Hills Can Be Your Friend

Hills. I hate ’em. We used to have to run the local ski hill in junior high and high school cross country. Admittedly, it was in Chicago so our “ski hill” was a true skier’s bunny hill. BUT STILL. It sucked.

My least favorite, but most rewarding hill, is the climb to the finish line at the Marine Corps Marathon. It finishes at Arlington Cemetery in front of the statue of the soldiers at Iwo Jima. It’s an up hill finish line and it is torture. But, it’s the end so it’s kind of awesome. Still, not my favorite way to finish a race.

Reasons I don’t like hills:

-They make my quads burn

-I can’t stride out

-They seem endless

-I sometimes want to vomit when I reach the top, but it’s almost never the end.

I sound like a great, big whiner right now. Pathetic, I know. But don’t be fooled by my whining, I still do my hills. Actually, when the race has some rolling hills, I do far better than if it’s completely flat the entire way. You do, too, you just don’t know why.

Hills do our bodies good. It allows our hamstrings to take a break and our quadriceps to take over as the main muscle group of our stride. This switching back and forth keeps our legs fresh because one muscle group isn’t being beaten up for the entirety of our run. This is more valuable than you think.

The Brooklyn Half-Marathon used to start at Coney Island and go north for 8 miles up Coney Island Avenue into Prospect Park. This meant that the first 8 miles of the race were completely flat. Great, right? Wrong. It wears out the hamstrings and your body gets overtired from running on the same surface for such a long time.

I remember very vividly hitting the park, which has some hills but nothing like the Presidio (that place was terrifying!), and being able to go faster. I tapped into my bored quadriceps for energy and gave my hammys a break. I left a lot of people in my dust because I focused on the previously second-tier muscles of my quadriceps and decided that they were ready, willing and able to take over as the motor of my running. I also had the very lovely reward of also going down the hills which I climbed. This is both tremendously mentally rewarding and physically rewarding.

A little thought about fact is also that running up hills takes away a tremendous amount of pounding on your joints. Because you’re pushing the weight of your body uphill, the force on your joints is lessened (well done, first semester physics teacher). The benefits of less hammering on your body is obvious. Suffice to say that this is a good thing. A good thing for racing and a good thing for your weekly workouts.

So next time you’re looking at a race and marveling about how flat and fast it is, remember that a flat road isn’t always your best friend. Try a race with some rolling hills. You might surprise yourself and enjoy the benefits of going both up AND down.

Now go out and run!!!

Guest Blog: Kim’s Balancing Act, Bootcamp Edition

Kim does Bootcamp!

I’m a sucker for a bargain. I buy sale items, even if I don’t absolutely need them. So when I started to climb out of my fitness rut and decided to recharge and diversify my fitness routine, I took notice of all the deal-of-the-day fitness-related offers that flooded my email inbox. Everything from a Groupon trapeze cardio deal to a swanky pilates reformer offer on Living Social.  Again, no reason for boredom wherever you are (these deals are all over the U.S.)!  Bargains and promises to whip me back in shape?  Done!  I took note of one email in particular with the subject: “Holistic fitness draws raves and gives results – up to 73% off classes.”  I opened the message and saw that the class met .2 miles from my apartment; no commuter excuse for being lazy. Luckily my credit card information was saved from one-too-many bargain clothing purchases (none of which helped me out of my rut or promised holistic wellness!), so with a few clicks, I bought a very bargain-priced 5-pack of classes to Circuit of Change.

Good morning, NYC! (photo courtesy of circuitofchange.com)

I went to the website to register for my first class and poked around to learn that the instructor, Brian, is a gymnast, Ironman triathlete, and yogi who leads a 60-minute “Mind-body Bootcamp” that combines plyometrics, body weight exercises, sprint interval training, kickboxing and core training.  I was intrigued by the Ironman/yogi creds, and the workout sounded fun and challenging; just the right mix of new and exciting moves for my tired running legs and weak upper body. I was a bit nervous on my first day of bootcamp since it seemed that most people knew each other, but Brian walked up and immediately introduced himself then gave me my first-day peptalk: “listen to your body to gauge how it responds to the jumping and circuit training, and take a break if it gets too strenuous. Breathe and have fun!”  His positive energy was infectious, so I was ready to sweat and push myself.

We started with a few laps around the pier and “circled up” to stretch, just like high school lacrosse practice.  As Brian led our stretches (many yoga-based), he briefed us on the importance of breathing, and taught us how to breathe deeply using the Ujjayi technique (in and out through the nose).  With each inhale, he asked us to take in the good, healing oxygen, and with each exhale, we released toxins and negative thoughts. Though I could hear car engines revving and horns honking on the west side highway, I tried to focus solely on my breathing. I liked the idea of letting go of my day, my anxiety, my stress.  Brian then asked us to create an intention for our workout (mine: “don’t make a fool of yourself and don’t throw up”).

Push ups for everyone! (photo courtesy of circuitofchange.com)

From spiritual stretching, we moved into our first circuit which included jumping jacks, squat thrusts, high-knees and mountain climbers.  We were working out in a relatively small area, but my heart was thumping. I was gasping and needed every second of the 2 minute breaks in between the 4-6 minute circuits  The workout continued with abdominal moves consisting of planks, bicycles, and time on our backs lowering/raising outstretched legs.  There were sprints, tricep dips on park benches and step-ups on ledges. I wasn’t wearing a watch, but when Brian said we’d be closing the class with some yoga and stretching, I was both relieved and surprised to know the hour had passed so quickly.

Awesome instructor. Awesome workout. (and no vomiting!)

It’s a great workout and though it’s tough to measure my aerobic capacity or mile times because I’m only running recreationally right now, this is a workout that I look forward to doing and one in which I feel like I’m burning a ton of energy and testing my fitness limits. I have found myself breathing deeply to work through stress during other activities (be it a workout or a tough day at the office) as a result of Brian’s focus on the ujjayi technique. Though I could technically do these exercises on my own, I know I’m not going to (and I wouldn’t have Brian to correct my form and repeatedly remind me to “breathe!”).  And working out in a group environment motivates me to keep up with my classmates. If I’m going to dedicate 60 minutes to my workout, I want to feel like I’m surrounded by others who are as into it as I am.

For everyone out there looking to mix up a running routine or for folks like me who are re-igniting their workouts, I’d recommend trying a bootcamp class. If you’re deep into marathon training, this type of cross-training may be a bit hard on your knees, but as Abby has told us, workouts that raise your heart rate to a high-percentage of your maximum (VO2 max), can help you improve your overall cardiorespiratory endurance (which = faster, longer runs!). Overall, bootcamp classes offer a fun and variable workout, burn a lot of energy and often work out your whole body.  Do a quick search to find bootcamp programs in your area or subscribe to one of the many daily deal sites out there and see what pops up.  You may get more than you bargained for!

Exercises To Do This Week: Rock The BOSU®

Have you ever walked into a gym and seen that funny looking blue thing that should be a ball, but isn’t a full ball? It looks like a half-ball or something. It’s called a BOSU®, meaning “both sides up”. I first saw these things when I was in college and have had a love affair with them ever since (shhhh…don’t tell!)

The cool thing about these little half-ball thingys is that the possibilities are endless. Legs, abs, back, arms, stability, you name it. Anything you can do on solid ground, you can also do on a BOSU®. There are entire classes where they use only a BOSU® and some free weights. Very cool. I’m a fan, obviously, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite exercises with you.

These are advanced exercises and should be done under the supervision of a trainer or fitness professional.

#1. Jump-backs

Grab hold of both sides of the BOSU® and squat down so that your heels are off the ground. Put your weight into your hands and jump your legs back behind you into a plan position. Make sure your feet are always together.

 

 

Shoulders and hips are at the same height. Shoulders are directly over the wrists. Gaze is slightly forward or straight down. Jump back into the start position. Repeat. When you get proficient and feel comfortable with the balance of the exercise, try doing it without pausing in both directions.

Do 3 sets of 10.

 

Jump-backs work everything all at once and get your heart a-pumpin’, too. I love them as an in-between free weights exercise because they engage the core muscles so effectively without putting stress on one particular muscle group.

#2.  BOSU® Lunges with Lateral Shoulder Raises

One foot is in the middle of the flat side of the BOSU® and arms have 3-8lb. dumbbells hanging at your side. The back leg is bent at 90º (as is the front) and the back heel is (and always is) off the ground.

 

 

 

Push off the back foot and stand up straight onto the front foot, raising your arms at the same time.Lower your arms, reach back with your back leg and lower yourself to the ground by bending your standing leg (never letting your back heel touch the ground).

Do 3 sets of 15-20 on each leg.

 

Don’t try to stay up on top of the BOSU® and balance for this particular exercise, it is meant to be dynamic and constantly moving from one position back to the other is key. This is hard, but if you keep the weight mostly in the leg on top of the BOSU®, it’s a little easier to balance. The more you move, the easier it is. So, if you’ve mastered regular ‘ol lunges already, give these a try and challenge yourself. It’s great for the glutes, quads, core and shoulder/upper back area.

In other news today: It is my return to lululemon Run Club tonight. Yay! Summer school is O.V.E.R. and I am so ready to get back with the awesome uptown runners of lululemon. Come on out and join us for an all-levels 3-5 mile run in Central Park. Ladder workout tonight! Meet at either the E. 66th St. store or Lincoln Center store at 6:30 and be ready to run. See you out there.

Tell me. What exercises are you rocking in the gym these days?

Now go out and run!

(Thanks to Rainbow Bright for the awesome fitness modeling!)

 

5 Tips For Choosing The Right Trainer

(So, I started this post last night after hosting a baby shower in Brooklyn and I totally fell asleep. Better late than never, I suppose!)

Ladies and gentlemen, there are A LOT of bad trainers out there. They’re certified (not necessarily by reputable agencies, but they are technically “certified” because there is no national oversight committee for personal trainers…yet), employed by major gyms, some are even paid quite a bit of money to do what they do. This does not make them a good trainer. Some of the best, smartest, most talented trainers I know are so low key, you would need a reference from another trainer just to find them. So, how do you find the right trainer for you? The same way you go about finding a pair of jeans. You shop.

Very few people I know buy their jeans without trying them on. Even fewer buy the first pair they try on. It’s just not the way you go about finding your perfect pair. You first decide what you want to look like in your new jeans. Are you going for a perkier behind? What about (my personal quest) longer-looking legs? Guys-fitted but not skinny jeans? Then you browse. Check out what’s available. You try some on and then price them out. It’s a process. You should devote the same amount of effort to hiring a trainer.

1. Decide what your goals are. A marathon? Strength? Flexibility? Speed? Longer legs, perkier behind…etc. This will help you narrow down who will be a good fit for you. Odds are if you’re looking to run a marathon, you probably don’t want to train with someone whose idea of running is down the stairs to catch the subway. Experience is gold in the physical world. And while the body does what it does and there’s pretty much no deviation from classic human anatomy and physiology, there is something to be said for taking advice from someone who’s been there.

2. Shop around. One of my clients told me she “stalked” me before she asked for a trial workout. I love that! Check out what’s available and get recommendations from people whom you trust. Chances are, your friends and coworkers will provide the most honest and trusted reviews. Yelp and Google can be helpful for reviews on local trainers, but nothing beats word of mouth. Also, if you’re coming off of an injury, as your PT if they have a recommendation. I have reciprocal relationships with several PTs in the city because they trust me with recovering athletes and I trust them to fix my clients (and me, sometimes!).

3. Try some on for size. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few, make an appointment with each of them to experience what they have to offer. By the way, most trainers (and gyms, for that matter) offer complimentary first workouts, which are a great way to decide whether or not a trainer is a good fit for you.

4. Price them out. The going rate in the city is about $85-$125/hour, but that’s Manhattan. Most trainers offer discounted packages if you buy 5, 10, 25 sessions at a time. If it’s too much for your bank account, ask about partner sessions and go in on it with a friend. Or, ask about half-hour sessions instead of the full hour. Show up warmed up and stay to stretch afterwards in order to maximize those 30 minutes.

5. Decide who “feels” best. You have to be comfortable with your trainer. You will be giving up control of your body for an hour to this person and, if you don’t trust them, it could be disastrous. Also, if you get the feeling that they don’t know what they’re doing or talking about, you’re probably right. Trust your first impression and go with your gut.

Red flags that tell you they aren’t the trainer for you:

-They talk about themselves the whole time.

They work out while they’re training you.

-They talk on the phone during your workout (I did this once, but in my defense, my boyfriend–now husband, was in Iraq with the USMC at the time and I never knew when he would be able to call. When this was happening, I warned my clients in advance and gave them the option to work out at a different time or with a different trainer)

-They cut your time short.

-They train someone else while they’re training you.

-They are unprofessional (in any way, shape or form: appearance, vocabulary, manners, etc.)

-They aren’t certified.

-They make the time about them and not about you. You should be their focus the entire time, not the chick/dude across the room or their friends on the treadmills.

-They don’t listen to what you want. You want to work on your legs and they have you doing chest press for 20 minutes? That’s a problem.

Contrary to what you might have seen on TV, vomiting mid-workout is not normal, nor is it indicative of a good workout. If you are sore for more than 4 days post-workout, this is also NOT a sign of good workout. Rather, these both tell me that the trainer you worked with pushed you too hard. Delayed onset muscle soreness is 48 hours, not a week. Feeling sore after more than 4 days means that your muscle tissue is damaged, which is bad. Passing out is also not a good thing. The trainer should be able to accurately assess your fitness level before you begin your workout by having a conversation prior to the start. They should also be able to tailor the exercises through the workout if it seems you are struggling. If not, they aren’t paying attention and do you want a trainer who doesn’t pay attention to you? I think not.

I’m pretty picky about what jeans I buy. They’ve got to fit juuuuust right. You’re trusting your trainer with your body. Take the time to find the right fit for you.

Now go out and run!

 

 

Exercises To Do This Week: Everyone Can Do A Pull-Up

Woo-hoo! Time for some cross-training, you fabulous runners. I know, I know, you don’t wanna. But you gotta! Let’s mix it up and work it out with two total-body exercises. GET PUMPED! Disclaimer: the plyometric ski jumps are not for newbies. If you are new to exercising or strength training, master the basics from previous posts for now and move up from there! If you’re ready for the challenge (admit it, you probably are!) then check out these awesome moves. Oh, and I’m going to show you how to do a pull-up even if you can’t do a pull-up. Read on.

Ok, first I have to admit something: I can’t do an honest-to-God pull-up. Never could. Not when I was 9, not when I was 19, not when I was 29…you get the picture. And I’m not talking about those so-called pull-ups where people are swinging their legs all over the place and using momentum to heave their bodies up. I can do those (but I don’t because I am the Form Police, thanks to Obi-wan) but I could never do a proper pull-up. Wimpy? Not on your life. Anyone who calls me a wimp for that has never challenged me to a 90 minute hot vinyasa class. Or a 15K. Nor have the worked out with me. I will dominate! You will cry and apologize. End of story. At any rate, I see the benefit of the exercise and have found a modified way to do it (without swinging around like a monkey)!

Big hand to Rainbow Bright who is the fabulous model today!

1. Modified Pull-ups

    

Grab a Smith Machine and sit underneath the bar so that your arms can straighten, but your bottom only grazes the floor. Keep your hips underneath your shoulders and your rear end hanging down as you pull yourself up towards the bar. Bring your collarbone close to the bar and slowly lower yourself down. Do 10-15 reps, 3 sets. To build up to using less weight, lift one foot. Sexy shoulders, here you come!

2. Ski Jumps

    

Fine a line or place something down that you can easily jump over on the ground. Bend your knees slightly, reach your arms back and jump over your object. Land with both feet on the ground and stop for one second, stabilizing yourself. Repeat: Jump, land, stop, jump, land, stop for 20-30 seconds. Great for strengthening your quadriceps and the tendons and ligaments around your knees. When done properly, the lateral motion and force it takes to push and land forces your glutes to get involved. Gets your heart pumping, too!

The reason I like these two exercises so much is that they hit all the muscles groups at once. Pull-ups are the quintessential upper body exercise that calls upon every muscle to get involved at some point in the motion while requiring balance and stabilization in your core. Ski jumps challenge the control of the quadriceps to land without bouncing, while requiring the push of the hamstrings, glutes, and the often-forgotten calves to propel your body up and over to the other side. Oh, and you hit that core again (if you’re keeping your back straight!). I just love it.

So, next time your in the gym (today, tomorrow?) give these a shot and see how they feel. Let me know how you do! In the mean time, what are you waiting for? Go out and run!

WAIT!!! LISTEN UP, NYC READERS! (This is the corrected version: the event is on Thursday, August 11th at 6:30pm)

I almost forgot! You know how I have ulcerative colitis and how much is sucks? And remember when I met Ali who has Chron’s disease (and how much that sucks–Chron’s, not meeting Ali. Ali’s awesome!) and how she’s is running for the Chron’s and Colitis Foundation of America? Well, she’s having fundraiser on thursday, August 11th at the Upper East Side JackRabbit Sports on Lexington Ave. between 84th and 85th Streets at 6:30pm. Raffles, prizes, games, food, booze! What more could you ask for? 15% of all merchandise bought tomorrow night goes to CCFA on behalf of Ali’s fundraising efforts. So, if you think I’m awesome and my disease sucks, come on out and grab some new running shoes or a hydration belt or some Shot Bloks and support us all! Or donate to the CCFA on Ali’s website. And thanks!