Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Choosing a Personal Trainer

If you ever decide to take the plunge with a trainer, here are a few points you may find helpful. (These are based on my client feedback.)

• Ask your trainer to describe a sample workout. Remember, there are five key points to being fit: muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility and a healthy body mass index. (Personally, I also think balance should play a part.) A good trainer should have all the bases covered. Also, be sure your trainer talks about a warm-up and cool-down period as part of the routine.

• Ask for references. I have had three different clients tell me they had trainers in the past who did not help them achieve their fitness and weight loss goals. Not all trainers are equal, and knowledge is not everything. Your trainer should listen to your needs and design a program based on desired goals.

• Ask for dietary guidelines. Trainers should have them handy; if not, they should be able to suggest resources where you can find plenty of information. If your trainer starts suggesting supplements, be cautious. Most results can be obtained naturally with proper guidance.

• When looking for a trainer, be sure to ask friends and relatives if they can refer one. Chances are good that someone you know has had an experience with a trainer.

If this (or any other article on this blog) brings up some thoughts or questions, we would really enjoy hearing from you. Just click on the comment section under each article.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Listen and Look

The next time you are running, shed your iPod/MP3 player/cell phone. Unplug your ears and listen.

Listen to the sound your feet make.

If you hear a squeak, shuffle, skid or other such sound, stop what you're doing.

A distance runner should hear only the sound of her heel strike. From the heel, her footstep should unfurl as she rolls on the side or bottom of her foot, finally pushing off from the ball of her foot.

Listen the next time you're on the road as you pass other runners (or as they pass you, as the case may be). You will hear the difference as people shuffle or skid past as they run on their toes or the balls of their feet — or whatever unnatural, ungainly stride they use.

If you run in sand, snow, dirt, dust or gravel — something that allows for a clear footprint — look at your footprint. Your footprint should be clear and perfect (material permitting, of course — sloshy mud won't give you a clear print no matter how good your step).

If the footprint is smeared in any way, or if it is otherwise unclear, watch the way you place your feet when you run.

Now, while we're at it, try leaving off the earbuds when you run for a while. Without music or voices blaring in your ears, you can better hear vehicle and foot traffic around you. You will be able to hear when that tractor-trailer is not stopping in time to let you pass safely in front of it. You will be able to hear someone running behind you. You will be much more aware of your surroundings, always a plus for safety.

If you aren't attuned to your tunes, you will see things around you: the Cooper Mini that wasn't going to stop, the woman with the books who wouldn't have seen you, the geese feeding with their goslings at the pond, a Springsteen poster (not that all of us got tickets, *sigh*), the new shop on Main Street — the list goes on and on.

Rumor also has it that time will pass more quickly if you're not marking it, and a run will be easier if you're not constantly reminded about time (and the number of songs you hear while running marks time very efficiently).

Be aware of yourself and your step. Listen and look. It will make you a better runner — not to mention a more aware and interested (and interesting) individual.

— Chris

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Let's Go Climb a Tree

A friend asked me the other day, "Is it too early to train my 5-year-old son?"

This is a very good question. As good parents, we don't want our own children to be in the top percentile for obesity.

However, we have heard of the damage that can occur to growth plates when lifting heavy weights at a young age. We do not want to do anything that will harm our children.

There are many ways to start training our children at a young age without the added dangers of extreme weightlifting, including cardiovascular exercises and strength training.

For cardiovascular exercise, anything will do: soccer, hiking, biking, running (Chris didn't make me include that!) and basketball are just a few choices. (Basketball has the added benefit of helping develop hand-eye coordination.)

For strength training — and mothers, don't be upset with this! — tree climbing is a great activity.

Parents who are less adventurous can choose weight-bearing exercises, such as push-ups and pull-ups. There are many different kinds of push-ups: between two chairs, with arms at a wider angle, with feet on a chair so you are in a declined position. These slight variances help develop muscular strength and endurance and good core stabilization.

Earlier, I mentioned tree climbing. The reason for this is that pull-ups are great for strengthening back muscles.

Final tip: remember to be active every day with your children so they develop good, healthy fitness habits.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hidden Calories: Blame it on the Drinks

If you are looking for "easy" calories to cut from your diet, look no further than what's in your drink.

That cup or glass or mug could cost you a few hundred calories a day.

At Starbucks, a medium Frappucino is 310 calories, even with nonfat milk. (I know they're called "grande," but I'm easily confused, so I stick with generic size calculations.) A medium Dulce de Leche Latte is 470 calories before you top it with whipped cream.

If you go cold in the morning, this will chill you: a 20 ounce bottle of Coca-Cola is 250 calories. Whatever size of your container, it's 100 calories per 8 ounces of beverage. For Fanta and Mello Yello, make that 120 calories per 8 ounces. Cans usually are 12 ounces and bottles are at least 20 ounces. (I'll leave the Big Gulp and Super Big Gulp calculations to you braver souls.) Read the nutrition labels one of these days and do the math.

In contrast:
  • Brewed tea is about 2 calories per cup (8 ounces).
  • Drip coffee is about 9 calories per cup (8 ounces).
  • Sugar is 16 calories per teaspoon.
  • Low-fat milk (2 percent, not the blue water!) is about 15 calories per ounce.

Choose how many calories you want to save in any given meal by choosing your poison, so to speak. Or treat your beverage like a meal (though I bet you'd be inclined to grab a snack later and defeat your calorie-saving efforts).

While lightening your waistline, you could fatten your wallet: at $5 every weekday, your coffee could cost as much as $1,300 per year. And that's for just one large latte (venti to you Starbucks geeks). A single bottle of soda every weekday could cost you nearly $400 a year.

Sure, purchasing from the grocery in bulk could save you money, but not as much as you think it might. A 4-pack of Frappucino or Latte is $6, and a 6-pack of 20-ounce bottles of Coke cost $4.29. (Go ahead, check — I'll wait.)

Do you really want to spend the calories and cash?

— Chris

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Morning Constitutional

As an avid runner, I need my daily exercise. Okay, let's be serious: I need my run.

David gets worried when I don't take off time very often, but I have been doing it for quite a while and I haven't hurt myself yet. (Tripping and taking off huge swaths of skin doesn't count.)

I ran in high school when it was a class. I worked out in college when it was a class. What happens when the day starts early and ends late enough to make a run a challenge, and my boss expects me in at the beginning of the workday?

I run in the morning. Rather than see what the day will bring me, I make the commitment to get up early and start the day with a little exercise.

Thankfully, my commute isn't horrific and my hours aren't astronomical. If only I was a morning person....

Even with that, it's not easy — especially in the dark of winter when dawn comes along, oh, around noon and never really warms up. Muggy summer mornings are a challenge, too. But it's better than wondering if I will have time, or if the weather will hold, so I can get in a run after work.

I've been known to hit the stairclimber in the evening when the wind is too bitter, and when I have convinced myself that running when it's less than 30ºF (okay, 28ºF) probably isn't good for me. But on those days, I'm not myself and it takes a while to get up to speed.

In the morning, I don't do coffee. I don't do Jolt. I do a 5-mile run. Talk about bracing!

— Chris

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ace Fitness

For those of you who see the ACE logo but don't know, ACE stands for American Council on Exercise.

ACE holds to a very high moral and professional standard in its trainers. The ACE Web site can be a great resource for all things fitness. You can find an exercise library, discussion boards, a trainer and healthful tips.

Check out the ACE Web site at

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Aggressive: To Be or Not To Be

Q: What do all martial arts have in common?
A: They are designed to work while in motion and from a defensive posture.

I was watching the news one night, and they were showing a fight that took place between a batter and a catcher during a baseball game.

Before we go any further, I want to put something into perspective here: a National League catcher has 100 mph fastballs thrown near his head for nine innings most nights of the week during the season. He catches these balls and makes split-second decisions if or where to throw these balls. How good do you think this man's hand-eye coordination is?

Okay, back to the fight. This batter squared off against the catcher, the catcher really didn't move and yet the batter attempted what looked like a roundhouse kick. The catcher then took the batter's foot and stuck it in what looked to be in the batter's mouth.

When we practice martial arts the correct way, it is the patience, skill and timing that make the fighter — not the amount of aggression.

In my opinion, martial arts in this country are being taught too aggressively, and the depiction of violent martial arts in the cinema is making us believe that if we are competent fighters in practice, then in the street we are indomitable.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Finding Time to Work Out

For those of you who have too busy a lifestyle to workout, I have good news: exercise is cumulative.

Simply put: a little bit of exercise throughout the course of the day will count as a workout.

Maybe leave a couple of dumbbells at your desk so when you take a break you can do arm curls (3 sets with each arm). (A heavy book also will fit the bill.)

Later in the day, go to the stairwell and do alternating step-ups (3 sets, 3 minutes each).

If you stop at the store for lunch or on the way home, take the farthest parking space from the building, which will add some walk time.

By following the tips above, we just added 20-25 minutes of exercise into your day.

Be creative, have fun and start enjoying a healthier lifestyle.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Why Shadowboxing Can Make You a Better Fighter

Did you ever wonder why fighters shadowbox?

Sure, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking it's a great form of functional training and a good exercise for eyehand coordination. These are two very valid points of view, but there is more to this story.

When you shadowbox, you are watching your own technique. You want to be fast -- but, at the same time, you do not want to telegraph your punches and kicks to your opponent. So you watch. Do you drop your shoulder when you punch? Do you shift your weight or stance before kicking?

Becoming aware of these things can make you a better fighter both offensively and defensively:
  • offensively because you stop telegraphing your techniques, and
  • defensively (even more importantly) because you can anticipate your opponent's movements by knowing what techniques can be thrown effectively from specific body positions.

Speed is always important, but being able to read your opponent: priceless.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Why Diets Don't Work

When people find out I am a personal trainer, more times than not I get asked questions about diets and weight loss.

We all have stories about ourselves, friends and relatives who have tried many different diets to lose weight, or who have lost weight and can't seem to stay near their target weight.

(Before I tell you the secret of weight loss, turn your head and look to the right, then turn your head and look to the left. We may not want to share this with just anyone.)

Here it is: the key to weight loss is boosting your metabolism to burn more calories throughout the day.

Let's think about this a minute. We diet, we lose weight -- then the minute we stop dieting, the weight comes back on. This is because we haven't changed our metabolism.

Here are three easy tips to boost your metabolism:
  1. Be sure to eat breakfast because you want to get the furnace started for the day.
  2. Get plenty of rest because when the body is well rested it functions at a higher level.
  3. Eat five to six small meals daily -- our body can process the food more efficiently and this helps keep your metabolism at a higher level throughout the day.

For dietary guidelines on what you should be eating, check out