I ♥ Yoga, But…

Thank you for all of your kind comments and feedback on yesterday’s BTAT guest blog by Obi-wan.

“I know you come from good stock and you prove it every day when you choose to live and not just exist!”

“This was awesome.”

“Too good not to pass along.”

“This was a wonderful post from your dad–great advice that I will heed should the injury monkey climb on my back one of these days!”

“So sweet that your Dad did this for you! Love it and the message it conveys!”

“Thanks, Obi-wan, for your wise words”

“Fantastic post, Obi-wan!!!”

He’s pretty awesome and I’m glad so many of you enjoyed reading little bit about his inspiring story. Maybe, if we ask nicely, he’ll come back? And maybe, if we say pretty please, Mrs. Obi-wan will share her story with us, too? You never know…onto today’s post!

Yogis, don’t hate me. I’m on your side and I’m here to help!

So, I love yoga. I feel good when I go to class. I like trying new teachers. I think everyone can benefit from some type of yoga.

I love yoga. Outdoors yoga is the BEST!

That said, if done incorrectly, yoga can really hurt you.

As a student of anatomy and physiology, I spend my time studying how the body moves, what movements cause injury, and how to help people recover and prevent these injuries. My job as a personal trainer requires that I coaching people through a series of exercises safely and effectively. And I’m kind of a stickler for form.

This is where I get into trouble in yoga class.

Some classes are absolutely amazing. The teachers are clear about the placement of every single part of your body and when to breathe and where to put your focus. They walk around, adjusting everyone constantly and encouraging people to work within their limits, not above them.

These are the classes I love.

Ooooo-mmmmm

I attended the opposite type of class on Monday. I hated every single moment of that class and almost walked out just to make a point. Why the negativity? Because it was just offensively bad.

In a class of about 50 or so people, I would say that at least 30 of them looked as though they had never been to a yoga class before. Not because of their bodies or anything superficial like that, but because of the confused looks on their faces, the constant turning around to see what others were doing, and the terrifyingly bad form they exhibited in the “simplest” of yoga poses.

It was unsafe, distracting, and inexcusable.

I felt bad for the students because it was the instructors’ fault they had bad form. He did not touch or adjust a single person. I was shocked.

William J. Broad wrote an article that was published in the New York Times last week (you saw it in Friday’s Fitness News) that people in the fitness world are fighting about all over the blogs and in yoga studios everywhere. It’s titled, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.” In it, Broad interviews Glenn Black, a popular yoga instructor who is incredibly verbal about the physical dangers of yoga.

I must say that I completely agree with every single one of the dangers highlighted in the article and there are many, many more. I train yoga instructors and devotees and I help them to re-learn how to move through their asanas in a safe way. Several people I know have seriously injured themselves in class and spent years in physical therapy.

Form is everything. Yoga, like every other sport/fitness activity in the world, can cause you injury when done incorrectly. Yoga is good, when done safely and I encourage you to consider learning more about it, BUT if you are new to yoga do yourself a favor and do a few private lessons or very, very small beginner group classes before jumping into it, ok? Don’t push. Be safe.

Rule of thumb: If it hurts, don’t do it. Seriously. Listen to your body.

Now go out and run!

Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays: Rewards

Welcome to another edition of Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays where we take a moment and say, “yeah, it’s better to be here than not to be here.” I definitely need this reminder at least once a week that, no matter how much things suck, they could be so much worse. I could not be here. You could not be here. But we are, so let’s just take stock.

This week’s theme is Rewards.

You know when you set a goal, work really hard to achieve it and are rewarded for your hard work how great that feels? I’m feeling that and loving it this week.

After completing my 9th marathon in Philly this weekend, I’m definitely basking in the glory of my medal, the ultimate Reward for a runner.

Proudly displayed on our medal rack! (Nice rack! hahahaha, I kill me)

Red says it should be made of gold. I think it’s made of blood, sweat, tears and carbs. There’s nothing quite like feeling the weight of a medal around my neck after a hard-fought path to the finish line. Don’t get me wrong, Philly was beautiful and I fully expect that I will do this race again in the very near future. But the whole journey to Philly was a struggle.

I struggled with making the time between studying, working, being a wife and a sibling and a friend and making time to run. I struggled with my Ulcerative Colitis for the better part of the training season and learned some serious humility in the process. I struggled with my diet, which had to be modified to account for the changes in my disease. I struggled with every single cold virus that went through NYU this Fall. I struggled with finding a balance between wanting to do it all and knowing that I can’t do it all. I struggled.

And yet, with my medal firmly placed around my neck and my husband holding my hand, there was no better feeling in the world. I had struggled, yes, but I had conquered. And I had the Reward to prove it: my shiny new medal.

I love a good post-race medal photo!

Rewards are so important to give to ourselves and others. It’s acknowledgment, encouragement and praise all wrapped into one “You did it!” momento. Some people Reward themselves with food, clothes, a trip, sleep, a day off. Other people Reward us with presents, cards, words of praise, flowers, a foot rub. (Isn’t it just the best when someone else Rewards you?) Whatever it is that you do to Reward yourself for accomplishing a goal, it is imperative that you celebrate.

Be proud of what you’ve done! Show the world how awesome you are! Let people know you’re working toward something and when you’ve reached it, share that, too! Reward yourself and congratulate yourself for the accomplishments in your life.

I didn’t always celebrate myself the way that I did other people in my life. You know where that got me? Nowhere. I felt ignored and my accomplishments unacknowledged. I learned to open up and let people know I was working really hard at some task and when I achieved it, I was going to mark the occasion.

Sometimes it’s a high-five. Sometimes it’s a party. Sometimes it’s a medal around my neck. No matter what form it comes in, that Reward will keep me working hard toward newer, and maybe harder goals. And that’s the key. Rewards keep us moving forward.

So, next time you think that finishing a “little” 5K isn’t something worth Rewarding yourself for, think again. Grab a new sparkly headband and mark the occasion. Reward yourself (in a productive way…) and celebrate how awesome you are! Or maybe Reward someone else for their accomplishment. Everyone loves a shout-out, even if it’s on Facebook or Twitter. Go ahead, Reward a stranger at the finish line with a high-five. I bet you you make them smile.

BTAT: Rewards. Pass it on.

Now go out and run!

Beat The Runner’s Plateau

In every running career, there will be many plateaus. Sometimes they sneak up on us and we don’t realize they’re happening until we see stagnant race times. Sometimes it’s our running buddies who ask “are you alright?” when we’re lagging behind on every. single. run. Sometimes we find ourselves dreading the everyday run because it just doesn’t feel good anymore. Runner’s plateau sucks.

It happens. Now let’s talk about how to fix it.

First things first. You have to be honest with yourself and ask a few hard questions:

-Am I varying the speed and distance of my workouts? This is the most common reason I find for newbie/semi-seasoned runners. If you want results, you gotta mix it up.

-Am I cross-training enough (or at all)? Another mistake people make is to think simply running will make you faster. Not true. Aerobic + Anaerobic workouts make you faster.

-Am I putting forth 100% effort in my workouts? Only you can answer this question.

-Is my schedule the same every day/week? Yikes. Isn’t that boring? I’m plateauing just thinking about it.

-Am I getting enough rest? Sleep is where our muscles heal and grow. If you’re not sleeping, neither of these very necessary things are happening.

-Do I have a goal? Running for the sake of running is intolerably boring. Even if it’s a 3K/5K Turkey Trot, set a goal. Work for it. It takes the monotony out of the running.

These are the important questions to ask because they will provide you with the answers to get out of your running rut, over the plateau and into a new gear in your running. And we all have multiple gears, like cars, that we can train into and find as we get in better shape. It’s kind of a cool thing when you find yourself pushing and easing into a newer, faster pace.

But that doesn’t just happen. Here are some suggestions to get out of your running rut:

-Substitute one run for another form of cardio. Try swimming or indoor cycling. You never know, you might find you looooove triathlons. Get off your legs and into something new.

-Grab a faster running friend once a week for a short, hard run. Scary, I know. But it helps.

-Join a gym and try some strength training classes. A change of scenery and pace might make you appreciate the solitude and quiet many of us experience on a run.

-Mix it up. Don’t do the same workout for two weeks. Nothing the same, every workout is new and different. No run route is the same. No distance is the same. No class is the same. Try it.

-Kick it up a notch. Indoor cycling (aka “spinning”) is a great way to challenge your cardiovascular system while not beating the hell out of your legs. Push as hard as you can during one class a week and see if you notice a difference in your runs after a month.

-Take a break from running. I know, I know. Runners hate this suggestion. But, seriously, taking a one week/one month break from running to find new ways to move might be just what you need to get back into it with a fresh perspective.

-Set a goal. Sign up for a race. No better way to push yourself than to set a bar to reach and work as hard as you can.

Plateaus are bound to happen to everybody, even (and maybe, especially) the pros. How you handle them is up to you. You can wallow in it and complain about it or you can switch it up, work a little harder, try something new and discover something else about yourself: you have another gear. Who knew?

Now go out and run!

What do you do to get beyond the plateau???

Excuses, Excuses

People will throw out every excuse in the book to get out of a workout.

I don’t have time. I’m not really an athlete. I hate to sweat (clearly these people are not my friends until they ♥ sweat). I have bad knees. I’m tired. I don’t have time. I’m out of shape (seriously, I’ve heard this). I don’t like sports. I’m not looking to lose weight. It’s too expensive. I’m not good at <insert physical activity>. I hate going to the gym. I don’t want to bulk up. I don’t have time.

I am fortunate to have struggled with my weight at a young age. You read that right. Fortunate. Sure, I was always athletic looking, but once high school hit, I had to watch what I ate and work out twice as much as every other girl to maintain a healthy weight. I say that I was fortunate in this way because I learned younger than most girls that I had an average-to-slow metabolism and I couldn’t just run around and eat whatever I wanted. No sir. I had to run. This stayed with me and in my adulthood, I find that working out is not a chore for me the way it is for so many men and women my age who are struggling with their weight for the first time. I love exercising. I learned to love it through sports and getting involved at my college gym. I’m lucky.

So many people I meet are not so lucky. They were thin and fit their entire teenage and college years and, suddenly, when they are sitting behind a desk or having kids or simply experiencing the dip in metabolism that comes with being thirty-something, they’re panicking because they’re overweight. These are often the people who are making the excuses, but who need the most help.

Here’s the thing: I went running this morning and my workout (Yasso 800s) took me about an hour. I have a Physics exam tomorrow. I have Physics Lab tomorrow. I have class at 12:30. I have a blog to write. I have three lululemon athletica events in span of 10 days to run. I have clients to email. I have doctor’s appointments to make (begrudgingly). I have dinner to make. I have three clients to see tonight. I have, I have, I have…

…I have to run.

MAKE the time. It will not always happen organically. You have to devote time to planning and executing your plan to work out. That’s the simple fact of the matter. It’s not easy, but it is simple. And you may not always want to and you may not always feel like you had a great workout, but doing it puts a check in that box of “I took care of myself today.” No one else can do it for you. Do it now.

And now for the time when I will tear down every single one of your excuses one by one:

I don’t have time. I’m calling BS on this one. You have time for Modern Family. Watch it on the treadmill.

I’m not really an athlete. So what?

I hate to sweat. Get over it. It’s good for you.

I have bad knees. Swim, bike, elliptical, cross train, yoga…do I need to go on?

I’m tired. So am I.

I don’t have time. Make the time.

I’m out of shape. How do you presume to rectify this?

I don’t like sports. So don’t compete. It’s a hobby if you don’t compete.

I’m not looking to lose weight. Are you looking to have a long life? Good! Then you need to exercise.

It’s too expensive. So is a hospital stay. I run on my streets. I do yoga in my apartment. I lift at my school’s gym. I use resistance bands at home and 8 lb. weights. Not expensive as you think.

I’m not good at <insert physical activity>. And you won’t get any better unless you work at it.

I hate going to the gym. So don’t. Do an outdoors Boot Camp class. Do yoga at a studio. Ride in an indoor cycling studio and not a gym. I don’t care where you do it, but do something!

I don’t want to bulk up. Me neither.

I don’t have time. You’re a liar.

There you are. My favorite excuses debunked one by one. The key to getting yourself together is wanting to get yourself together. Until you want it for yourself, no one can force you to do it. Maybe you want it because you want to look better, maybe you’ve had a health scare, maybe you’re tired of being tired. Whatever it is, you have to want it.

I want it for you, so if I can help please don’t hesitate to ask. But you have to want it first and most.

Do you want it?

Then go out and run!

Exercises To Do This Week: Strong Shoulders

The shoulders are the unloved workhorse of our upper body. We want them to look awesome, rounded, strong and straight and yet, we abuse them daily by heaping huge bags on top of them and constantly rounding them forward into a terrible slumped over position that yanks on our rotator cuff muscles. Not nice. These are also the muscles that we call upon in the longer, harder miles to initiate more movement. “Pump your arms” I shout to my runners. Well, we gotta pump them in the weight room so we can pump them when we run.

Here are three exercises that work all three heads of the shoulder (anterior, medial and posterior) and helps to shape them for all of our vanity and arm-pumping needs.

#1. Upright Row

Standing with feet hip-width and knees slightly bent, grasp the bar in an overhanded position just inside of the width of your shoulders. Draw the bar up toward (but not reaching) your chin while pulling up on your elbows so that the wrists stay straight. Give a little tug to the rear at the top of the motion and release back down til your arms are straight. Start with a 20-30 bar, 15-20 reps.

                                     

#2 Overhead Press

Grabbing the bar beyond the width of your shoulders, make sure your elbows are underneath your wrists (not your wrists and the bar in front of your elbows), press the bar up and over the top of your head. Repeat 15-20 times over 3 sets.

     

#3 Bent Over Row

Support yourself with one leg in front and one leg behind so that you can table-top yourself as far forward as possible while maintaing a flat back. Grip the bar overhand and a little wider than your shoulders. Draw the bar toward your belly button, allowing your elbows to fly to the side but keeping your shoulders down and away from your ears. Repeat 3 sets, 12-15 reps.

         

With all of these exercises, if it is your goal to make your shoulders bigger, you should gradually do a heavier weight and fewer repetitions. Conversely, if your goal is to shape the look of your existing shoulders, a lighter weight (but not lighter than 15 pounds) and fewer repetitions (no more than 20, 3 sets) is appropriate for your goals.

Regardless, by doing all three of these exercises, you isolate each individual head of your shoulder as the primary muscle of the movement, thereby giving your body a well-rounded workout. If you do the same shoulder exercise over and over, you will likely 1. fatigue that primary muscle and make yourself more susceptible to injury or 2. build up just that one area of your shoulder, giving yourself kind of a funky shape to your most noticed upper body area. We don’t want that, now do we? No, sir.

Rock these out at the gym this weekend! Doesn’t Sass look amazing doing these exercises? Thanks for modeling, lady.

Now go out and run!