Hate is a strong word, but now that I have your attention...I really do despise 30 day challenges. I’m not referring to those 30 day lifestyle challenges or do-a-different-physical-activity-per-day challenges. I am talking about those 30+ day squat, plank, push-up, any-one-exercise for 30 or more consecutive days fitness challenges!!! Yes, I used multiple exclamation points in this writing--they IRK that much!
These so-called challenges are all over social media beckoning users and friends to join the madness: do 100 push-ups per day for 30 days, get to 500 squats per day by your 30th day, 30 days of plank, insert your “favorite” exercise and do it everyday for 30 days. The word challenge may incite the competitor in their followers; however, it gives me visions of hell. Isn’t that the definition of 30 days of hell--doing the same thing over and over again, everyday? Not changing anything (while expecting it) is definitely the equivalent to insanity.
Speaking of results, if you can do any exercise for thirty consecutive days, you are not working out efficiently; thus, you will not elicit the results you seek. You see, when you strength train and challenge yourselves appropriately, your muscles incur microtears and inflammation. Your body recognizes the micro-damage and works to repair those muscles over the course of 24 to 48 hours, resulting in a stronger muscle. If you are able to do these exercises everyday, then you are not doing them to elicit a strength response. On the other hand, if you do feel the soreness (also known as DOMS--delayed onset of muscle soreness) or fatigue in the muscles that were worked, then you are working through the body’s rest period which is necessary for strength building. In fact, stressing those muscles repeatedly over consecutive days, without recovery, may even result in strain--diminished strength, injury, or at best, plateau.
In these 30 day challenges, the same muscles are moving in the same pattern. Not only is the participant at risk of potential muscle weakening, but movement dysfunction is a possible result, as well. The push-up challenge is a perfect example of this. Most adults who try this out display a kyphotic, hunchback-like, posture pattern: weak upper back muscles, tight muscles in the chest and neck create a forward shoulder and head slump, weak abdominals, tight hip flexor and lower back muscles, resulting in an exaggerated sway back. In a perfect push-up you need a strong core (shoulders, abs, back, and gluts) to hold your body in that plank position, while executing a chest press movement, to strengthen the chest muscles. However, with most people exemplifying dysfunctional, kyphotic posture and tightly weak front, upper body muscles, the movement dysfunction is perpetuated. That is not the problem. The issue is that you are expecting a weak, badly functioning structure to bear your body weight. Think of a four-legged table with two legs that are shorter than the others. If you sit on it, you expect to topple to the ground below it, right? The result in either scenario is potential injury.
I can continue on with reasons why I DESPISE these 30 day challenges, but the reasons above top the list of most critical reasons why nobody should be doing them. Stop the madness!!!
Many of us have heard that we ought to buy certified organic berries, kale, and fuzzy fruits (remember the dirty dozen?), over conventionally grown counterparts to avoid eating genetically modified or pesticide-laden plant products (the list is updated every year; check out the new one here). The label, organic, has become synonymous with being the better option for selecting produce and other groceries. At what point, however, did it become a catch-all term for everything associated with being healthy?
I know, I know, organic fruits and vegetables are healthy. What I’m talking about, though, are the certified organic meats, cheeses, sugary cereals, and cookies. I’ve overheard some people say in the cookie aisle, “this one’s organic, so I’m gonna get it cuz it’s healthy.” (You can also insert gluten-free or vegan, in place of organic.)
Sadly,these foods are not necessarily healthy (yes, meats, cheeses, and dark chocolate, in small portions can have health benefits, but read: small portions). You can’t eat as much as you want simply because the food is organic.
The organic label means that a product is a better option over the conventionally grown/raised food. It’s a good guide for avoiding unwanted pesticides, antibiotics, and other chemicals that may leach into your food, unbeknownst to you. Some research has indicated that organically grown and raised produce and meats have greater nutritional value because they have not been genetically modified. And organically raised animals are fed a healthier diet and are often raised under healthier conditions (not in cages or pumped with steroids or other meds). However, there are other studies that suggest that there is not a significant difference between conventional and organic foods. The Organic Trade Association took a look at the major studies that compared the nutritional value of organic versus conventional produce, and concluding... that more studies need to be conducted. But take a look at their report, and form your own opinions.
If avoiding chemicals in your food is your aim, then stick to organic foods -- if your pocketbook permits it -- otherwise, refer to the list of dirty dozen produce items that you should buy organic and go conventional with anything else. To ensure you don’t gain a few extra pounds, use good judgment and remember that the organic label isn’t a green light to eat as much as you want. Moderation is always the best policy.
It’s a commonly accepted myth that you have to read Jane Eyre cover-to-cover (although, who’s reading books on paper nowadays?), in one workout session on the treadmill, to get a Beyonce-esq tight a$$. Women everywhere are spending hours of their precious time in the gym and are still not reaching their fitness goals. Let me tell you, you can burn all the rubber off a treadmill belt, but it really isn’t necessary if you put in some Q-T workout time.
If you seek improved cardiovascular health, improved muscle tone, and overall improved fitness, you will get there faster by power walking over hilly terrain versus strolling aimlessly for an hour or two. The ups and downs of a hilly road or trail builds in low, moderate, and high intensity intervals to your workout session.
How do you add intensity to your workout without hiking up hills, going to a trainer, or paying to participate in a fitness class, you ask? Well, you can do that by changing a couple variables—speed and resistance. To add speed, you just move faster. Adding resistance requires adding incline, weight, or other opposing force against your direction of travel. For example, if you are strength training, add more weight to your effort; if cycling, running, or walking, add hills to your tour. If you decide to add jumping or sprinting to your routine, wear a weight vest or do it in soft sand. There are various ways to add intensity to your workout. A good rule of thumb to follow is that the more intense an interval is, the shorter that period will be. These high intensity intervals should be interspersed with low to moderate intensity exercise such as walking, jogging, or other less physically intense activities to give your body a chance to recover.
More challenging intervals increase your breathing and heart rates, fatigue some muscles, and make you sweat. By adding them into your workout, you burn more calories in a shorter period of time, elicit a positive cardiovascular response (read: healthier heart), “tone” and “firm” skeletal muscle (Michelle Obama arms, anyone?), and increase your recovery metabolic rate (that means you’ll burn more calories while you’re relaxing or going about your business, post-workout, while your body returns to normal resting rate). Bottom line is that a workout that incorporates high intensity bouts can do more for you than a steady state workout, and in a shorter period of time. More bang for your buck there, sister!
It’s time to rotate new workout clothes into the wardrobe and retire the ripped and holey t-shirt you got in college, after signing up for that credit card. In fact, some of those workout-to-brunch (or brunch-to-workout) multi-purpose articles of sweat-wicking clothes look really cute. So where do you begin to look for these multi-function outfits?
As a person who has worked as a fitness professional for as long as I can remember, I can tell you workout clothes have come a loooong way. And, there are options for nearly every budget! These days, you can find your yoga ware--mats and pants--at Wal-mart or at Dianne von Furstenberg. Although, I haven’t test-driven gear from either of those retailers, I can tell you about the places that I’ve hit up and liked to purchase my fitness attire.
On the lower end of the scale, “Tar-jay” really is your go-to for everything you can possibly need: underwear, motor oil, organic produce … you get my point. They’ve also done great with getting designers to create whole new, budget-friendly lines of their clothing. I’m a fan of Champion workout-wear. Although, I now find it moderately priced, straight out of college, my paychecks stretched further when Target introduced Champion’s C9 line to me. You can find sports bras, workout tights, shorts and layering tops mostly in the $10-$19 range, before the mark-downs.
Yes, you need a membership. But these days, membership is pretty affordable. You can tag onto your parents’ family membership (I’ve been on my parents’ membership for the last decade or more), or you can sign up with your roommates. It can really pay off--wild-caught salmon by the giant tray, shampoo by the gallon, and workout clothes that don’t cost as much as a mortgage or rent. Inventory changes fairly frequently, but often, you’ll be able to find technical exercise clothing by Nike, Adidas, Columbia or other reputable names. Costco’s own label, Kirkland also has some nice technical and functional articles of fitness fashions.
It might be an ordeal to brave the crowds at the outlet centers, but if you are an outlet shopper, you know that the usual suspects (i.e Puma, Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Oakley) are there with high-quality merchandise at nearly half-off sometimes.
So, I was an ambassador. So what? That was almost ten years ago, and I’m still a fan of their clothes (not-so-much of the foot-in-the mouth comment the owner made)! And yes, some people gasp at the price tag, but I can attest that the clothes I purchased a decade ago have gone in the washer/dryer and are not thread bare. (No pun intended, but if you follow the news, there were a few articles of luon that did not pass the downward-facing dog test-- which is bent-over, butt-in-the-air, for those non-yogis. We should always do the bend over test with any tights we buy to check for any level of see-through-ability.) In ten years, clothes I bought from them still function just as well as when they were first purchased. Expect to spend between $120+ (on the lower end) for a 3-piece workout outfit. Separates range from $35-$240, and they have everything from sports bras to tanks to winter jackets. (For those of you with shorter legs, like me, you can take great advantage of their basic hemming services on pants.)
Dubbed as the Australian equivalent to Canada’s Lululemon, these stores are opening up as quickly and at a shopping mall near you. I was attracted to this line of brightly colored, fun, fashionable, fitness attire when I first tried it. Although the care instructions advise drying the articles flat and not in the dryer, I have cheated and run them through on low. I don’t have anything older than a year, so I can’t attest to how long they might last, but so far they all look new. These tops, bras, tights and jackets start at $60.
There you go, my five favorite places to find my functional fitness fashions. With this comes my warning: of “buyer beware.” I can advise you, from my own personal experience: you get what you pay for, even with workout clothes, the more you pay, the longer it will last, remain stink-proof and supportive in all the necessary places. And, if you’re like me, no matter what I pay, I like to make sure my clothes last as long as possible, which is why I wrote How to Maintain Your Workout Clothes. Go on, get fit, inside and out. Workout wear does not have to mean you have to resign to looking frumpy. You can find clothes that function as well as they look.
Name: Christine Kwok
Occupation: Founder and Chief Fitness Programming Officer of Balanced Strength, Inc.
Location: Los Angeles, CA
My favorite breakfast food: If left to prepare my own breakfast, I love melted pepper jack cheese and smashed avocado on multi-grain toast. Otherwise, my favorite brunch is eggs benedict with an extra spicy bloody mary.
I have always loved being outdoors and playing at parks. I enjoyed participating in sporty play, but I was never a natural athlete. I was an overachiever, though. So, I worked and observed how to move more fluidly to get just a little better at what I was trying to accomplish, even when my environment didn’t foster this awkward kid trying to excel athletically.
Most people who knew me in my youth would not have guessed I would have found such a rewarding career in the fitness industry. Yet, that’s what drives me. I deliver lifestyle and fitness programs that are realistic and attainable for each individual. I like to empower each person I work with to get in touch with the athlete within and bring her or him to the surface.
Christine leading a "cardio playground" class
Now, as a fairly new parent, I encourage my son to play freely and independently so he can discover what he is capable of without inhibition. Encouraging kids to play and explore is important to children’s development physically and cognitively. The physical and mental fundamentals, from crawling to walking and cause and effect, start immediately. I hope to raise a young man who will be comfortable in the playground, classroom, then boardroom. And I hope that my efforts to educate others on health and fitness will benefit society as a whole.
In my journey from clumsy kid to fitness professional, I’ve learned a few lessons that I am always happy to share:
When choosing a path, you may not always get there the way you planned it. Sometimes, you’ll hit speedbumps. Other times, you may be met with a door being shut in your face. When this happens, take a step back, breathe, think about it for a little while, and follow your instincts. Do you open another door, or do you kick this door down? Follow your gut and recognize when it’s not time to accept defeat.
This applies to more than fashion and television. In your own industry, you need to know trends and stay ahead of them. What’s here to stay and what needs to be swept away in the next undertow. Don’t get stuck doing what was great five years ago. Be the go-to person for what’s great today.
Unfortunately, it is fact that there are negative Nellies in our midst. They may try to criticize your goals or disqualify your work. (Though creative feedback is always important to listen to and consider with an open mind. You’ll know the difference between this and the former.) People will try to shut you down. When, yes when, that happens, say “thank you for your feedback,” then prove ’em wrong!
I am always trying to stay current and live life optimally. I enjoy sharing my journey (and some favorite recipes every now and then) with my online social network. Feel free to tweet me @christinekwok or follow on my website balancedstrength.com.
It may be time to try that group fitness class you’ve been considering. With no workout to plan, you won’t have a chance to talk yourself out of sweating. Plus, the social aspect of group exercise gives you the added accountability of your instructor and peers--again, so you don't skip your workout. And, by incorporating various class formats into your weekly fitness routine, you keep yourself cross-training (the term used for incorporating different modes of exercise in your weekly workout routine).
When you check out the local fitness center’s schedule of group classes, however, it sometimes looks like a Rosetta Stone lesson: Barre, CrossFit, Tabata, Indo-Row, HIIT, Yogilates, Zumba… Sometimes, instructors make up the names of classes using a hybrid of various foreign languages, but I’ll decipher some of the descriptions for you, and throw in a few tips:
Still confused? Here’s some advice to remember when trying out fitness classes that are new to you: 1. Read the class description to make sure it's an appropriate level and activity for you; 2. If my glossary and the class description fail to shed light on what the class is all about, call the facility and see if the group exercise director is available to answer your questions; and, 3. Go to the first class a few minutes early to introduce yourself to the instructor and let her/him know that you're new to class, so she can provide any necessary modifications. This will ensure that your first experience in that class is positive, and you can develop a relationship of accountability with the instructor.
Now that you know how to translate fitness class descriptions and pick your classes, try a variety of them. That’s how you’ll keep your mind and body stimulated to prevent hitting a plateau and to continue on your path to optimal fitness.
You may think you need gym equipment to help you get in your best shape. Think again... Things that you have around your home can make some unlikely devices that double as fitness equipment. You’re not alone if you have an aversion to gyms. Some people prefer working out alone, outdoors, or (let’s say it…) for free. Some social circles may not accept you if you don’t have the local gym’s membership card attached to your keys, but there are other ways to incorporate exercise into your weekly routine:
Want legs that stay firm and look good without the aid of jeggings? A heavy and solid (read: unbreakable) wooden coffee table or ottoman can help. Put some felt pads under the table legs. Lie on the floor with feet against the top edge of the table and press away. Be sure small pets and children are not within squishing distance.
Don’t want to use the table? That’s OK. This exercise will work those same leg muscles, and some others (abs, lower back, and butt). Stand with your back against a sturdy wall and walk your feet forward about 2-3 feet (depending on your height). Start sitting down as if you had a chair underneath you, and slide your back down the wall. Hold for as long as you can, in the position where you feel challenged—progress to the point where your hips and knees form 90 degree angles. (Tip: make sure your feet are right under your knees at the lowest point of your squat.)
Use a sturdy chair or table (again, one that is unbreakable) that can’t slide away to do this exercise. Lie down on your back with your feet and ankles resting on the table or chair top, with your knees slightly bent. Squeeze your butt cheeks together, flatten your lower back (imagine tucking your tail between your legs and point your tailbone toward the ceiling), and press your hips up toward the ceiling. Slowly lower and repeat. This will firm the back of your legs (including your bum), abs, and lower back.
Want firmer arms? Lots of women are mavens of multi-tasking, so while you are waiting for your soup to simmer, rock some push-ups against that counter. Safety tip: stay a safe distance away from pot handles, hot stove surfaces, and open flames. You can also try some single arm push-ups against the bathroom counter while brushing your hair.
Most of us have running water at home, or gallon containers of liquid in the fridge or cupboard. If you lift them enough times, they’ll feel pretty damn heavy. Grab that heavy container, or fill a bucket with water (don’t waste it; water the plants with it after you’re done), or bags of sugar and/or flour, potatoes, or anything weighty. Then, lift, arm curl, or carry around the weight while you go up stairs or lunge across a room. Doing so will tone your shoulders, core, and your limbs as well.
This exercise will help strengthen all of the muscles in your mid-section. Hold push-up position (butt in the air is not a modification...it’s not the precise way to do it—not even close—just wrong) with your tailbone tucked under, stomach held in tight, and shoulders drawn back. If your shoulders, hips, knees, and toes form a straight line, you are doing it right. To modify this exercise, keep your knees on the floor.
These are just a few exercises that you can do at home, besides the old standbys—jump rope and stairs. Skip the gym and get your workout on at home. Be safe, and be creative. You may notice your clothes will fit better, and you will have some money to spare.
So, you’ve heard that you can’t exercise anymore once you’re pregnant? Well, that’s a big, fat myth. In fact, if you have a healthy pregnancy (one without complications such as a “compromised” cervix, or previous difficulty carrying to full term, etc.), you are encouraged to stay active. Of course before you start running laps or going for bike rides, you must consult with your OB regarding how active you can be since the doc is one of the few people who can determine the state of your pregnancy.
If your pregnancy is without issue, you are encouraged to exercise whether or not you did so prior to the positive-resulting test. You may have heard differently -- that if you didn’t exercise before, you shouldn’t start. That, too, is old news. The new news is that exercise will benefit your baby post-partum, with a stronger heart, lean body mass, and lower body fat (meaning a lowered likelihood of childhood obesity). What does an active pregnancy mean for you? Read: shorter labor time, fewer fat pounds gained, faster return to your pre-pregnancy size, and sound mental health. Exercise benefits both you and your miniature human.
Now, if you didn’t exercise prior to your pregnancy, I’m not sayin’ you ought to start training for a marathon. Walks (let your body tell you at what pace and how much you feel like you ought to push yourself, if at all), modified yoga (no twists or inversions and be sure to find an instructor with experience working with pregnant clientele), swimming and/or aqua aerobics (you’re virtually weightless, for crying out loud!), recumbent bike or elliptical machines at the gym, and light strength training are all great get-fit options for the mommy-to-be.
For those of you workout queens, continuing your training routine will likely be fine, if you have a healthy pregnancy. Your growing baby will get the oxygen he or she needs. But be mindful and listen to your body. If you start to feel nauseous, reduce your intensity (stop if it persists, and contact your physician). With any pregnancy, you will experience a loosening of the joints due to an increase in a hormone called relaxin, which is most prevalent in the third trimester and is responsible for making ligaments more flexible. That said, you are more prone to injury during this time, so be particularly mindful of the activities that you choose to participate in, as you don’t want to get hurt before labor (that will hurt enough…).
Now you’ve got the low-down on the exercise part of a fit pregnancy. And, if you are more active during your pregnancy, you will need a few extra good quality calories (calm down, hungry tigress, that means an extra 100-500 calories, which equates to a large apple--100 calories--or a chicken and cheese on whole wheat toast--500 calories), depending on the level of your activity. Read up on the diet part of a fit pregnancy if you haven’t done so already. Lastly, work that Made Mommy glow!
The stick you just peed on confirms that you are pregnant. Congratulations!!! Now, you can eat just as much as you want because you are eating for two, right? Ummm…guess again…
The + on that stick does not give you a hall pass in the kitchen, at the takeout window, or at the froyo-by-weight counter. Now, more than ever, you have to think about what you are eating. You are actually eating for 1.1, not 2. Your growing baby is highly unlikely to exceed 10% of your body weight. I’ll bet that the little person will weigh much less than that at the due date.
So, doubling your daily calories does not make sense. Did you know that during your first trimester, you actually don’t need to eat any more than what you do non-preggers? In your third trimester, which is when you will need to eat more, you won’t need much more than 300-500 extra calories per day.
The quality of the food you eat is far more important than the quantity of food that you eat. This is true all the time but especially now that you are pregnant. The body growing inside of you will extract all the nutrients that it needs from your body if you are not getting enough. For example, if you don’t have enough calcium in your diet, your body will “donate” calcium from your bones (where it is stored) to help develop the skeletal system of the baby you are growing inside of you. And, nobody wants to be at a greater risk for osteoporosis after a pregnancy.
Having just gone through a pregnancy and relatively uneventful labor, I am sharing with you my “power meal go-to menu” that kept my baby and me healthy, lean, strong, and happy (yes, I enjoyed my pregnancy!). Often I was still on-the-go, so these meals were pretty quick to prepare:
1. Quick-cook oats and frozen berries cooked and drizzled with ½ cup plain almond milk, fortified with calcium and vitamin D
2. Low-fat Greek yogurt (or dairy-free yogurt made with coconut milk) with a tablespoon of raw honey and slivered almonds
3. Scrambled eggs (scrambled with fortified milk or milk substitute) topped with sliced tomatoes and/or avocado and whole grain toast with a smear of organic unsalted butter
4. Sliced apple or banana with organic peanut butter or almond butter with sea salt
5. Fresh veggies with yogurt dip or white bean hummus
1. Grilled salmon (fish once per week), chicken, or 4 ounces of lean steak over bed of fresh and colorful salad
2. Chicken teriyaki bowl with lots of steamed veggies over brown rice
3. Stir-fried firm tofu (or other lean protein) with tri-color bell peppers and snap peas over egg noodles or brown rice
4. Spicy minestrone soup with a side salad
5. Roasted turkey with sides of sweet potato hash and steamed veggies
!. Berries and/or banana slices with dark chocolate drizzle
2. ½ cup of frozen yogurt with fresh fruit and honey drizzle
3. Baked green apple with caramelized brown sugar (a small scoop of vanilla bean ice cream is optional)
Sounds good, right? Well, you don’t have to be pregnant to enjoy these easy go-to meals. They are healthy and energy-boosting for you regardless of whether or not you are growing a “mini-me” inside of you.
The holiday season is right around the corner. That means cocktail parties, cocktail dresses, and of course, the classic LBD. What that also means is you’ll need to gain the will power to "just say no" to your pants with the elastic waistband this Thanksgiving and in the weeks that follow. Here are few simple, easy-to-follow tips to enjoy your holiday eating and imbibing without the guilt.
Exercise in the morning
Plan a hike with your family and/or visiting guests, join a local group bike ride, or check out local fitness facilities that offer special Thanksgiving or other morning classes. On Turkey Day, check to see if your hometown holds a Turkey Trot or another fun 5k or 10k race on Thanksgiving morning. Many of these races exist around the country and most of the proceeds benefit food banks and local charities trying to feed the hungry.
Including physical activity on the mornings of the most gluttonous season of the year means you will be able to increase your metabolism for the day and will likely make better food choices when at the dinner table. If you decide to indulge in an extra slice of pie or glass of wine, at least you’ve burned a few calories first!
Maintain your workout schedule
Company, club, and family parties may interfere with your regular workout schedule. Checking your weekly schedule at the beginning of each week is a good practice to keep, and even more so during this time of holiday commitments. When holiday parties interfere with your workouts, reschedule your workout at a different time. Don't skip your workouts, even if it means abbreviating them. Squeezing in 15-20 minutes will still provide you more benefits than not doing anything at all.
Don’t skip breakfast
In order to prevent guilt-ridden overeating and letting out the waistband on your trousers, eat breakfast. Do not skip meals earlier in the day. Prepare healthy meals or snacks before your dinner to avoid feeling famished, which can result in overeating.
Use smaller plates
I know... you are already dreaming about plates laden with Thanksgiving goodies. But if you want to keep your summer shape, you will have to serve yourself smaller portions all winter long. Serve yourself 1/3-1/2 of what you would normally put on your plate. If you opt for a second serving you should still serve yourself a smaller portion. With this approach you will consume at least half the calories of holidays-past.
Practice conscious consumption
Rather than eating mindlessly while deep in conversation, look at what you stick your fork into before putting it in your mouth. Enjoy the flavors while savoring the food as you chew slowly. You will be less likely to eat the food that is not as satisfying to you, become satiated faster, eat more slowly (which means you will have less time to go up for seconds), and enjoy the taste of your meal at the first plate.
Enjoy this holiday season! And if you follow these tips, you'll be able to do it while staying the same size into the New Year's Eve party. Read: you won't be one of those frantic weight loss fanatics fighting over the treadmill at the gym, madly trying to lose the nine pounds gained over the course of the five weeks of winter holiday festivities. Instead, you’ll look stunning and chic as you ring in 2013.