m one of those hardcover-reading Luddites with piles of magazines on the kitchen table who can’t get used to a Kindle and still values a more tactile reading experience. Maybe we’re slowly dying off and taking the industry with us, but I really hope not. I hope I keep seeing my name in print. In the meantime, I”ll keep buying magazines.

Personal Training, Featuring Peter!

When it comes to my personal training style, I aim to stay positive, encouraging and helpful. I know some people respond to more boot camp-like coaching, but that’s just not me. I’ll correct your form, keep you moving, and won’t let you get away with half-assing anything (I want you to get as much as possible out of your 60  minutes!), but this is health and fitness, not war; barking just feels mean and counterproductive.

However, considering Peter is a drummer, I thought about trying to embrace by inner J.K. Simmons ala Whiplash and getting all hardcore about the tempo for things like pike pushups.

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But Peter is a nice guy, and he already works hard. I wanted him to walk away from our session feeling stoked about getting strong, not upset.

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We started our session with an overhead squat assessment, which revealed some movement compensations. Peter’s knees moved inward a bit during the squat, which (often, but not always) indicates overactive (tight) adductors, TFL (hip flexors) and/or quad muscles, and underactive glutes and hamstrings.

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Not Peter or me. source

To help address this potential imbalance, we did some banded “monster walks,” and I showed Peter a few self-myofascial release techniques using a foam roller and tennis balls.

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Peter’s goals included improving his posture and building core and upper body strength. We were in the park and using my “mobile gym,” so we did some ball slams and a challenging circuit that used bands and bodyweight movements.

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To work on Peter’s core strength, we did a couple rounds of cobras and tuck-ups and finished with a two-minute plank hold.

We both had fun and sweated a lot (carrying a 15-pound slam ball up to the park is no freaking joke).

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And nobody cried.

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Question: What coaching style do you prefer? Are you motivated by lots of feedback? Or do you prefer to keep things low-key and just get to work?

Personal Training, Featuring Anna!

Full disclosure: I’ve been friends with Anna since I was a wide-eyed college freshman straight off the turnip truck. She’s one of my closest pals, which made our first training session a lot of fun.

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Even though we’ve known each other for (ahem) 18-ish years, and I had some idea of what she was looking for in a workout, we still began our first session with a frank conversation about goals. This is a crucial part of the personal training experience. Sure, we could have jumped into a high-intensity circuit right away, or started with some treadmill sprints. But Anna can go for a run on her own or sign up for a group fitness class any time. The benefit of working with trainer is getting a program that addresses your unique needs and goals. Communication is key!

We also talked a bit about the concept of “toning.” It’s impossible to change the quality or shape of your muscle, and “spot reduction” is a weight-loss myth. But you can increase the size of your muscles and decrease you overall body fat percentage, which can give you a more “toned” look.

Based on Anna’s goals and exercise preferences, I designed a program that utilized tabatas (eight rounds of 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest) and circuits. Quickly moving from one movement to the next (e.g. push-ups, banded rows, banded good mornings) incorporated resistance training, while keeping her heart rate elevated. Anna also had concerns about strengthening her back and shoulder muscles, as she spends a lot of time at the computer and struggles with slouching and rounded shoulders. So I threw in some banded pull-aparts (a CrossFit staple!).

Another consideration was Anna’s day-to-day life. She has a full-time job and two kids; there’s not a lot of time for the gym or lengthy workouts. My goal was to create a workout that could be replicated at home, broken up into shorter segments, if necessary, and completed with minimal equipment and space. We skipped bars, kettlebells, and dumbbell (all of which I LOVE, don’t get me wrong) in favor of a variety of resistance bands, which are versatile, portable and inexpensive.

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Anna was a model client; she put in 100% effort and was up for everything I threw at her, even monster walks, which are just funny looking. We’re already strategizing our next session, which we may move to the park for some running intervals!

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Have you ever worked with a personal trainer? What was the experience like?

ICYMI – Week of January 4, 2016

In case you missed it, I wrote a (hopefully helpful) article about yoga and stress for OxygenMag. It’s no secret that a sweaty Vinyasa or a chill Hatha class can help you feel more calm and centered. But, in the event that you simply don’t have time to get to a class (or maybe you don’t feel like looking at other peoples’ feet – I’ve been there), you can work through these poses in 10-15 minutes from home and maybe feel a little better. Enjoy!

5 Yoga Poses That Can Reduce Stress

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Credit: OxygenMagazine.com

Looking for more reading material? Check out my Contently profile!

Vision Boards

So, vision boards. Maybe you’ve heard about them? The idea is to create a visual representation of your goals, aspirations and anything that inspires and motivates you to create the future you want. And then you hang it in a place you look at on a regular basis so that you can absorb its positive mojo and achieve your dreams. The VB philosophy is sort of along the lines of positive visualization that athletes use. They see themselves crossing the finish line/scoring the goal/carrying the trophy.

With vision boards, cork or poster board is usually involved, as is a pair of scissors and magazine clippings/computer print outs and tape, glue or pushpins.

The cynic in me would dismiss the concept as an arts and crafts project at best if there weren’t a handful of accomplished people who swear by them. One vision board proponent is YA author Susane Colasanti.  I am forever grateful to successful authors who are generous enough to share their process in a public fashion, and Susane has written about her use of vision boarding numerous times on her blog. This is a person who is publishing her seventh YA book this May, so I think I better just shut up and listen.

Also, there’s my health guru and adventure cleanse guide, Kris Carr. My favorite vision board story is hers. When she was trying to get her documentary out there and getting a lot of “NO,” she tacked this note to her vision board:

“Oprah, save a seat for me, I’m coming”.

That’s balls. But, four years later, it happened. Kris was a guest on Oprah’s show, and we all know what happens when Oprah endorses you.

Of course, those four years weren’t spent idly praying at the altar of her vision board. Kris has a ton of passion and worked her butt off. As did Susane. Writing takes a lot of discipline and focus, not to mention talent, and she put in the time.

So, what do I have to lose?

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You’ll see it’s still in the wrapper with its mounting kit. It’s been like that for two weeks now. I guess I’m still trying to figure out how to get started. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there was a tiny part of me that’s slightly queasy over the new agey-ness of the exercise. And, also, there’s something about creating this thing that makes me feel just a little too vulnerable. What if someone sees it and thinks I’m silly? Or, worse yet, delusional?

Well, here’s what Ms. Carr says:

“A bit of advice to all the negative Nellies who like to rain on parades and poop on dreams: When a person is powered by faith, love, a righteous mission and a vision board, it’s best to get out of their way or you just might get hit with the holy sparkle (which wouldn’t be such a bad thing – holy sparkle definitely combats hot air).”
– link

If she’s got my back, I should be ok.

Speaking of…

Cleanse update: I am finishing up on week #2 and THINGS ARE JUST FINE. I even survived a birthday celebration at a not particularly vegan/gluten-free friendly restaurant last night. I didn’t have it in me to interrogate the waitress and verify that everything I ate was 100% vegan/gf, but I abstained from shared dishes that obviously included meat, dairy and gluten, and didn’t touch a drop of alcohol. I’ll admit it – that one hurt. It’s not easy watching others thoroughly enjoy their champagne and cocktails from the sidelines, and it’s slightly alarming  to be the only sober person waiting for a cab on the Lower East Side at 1:30 a.m. on a Saturday night.

Question: What do you think about vision boards? Any tips on how to get started?

GOATS

This is me with a goat.

I met him a few years ago on a trip to the San Diego Zoo. He was incredibly sweet and patient even though I’m sure he had to be tired of sun-burned tourists pawing at him, offering only meager handfuls of those little food pellets. I remember thinking that if I lived in a big old farmhouse on a few acres (instead of a 1.5 bedroom apartment in Brooklyn) I might get a pet goat.

But, alas, this post isn’t about that kind of goat.

It’s about GOATS – the things that “get your goat.” The stuff that bugs you and always trips you up. I first learned the term at Cross Fit, which I started doing a couple months ago. My coach was showing me how to keep track of my workouts in my notebook. He told me to dedicate one page to goals and another page to GOATS. As a beginner, I didn’t know what my GOATS might be. I mean, Cross Fit is tough and everything seemed hard. But, as I’ve started to build strength and get (slightly) better, I’ve found that I do indeed have GOATS.

At the top of the list: Pull-Ups.

This does not surprise me, as pull-ups haunted me all through elementary, middle and high school. I’m sure most of you know exactly where I’m going with this.

That stupid president’s fitness challenge thing.

I have no problem with this type of test in theory. Fitness is important. But every year it would just sorta come out of nowhere and we’d go from playing halfhearted indoor volleyball to pull-ups, like it was a transferable skill. I remember watching some girls – they were usually the tiny, compact gymnast types – hop up on the bar and crank out 15 like it was no big deal. I, unfortunately, was never a gymnast. Nor was I ever tiny or compact. I was tall and gangly and uncoordinated (I’m still those things) and would just sort of pathetically hang there, desperately trying to flex my non-existent biceps. Eventually my gym teacher would give me a disgusted nod and mark a big, fat zero in his ledger. I’d walk away embarrassed, but mostly relieved that it was over. Time would pass, we’d play some more halfhearted volleyball and I’d forget all about pull-ups until the next year where I’d repeat the same dreadful performance.

So, how are pull-ups different now that they’re a GOAT?

1. You’re supposed to have GOATS. There’s a whole page for them, right? When you’re working towards something that’s really difficult, you’re building strength. And, when you conquer something that was once difficult, you build confidence.

2. Everyone’s got GOATS. Everything’s relative. Even the strongest person at my gym has a GOAT page in their notebook and groans a little when a work out contains a specific exercise.

3. With a GOAT, you don’t just accept that you suck. You don’t ignore the GOAT, pretending it doesn’t exist for a year and then just feel disappointed when nothing’s changed. You work at it.

You feed it little food pellets and scratch it behind the ears until one day it’s working for you instead of against you.

For now, I’m practicing with these giant rubber band things, but I think my muscles are starting to get it. One day soon I’ll do a real president’s challenge -worthy pull-up and we’ll all celebrate. Then I’ll cross it off my GOAT page and move on to the next thing.

Question for the day: What’s your GOAT? (Maybe it has absolutely nothing to do with exercise or fitness.)