Friday, April 28, 2017

Friday Book Report: Hillbilly Elegy

My favorite quarterback picked J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy as his “veteran” book for April.  It’s a memoir about growing up poor and managing to get out, but it’s also a book about a subculture and its relation to the wider culture.

The story satisfies because who doesn’t like a story about someone who works hard and beats the odds?  And it doesn’t satisfy me, at least, because it doesn’t hold out much hope that we can change the system that created the odds.  Some of that comes from Vance’s deep conviction that personal responsibility and saving love are the secrets to his success; one does not create social programs around those.  Some of it comes directly from the fact that it is a very individual story.

It’s a good, thought-provoking book.  There are parts that made me want to laugh and parts that made me want to cry.  All of it was worth reading.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Recipe for Greatness

It is possible that the perfect food is out there.  We might, by extensive research and testing, discover the ideal dietary choices that will give us the energy we need, fulfill all our nutritional requirements, and keep us lean and healthy.  In the meantime, we have to do the best we can.

As a non-nutritionist, all I can authoritatively say is that we would do well not to eat too many calories, to try to make those calories as nutrient-dense as possible, and to avoid the junk food.  Also, eating vegetables is almost always a good idea.

However, there is no reason to eat kale if we hate it.  Buying a bunch of healthy food that we allow to rot in the back of the fridge because it isn’t appealing doesn’t do anyone any good (except possibly the pizza delivery people, who profit from the failure of our best intentions).  Maybe we need to approximate our way to greatness, cutting a little sugar there and adding some broccoli here to start.  As our palates adjust and we feel better, we can switch up a little more.  It might turn out that we love quinoa (unlike everyone but me in my family!) and that our favorite canned soup now tastes way too salty.

Experiment!  It might turn out to be tasty as well as good for us.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dancing thoughts...

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of watching one of my colleagues and friends in a dance performance.  It was not only beautiful, but also inspiring.

When we see someone with truly good proprioception move, we begin to understand why we need it.  At every moment, my friend knew where she was and where she wanted to go.  Because she is also strong and flexible, she could also get to those places and look lovely doing it.

Maybe we aren’t all going to be dancers or any other kind of professional athlete, but knowing what is possible with our bodies can wake us up to what we might want to do.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Obstacles? We have got that covered.

The first rep is the hardest.  And the first rep is the one before we even touch a weight—it’s the one where we get our butts to the gym in the first place.  Even if we love working out (and there are plenty of us who don’t love it, I know), there are times when we just can’t get motivated.  We need to figure out how to go anyway, in spite of the “obstacles” we put in our own way.

One common obstacle is a change of schedule.  We have to do something else during our normal gym time and we don’t find a new spot for working out.  Overslept?  Guests for dinner?  Rain at lunchtime?  All relatively good excuses, but we can find the time if we really want to.  Maybe it means an extra shower or slightly less time looking at cute puppies online, but we can do it.

Another is boredom.  This can set it when we always do the same workout or go to the same class.  Change it up a little!  Maybe we will hate the rowing machine or hip hop dance, but at least we moved and we may return to our usual haunts with more appreciation.

Then there is soreness.  We need to learn to recognize the difference between the good kind and the bad kind.  The good kind means we have worked hard enough.  That kind will feel better when we get moving and get the stiffness out.  The bad kind means injury.  We need to rest then.

No matter what the obstacle, we can plan for it and overcome it!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday Workout: Rope!

It has been a while since we played with the rope.  What I like about it is that it’s a whole body process that starts with the core.  And the slamming; slamming is very satisfying.  Three rounds!

rope double slams

rope alternating slams

rope circles
standing skullcrushers

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Book Report: Awareness Through Movement

Awareness Through Movement by Moshe Feldenkrais came out in 1972.  It turns out that many of the ideas and exercises in it have percolated into the culture in the intervening years, or at least they were familiar to me already.

That said, there is plenty to use in the book.  We all talk a lot about mindfulness in movement; this is a book about how.  The exercises provide guidance for proprioception in ways that are both simple and profound.  I will be spending more time with them.

One note:  those of us who have become used to gender-inclusive language may find the use of “man” for “human” and the use of he/him/his as the generic somewhat startling.  Maybe we have used all that increased awareness for something good!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Body Positive

It is not news that culturally we are trained to hate our bodies.  Women, especially, are bombarded with messages about what is wrong with us, although men are not immune.

As a trainer, this puts me in a weird space.  Body hatred often motivates people to seek me out.  People join gyms to address “problems” with their bodies, to get rid of their bellies or shape their behinds or somehow “earn” the right to wear a bathing suit.

We are all allowed to wear bathing suits.  No matter what our shape, we all deserve to love our bodies and to enjoy all the things our bodies can do.

My philosophy is this:  we are awesome as we are and we can be even better.  I like love as motivation rather than shame.  I love my clients and want them to feel fabulous and live a long time doing things they love to do.  What would happen if fitness was not something we felt we had to do in order to be enough, but rather something we did to unleash the possible?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Trainer selection

I am not everyone’s perfect trainer and that is okay.  Just as, when we were in school, some teachers knew how to reach us, some trainers fit our style better than others.  Here are things to consider when choosing a trainer:

What does she know? There are many kinds of trainer certifications.  Does your trainer have certifications?  What about additional education?  For example, I am a NASM-certified personal trainer with specializations in corrective exercise and weight loss.  Additionally, I am a PMA-certified Pilates instructor.  All trainers should have CPR training (yes, I do!).

What does she do?  Odds are that if your trainer is passionate about the same stuff you are, she will be equipped to help you.  Does she have a sense of what your sport or pastime requires?

When does she work?  If her schedule doesn’t work for you, she can’t help you.  Some people thrive on morning workouts and other people would rather be eaten by tigers.  Other people really need an after work slot.

Is she funny?  Or serious?  Does she get you?  If you leave your workout feeling better than when you started, chances are you have found a good fit, especially if you find yourself sweaty, too.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Big or small

Nature, by way of genetics and epigenetics, has given each of us our own body type.  We have to work with what we’ve got.

Some people stay thin no matter what they do.  At first glance, this might be enviable.  It certainly has advantages for the ice-cream addicted.  However, just being thin is not the same as being fit.  Thin people may lack the motivation to build muscle mass, which may impact their bone density.  They may not see the point in doing cardio exercise, or any exercise.  For thin people, the focus should be on ensuring that body composition is appropriately lean and on functional fitness for quality of life.

The rest of us may find our motivation dropping when all our exercise hard work does not enable us to eat cake with impunity.  People who tend to put on pounds need exercise to bump up metabolism and burn calories.  Changing body composition by increasing muscle mass improves health, mood, and appearance.

No matter who we are and what nature has given us, we can benefit from fitness.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Monday Workout: Body Weight

I am away this week visiting my parents while my dad has knee surgery.  In theory, there is a gym where they live, but just in case, I am planning an all-body-weight workout.  This means no excuses! Four rounds.

1 min cardio
squats 20
pushups 10
lunges 20
mountain climbers 20
pretty princesses 10
brains 10

Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday Book Report: Grit

Angela Duckworth’s book Grit inspires me.  We all have moments (and I sure have a lot of them!) when it doesn’t seem like we are enough, whether that’s smart enough, strong enough, cool enough, or whatever.  In those moments, grit can come to our rescue.

The central thesis of her book is that hard work beats talent, pretty much every time.  She has gobs of research to back up that thesis.  That in itself is good news because it means that we can do something to get where we want to go.  The underlying premise is pretty cool, too: who we are and what we are capable of are not carved-in-stone permanencies.  We may not be able to do the Big Thing yet, but we can work our way up to it.  The universe is changeable and moldable and we can make a difference.

The other big takeaway is deliberate practice.  Hard work and lots of hours are key, but the kind of hard work matters.  That is to say, showing up is a great place to start and going through the motions is probably better than not, but real improvement starts with mindful, challenging, stretch work.  Pushing the limits of our capabilities, failing, reevaluating, and trying again teach us what we need to know.

I highly recommend this book.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


A well-planned exercise program addresses several needs.  A really well-planned one addresses them all and keeps it efficient and interesting and maybe even fun.  Hiring the right trainer can take care of that, but if you prefer to design a program for yourself, you probably want to include:

1.     Cardio.  If your heart and lungs don’t work, you die.  Increasing their efficiency makes everything better.  We are all happier when we can get to the top of the stairs with breath left over.
2.     Strength.  Besides the fact that we need to move ourselves and other heavy objects all the time, strength training improves our metabolisms, builds and maintains our bone density, and makes us look cuter.
3.    Flexibility.  While we might want to look like classical statues, we probably prefer being able to move.  Flexibility training allows us to use all those lovely muscles we have built.  Range of motion can be a determining factor in our quality of life, whether that means we can reach the stuff on the shelves above our heads or do a killer butterfly stroke.
4.     Mindfulness.  This is about breathing and not being stressed, but it’s also about coordination and grace.  We can learn where we are in space and use our powerful brains to move our beautiful bodies skillfully.

5.     Enjoyment.  Finding exercise that gives us joy beyond the relief that it is over can make all the difference.  Maybe that’s loud music or a funny exercise buddy rather than the perfect sport.  Whatever it is, look for the play aspect.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

I didn't ask why, but you can...

Sometimes events make us consider the Big Questions.  While, thankfully, my kids and husband and I are all healthy, our wider family has been facing a variety of health issues.  It is to be expected, of course, as our parents and aunts and uncles get older, but that doesn’t make it easier or more fun.

There are at least two kinds of Big Questions.  One kind speaks to long term thinking.  What do we want our lives to add up to?  Where do we want to end up?  How can we make sure that we are healthy and happy as long as possible?  These are the questions that spur us on to move our bodies and save our pennies and build our skills.

The other kind, at least the way I’m thinking about it today, speaks to living in this moment, this one we have right now.  How do we promote joy?  How do we reduce suffering?  How do we shift toward the good and beautiful and right?  These questions wake us up and tune us in.  This is how we breathe.

I am not going to propose answers.  My answers might not be correct or useful.  I do think I know some useful questions, though.  Let’s think about them together.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Stretch, but not until your limbs fall off...

All of us need to stretch more.  Our sedentary lives stick our muscles together.  Our bursts of activity create strength that could use a bit more looseness.

Of course, we could just do it.  We could put stretching on our lists of things to do and tick it off every day.  If that works, great!

However, most of us don’t.  We finish a workout and we’re tired and stretching seems like one thing too many.  We promise ourselves we’ll do it later.  And then we get distracted by the hot shower and the commute home and it doesn’t happen.  Here are two things we can do to get the stretching in:

1.     Get someone else to make you do it.  Maybe that means taking a yoga class or Pilates.  Maybe you work out with a trainer who plans it in at the end for you.  We are good and obedient people, most of the time.  If someone is standing there telling us to do it, we will.

2.     Tie it to something else.  I, for example, call my parents every Saturday morning.  If I promise myself that I will stretch while I am chatting about what Peanut (their dog) did, I get off the phone with longer muscles and Good Daughter Points (not to be sneezed at!).  It might work to tie stretching to doing the dishes (hi there, calves!) or checking email (piriformis stretch anyone?).  We can find something we do anyway and let stretching piggyback on it.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Monday Workout: Dead (or alive!)

Because I love squats so much, I sometimes forget about deadlifts.  I am fixing that this week.  Choose a heavy weight for the deadlifts and rows and go lighter on the curls than you might otherwise because of the lunge part.  Four rounds.

1 min cardio

lunge to curl
plyojacks/jacks/mod jacks
max time
side plank
max time

Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday Book Report: Two Books! One with Pictures!

As I’ve said every month since Andrew Luck started his book club, I love it that he chooses a “rookie” book for his younger fans every month.  That is being a good role model, encouraging the use of brains as well as body.  As luck would have it (pun!), his March selection, Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth is about mindfulness.  This Caldecott Award-winning book obviously has lovely pictures, but also three lovely little stories a panda neighbor tells to the children next door.  Kids or adults who want some gentle ways to think about mindfulness will enjoy the stories and the panda-human friendship.

Luck’s April selection is a book I happen to have read when my kids were younger, the first in T.A. Barron’s Merlin saga, The Lost Years.  I have a weakness for Arthurian stories.  This reinterpretation asks how Merlin became the wizard we all know so well.  Young Merlin faces all kinds of challenges in a well-paced and interesting adventure.  Barron has written in other places about how story shapes our characters in real life.  This is a book that lives up to his own standard.

Read these books to yourself or to a kid and enjoy!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

No bump on the head required

Where am I?  Fitness helps us answer this question, if not always the more existential Who Am I?  As we move our bodies mindfully, we build up the neural capacity to know where our bodies are in space.  The fancy word for this is proprioception.

We see it at work when we try to learn a new sport.  Our coach or teacher or friend keeps telling us to drop our shoulders or swing our legs or move our knees out and we react with surprise; weren’t we already doing that?  We had no idea what our body parts were doing.

One of the things that I like about Pilates is that most of the movements are slow.  This gives the body time to coordinate with the brain to build up a fuller picture of where all the parts are.  Yoga does the same kind of thing.  Of course, we can bring mindfulness to whatever we are doing, but sometimes it is useful to choose a practice that makes it easier.