Personal Training by Jenn

A couple months ago my husband anxiously awaited the delivery of a stand to convert his traditional desk to a standing desk. As someone who hadn’t been tied to a desk for a few years I had a hard time understanding the purpose or even his excitement about making the change. I can honestly say given the option I would too have a standing desk. 

Sitting all day makes me anxious, and in some ways, even though I’m clearly working, it makes me feel lazy. I work in a small office where I rarely need to get up to have a conversation with a co-worker and there are definitely no stairs involved in my day. The most activity I get is walking to the water cooler to refill my water bottle. By the time I leave the office I’ve accumulated a whopping 1,500 or so steps for the day. 

I think it hit me the hardest when I was completing my profile for the MyFitnessPal app and selected ‘sedentary’ for my lifestyle. Ugh, I saw red flags flash before my eyes and heard warning sirens screaming through my head – personal trainer and group fitness instructor turns to a sedentary lifestyle.  

Unfortunately, I’m not to the point that I feel comfortable asking for a standing desk. First, I’m still relatively new and with it being a small company there isn’t a whole lot of focus on providing customized desk set ups. In fact, I’m pretty sure most of the office chairs would fail ergonomic testing. Second, I’ve already proved myself as ‘which one of these things is not like the other.’ My co-workers think I’m a bit strange for ordering salads with no dressing when we go out to lunch and no one understands why I turn down the daily offerings of breads, pastries and other sweets.

While I don’t have the power to change my seating arrangement, I do have the ability to change my posture and activate my muscles while sitting. One of my favorite classes to teach is Pilates because it largely focuses on body awareness and activating muscles through proper posture. Pilates helps to build flexibility, muscle strength and endurance while developing a strong core. So why not apply the principles of the ‘Pilates posture’ to sitting at a desk? 

Here’s how to do it (give it a try as you read through these cues):

Head: Elongate your spine and pull the top of your head towards the ceiling. You should feel taller.

Shoulders: Draw your shoulders down and away from your ears. You should also feel your chest open and your shoulders slightly tucked back so your shoulder blades are in contact with the back of your chair.

Core: Draw your navel up and in as though you are buttoning it to your spine. You should feel your abdominal muscles engage while your lower back presses lightly into the back of your chair.

Legs: Zip your legs together from your feet to your sacrum. You should feel your inner thighs (or adductors) engage.

Now granted, I understand this posture isn’t one that comes naturally. Believe me, I find myself with hunched shoulders, crossed legs and an overall droopy posture more than I would like to admit. However, now every time that I catch myself slouching I start from the top and work my way to my feet correcting my posture. It’s certainly not a full blown workout but maintaining these ‘connections’ makes my body do more work than if I was sitting here with no body awareness. For me it’s yet another good reminder that even the small things count when trying to maintain health.

Maybe after a while I will be comfortable enough in my own skin to stand at my desk, but until then I’ll continue with my seated Pilates workout.

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Life has a funny way of taking unexpected, yet appreciated turns.

If you read my blog you probably know that just over a year ago my family relocated to a suburb outside of Chicago. In an effort to get the family settled, I took time off and focused on being a wife and mom. I was free to hit the gym anytime during the day and often put in two workouts a day. It was kind of a nice break from the hectic schedule of training and teaching I left behind when we moved. While the break was nice, I was getting anxious to again have something of my own. Shortly after picking up some classes and rebuilding my ‘work’out wardrobe I got a call from a recruiter. ‘I found your resume online and I was wondering if you would be interested in a position as a Production Manager with a local e-Learning company.’ 

After a couple weeks of great contemplation and numerous discussions with friends and family, I decided returning to a more traditional job was the best choice for both me and my family. It’s now been almost two months since I started working in an office and I’m finding my way back to making health and exercise a priority.

I always thought I could identify with my clients because I was a working wife and mom too. But having a career in fitness, as opposed to a traditional office job makes you take a number of things for granted:

  • Getting 10,000 steps in a day – it was incredibly difficult for me to understand how people couldn’t meet this threshold number. Now that I sit at a desk all day, I have to intentionally work to get my 10,000 steps.
  • Drinking water – it’s pretty difficult to chug down coffee or a soda in the gym but when sitting at a desk they seem to be the best source for giving the extra charge needed to get through the last tough project of the day.
  • Getting to the gym – When you work at the gym, it’s clearly never a problem to stay an extra 30 minutes or an hour to get in a personal workout. After a long day at the office, it takes some convincing, some willpower and a whole lot of determination and planning to fit in that 30 minutes or an hour at the gym.
  • Making good food choices – Similar to drinking water, it’s pretty easy to down a healthy meal/snack at the gym. The last thing anyone wants is unhealthy food weighing down your body and energy while trying to encourage others to ‘step it up.’ Food is fuel to keep going through training sessions and classes. But when sitting at a desk, food is either an afterthought because of the bustle of meetings and projects or another trip out to lunch with co-workers.

So while I am no longer training and teaching full time, I’d like to shift the focus of my blog to help support the vast majority of women out there who are struggling to find balance with it all. I recognize what I took for granted and I now understand better than ever the struggles many of my past clients faced.

So from one overscheduled working mom to my audience of overscheduled lives, here’s my advice:

  • 10,000 steps – yes, the number of steps you take a day does make a difference so pick up a pedometer or use something like a FitBit to track your activity levels. It’s important to start with an awareness of your activity levels so that you can make the necessary adjustments. I’ve discovered the most efficient way for me to get my steps in is a 30 minute run. Running may not be for you, and that’s okay. Take a walk with a friend, join a step aerobics or Zumba class, play a game of basketball with your kids – be creative and do what it takes to meet that 10,000 step mark each day. 
  • Drinking water – hydration is a major contributor to weight loss and overall health. The standard is to consume the equivalent of half of your body weight in ounces in water each day. Believe me, there are many days that I would prefer a coffee to water, but I am finding that staying hydrated is a great way to maintain my energy levels. If I am properly hydrated the caffeine isn’t as crucial. Get a refillable water bottle that you like and keep it on your desk or near you wherever you are. I’m not a fan of drinking out of plastic so I found a glass water bottle that I love.
  • Getting to the gym – I always advised my clients to put their workouts on their calendars. You wouldn’t skip a meeting or lunch with a friend, so don’t skip gym time you have scheduled for yourself. I am finally taking my own advice and have all of the classes I plan to take on my calendar. When I miss a class it is staring me right back in the face. Another thing is to recognize what the most appropriate time of the day is for you to exercise – if you aren’t a morning person, don’t expect that bouncing out of bed at 5am to hit the gym before work is going to come easy. Be realistic about the expectations you set for yourself with exercise. I’m learning a ton of lessons in the ‘getting to the gym category’ but I’ll stop with this last one for now - something is better than nothing. If you only have 10 minutes, then do a few push-ups, crunches and jumping jacks. Just do something!
  • Making good food choices – planning and preparation are key to good food choices, both during the work day and at home. I’ve found that bringing healthy options to the office is a great way to ensure I don’t skip lunch or make an unhealthy choice. I don’t always have time in the morning so when cleaning up from dinner I take a few extra moments to make a lunch. When heading out to lunch with co-workers I make sure to first check out the salads or light plate offerings and always ask for dressing or sauces on the side. Week night dinners are often now crockpot meals or easy recipes and I’m saving the more time consuming cooking for the weekend. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with heating up leftovers for dinner. 

I’m enjoying my job and while it’s been a bit of a struggle to maintain my focus on health and fitness while transitioning back to an office environment, I’m embracing the journey. By trading my gym shoes for high heels I’m gaining a better understanding of the reality of working moms everywhere. 

I’m confident I’ll find my way and hopefully I can help inspire others along the way too.

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Even before I was a trainer I believed in the value of logging calories – and I still do. Before the days of smart phones I would keep track of everything in a notebook. Then along came great apps like LoseIt and MyFitness Pal which made it much easier to log my caloric intake. 

Because I still believe in the value of food journals I want to take a few moments to share with you the benefits of keeping one of your own.

Food Journals Create Awareness

Many times we aren’t aware of how much we are actually consuming. By keeping a record you can take an honest look at your caloric intake for the day. This can be extremely eye opening and can raise your awareness to areas you may be able to cut back. For instance, many people don’t recognize the calories associated with beverages because it’s not a meal. Eliminating juices, coffee drinks with heavy syrups, and reducing alcohol intake are an easy way to cut back on unnecessary calories.

Food Journals Establish Accountability

When I logged my food I paused to think about every food choice. Did I really want Hershey kisses bad enough to account for 200 calories of my daily allowance? Probably not. By tracking your food intake you are much more likely to think twice about a food choice rather than just mindlessly consuming it.

Food Journals Reveal Patterns

There are a number of things you can learn about your eating patterns through food journals. Do you snack more at night if you skip breakfast? Are you always looking for something to snack on at 3pm when the kiddos are getting home from school? Do you crave junk food after consuming alcohol? These are just a few examples of what you might discover through food journaling. We all have our own patterns and food journaling is a great way to learn more about your own.

Food Journals Reflect Nutritional Deficiencies

Many times we are not getting the proper balance of carbs, proteins and fats and through food journaling you can discover which areas you may be under or over-consuming. Thankfully most of the apps available now will give you a breakdown of your nutritional intake. In general this is what you should be consuming:

  • Protein: approximately 50 to 70 grams (depending on body size) or 12 – 20% of your caloric intake
  • Carbs: a minimum of 125 grams, optimal 350 to 400 grams or 55 – 65% of caloric intake **NOTE: these are healthy carbs from fruits and veggies, NOT processed carbs found in pre-packed and processed foods
  • Fat: approximately 30 to 65 grams depending on caloric consumption, or 25 – 30% caloric intake

If you want to read more on the benefits of Food Journaling take a look at couple of my previous blog posts, ‘Keeping a Log‘ and ‘Keeping a Record.’

So with all of these benefits why in the world would I stop counting my calories? I’ve been working towards clean eating for many years. In fact, my daughter Ella once told me that I must have different taste buds from the rest of the family since I chose carrots over chips for a snack. 

I’ve recently discovered that for me, food journaling makes me overly obsessed with calories. As a result I make some very poor and damaging choices.

For instance, I am so fearful of going over my calories that I am likely to skip a meal (maybe even two) to compensate for the pizza I am going to eat for dinner. I’m so obsessed with staying within my limits that I limit my protein intake to avoid the extra calories. So in my effort to be healthy, I’m achieving the exact opposite: a screwed up metabolism and a body vulnerable to sickness and injury. 

So I stopped journaling and started focusing on three things:

  1. Recognizing Hunger
  2. Portion Sizes
  3. Smart Choices

Recognizing Hunger

I’m no longer bound to meal time because the clock says so. I am listening to my body and eating when I’m hungry and stopping when I’m full. Sometimes that means breakfast is only a green smoothie. Other mornings it may be a smoothie and egg whites. Which brings me to…

Portion Sizes

I am concentrating on staying true to portion sizes. Anything, even pizza, eaten in the proper portion size and moderation can be a part of a healthy lifestyle. So now instead of starving myself all day for pizza, I make sure that I also have a salad with my pizza.

Smart Choices

Having a salad with my pizza is just one example of making smart choices. I’m far less likely to eat 4 slices if I start with a salad. Not only will the salad help to fill me up but it is a great reminder of what good food tastes like as compared to fatty processed food.

So I’ve stopped counting calories because for me it was becoming a destructive behavior. Rather than feeling oppressed by food, I feel empowered to make the right choices.

My goal in sharing this with you today is to empower you to discover what works best for YOU. Life is not a one size fits all. For some, food journaling is the exact tool that empowers them, if that’s you – I encourage you to keep it up! I whole-heartedly believe journaling can be an integral part of a healthy lifestyle, however, it is just not a tool that works for me.

When it comes to living a healthy life take time to consider what helps you to feel the best about yourself – if something makes you feel worse about yourself, find a new way. 

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I love food, but I’ve come to realize I have an unhealthy and dysfunctional relationship with food.

I struggle with cravings.

I struggle with portion sizes.

When it comes to cravings rarely seek out sweets or chips. I crave things like pizza and cheeseburgers, which may have some redeeming nutritional value however tend to be very high in calories and saturated fats. And yes I know there are ways to make these dishes in a more healthy way, and I’ve tried them, but they aren’t the same. There are times that the only thing that will do is a classic slice, or two (or three or…) of pepperoni pizza.

Which brings me to portion sizes. I have a difficult time sticking to the recommended portion sizes. I know one of the best ways to reduce portion sizes is to reduce your plate size, and I do that. But then I go back for seconds, totally defeating the purpose of the smaller plate. (If you are unfamiliar with a standard portion or need a refresher click here to review a slide show on portions.)

So because I suffer from cravings and portion control, I have created a distorted perception of food. Instead of seeing food as fuel for my body there are times I fear having to make food choices and times where I even hate it because I’m unable to ‘control’ my consumption. As a result I see food as what makes me dread stepping on the scale instead of a necessity to help me stay healthy and active.

Granted, I’ve trained myself to think through my choices and not be impulsive so most days my food consumption remains in check. But there are those days where no amount of self-talk can provide the willpower needed to not give into the cravings or extra helpings. For years I’ve beat myself up over those days. I’ve been disappointed in my failure to eat healthy, I’ve chastised myself for seeing the numbers rise on the scale and I’ve looked in the mirror and said some pretty awful things to myself – things I would never say to any other person.

After a really tough conversation with my best friend (my husband) I realized my mirror dialog needed to change. It needed to change not only for me, but it needed to change so that my children would never look in a mirror and think negatively of themselves. 

I recently posted two links on my Personal Training FaceBook page that have helped me greatly in thinking differently about my relationship with food:

  • The first is about a 13 minute video in which neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt uses her personal story to explain how our brains manage our bodies, and the science behind why dieting not only doesn’t work, but is likely to do more harm than good. She suggests ideas for how to live a less diet-obsessed life, intuitively. Do yourself a favor, watch this video.
  • The next is a follow-up blog on the science of willpower written by Kelly McGonigal. Her blog explores why we cannot rely on willpower and is applicable to much more than just dieting and food consumption.

     

I recognize that in order to change my mirror dialog, I have to change my relationship with food. I need to recognize food as the fuel to help me be a loving wife and mom and a successful fitness professional. What is your relationship with food? Is it a healthy one? If not, take some time to think about how you can work on that relationship so that it doesn’t affect the way you talk to yourself.

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Let’s be honest, New Year’s Resolutions are all about our goals for the year. Yes, they are about change but they are more about what we hope to accomplish in the coming year and a reflection of what we didn’t accomplish in the previous year.

For the first time in my adult life my New Year’s Resolutions aren’t starting with “I am going to lose x pounds.” I’m completely done with defining myself by the number on the scale. Beginning now I’m defining myself by the choices I make to improve my health and athletic abilities. 

Every health and fitness book I’ve read suggests writing out your goals. I never used to believe that writing down goals really mattered. It actually makes all the difference for me. Goals ‘unwritten’ result in goals unachieved for me. Writing them down makes them real and makes me accountable to them.

So this year I am sharing my Resolutions with you so that they are not only real to me but that I am accountable to you to follow through. I’m also limiting myself to 3 goals/resolutions. Any more than that and I’m sure I’ll be overwhelmed and more likely to fail in achieving them. So I’m starting with 3 on 1/1/2014. Come 2/1/2014, I’ll take some time and re-evaluate my progress. It might require some modifications, it might require some changes, it might require me to take a long look in the mirror and tell myself to ‘STEP IT UP.’ Either way, 2014 is going to be about healthy choices and being honest with myself.

Here’s where I start:

1. Work out 5 times/week.

This means that I intentionally workout 5 days a week for ME. Starting tomorrow I’m back to teaching group fitness. Teaching a class does not count as a personal workout. When I teach or train it’s my job to make sure that my clients are getting the most of their workout – it’s not the time for me to get my exercise in for the day. One way that I am going to increase my accountability to this resolution is to download ‘Pact‘ and make my commitment to working out 5 days a week. If I don’t, not only do I let myself down but it’ll hit me in the pocketbook.

2. Run 30 minutes 3 times a week

I’m notorious for signing up for races and not properly training. I work out often enough that it hasn’t resulted in an injury but I’ve yet to really achieve any of my personal goals for my runs either. That changes in 2014. From now on I am going to be fully prepared for my races and that starts with the goal of 30 minutes, 3 times a week. As the months go by I hope the time and frequency increases but at minimum this is my goal. I’m going to keep myself accountable by setting goals and tracking my progress on Runkeeper. If you are looking to start running or increase yoru current weekly mileage I highly recommend checking this app out.

3. Achieve 10,000 steps 6 days a week

I’m no longer delusional enough to think that I’m going to be on my game 7 days a week. Everyone needs and should have a day of rest. But during my ‘on’ days I want to make sure that I am really moving. My Fitbit Flex is going to be my best friend in keeping track of my steps.

If you need help setting your own goals I recommend you take a look at some of my previous blog posts:

Here’s what I hope you take away from my blog today:

  • Don’t try and tackle all your hoped changes at once – pick 3 to spend 30 days on and make adjustments and changes at the 1st of every month
  • Failing to achieve a goal or change doesn’t mean you should give it – it just means you need to either modify your goal, give yourself more time or work harder
  • Change is possible – it just takes time and commitment

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2013 has been filled with a number of changes for me. After spending the spring and summer focused on settling the family into our new community I was faced with some soul searching about what our new location would mean to me.

Was it time to polish the resume, shop for some grown-up clothes and head back into the world of corporate training? Or was it time for me to become more of a homemaker by preparing gourmet meals and step up my home decorating skills with pinterest creations? 

While these were certainly options, neither really got me very excited – both made me feel completely trapped. I haven’t been in an official office setting for about 7 years now, and after the freedom of freelancing I think a transition to a traditional environment would seem very restrictive. On the other hand the thought of my days solely being filled by cooking, cleaning and laundry left me with the feeling that there has to be something more.

I knew I missed teaching group fitness and working with training clients but I had slipped so much in my personal health during the transition that the thought of me being an ‘expert’ in health and fitness seemed absurd.

So at the end of August I made a commitment to myself that it was time to get ‘me’ back. It was time to put in some hard hours in the gym and see if I really had it in me anymore to help others achieve their goals.

I discovered two places that were integral into helping me transform my fitness and confidence levels.

Boot Camp

I was invited to try a Boot Camp class at Custom Fit and for the first time in months I was excited about working out. Part of it was because I had accountability to the friends that I attended the classes with. Making excuses can be pretty easy if you are going at it alone but when you are in it with others you can’t help but feel like you need to live up to your commitments.

Aside from accountability, I continue to be drawn to Boot Camp because I know I can expect a challenging and unique workout every single time. In the 4 months I’ve been working out with Julianne I’ve yet to repeat a workout. My muscles have been awakened and my endurance has improved.

Now you may wonder, why on Earth would a trainer need the services of another trainer? Just like anyone, I feel accomplished by completing a challenge set forth by someone else. While there are similarities, our styles are different so the exercises I complete at Boot Camp challenge me in a different way than my own workouts.  

Boxing

Speaking of challenging workouts, I joined Patriot Boxing in September. The first day was a little intimidating, wrapping my hands, putting on gloves – jab, jab-cross, jab-cross-hook, hook to the body-hook to the head, high knees straight punches…you get the idea. For someone who had only seen a handful of boxing matches in her life I certainly was the classic newbie.

After an hour of calisthenics, combined with boxing combinations and core work I was a depleted sweaty mess – and I loved it. I left the gym that day with my own set of gloves and wraps along with a schedule in my hand so I wouldn’t miss the next class. Since joining I try and make it to at least 4 classes a week. I don’t even mind the ugly bruises I get on my shins from kickboxing anymore – they are kind of a badge of honor for my hard work.

Bottom line…if you walk out of a class at Patriot and you still have something left in you, you didn’t work hard enough. 

So as I reflect back on the fall of 2013 I’m happy to say I’m stronger, I’m more confident and I’m ready to get back to teaching. January 2nd I’ll be teaching my first class in a year and I’m filled with excitement and anticipation of challenging others to meet their goals in the coming year.

I’ve definitely got some goals myself. I’m still not where I was at my peak physical fitness levels but I know without a doubt I’m on track.

Here’s what I hope you take away from my blog today:

  • Setbacks aren’t the end – you always have an opportunity to start anew
  • Find something that challenges you – that really challenges you – you’re capable of so much more than you give yourself credit for
  • Create accountability in some fashion, whether it’s by finding a group to workout with or by creating an incentive program for achieving your goals
  • Never be afraid to try something new

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Ever skipped out on your workout because you had a ‘good’ excuse?

I’ve learned that for me there’s no such thing as a ‘good’ excuse. I need routine and momentum to keep me on track for my goals. Missing just one planned workout day can completely derail me and my focus. Every day I make an excuse it gets easier and easier to tell myself, “Tomorrow.”

I’ve had a ton of ‘good’ excuses over the years:

  • It’s an extremely busy time at work
  • The kids have been sick and I don’t want to wear myself down
  • We have guests coming this weekend that I need to prepare for
  • I’m too sore from my previous workout
  • I’ll get back to a routine once we move

On any given day every single one of us can think of a ‘good’ excuse for not exercising. But it’s those good excuses that ultimately result in lost strength and endurance and often weight gain.

Skipping just one day, even if it is a ‘good excuse,’ can totally derail my progress. Not only do I lose progress in strength and endurance, I lose motivation to make the right food choices. When I’m physically active I desire to fuel with good nutritious foods, when I’m lazy and inactive, nothing sounds better than pizza or a cheeseburger.

When I’m committed to my routine, ‘Tomorrow’ means no excuses, trying harder and accomplishing more. When I let ‘good’ excuses’ take over ‘Tomorrow’ means facing the reality of how ‘bad’ those ‘good’ excuses were for me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I get there are days where schedules are packed. Whether it be work or duties at home there are going to be days where it is downright hard to find the time and to fight against the ‘good excuse.’ For those days I would challenge you to change up your routine. Maybe you don’t have time for an hour class at the gym, but you do have time for a 30 minute walk at lunch. Maybe you don’t have time to hit the gym to lift weights, so you take 20 minutes to do push-ups, sit ups, planks, jumping jacks, high knees, and squats in your basement.

What I hope you take away from my blog today

  • Don’t let ‘good excuses’ get in your way of reaching your goals
  • There’s no such thing as a ‘good excuse’
  • Something is always better than nothing when it comes to exercise

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