Dear Coach Special Edition: My Journey

Hi! Now that you’ve read a few of my articles and hopefully continue to check back in here, I wanted to give you a more meaningful and personal introduction of who I am and where my fitness journey really began, as well as where it is now.

The Beginning

I played sports in high school, but was just average. It wasn’t until college that I really found a passion for exercise and health. After that freshman 15 (ouch), I turned myself around. I declared my major as Kinesiology and got to learn all about sports, nutrition, anatomy and physiology, muscles, the effects of exercise and disease on the body, and so much more.

The Turn Around

All of this new knowledge is what led me to begin viewing my body as an agile, efficient, smooth-running machine. Whenever I went for a run, I would revel in how capable my muscles were. Striding out, contracting, pushing me faster. I started incorporating more strength into my exercise routine and finally got stronger. No more wimpy girl push ups!

I learned to eat the best foods and actually enjoy them. Chickpea and bean salad with beets. Yum. Granola and yogurt. Double yum. The more I ate good, healthy foods, the less appealing potato chips and ice cream became. All cravings for unhealthy foods stopped. iphone2014-2015 008

I started playing college sports. Even though I wasn’t the most skillful lacrosse player, my speed allowed me to keep up and help my teammates improve as well. Being on a team was an amazing experience! It was worth all the hard work and pre-season training I tortured myself with.

The Setback

Then, all the good feels came to an end. Senior year of college, I got injured. A stress fracture in my tibia put a halt to all things exercise, running, and sports. I was devastated. Running was my thing. It was my stress reliever, made me happy, helped me think about the issues in my life, kept me sane. Running was my therapy and my training! To be honest, I relied on running a little too much… it would definitely be fair to say I idolized it.

So, The Good Lord opened my eyes to this idol in my life and forced me to turn my eyes back toward Him. I had to spend 8 weeks on crutches resting, watching my teammates practice and play. What a humbling experience. When I was finally cleared to run again, I discovered that the fracture still wasn’t fully healed like the doctors thought. So, I had to start the healing process all over.

This cycle continued three times. Each time I would start back at it, the bone just wasn’t healed fully. Each time I would start back, I got too excited and started my running frequency or intensity at too high a level. I would immediately get selfish with my running, and have to run faster than anyone near me at the gym. How ugly, how proud! When would I learn? I would give other people advice on only focusing on bettering yourself, on being patient with injuries, on the important of rest. Yet I couldn’t swallow my own advice. 

The Present

Now, its been a full 6 months of NO running at all, and I get to (God willing) start running again – slowly this time. I designed a 12-week cardio program to help me not only strengthen the muscles in my legs to help avoid re-fracture, but also to hold me accountable to minimal frequency, mileage and intensity. The program begins with mostly walking, and slowly and gradually builds up to my desired mileage and intensity over a three month period.

IMG_4495In addition to the cardio, I re-evaluated my nutrition. Was I getting enough protein? Was my diet lacking in essential vitamins and minerals? Was I unknowingly negatively affecting the health of my bones?

So I researched vitamins, cut out foods that were actually leaching the calcium stores from my bones (Coffee is one culprit! How awful!), and started incorporating more leafy greens filled with calcium and other nutrients into my diet (Kale, broccoli…), as well as really made sure I was getting adequate amounts of protein in each meal.

Since I began personal training during this process, I was able to incorporate more meaningful and effective strength training exercises into my regimen, which has made a huge difference in how my legs feel! I’m confident this will translate into helping me with my running comeback by taking some of the impact and load off my bones.

Results

This journey back will likely feel slow and laborious. Torturous even! The first two weeks I literally can only run for a grand total of 6 minutes (3 minutes one day, rest two days, 3 minutes the next day…Humble pie, anyone?) Plus, it’s always a conscious journey to keep my nutrition in check. (Limiting my coffee intake is probably the biggest struggle!) But if I have learned anything from this chronic, long term injury, it’s that rehab and rest are critical to one’s health. It’s smarter to take the time your body needs to heal rather than rush it. You’ll just be hurting yourself and prolonging your journey back to health. Take it from me, I was diagnosed with this fracture a year ago!

Additionally, my eyes have been opened to the dangers of over training. I idolized running to the point of idiocy. Going for two to three runs a day. Running sub-7 minute mile repeats for 5 miles straight, then going back to the gym later in the day to do it again. No wonder I fractured my tibia. Thank God for forcing me to find new ways to do cardio that I actually enjoyed so I’m able to change it up. Aqua jogging, long bike rides outside, swimming…I never would have opted for these methods of training if I hadn’t been desperate for exercise, but they’re really awesome!

As a result of this injury, I’ve also learned so much more about strength training and cross training, as well as how nutrition influences our biology. Really ensuring you maintain a proper diet, eat the right nutrients and calories, and make up for any vitamin deficits is truly just as important as when and how you exercise. IMG_4500

If any of you readers can relate, feel free to comment any questions about stress fractures, strength training and cross training, or nutrition below. I would love to chat!

I’m excited to be back, running around in the gorgeous New England spring and summer weather. I will definitely be writing future posts on my comeback journey! So stay tuned 🙂

-Coach A

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Tips & Strategies for Healthy Eating & Weight Loss

While I could go on and on for dozens of pages about the science behind healthy eating, accountability, calorie intake etc. etc. etc… here is, instead, a short summary of all the ways you can strategize to be healthier starting today!

1. Prepare for your day!
If you know you will be traveling or won’t have time to cook a proper meal, cook ahead of time or on the weekends. Pack smart snacks in your bag or car so that you can grab them and go. This way, you never get “too hungry” and approach the fat storing stages. Use your support system to help with meals as well when they can.

2. Keep a food journal! Every day, write down exactly what (foods + calorie totals!) and when you eat. This will help you tangibly see how much/little you have consumed in a day. You’ll be able to see what times are hardest for you (during the week at lunch, or maybe you snack too much on the weekends). You’ll spot patterns and then be able to address any changes you need to make. It will keep you accountable!

3. Hydrate! By ensuring you are drinking enough water, you will be less likely to overeat at meal times. Remember, most of the time when you think you are hungry, you are really just thirsty.

4. Eat slowly. Really take your time with your meals. When you multitask while eating, it is so much easier to overeat! You aren’t focused on what or how much you are consuming, so it takes you longer to realize when you are full. Focus on your meal – put your fork down between bites, talk to your spouse/family while eating to prolong the meal. This gives your brain time to catch up to your stomach and say “Yup, I’m full! No need for seconds!” IMG_4496

5. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. This is where the most natural, healthy foods are! Avoid the middle aisles as much as possible.  This is where the processed junk is kept.

6. Moderation. Don’t totally cut something out of your diet cold turkey – that’s setting yourself up for failure. Try cutting out your comfort foods slowly and replacing them with a healthier alternative that still gets you the sweetness/saltiness you are craving. (Craving sweets? Try a yogurt or chocolate nut trail mix instead of ice cream. Craving salt? Try peanuts or wheat thins instead of potato chips.)

7. Goodbye alcohol! Alcohol, while only a beverage, still packs a lot of empty calories! You’re drinking hundreds of calories without even getting the satisfaction of being “full” from a meal. Additionally, it dehydrates you and disrupts other processes your body tries to maintain to help you build muscle and lose weight. So before you drink, ask yourself if it is really worth it, and how you’ll make up for it.

8. Brush your teeth. After you eat, brush and floss. Then you’ll really ask yourself if you NEED that dessert right before bed, or if you’re just snacking because you’re bored.

9. Support. Make sure you surround yourself with people who will respect your goals. This is hard! It’s a lifestyle change. Tell the people you live or work with of your goals and get them to help and encourage you, rather than tempt you.

10. Knowledge is Power. If you don’t know if you should be eating something, or have run out of healthy snack ideas, ASK! Use the internet, ask your friends, ask your trainer, etc. for new recipes, or advice, or about technical questions regarding calories, fat in foods, etc. The more you know, the better you’ll do.

Good luck!

What Does Foam Rolling Do?

Foam rolling is a way for someone to roll out his or her muscles on their own. Many people don’t like it, because it can cause temporary discomfort. However, perhaps if you learn what’s really going on, you might decide it is worth rolling through that discomfort in order to feel huge relief on the other side.

First we need a small anatomy lesson. All our muscles and organs are encased in something called fascia. Fascia is a thin sheath of fibrous connective tissue enclosing a muscle, organ, bone, artery, or other structure in the body. It wraps around these like a spider’s web. Fascia provides our body with support and protection.

fascia
Image Source: http://pixgood.com/muscle-fascia.html

When we injure ourselves or work a muscle too hard and cause strains or extreme soreness, our body initiates an inflammatory response. Inflammation helps our bodies heal by sending more cells to the area to repair damage, hence the swelling we see from the outside. Inflammation restricts the fascia and causes pressure, which can feel painful and restrict our ability to move and be as flexible as normal.

Myofascial release is a technique used to release the pressure we are talking about. This technique works by applying gentle pressure to the myofascial tissue restrictions. Sustaining this pressure to a restricted area allows the fascia to release, eliminating pain and allowing for movement to be restored.

Foam rolling is a form of myofascial release that can be done on a variety of rollers ranging in softness or stiffness, or on a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, etc. The point is to roll the affected muscle area around on the selected surface. Many athletes and physical therapists use foam rolling in order to help muscles recover when they are overused, overly tight, and sore.

Foam rolling, which is very similar to getting a massage, helps promote blood flow to the muscle being targeted and clear out wastes that build up in our muscles, causing soreness. That being said, it is important to be kind to your body after foam rolling. Because waste is broken up, it’s important to drink plenty of water and eat cleanly afterward to help flush these waste products from your system.

foamrollers

Foam rolling a tight muscle can feel uncomfortable in the same way that having a knot massaged out feels uncomfortable. But once you get the knot to release, you feel better, right? Same idea with foam rolling. You must gently roll over knots and adhesions until these trigger points release and relax again.

It is important to note that foam rolling, like massages, treat the symptom of your problem, not the cause of your problem. If you have tight IT bands and constantly feel knee pain, rolling your IT band will provide relief … temporarily. However, until you treat the cause of this knee pain and tightness (likely tendonitis, which can be caused by gait problems, improper running form, improper shoes, etc.), you will have to continue foam rolling. If this sounds like you, that’s something you should talk to your doctor or trainers about.

Ultimately, foam rolling is not a cure all. However, it is beneficial in helping our muscles recover after a hard workout by promoting blood flow and clearing out wastes. It is also beneficial when trying to minimize pain and discomfort that is stemming from a larger problem. Plus, it just feels so good afterward!

Home Workout #1

Bored at home watching TV? Feeling sluggish in between your sessions at the gym? Or maybe you got stuck in traffic on the way home from work and just can’t bear driving to the gym today… Fear not! Here is a quick and easy workout just for you that you can complete in the comfort of your very own home!  Before trying this, make sure your doctor thinks you’re healthy enough to give exercise a go!
This workout is 20 minutes total. Rest as needed.
  • Warm up: 30s each x 2. (3 min)
    • (in place) jumping jacks, butt kicks, toe reaches.
  •  Circuit 1: 30s each x 3. (4:30 min)
    • burpees, squat pulse, middle plank.
  • Circuit 2: 45s each x 2. (4:30 min)
    • wall push-ups, alternating lunges, v-sit hold.
  • Circuit 3: 1 min each x 1. (3 min)
    • dips on edge of couch or chair, wall sit, crunches.
  • Cool down: 5 min stretch

Enjoy your workout! Let me know how you do!

Questions? Comment below!

Dear Coach: Why Should I Eat Every 3 Hours?

Coach,

Why do I have to eat every 3 hours? I’m trying to lose weight, so shouldn’t I be eating less?

Sincerely,
#Confused


Dear #Confused,

It’s natural to think that if you want to lose weight, you should eat less. But this actually is a misconception that tends to bring many people failure instead of success when it comes to reaching their fitness goals.

The reason eating 3-4 hours is so important has to do with our metabolism. Our blood sugar plays a key role in letting us know when we are hungry and it’s time to eat, and when we are full. It is important to listen to these cues and stay within a normal range of blood sugar levels.

If we wait too long to eat, our body goes into “panic” mode, and worries about when it will be fed again. In turn, the next time you feed it, it tends to keep more of those calories and store them as fat, instead of use them for regular functions. This leads to weight gain, as more fat is being stored in your body.

Similarly, eating too often has negative effects. If we eat too often, our body is receiving more calories than it needs to function properly, so it will store any excess calories as fat. Again, this leads to weight gain.

Eating every 3-4 hours ensures that our blood sugar levels stay within a normal range. Our blood sugar doesn’t go too high (over-eating), or too low (under-eating), so the calories we do eat are processed and metabolized normally and efficiently, fueling our muscles, brain and the rest of our body for whatever tasks we face.

This is not to say you should eat a huge meal every 3-4 hours. Make sure your daily calorie intake is appropriate for your age, weight, and height. Snack on proper, small, balanced meals (snacks, if you will) in between your regularly scheduled breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.

Sincerely,
Coach A

Healthy or Harmful: Smoothies and Juices

Smoothies and juices are hot trends in today’s culture. There are tons of smoothie booths and cafes serving all sorts of flavors. A lot of gyms even offer guests a complimentary smoothie on the way out after a workout. But are they really that good for you? The answer may surprise you.

Picture this: You just left gym. You spent 45 minutes lifting weights and doing core work, followed by a great bout of cardio intervals on the treadmill. You’re pretty sweaty. You’ve finished your bottle of water. You head out the door and walk down the street to local a cafe. Oh look, they’ll add protein powder to any smoothie drink you want! Sounds great right? Why not finish off your healthy workout with a healthy beverage?

Wrong!

Smoothies and juices aren’t all they’re cracked up to be when it comes to nutritional value. First of all, most cafes and restaurants don’t make their smoothies fresh. Typically, they use flavored powder or syrups to make their “smoothies”, so fruit literally is not an ingredient. Why would you pay $4.50 for a fruit smoothie that doesn’t even contain fruit? Silly.

Secondly, even smoothies and juices that are made with natural fruits lack most – if not all – of their fiber. Natural fruits, when eaten with their skin, contain fiber. When skinned or blended in a smoothie or juice, this natural skin disappears and the fiber goes with it. Why is fiber so important? Fiber helps your body regulate any sugar you ingest.

Fruit naturally has high sugar content. So when you eat a lot of fruit, your blood sugar tends to spike. However, when fruit is eaten whole and with the skin, as nature intended, your blood sugar is able to remain in a relatively normal range because the fiber acts as a buffer and works to help your organs and muscles quickly process the sugar.

Fiber is also a necessary part of any balanced diet and helps aid with digestion and excretion processes in your body, so if you’re constantly opting for juices and smoothies as your fruit servings for the day, you probably aren’t getting enough fiber in your diet. Unfortunately, lack of fiber in your diet can lead to unpleasant complications when it comes to digesting and passing food waste comfortably.

Lastly, as mentioned above, when you drink smoothies or juices, you aren’t consuming any fiber. Your system gets shocked, as if you just ate a candy bar. You’re trying to be healthy by having a smoothie, but in reality, your body reacts like you’ve just eaten junk. You experience a mad sugar rush. What comes up must come down, right? So after this spike, comes the crash. You’ll be left feeling sluggish and tired once all that sugar leaves your blood stream.

We all know too much sugar is not good for your health. But most people don’t consider the fact that smoothies and juices are loaded with sugar. Generally, double – even triple – the amount of sugar we should be ingesting daily can be found in just one smoothie.

So, to recap:

  • Most smoothies and juices don’t even contain real fruit.
  • Even when they do contain real fruit, they have no fiber, which means you ingest a ton of excess sugar.
  • Too much sugar is bad for your health!

Bottom line: Stick to whole fruits and grab some good old water instead.

How To Work Out At Work

Check out these five tips on incorporating working out into your work day.

The work day just seems to drag on and on, especially in this cold weather! Many of us sit behind a desk for eight hours a day. Many of us opt to take the elevator at work for convenience sake. Many of us are just bone-tired after a ten-hour work day that we just can’t get in that extra 30 minutes of cardio we promised out trainer we would do…. Well, for days that you JUST CAN’T, here are five ways to incorporate a little working out into your daily routine at work.

1. Take the stairs. While the weather may be keeping you inside, that doesn’t mean you can’t keep walking. Instead of taking the elevator up and down all day long, take the stairs. It may seem inconvenient at first, carrying your briefcase or files up the stairs as you head to a meeting, but the added effort is worth it! Taking the stairs all day can make your step count add up quickly. Also, you’ll notice a difference in your body the more you do it! Walking up four flights of stairs may leave you winded at first, with burning legs, but if you do it every day you’ll be proud of how quickly and efficiently you will be able to run up the stairs.

2. Standing. Rather than sitting all day long at your desk, try working while standing. If you’re on a call, pace around. If you are on your laptop, try placing it on a higher surface that you can see at eye-level. You’d be surprised how tiring standing for eight hours can be. Challenge your body by making it work harder while you work. Stand instead of sit.

3. Lunchtime. While a lot of people work through lunch, for those of you who don’t please consider this: spend half of your lunch break eating, and the other half walking. If you get an hour or even just thirty minutes for lunch, you can spend half of that allotted time getting some cardio in! An extra 15 minutes of walking or doing stairs is better than 0 minutes! Prefer to socialize on your breaks? Grab a co-worker and have them walk with you!

4. Chairs. Many of us sit at chairs throughout our work day. Many of us sit in chairs all day. If you can’t be pacing around while you work or standing at your desk, you can still incorporate leg work into your day! While sitting at your desk, simply contract your glute muscles, hold for 3 seconds, and repeat the movement up to 15 times. Do this set at least 3 times throughout your day and you’ll soon be able to perform glute bridges like nobody’s business.

5. Prepare ahead! Pack Sneakers. Do you sit in traffic on the way home after work every night? Do you get home so late you really can’t muster up the energy to get on the treadmill for your cardio? Bring your sneakers to work. At the end of the day, lace up and don’t leave until you’ve walked or jogged the stairs for 30 minutes. Doing your cardio at work not only lets you get it done before you even get home for the night, but it has the added bonus of letting rush hour die down a little bit so you can cruise on home.

Try to incorporate these simple moves into your daily routine at work. Not only are they all beneficial to your health, but they’re sure to add a little enjoyment and spice to your long work da