September 22, 2011

Workout Recharge: Get FITT with bene-fit!

Do you feel like you’ve been exercising regularly for a long time but not getting the results you want?
Do you finish your workouts feeling like you could’ve done something more?
Are you bored with exercise and ready to make a significant change in your workout program?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you are ready for a workout recharge.

Think of a recharge as a stylistic change, not necessarily a total overhaul, to your current exercise regimen. While you may already be exercising regularly, you may be missing some vital components that can push your workouts to the next level.

bene-fit trainers are experts in progression, which is the idea that exercise should develop increasingly advanced skill sets while increasing overall fitness. This is the exact opposite of the “plateau” or “rut” that many veteran exercisers claim to fall into after an initial period of regular exercise.

Without professionally supervised progression, it is easy to fall into an ineffective or underdeveloped routine that can actually limit your fitness potential.  Worry not, however – there are four easy methods for recharging your exercise lifestyle that can help you get the results you are looking for, whether that is weight loss, strength gain, muscle tone, or cardiovascular endurance.

These principles can be summarized in the acronym FITT, which stands for frequency, intensity, type, and time. These four areas are crucial for any exercise progression and will ensure greater fitness gains in both the short and long term.

Increasing exercise frequency is a great goal, particularly for beginner exercisers. Many people tend to get gung-ho on a fitness plan at the beginning and fade out as the initial excitement wanes – and the realization that exercise is a lifelong commitment sinks in. Try adding one additional workout to your regular weekly program, and if you are feeling extra adventurous, make the new workout something totally different from your current routine, such as taking a yoga class, going on a hike, or running the stairs at a stadium. As we say in fitness, aim to “break a sweat every day” by exercising more often.

In a time crunch? The best way to get maximum results in minimum time is to add intensity to your workouts. An example of an intensity upgrade is to change your steady-state 60-minute walk to a more vigorous, 30-minute run/walk. Think of intensity as the “next step up” – pushups with one leg in the air, for example, or adding plyometrics (jumping) to your regular sets of squats or lunges. A simple way to tell if you’ve added a proper level of intensity is to check your breathing and heart rate – if you are breathing harder, sweating more, and have a higher heart rate, you are most likely working out intensely.  Intense workouts burn more calories in the same period of time than do low-impact workouts, making them an efficient way to exercise.

A third strategy for recharging your workout is perhaps the most straightforward: add time. Exercising for longer periods of time, even at a lower intensity, can result in significant cardiovascular fitness and endurance gains. Take stock of your current exercise routine and add up all the time you spend working out in a given week, then strive to increase that duration by 10% (i.e., if you already work out 5 hours per week, strive for 5.5 hours). You might just be amazed at what you can accomplish with relatively small increases in time!

Finally, consider switching up the type of exercise you do. If you’re a die-hard yogi, it might be time to try something more heart-pumping like Spin or Zumba. If you prefer lifting lighter weights with high repetitions, check out what happens to your muscle tone when you switch to heavy weights with lower repetitions. If you are a runner but feel like your core strength is weak, cross-train with Pilates to add diversity to your regimen. bene-fit trainers are skilled in creating the perfect mix of cardiovascular, muscular endurance, and stretching exercises with enough variety to never get bored or plateau – and you might even learn a new skill or develop a new passion with the various workouts you perform.

Especially for those who are not new to exercise, it is easy to get in a rut when it comes to a workout routine. By getting FITT - upping frequency, increasing intensity, adding time, or trying a new type of exercise – you can “recharge” your well-worn workout habits and achieve greater success toward your health and fitness goals.

August 29, 2011

Clean It Up: The Real Key to Weight Loss

I was training a client last week who informed me she was headed on vacation.  When I told her to make sure she "ate really clean" to make up for any missed workouts, she nodded but looked confused.  When we later discussed "cleaning up the diet" to speed up her desired weight loss, she finally broke down and asked me:

"What exactly do you mean by 'cleaning it up'?"

Trainers tend to throw around terms (think "engage the core" or "breathe into the contraction") that aren't necessarily clear at first glance - and it is well within the rights of the client to ask for further clarification.  Any trainer worth her salt will be able to explain anything related to their programming - what muscle is being used, why you're doing a certain exercise in a certain order, how many calories are being burned during a given activity - so feel free to ask, always.

But I digress.  The real purpose of this post is to explain what "clean eating" means and why it is a central component of weight loss.  The best-regarded Clean Eating Queen is none other than Tosca Reno, a supermom, fitness model, and lifestyle guru responsible for a full line of best-selling Eat Clean books.  While simple in concept, eating clean does demand a few notable changes in your regular eating habits - which,  once achieved, are remarkably easy to maintain.

First, avoid almost all processed foods.  This means that if the food does not arrive to you in its natural form (i.e., a potato in its skin pulled from the ground; a head of fresh broccoli without cheese or salt; a whole grain shucked from its chaff and unrefined), it is likely a "processed" food, which means a person or machine has changed the nutritional profile of the food.  Avoiding these foods is the easiest way to avoid added sugars, sodium, and saturated and trans fats.  There is, however, one notable exception...

Eat lowfat dairy in moderation. 2-3 small servings of nonfat dairy (think skim milk, lowfat cottage cheese, or part-skim "light" string cheese) can actually burn fat and help speed up weight loss.  If you aren't a big fan of dairy, try blending your cottage cheese into a fruit smoothie to add creaminess or enjoying milk with your steel-cut oats in the morning - both are ways to integrate dairy without consuming too much.

Third, make sure the bulk of your meal is comprised of low-starch vegetables, lower-sugar fruits, and lean protein.  These are the cornerstones of clean eating and can be eaten, within reason, without limitations (especially leafy greens!).  When you look at your dinner plate, use your hand to estimate portions - it should have a palm-sized protein (skinless chicken is nutritionally the best), a fist-sized fruit (I like mine as dessert!), a two-hands-open serving of veggies, and about three fingers' worth of unrefined whole grains (like bulgur, barley, oats, quinoa, or spelt).  If you are thinking to yourself that clean eating really keeps you full, you're right - there are a large variety of foods to choose from and you'll rarely, if ever, get bored.

Finally, abstain from caloric drinks, including soda (also a processed food), alcohol (carb-central), and sugar-bloated coffee drinks (black coffee and tea are always OK!).  Clean eating centers on just that - eating!- so drinking your calories away is a surefire way to keep yourself starving, lethargic, and grouchy.

If you have trouble figuring out which foods are "clean" and which are to be avoided while on your weight loss journey, why not try a nutrition consultation with bene-fit?  We offer comprehensive evaluations of your current dietary habits, a nutritional assessment of your pantry, and realistic food recommendations for you and your family.

Remember, in the weight loss battle, only 20% of the fight is won in the gym.  The other 80% depends on what you put in your mouth - and with clean eating, the choices are clear.  Stick to real foods, avoid the junk, and hydrate with fresh, cold water.  You'll start feeling the differences in no time!

August 15, 2011

Fit Club: Not TV, But Reality

This morning I was reading an article in Everyday FOOD about starting a supper club. 

They suggested rallying together a group of 6-10 people, setting up a reasonable timeline (such as every 2-3 months) and having the host select the main dish and theme, while the guests bring side dishes to complement the theme.

From the sounds of it, it was a fabulous idea - a group of friends coming together on a regular schedule with a singular purpose and firm structure.  A fabulous idea, that is - for fitness!

I often hear that one of the greatest challenges to sticking with a healthy diet and exercise program is the monotony of it all - the fact that eating well, being active, managing stress, and getting enough sleep isn't exactly a recipe for excitement.  We here at bene-fit get it - really, we do.  That's one of the reasons our weekly Boot Camp and personal training sessions are so dynamic and unique - so you never get bored.

That said, sometimes you wish that "being social" and "being healthy" weren't polar opposites - particularly, for example, if you're trying to stay on track with an after-work Spin class while your friends are more interested in after-work cocktails.  Do you skip class or skip out on your friends?  bene-fit believes you shouldn't have to choose.

That's why we recommend starting your own Fit Club - just like supper club, except that your fit host is responsible for setting a "theme" (for example, "Latin Fiesta!") and setting up a workout (here, perhaps a Zumba class at the YMCA or a Latin-dance DVD in the living room).  Guests could bring healthy, themed snacks (think guacamole and veggies to dip, or homemade salsa with baked corn tortilla chips) and swap healthy-living tips or health-interest magazines.

You could even organize a "contest" of sorts - the host provides an inexpensive fitness-friendly prize (think no-slip headbands, wrist weights, or weight-lifting gloves) and designs a challenge for guests, such as a push-up, jump rope, or hula hoop contest.  Guests can compete for the prize - and for their pride! - while having a lot of fun.

This week, forget having to choose between seeing your friends and squeezing in your workout - start a monthly Fit Club, get off the couch, and get into fitness - together.

August 9, 2011

Why Yoga? 10 Reasons to Get Down (Dog)

In every fitness plan I write for a client, I include either an entire yoga workout or some element of yoga in the program. For those who have never encountered yoga, this often elicits groans of dread or at best, some element of fear/uncertainty.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was once a yoga skeptic. I spent my undergraduate college years as a Pilates devotee, preaching the glory of the "long and lean" as I puffed through endless Hundreds and Teasers.

However, once I became a runner (yes, not until after college and well into adulthood!), I realized that I needed something more than "long and lean" - in fact, I needed something more like "stretched and strengthened" - and when I was invited to join friends at the world-renowned Bryan Kest Power Yoga, I jumped at the chance.

Unfortunately, my "jump" into a 90-minute advanced Vinyasa-style flow class resulted in an almost equally zealous renouncement of all things yogic.  I was overwhelmed, undertrained, and had no idea what was going on as all of these fit, flexible bodies bent and breathed around me. 

It was intimidating - and I didn't go back for two years.

Eventually, being derailed by the common runners' injuries of plantar fasciitis and ITBS drove me back to the yoga mat -and into Hatha yoga, a much gentler and slower form of yoga.  Soon, my injuries were gone, my posture had improved, and I gained strategies for coping with stress, tension, and tightness - all valuable life skills, whether you're an athlete or not.

Despite my story, I still struggle to convince both the hardcore athlete and the everyday gym-goer that yoga is worth their time.  We here at bene-fit truly believe in the power of yoga - which is why we offer private and semi-private instruction and pre/post-natal sessions -  and here are 10 reasons why we think you might want to consider it, too:

10) Yoga is for everybody - and we mean every body There is no yoga format that can't be adapted for age, injury, ability, flexibility, or any other physical concern you might have.
9) At the end of every yoga class is a "final relaxation," where you simply get to lie down for 5-15 minutes.  Bliss.
8) Yoga requires no equipment (in India, very few ashrams use the traditional mats we see in the U.S.), no special attire, and no prior training.
7) There are enough different styles of yoga to please every preference, from those who like their Zen with a side of Madonna to those who really just like to have a rest on a comfy pillow.
6) Yoga therapy can actually be used to treat some medical conditions such as depression or chronic pain.
5) If you're thinking about trying a marathon, triathlon, or other endurance event, put yoga on your training schedule - studies suggest it can improve cardiovascular performance and prevent injury.
4) Yoga can alleviate hunger and increase the mind-body connection that protects against chronic overeating.
3) Traditional yoga poses are named in Sanskrit, which means you can learn a cool new language full of words like supta baddha konasana (Goddess pose) and urdhva mukha svanasana (Upward Facing Dog pose).
2) Practicing yoga can increase blood flow to sexual organs and increase partner pleasure even in couples where only one member practices it.
1) Yoga is much more than purely physical - it speaks to the spirit, re-teaches you how to breathe, offers suggestions for de-stressing, and provides a quiet and peaceful environment for all who choose to practice.

Need more convincing?  Contact a bene-fit trainer or your local yoga studio for more information today - right now, you can get free one-week passes as a part of National Yoga Month, redeemable at hundreds of studios in September and October.  There's no better time to stretch, strengthen, and find your ZEN-ifit!

August 2, 2011

No Excuses: Healthy Breakfasts on the Go

As a trainer, I rarely get to interact with my clients in what we call a "meal environment" - that is, the place, time, and mood associated with the foods a person chooses to eat.  For this reason, I often find myself frustrated when a client comes to me for an early morning session claiming that they "weren't hungry" or "couldn't find time to eat."

When a client tells me they aren't hungry in the morning, that is a telltale sign that they either a) ate dinner too close to bedtime, or b) overate carbohydrates with their evening meal.  The human body is meant to process foods (particularly carbs) for energy, but when too much energy is stored without adequate activity to use it (as in, eating a big meal and then heading off to sleep), that energy turns to fat and is essentially wasted - resulting in a sluggish, full feeling upon waking.

The first line of defense, of course, is to eat a dinner that is rich in lean protein and produce and has limited - if any - grain-based carbohydrates.  Try and "frontload" your carbs earlier in the day, particularly before your workouts, to make sure you are maximizing the energy that they provide to the body.

The second key point, then, is to eat breakfast!  Eating within an hour of waking ensures that you fire up your metabolism for the rest of the day, burning more calories, producing more energy, and leaving you less ravenous at your later meals (again, good for your overall energy balance).

But what to eat?

If you can't be wooed by the old standbys (low-sugar cereal and nonfat milk; old fashioned oatmeal with fresh fruit; 0% Greek yogurt with low-sugar granola and berries), then we've got a list of drive-thru (or in some cases, a quick walk-in) options that will ensure you get a balanced morning meal in a hurry.  We rank them by calories, but make sure to check into the protein/carb information to make sure you're making the right choice - morning exercisers want more carbs at breakfast; evening exercisers should focus on protein in the A.M.

Dunkin' Donuts - Egg White Turkey Sausage Wake-Up Wrap - 150 calories, 11g protein, 14g carbs
Subway - Western Egg White & Cheese Muffin Melt - 160 calories, 15g protein, 19g carbs
Denny's - Scrambled Egg Whites, Chicken Sausage & Fruit - 230 calories, 19g protein, 19g carbs
McDonald's - Fruit & Maple Oatmeal - 260 calories, 7g protein, 48g carbs

Au Bon Pain - Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal - 280 calories, 8g protein, 56g carbs
Jamba Juice - Small Berry Topper Ideal Meal - 300 calories, 9g protein, 59g carbs
IHOP - Simple & Fit  Veggie Omelette - 320 calories; 21g protein, 40g carbs
Panera - Breakfast Power Sandwich - 330 calories, 22g protein, 31g carbs

Cosi - Spinach Florentine Breakfast Wrap - 334 calories, 24g protein, 21g carbs
Starbucks - Protein Artisan Snack - 370 calories, 13g protein, 36g carbs

Remember, eating at home or bringing a meal to work or school is always our top recommendation for breakfast - this way, you can control the sodium content, portion size, and sugar additives of your meal.  However, studies are conclusive about the fact that getting in a morning meal is good for your waistline, brainpower, and overall health - and we'll eat to that! :)