The Area's Best Personal Trainer Since 1994


Michael A. Cook, AFAA (Aerobic and Fitness Association of America) has 16 years experience as a certified personal fitness trainer, and is owner of Fitness-Happens.com and runs the East Sacramento Training & Wellness Studio.  Michael interviews and writes on health and fitness related topics and is a regular contributor to Sacramento’s MGW Newspaper.

Follow An Effective Exercise Routine   |   Use the Buddy System   |   Make A Plan Fit Your Lifestyle
Secret Exercise Plan   |   Fueling Your Workouts   |   Working With Experts
Finding Time To Make Fitness Happen   |   Top 10 Reasons To Exercise   |   Spot Reduction: Fact or Fiction?
Trainers and Gyms   |   The Body Clock   |   Eat to Sleep   |   Cortisol, Stress, and Weight Loss
Exercise: Too Much, Too Soon   |   Fitness Trends: Pros and Cons   |   Safe Exercise Guidelines
Do You Need A Personal Trainer   |   Scheduling and Following A Consistent Exercise Routine
A Low Fat Thanksgiving
   |   Fitness Resolutions Happen Anytime

FOLLOW AN EFFECTIVE EXERCISE ROUTINE | Back to Top

Before exercising, warm up and stretch.  This helps prevent injury and maximize efforts.  Workouts should start out smooth and easy.

Let’s start with this very important rule, “Never overdo the first few workouts”.  Beginners often fall into this trap, especially if overly excited, losing patience or trying to show off.  Avoid going “All out”, as this may cause joints to lock-up and muscle pain.  Don’t try to do in two weeks what can take years to accomplish.

Don’t focus on the same muscle group every workout.  Concentrate on the body as a whole by planning a routine that helps tone and tighten the entire body.

Research effective exercising or talk with an expert about creating an effective exercise routine, and how to workout safely, so you can reach your goals.

USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM | Back to Top

Need help exercising?  Find a buddy.

Exercising with a buddy has many advantages; buddies go to the gym together, they motivate each other, show up for workouts, exercise more consistently, and it’s more difficult to skip exercising.  Buddies can spot each other, make workouts safer, push each other harder, become more advanced, try new exercises, get a better workout, help meet each others goals, keep workouts on track, learn and have fun together, and time permitting, have a cup of coffee afterward.

Preferably, choose a buddy with a similar body weight, fitness level and goal for strength training and cardio endurance.  Buddies can workout together or separately.  One might lift weights and the other might run.  Later, they might get together to do abs or stretch.  Be careful, as one buddy may not be as strong, and may push too hard causing themselves injury.

Consult a pro about how to workout safely, create a routine, and spot your buddy correctly. 

 MAKE A PLAN FIT YOUR LIFESTYLE |Back to Top

Whether self-motivated or needing a little push?  Determine what activities turn you on so that you stay committed to exercising.

Don’t have a plan?   Plan to fail.  Have a plan?  Plan to succeed.

Too busy to get to the gym?  Take lunchtime at the local Y to swim.  Do a 45-minute Cardio DVD nightly after dinner. Take the stairs instead of the escalator and walk rather than drive.  Plan active outings instead of going to a movie.

If you've got floor space, try simple floor exercises to target areas such as the hips and buttocks, legs and thighs, and chest and arms (like push-ups, squats, and lunges). Aim for 10-12 repetitions of each exercise, adding more sets and intensity as you build strength.

Get up an hour earlier to conquer the gym.  Consult a personal trainer to insure effective workouts and maximum results. 

SECRET EXERCISE PLAN | Back to Top

When secrets are revealed they are usually already known or common sense.  Sometimes valuable but recognize that these "secrets" are precisely what we need!  Here’s a "secret" which will help create the best exercise plan.  Find the common sense and see why this "secret" is so valuable!  What is the best exercise?  The secret answer?…The one you LIKE the MOST!  Why?  Because that is the one you’ll most likely to do!  Doesn't that make “common sense?”

One might say, one exercise does not make an exercise plan.  However, it could and it does for many people.  Having a diversified exercise routine which focuses on various muscle groups will sustain a higher level of fitness (common sense).

For many, one exercise would not be enough, because we all have different fitness goals.  For example, one exercise (i.e. regular walking or jogging) CAN and DOES provide many of the health benefits we all strive for.

Know what exercise you LIKE or ENJOY the most?  If known, regularly schedule that activity into your week.  If unknown, and/or, if a single exercise is not enough to reach your fitness goal, make a list of your favorite exercises.  Begin by listing your favorite exercise and so on until the list is sufficient.  Revise the list and add or subtract later.

List the exercises you will most enjoy (the secret) because you are more likely to do them. 

FUELING YOUR WORKOUTS  | Back to Top

Proper nutrition is an essential component to overall health and wellness and the best way to ensure the most effective workout and good performance.  What is eaten before, during and after exercise has a major impact on performance, allowing one to maintain high quality training, improve exercise recovery, energy and balance.  Remember, what is eaten before exercise can make the difference between an energetic and a tired workout. Follow these basic guidelines for fueling your workouts:

Early Morning Workouts:  Within an hour after wake up, eat around 200-300 calories.  Bagels, raisins, bananas, low-fat granola bars, or liquid meal beverages help avoid feelings of dizziness and hunger. Allow 30 minutes for digestion in order to avoid nausea.  Avoid too much fat or protein, since these take longer to digest. Simple sugars (like juice) are absorbed the fastest, but can cause a quick rise and fall in blood sugar, which can make you tired.

Lunchtime Workouts:  1-2 hours before a lunchtime workout, eat around 300-400 calories. Meal replacement shakes or bars, yogurt, fruit (fresh or dried), or oatmeal help avoid hunger and fatigue.  Avoid high fat and/or high protein foods, and stick with something that has around 60% carbohydrates, 20% protein and 20% fat. Make sure you eat a balanced meal after your workout!

Evening Workouts:  2-3 hours before leaving work, eat a small, balanced meal up to 500 calories.  Best bets: Cheese and crackers, cottage cheese and veggies, fruit with a whole grain muffin.  Example: string cheese with low-fat Triscuits and a small can of mandarin oranges.  This will help relieve hunger pains that many people experience after exercise so you don’t raid the fridge.

After the Workout:  Quickly replace some of those burned calories and depleted glycogen stores. Before working out the average person has up to 30-minutes of ready energy stored as glycogen.  Studies suggest that a carb/protein mixture stimulates quicker glycogen replacement over a 6-hour period.

Stay hydrated:  Drink 16 or so ounces of water 2 hours before working out for optimum performance.  Sip water throughout and after. Water is the best choice for fluid replacement for up to 1 hour, then consider switching to a sports drink.

Avoid exercising on an empty stomach:  Eating before exercise produces greater stamina and endurance.

Figure out what works!  Experiment, and find the right balance of eating and exercise. Every person has a different digestive system and requirements when it comes to nutrition and exercise. Some people can exercise without eating, while others need a full breakfast. There's no general rule for everyone!  

WORKING WITH EXPERTS  | Back to Top

To get the most out of a workout program, objective advice from a professional can help get answers to stay on track.  We often get set in our ways and habits, which can be a good thing for consistency.  However, it's hard to make forward progress when doing the same thing week after week, year after year.

Some people like to be instructed.  Following a program developed by an expert can take the pressure off, and can bring about new ideas and produce results. Why should one try to figure this all out alone?  A professional can give answers and help an individual come up with the best plan quickly, safely and effectively.  A professional has seen it all; body types large, medium and small, varying personal abilities, strengths and weaknesses, special conditions and limitations, men and women of all ages from teens to seniors.

Just getting started?  Have a professional assess and determine what types of exercise will be most effective.  For some people, flexibility, balance and agility may be more important than resistance training or aerobics.  By getting a professional assessment, you can determine your strengths and weaknesses and focus on them. This will improve overall fitness balance.  Having a professional to trust and to direct workout activities safely and effectively has proven to be a great resource for many people, and can make all the difference in reaching personal fitness goals. 

 FINDING TIME TO MAKE FITNESS HAPPEN  | Back to Top

Not exercising regularly because there’s not enough time?  Make finding time to exercise a Top Priority!  Busy lives need time set aside for exercise.  Fitness will happen when there’s a working plan in effect and nothing is left up to chance.  Waiting for schedules to ease up, for the weather to cool off or heat up, for school or job to start or end?  Here are some insider "Top 10" tips for finding the time to make fitness happen. 

1. Make exercise a priority.  We all make time in our lives for the things that are most important to us.  If you were given a million dollars for every day you exercised for the next 30 days, would you do it?  You bet, because then it would suddenly become a priority. If you're serious about finding time for exercise, then it must become a priority in your life.

2. Wake up earlier to exercise.  Try going to sleep a little earlier and getting up a few minutes earlier.  Make exercise time the first thing in the morning when it’s less likely to be interrupted by other things.  Not usually an early riser?  The morning can provide quiet time to try a yoga DVD and slowly wake up while getting the body energized.

3. Block out the same exercise time each day.  Make exercise part of your daily routine.  Guard this time period as if your health and well being depended on it!

4. Exercise over lunch or while traveling for work. Join a gym or training studio near work and spend 30 minutes or so exercising on your lunch break.  Even a 20-minute swim can leave you feeling re-energized and ready to face the rest of the workday.  Bring your sneakers to work and go for a walk or run during your lunch break.  Ask a co-worker to join you to pass the time and make exercise more fun.  Always take the stairs, never the elevator.  Extra walking can count as part of your workout! Remember, just a 10-minute workout each day equals over 300 exercise minutes by month's end.  Traveling for work?  Pack some sneakers and shorts, and hit the hotel gym first thing in the morning. 

5. Television and cell phone time.  Have a favorite television show or like watching movies?  Don’t just sit on the couch. Yoga positions, leg lifts, sit-ups, push-ups, or stretching enable you to get in your exercise time as well. The average adult spends 16 hours per week watching television.  Try exercising three days a week (ie. Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and only watch television while exercising (stationary bike, treadmill, elliptical, stretching, etc).  Take advantage of talking on the cell phone by stretching or taking a walk while talking.

6. Check out the library.  Libraries stock up on all sorts of exercise DVD’s.  Find some titles on your library's shelves, or build a home library of exercise videos.  Check a few titles out a week to mix up your workout routine at home and keep things interesting.  Popping in a DVD can be a fun and convenient way to squeeze exercise into your busy schedule.

7. Make date night include fitness.  Get some exercise in before, during or after date night.  Hit the treadmill, go for a long walk or jog, play tennis, take dancing lesions, or go on a bike ride.  Do something you can do with your partner that builds in exercise time together.

8. Neighborhood Walks.  Visit with your partner, friends and neighbors while walking around the neighborhood rather than sitting on the couch.

9. Errands and chores count.  Build exercise into daily chores: Try standing calf raises while making dinner or take extra trips carrying smaller piles of clothes while doing laundry.  Bike ride, or walk to the places you need to go. Don't circle to find the closest parking spot at the mall. Park at the furthest end of the parking lot.  Walking counts as exercise!  Instead of squeezing in a lunch date with a friend, exercise together.  This will save money and calories, and still allow for quality time together.

10. Gardening counts too. Go outside, dig up some weeds, plant some new plants, and start raking up the leaves.  Gardening is great exercise that involves squatting, lifting, digging, bending, and hauling yard refuse away.

11. Everything makes a difference. Take a couple of days to write down how you spend your time every day, and then determine how you can better use your time to fit in exercise.  Make exercise as enjoyable as possible and you’ll be much more likely to find time for fitness to happen.

TOP 10 REASONS TO EXERCISE  | Back to Top

Why do some people catch a real nasty bug, but then recover surprisingly fast.  People who exercise regularly, can fight off infections faster.  Exercise reduces stress, boosts vitality and energy, improves health and makes people more resistant to illness.  Busy people can't afford to get sick, and exercising is an excellent preventive measure.  Here are some insiders' "Top 10 Reasons to Exercise”:

1. Improves appearance and self esteem.
2. Lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease.
3. Makes muscles, joints, and bones stronger. This is particularly important if over age 40.
4. It’s practical.  Carrying groceries or changing a flat tire is far easier with good energy.
5. Reduces stress and helps people significantly counteract depression.
6. Improves the ability to concentrate.
7. Increases levels of HDL (good cholesterol).
8. Improves sleep patterns.
9. Speeds up the metabolism.
10. Improves ability to fight off infections (bacterial and viral).

What is the point of working hard to build your fortune and to create a better quality of life for yourself if you're not healthy enough to enjoy it?

THE BEST WORKOUT TIME  | Back to Top

When is the best time to work out?  Exercise itself is ideal at any time!  Note; Getting regular exercise is more important than getting exercise at a certain time of day.  However, the quality of athletic performance is affected by the body's circadian rhythms.  Read on.

When waking up, the body’s temperature is low.  By late afternoon, it may be as much as one or two degrees higher (its peak for the day).  Muscles may be cold and inflexible first thing in the morning.  Many body processes, such as blood pressure and hormone production, go through daily cycles, too.

Not everyone's circadian rhythms are identical, but most people experience similarities.  Environment cues (natural light, darkness, meal times, household routines) keep these "pulses" on track, which influence highs and lows.  Variations and disruptions can occur when traveling, under stress, or when sleeping habits vary.

Morning advantages:  Morning exercise can have an energizing effect, setting the stage for a successful day.  Like coffee, morning exercise can pick up the heartbeat, heighten alertness, and give that get up and go feeling.   Morning outdoor exercisers enjoy air pollution levels that are typically at their daily low.  AM exercisers, take extra time to warm up muscles and stretch to prevent injury.

Additionally, people who exercise in the morning are more likely to stick with their routines.  One consideration is schedule-juggling:  Exercise first thing, so it can't be put off.  Late-day workouts can be postponed or missed with daily demands, or daily events that drain your energy.

People who exercise in the early hours tend to be very productive at whatever they do throughout the morning. However, the afternoon sleepiness that hits most of us for an hour or so every day can be intense, and afternoon may become a low-energy period. This time of day is ideal for a relaxing break, a nap or another brief exercise, such as a 10-minute walk.

Afternoon advantages:  If high athletic performance is critical, late afternoons are often the best workout times.  Flexibility, strength, endurance, and ability to handle pain are highest in the late afternoon.  Afternoons are preferred times to break personal records, achieve best times on runs, swims, and cycling.  Additionally, exercise can improve sleep patterns, particularly when exercising in late afternoon.  A half-hour workout helps in sleeping faster, and more soundly.  However, people who exercise right before bed risk staying alert, awake and create a damaging cycle of exhaustion.  PM exercisers, plan at least two hours between end-of-workout and bedtime.

Any time is good!  Some people believe that because they are born at a particular time, they belong to that time!  Which means people who were born in the morning, would prefer exercising in the morning! Not so!  Being aware of your body's circadian changes may give you reason to experiment, and decide when exercise is most comfortable for you.

Decide when exercise will fit most realistically and reliably, and schedule exercise at that time.  The best time to exercise is the time that you can stick with.  A routine in itself helps to maintain and reinforce good habits, which in turn helps keep circadian rhythms on an even keel.

SPOT REDUCTION OF FAT: FACT OR FICTION? | Back to Top

Answer:  Fiction!  Spot reduction refers to the supposed ability of losing fat from one specific area of the body.  Spot reduction is a deceptive marketing gimmick, claim or idea (spoken or implied) that the product being marketed, targets a specific muscle group being worked and reduces the amount of fat in that specific area.

This implied advertising ploy is commonly used to sell abdominal exercise machines, DVDs, and diet pills, seen in magazines, newspapers and TV infomercials in an effort for people to focus on losing weight mentioned in reference to losing fat from the stomach area.  The term “spot reduction” is not stated by name, but the strong visuals (repeated flat stomachs, and few full body shots) and implied references are clearly unmistakable.

These countless useless ab workouts, exercises and abdominal machines that currently exist, use spot reduction as a way to trick uninformed people into buying useless junk (usually in the form of abdominal machines) thinking that losing fat from the specific area of their choosing (in this case, the stomach) is actually possible.  It’s not!

This ridiculous spot reduction claim is not limited to reducing belly fat but any fat from any specific area of the body.  People think that if they do a certain exercise for a certain body part, they can directly target the fat on that body part.  But you can't!  It’s impossible! There is no such thing as spot reduction.

What you need to know:  You will never attain a flat stomach just by performing abdominal exercises.  Muscle does not own the fat that surrounds it.  Sit-ups, for example, will definitely strengthen your abdominal muscles, but sit-ups alone will not get rid of the layer of fat that is covering the muscles.  To lose fat anywhere on the body you need to burn calories by following a program that involves both cardiovascular training and weight training (circuit training combines both).  By doing this, you will decrease fat stores throughout the entire body, including the problem areas.

Ever notice when losing fat that some areas reduce quicker than other areas?   This is due to a genetic selective pattern and not due to a particular type of exercise.  Body fat increases and decreases the same way over the entire body.  It’s a fact, men tend to gain fat in their abdominal region, and women tend to gain fat in their gluteal (buns) region.  Men and women do not lose fat in the same areas equally when following similar programs.  Losing fat in the gluteal region is much more difficult for women than it is for men.

Abdominal exercises will NOT get rid of fat on your stomach.  Leg exercises will not get rid of the fat on your legs.  Back exercises will not get rid of the fat on your back.  Bicep exercises will not get rid of the fat on your arms.  Catching on?  This holds true for every single muscle group and body part.  Exercises will take care of building muscle and strength, diet and cardio takes care of losing fat.

You can’t decide where on your body you will lose fat from. Spot reduction implies that you can.  A person with the goal of losing fat can only lose it from the body as a whole. There is no way to change that no matter what any abdominal product or exercise machine claims. They are sorely incorrect and uninformed.

Another common myth:  The muscle gained during a strength training program will turn to fat once strength training has stopped.  Not true.  Muscle and fat are two different tissues which are completely independent of each other. If you stop weight training, your muscles will shrink because the stimulus to increase or maintain their size is no longer there; but by no means can they, or will they, turn into fat.

Spot reduction only applies to losing fat, not building muscle.  You CAN certainly target specific muscles.  However, you CAN NOT target specific fat.  Exercises build and strengthen the muscle of a body part.  Exercises do nothing directly to the fat on that specific body part.

If you feel your body is becoming less toned or softer it is because the proportion of fat to muscle has changed.  Fat, although you may not have gained any more of it, is now dominant simply because you have lost muscle.  Another possible reason for the change is a common problem that exists with many people, primarily athletes. The problem is that they stop exercising, but maintain their eating habits, and slowly begin to put on weight.  If you had been exercising but stopped, be sure to make dietary changes to compensate for the decrease in daily energy expenditure.

Many of my clients wish spot reduction was actually possible.  I know a lot of people still think it is.  People are still doing the same ab exercises in gyms year after year because they truly believe it helps them lose fat from their stomach.  Wish they’d catch on when their waist size doesn’t change.  It just goes to show, how big a myth and scam spot reduction is.  Next time an abdominal infomercial is on, see if you can spot the pitch for the implied spot reduction.  Better yet, here’s my favorite “Exercise Tip & Secret;” go outside, enjoy the day, get some exercise, and have some fun!

TRAINERS AND GYMS  | Back to Top

OK! I’m a personal trainer with a small private gym and 15 years of continuous operation in Sacramento.  With hundreds of clients to date, I’ve learned a few things.  Many people benefit more from the kind of personalized services that certified personal trainers offer in a small private gym setting than from a large, nationally franchised gym or local large gym.  Here are several reasons;

COST:  Some people workout exclusively with a trainer while others combine both training and solo gym time.  If you’re looking to workout exclusively with a trainer, then consider this; private personalized service doesn’t have to cost more.  Smaller gyms, with less overhead, can offer competitively lower rates.  Small gyms include the use of the gym in the price while training.  Large gyms charge for membership and charge again for personal training whether working out exclusively with a trainer or not, having a large chunk of the personal training fee retained as “equipment usage”.  Catching on?  That means membership fees aren’t the same and consumers are paying twice for membership “equipment usage”! 

EQUIPMENT:  On your first visit to a supergym you may be impressed, even overwhelmed with the number of machines placed throughout.  At first glance, large commercial gyms appear spacious and packed with high-end large single-use pieces of exercise equipment. By comparison, small private gyms have fewer and smaller machines, but these versatile machines tend to be new cutting-edge commercial grade multiple-use pieces of equipment.  Small gyms now offer the use of more than just a rack of dumbbells, a set of barbells with weight plates and cardio machines.  Exercise equipment, especially free weights, (dumbbells and barbells) are only as good as the person who has been properly trained on them.

Did you know that free weights (dumbbells and barbells) in general are far superior to machine training?  Here are three reasons why machines are not as effective as free weights: 1), machines’ lack of use of stabilizing muscles; 2), unequal distribution of weight (the stronger side ‘helping’ the weaker side, the strong side gets stronger and the weak side gets weaker); 3), most machines have fixed planes of movement (movement is uniquely different for different individuals).

The plain truth is that the best gyms (large, small, supergym or private) only have the basic equipment. You just have to learn the proper techniques in executing your exercises when using free weights.  Exercise machines, however, continue to improve and be important training tools that require learning proper techniques, as well.  And what better way to learn the ropes than to hire a personal trainer for one-on-one guidance.

SERVICE:  And what about that person who is showing you around the supergym?  Is he/she a trainer or a salesperson?  If you join, will you be left on your own to use the machines without professional guidance?  How much extra will you pay for personal service?  What training and certification have supergym staff received and from whom?  Private personalized service however, is all about customer service as small gyms having small client bases must motivate and continue to deliver results to retain their clientele. 

PRIVACY:  If you work 9 to 5 and join a supergym, you’ll find the times when you want to work out will be the same time everybody else wants to work out! Lines form around the most popular machines and the time you have allotted for your workout diminishes. This can become a self-defeating cycle: You stop going to the supergym because it takes more time than you have, or you become dissatisfied with the results. With a personal trainer in a small gym, the time and attention are reserved for you alone.

Use your hard-earned cash to buy what you want and need, not what someone tries to sell you. Some supergym personnel are on commission, so your membership and other gym purchases are financially important to them. Remember that personal training should be about personalized customer service, caring and teaching. With a private personal trainer you can make your own financial arrangements and won’t be required to authorize electronic fund transfers (EFT) from your bank account, as usually required by the supergym (and are hard to cancel).

When looking for value (cost), think about where you’re really getting your money’s worth.  When looking for equipment, think about quality, availability, equipment upkeep, facility cleanliness, and not waiting in lines, out of service signs, sticky or sweat marked, overused and rundown equipment.  When looking for service think about personalized and customized specifically for your goals, and not a marketing strategy of the up-sell salesman dujour.  When looking for privacy small gyms win hands down.  Think about one-on-one attention, up scale environment, favorite music, controlled temperature, with no distractions, interruptions, and friendly, and not group exercise or on your own, warehouse sized, over crowded, smelly, loud, distracting, with on-lookers, and gym attitude.

If you haven’t already, search out Sacramento’s small local gyms.  Look around your area, ask your friends.  You can find private gyms in locations convenient to you.  Shop for a trainer with whom you feel comfortable.  A little homework from you on this subject up front can make all the difference.  Discuss your goals and work together to achieve them.  You’ll end up happier and confident with your decision and of course looking and feeling healthier too!

THE BODY CLOCK | Back to Top

The dictionary defines the body clock as “A physiological mechanism that is thought to regulate physical and mental functions in chronological rhythm.”

Many basic biological functions follow a 24-hour cycle. The body clock regulates metabolism and energy levels in cells.  The body is regulated by several internal clocks, which control sleeping and eating patterns.  These patterns of daily life are called circadian rhythms, and they are more than just habits.  Inside our bodies are several clocklike systems that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle. Throughout the day and night, our internal clocks direct changes in temperature, body chemicals, hunger, sleepiness and more.

Everyone’s rhythms are unique, but overall, everyone is programmed to feel tired at night and alert during the day.  The light of day and the dark of night play important roles in setting our internal clocks.

Health problems can arise when we are continually out of step with our circadian rhythms.  For example, regularly exercising late at night or working night shifts are factors that could lead to weight gain, obesity and developing weight-related health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease and depression.

Our circadian rhythms are far more important than we usually give them credit for.  The hours we eat and sleep are important indicators of how healthy we are.  At night we are prepared to sleep.  During the day we are prepared to eat and move around.  The body is time sensitive and loves regularity (i.e. eating, sleeping, and other bodily functions).  If you reverse what you are doing, everything is out of phase. This lack of regularity can have adverse consequences mentally and physically.

Proper sleep and diet help to maintain and rebuild muscle tissue as well as improve balance, exercise recovery times, and increase energy levels.  A lack of rest or disruption of normal sleep patterns (rhythms) can profoundly influence human health and has been linked to a feeling of increased hunger, leading to obesity, diabetes, insomnia, depression, heart disease and accelerated aging.

According to Dr. Rob Woodman, President of the Sacramento Valley Psychological Association, and private practitioner in Davis, “The main thing for good health is to wake up at the same time everyday and get sunlight.  The second is to get exercise at the same time everyday.  The third thing is to eat at the same time everyday to keep your body’s master and secondary clocks synchronized.  If your body clocks were synchronized properly, you could set your wrist watch by your master body clock.”

Why do some people feel terrible or lose interest quickly when starting an exercise program, and others continue to feel fine?  Lack of sleep can reduce exercise recovery times and can lead to the body’s internal clocks being out of sync.  It's an often-undetected system problem that makes one physically and mentally less motivated.  People who exercise regularly require additional sleep for muscle repair, cellular growth, and many other basic biological functions.

Try scheduling workouts at the same time each day, when you have the most energy.  Following this tip can help set the body’s clock to yield the best results.  If you're a morning person, schedule your fitness activities early in the day.  If you perk up as the day goes along, plan your activities for the afternoon or evening.  Write down your plan and schedule on a calendar to make it part of your daily routine.

EAT TO SLEEP | Back to Top

Our sleeping schedules affect our eating habits and our eating schedules, in turn, influence our sleeping habits.

Recent studies have involved a hormone called leptin.  Hormones are the body’s messenger molecules.  Leptin, in particular, sends a fullness message to the brain.  As you eat, leptin levels rise until you feel like you’ve eaten enough.   In the study, when people slept during the day and ate at night, leptin levels dropped.  This demonstrates that people who follow unusual schedules are less likely to feel full or satisfied after eating.

Regularly staying up late or sleeping too little makes you extra hungry and more likely to gain weight, possibly leading to obesity.  Studies support this conclusion.  If you believe your system is out of phase, research and rethink how your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythms might be influencing you negatively.

Our sleeping schedules affect our eating habits and our eating schedules, in turn, influence our sleeping habits.

Recent studies have involved a hormone called leptin.  Hormones are the body’s messenger molecules.  Leptin, in particular, sends a fullness message to the brain.  As you eat, leptin levels rise until you feel like you’ve eaten enough.   In the study, when people slept during the day and ate at night, leptin levels dropped.  This demonstrates that people who follow unusual schedules are less likely to feel full or satisfied after eating.

Regularly staying up late or sleeping too little makes you extra hungry and more likely to gain weight, possibly leading to obesity.  Studies support this conclusion.  If you believe your system is out of phase, research and rethink how your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythms might be influencing you negatively.

CORTISOL, STRESS & WEIGHT LOSS |Back to Top

Stress affects hunger, body weight, and where fat is distributed.  The body produces cortisol to help us handle stress. When stress goes up, so do cortisol levels.  This can lead to weight gain and a host of comorbidities associated with it which includes hypertension, diabetes, abnormal blood liped levels, heart disease, and cancer.  Overweight and obese people especially have higher cortisol levels than lean people.  Here’s why.

Cortisol is a hormone in a group of steroids commonly referred to as glucocorticoids.  The hormone cortisol is produced by the adrenal gland and is necessary for life.  Cortisol is a key hormone involved in the body’s response to stress, both physical and emotional.  Cortisol is responsible for the metabolism of Carbohydrates, fats and proteins and helps regulate inflammation in the body and the immune system.  Cortisol increases blood sugar levels, increases blood pressure, and is part of the body’s fight-or-flight response (from stress) that is essential for survival.  The pituitary gland directs the adrenal glands to secrete both cortisol and adrenaline.  Adrenaline production increases alertness, energy level, and metabolism by helping fat cells to release energy.  Cortisol actions help restore balance after stress, including increased production of glucose from protein to quickly increase the body’s energy during stressful times.

Cortisol has a two-fold effect on fat.  When stress first occurs, fat is broken down to supply the body with immediate energy.  Simultaneously, the brain releases a substance known as corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which alerts and sends the body into the fight or flight mode.  The body prepares for battle, pupils dilate, thinking improves, and the lungs take in more oxygen.  CRH signals the appetite to suppress, and the digestive system to shut off temporarily.  CRH also triggers the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which help mobilize carbohydrate and fat for quick energy. When the immediate stress is over, the adrenaline dissipates, but the cortisol lingers to help bring the body back into balance.  One of the ways cortisol gets the body back to normal is by increasing the appetite to replace the carbohydrate and fat we should have burned while fleeing or fighting.  Most people do not respond to stress with such physicality.  The body assumes it has just physically exerted itself.  In reality the body is probably sitting while stressed out and not physically fleeing or fighting.  This survival mechanism causes the body to refuel when it doesn't need to.  Sustained stress keeps cortisol levels elevated which in turn keeps the appetite up.

The second effect of cortisol occurs while being in a constant state of stress.  Long term exposure to cortisol can lead to weight gain, increase in appetite, and continuously increasing insulin levels.  If stress and cortisol levels stay high, so will insulin levels.  Continual stress leads to a constant state of excess cortisol production, which stimulates glucose production.  This excess glucose is then typically converted into fat, ending up as stored fat.  The net effect of this will be increased fat storage in the body.  Furthermore, stress and the resulting chronic overload of cortisol makes one feel tired and listless.  A repeated cycle of overeating to renew energy and comfort leads to the end result of unwanted belly fat.

Stress-induced cortisol causes fat to be stored in the center (waistline) of the body, as fat cells in this area are more sensitive to cortisol.  Fat cells in the abdomen are richer in stress hormone receptors.  These receptors are particularly sensitive to high insulin, and are very effective at storing energy, more so than fat cells in other areas.  Weight gain in the abdomen is a warning indicator of possible future metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease among others.

The relationship between cortisol, stress, and weight gain is not a simple one-to-one relationship.   There are many different peptides and hormones involved.  Cortisol might not be the primary cuprit.  Studies suggest that a state of elevated cortisol levels in fat tissue cells may exist without elevated cortisol levels in the blood regarding obesity.  High levels of cortisol within the cells, such as in fat cells, may play a causative role in obesity, but this conclusion requires further investigation.

Stress increases glucocorticoids which involve the control of body weight and obesity.  There are multiple controls in our body that regulate body weight and appetite.  Glucocorticoids are not the only hormones involved.  Multiple systems are involved in and outside the brain that regulate the amount of fat and appetite level.

Chronic stress and elevated cortisol may be factors in weight problems.  What can one do to reduce cortisol?  First, focus on becoming stress resistant.  One of the best things to reduce stress and improve insulin sensitivity is to get regular exercise, or even a daily brisk walk.  Exercise not only helps promote weight loss by burning calories, but is also beneficial because it helps neutralize effects of stress, which in turn helps you keep weight off.  A daily brisk walk can help to alleviate the causes of stress, allowing the body time to move and awaken.

Second, practice stress reduction techniques such as meditation, yoga, stretching and breathing exercises.  Improving time management or organization skills can also be essential to reducing stress in one’s life.  Getting quality sleep can help reduce your body’s physiological response to daily stressors.

Third, how a person perceives stressful situations is extremely important. One person may feel major stress from a particular situation, whereas another will handle it better by using the event as a learning opportunity.  Stress is all around us, but how one reacts to stress is most important.

 EXERCISE: TOO MUCH, TOO SOON | Back to Top

Whether you’re active, sedentary, or in between, most people are looking to get or stay fit.  Many people are taking up new sports, and launching ambitious exercise programs which may lead to overuse injuries of muscles, joints, and tendons.  Exercisers of any age, but particularly baby boomers (born 1946 through 1964) and seniors, are susceptible to the "too much, too soon" syndrome.

Those who are determined to make up for lost time (for example, taking up a new or past sport) must be careful.  The body can't do at 40 or 50 what it did at 20.  Younger bodies are more resilient, but as we age, we gradually lose strength and flexibility, leaving us more susceptible to injury.  Injuries result if we choose an inappropriate activity, exercise too intensely, exercise for too long or too often, or even switch to a new activity.

Before beginning any fitness program, do an entire body inventory: neck, shoulders, trunk, wrists, knees, feet, heart, lungs, etc. If you have a particular health concern or medical condition that might be made worse by exercise (for example, asthma, or chronic knee pain), check with a doctor for guidelines before setting up or adding to your program.  If you have not worked out in more than six months, it’s a good idea to get a checkup first.

Check your attitude.  The initial burst of enthusiasm can actually cause problems later.  Ease into your new routine gradually to avoid injury or overexertion.  It takes time for the body to adapt and adjust to the new physical demands.  Just be patient.  Work out no more than three days a week to start, and not on consecutive days so muscles have a chance to rest.

Balance training and recovery.  A day off doesn't mean you must stay in bed.  Do something low intensity and different: take a walk with your partner, do some yard work or go for a swim. You can also increase performance and decrease risk of injury by alternating hard and easy days, and by cross training.

Monitor your breathing when doing cardiovascular exercises (such as jogging or cycling).  Take the talk test. If you gasp for air while exercising and talking, your pace is too fast.

Aerobic exercisers should experience an intensity level of about 5, on a scale from 1-10.  Start out with a 30 minute, moderate intensity workout.  Cut back your exercise volume and intensity at the first sign of injury, and never increase training volume by more than 10 percent per week.

Easing into a new fitness program ensures your experience will be a positive one.  Start your new fitness activities well within your ability level.  Not quite sure what that is?  Invest in the guidance of a certified personal trainer, who can administer tests, evaluate your current fitness level, and prescribe an appropriate beginning exercise program to meet your individual needs.

Ignore anyone who says just run through the pain. Pain means something is going wrong. You're harming a muscle, a tendon, a joint.  If you continue when something hurts, you could be risking serious injury. Forget “No pain, no gain”!  If you’re very sore after the first day, or have trouble completing your workout, you're doing too much.

Find the right exercise partner.  Don’t just imitate that big strong hottie nearby who’s been working out for years - pace yourself and take breaks until you're in good enough shape to follow a more demanding program.

Get the right equipment.  Invest in new, high-quality, professionally fitted shoes, clothes, and gear that are specifically designed for the activity.  For example, runners with flat feet or high arches are less susceptible to injuries with the correct foot wear.  Cushion the shock of any impact sports with proper equipment and protective gear.

Peak performance results when you balance exercise with plenty of rest and good nutrition. Asking your body to do more than usual creates an overload. The overload stresses your body, and as your body recovers and adapts to the overload, you become stronger, leaner, healthier, more muscular, faster, and sexier.

Without rest, your body cannot adapt, and performance and health suffers.  Symptoms of overtraining include decline in performance, slower running times, change in mood, increase in fatigue, irritability, depression, persistent aches and pains, elevation in resting heart rate, depressed immune response (colds and flu more frequent), and overuse injuries (such as stress fractures and tendonitis).  If you have questions, a personal trainer or other fitness professional can help you get started.

FITNESS TRENDS – PROS & CONS | Back to Top

The best fitness programs combine three types of exercise: cardiovascular (aerobic), weight training, and flexibility work.  Do all three exercise types and you'll be less vulnerable to the gradual breakdown of a body structure that can lead to serious overuse injury, such as stress fractures, chronic knee or ankle pain, and sprains and strains.  Choose the best exercise program for your body, personality and lifestyle.  Here are some trends that are here to stay:

Individual and Group Personal Training.  In a private one-on-one workout with a personal trainer, you'll create a fitness plan specifically designed for your body and lifestyle.  Accountability, personalization, and great workouts make personal training effective.  In group training, this trend offers less individual attention and privacy; benefits vary depending on group size and group goals.  Group personal training is cheaper than private training.  Beware when exercising in a group, as “one bad apple can spoil the bunch”.  Before signing up with group training, visit the class and check out its membership.  Result oriented individuals with similar fitness goals are ideal compatible classmates.

Circuit Training utilizes various exercises and equipment often including strength training stations, cardio stations, floor work, stability balls, etc.  Circuit training is an effective way to improve strength, stamina, mobility, and cardiovascular capacity.  By keeping the heart rate elevated and combining strength training exercises, circuit training builds muscle and increases metabolism which in turn burns fat.  Each exercise is completed one after another, working a different muscle group until each muscle has been worked.  Each exercise is performed for a specified number of repetitions or for a prescribed time before moving on to the next exercise. The exercises within each circuit are separated by brief, timed rest intervals, and each circuit is separated by a longer rest period.  Circuit training is good for all training levels, including preparation for competition or other training objectives.  Circuit training is one of the most versatile of the exercise programs and can encompass many different exercise methods.  The instructor can quickly change a workout in progress (intensity, reps, range, timing, etc) to fit the needs of the participant to maximize individual result.

Boot Camp is based on military-style training, and combines the instructor's expertise with the support and peer pressure of other participants.  Drills range from power skipping to rotating jumping squats, all to increase cardio, strength and core fitness.  Exercises are infinitely combinable, each workout is new, keeping both muscles and minds engaged.  The downside of these high-intensity workouts can cause potential lifelong injuries (especially for baby boomers, seniors and the unconditioned).  When moving very quickly from one activity to the next with this type of speed, injury can occur if proper form takes a backseat to speed and movement.  Avoid injury by listening to your body and inform your instructor of any pre-existing injuries or conditions.  Always modify moves that are too difficult.  Boot camp-style workouts aren’t for everyone and shouldn’t be the only style of exercise participants perform; if they are, the intensity of these programs may overwhelm.  Many may quickly become exhausted, frustrated and unwilling to perform at such intensity each and every time.

Cross-Training and Cross-Fit exercise focuses on short, high-intensity workouts. The functional moves are simple but hard: push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and gymnastics drills are often done using just your own body weight as resistance.  Exercises generally require little or no equipment.  This well-rounded approach to fitness exercises your whole body.  Cross-Fit can be overly challenging for the unfit or beginner, causing injury due to the intensity of the workouts.  Without professional instruction, participants may do the exercises incorrectly and strain muscles, pull ligaments, tendons, etc.

Pilates, originally used by dancers, focuses on core stabilization.  Breathing and spine alignment are emphasized.  Pilates is slow and controlled, so you're getting a workout without too much sweat.  Its low impact is appropriate for those with bad knees and previous injuries.  Pilates focuses on posture, core strength, joint mobility and muscle strength.  All fitness levels can participate with no special equipment for an effective workout needed.   However, many Pilates studios do offer classes on a metal spring-based Reformer.  Pilates is an anaerobic exercise, which burns fewer calories, although you can build muscle, which does burn calories.

Stability Balls challenge the stabilizing muscles of the spine and work core muscles.  Typical exercises include back extensions, abdominal rotations, and wall ball squats.  Anyone can use the ball to increase strength and stability and help decrease back pain.  People who use stability balls correctly build great-looking, strong core muscles.  Learning the proper form and technique to get a good workout can be difficult without the guidance of a fitness professional.  Stability exercises are meant to work your stabilizer muscles, and most people have difficulty trigging dormant muscles without cueing from a fitness pro.

Interval Training alternates high and low-intensity exercise, such as intervals of sprinting and jogging.  Intervals increase calorie expenditure and after-burn, so calories are burned even after the exercise is over.  Interval workouts burn more fat and improve fitness faster than moderate constant exercise.  High-intensity intervals can be difficult or even harmful for people with certain injuries and disorders. Interval training requires focus, intensity and determination.

To prevent an overuse injury in any activity, be sure you have enough flexibility, adequate strength, the right equipment, proper technique, and include sufficient time for warm-up and cool-down.  If you are a newcomer to exercise routines and equipment, it is crucial that you receive proper instruction from a fitness professional.  Check with your doctor first.  Use common sense.  Work within your limits and give yourself permission to back off and recover before your next workout.

SAFE EXERCISE GUIDELINES | Back to Top

Maximizing results, working out safer and staying in the game is what it’s all about.  Check out these exercise guidelines below to get the most out of your workout.

Warm up properly (before stretching) to prepare for exercise. Warming up increases your heart and blood flow rates and loosens up muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints.  Run in place for a few minutes, breathe slowly and deeply, or gently rehearse the motions of the exercise to follow.

Stretch slowly and carefully until reaching a point of muscle tension.  Hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds, then slowly and carefully release.  Never stretch to the point of pain, always maintain control, and never bounce on a muscle that is fully stretched.

Start exercising slowly. Take your time and gradually increase intensity with time.  Move through the full range of motion with each repetition. 

Avoid mixing exercise and food. Wait 2 hours after eating before exercise.

Use Proper Equipment. Replace worn-out athletic shoes. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes that let you move freely and release body heat.  When exercising in cold weather, dress in removable layers.

Use level, soft surfaces. Look for dirt paths, tracks or level fields.  Hard or uneven surfaces are more likely to cause foot and joint injuries.

Take precautions when on the road. Wear light-colored clothing and/or reflective bands in the evening.  Face traffic when on foot.  Ride with traffic when on a bike.  Don't restrict your hearing with headphones in traffic. Use sun-block, a hat, and/or sunglasses to protect your skin and eyes during the day.

Never exercise in isolated areas alone. Tell someone where you will be and how long you’ll be gone.

Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke.  Drink 2 cups of water 15-20 minutes prior to exercise.  Drink every 15 minutes or so while you exercise.  Have another cup after you cool down.

Stop exercising if you experience; Chest, jaw, neck or back pain or pressure, severe shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing or difficulty breathing, nausea, light-headedness, dizziness, fainting, cramps or severe pain or muscle ache, severe, prolonged fatigue or exhaustion after exercise. Seek medical help if any of the above symptoms persist after stopping exercise.

Rest. Don't exercise if you are extremely tired or don't feel well.  After an extended illness, start off slowly, building back up gradually.  Schedule regular days off from exercising and rest when tired.  Fatigue, soreness, and pain are good reasons to not exercise.

Overuse Injuries. Repetitive stress muscles, tendons, cartilage, bones, and nerves can lead to injuries that would typically heal with enough rest. When exercising too frequently, the body never has a chance to repair.  Without rest and repair, over time, the body can become prone to overuse injuries.

Alternate exercises. Alternate high intensity and lower intensity exercise to avoid overuse injuries and to prevent over-training and fatigue.

Cool down should take twice as long as the warm up period.  Slow your motions and lessen the intensity of your movements for at least 10 minutes.  Before stopping completely, check if your skin is dry, as this indicates your body has cooled down.  Use tepid water to bathe or shower - After exercising warm or hot water can cause dizziness and/or fainting.

Too Much, Too Soon. Don’t make the mistake and learn the hard way by pulling muscles and experiencing joint inflammation.  Muscles that have been sedentary need an opportunity to gradually ease back into exercising.

Risk Factors. In general, injuries during exercise are more likely if: The duration, intensity or frequency of an exercise is excessive or rapidly increasing. The terrain or weather conditions are extreme or irregular.  Incorrect equipment (including athletic shoes) is used. You have been injured in the past. You smoke, drink, or have led a sedentary lifestyle. You have low aerobic or muscle endurance, low or imbalanced strength, or abnormal or imbalanced flexibility. You have high arches in your feet, bowed legs, or legs of different lengths.

Playing hard doesn't have to mean getting hurt.  Remain injury-free and exercise safely from the start.  If you have questions, need help, or require instruction, hiring a certified personal trainer is the perfect solution for many people today.

DO YOU NEED A PERSONAL TRAINER | Back to Top

They're popular and they get results, yet some people shy away from training because they’re unsure of what they'll get out of the experience or whether it's worth the money.  We all need a little help with exercise sometimes and a trainer provides certain benefits that you don’t have when you’re working out on your own.  Here are a few reasons why a personal trainer may be the right decision for you.

Accountability and Motivation.  A trainer provides accountability.  There's nothing like a standing appointment to get your butt in gear for a workout.  The built-in motivation of investing your money and time makes it harder to skip your workouts. A trainer provides structure and support.  A consistent exercise program is more enjoyable, and it’s easier to stick with the program when you have professional guidance.

Efficiency.  A personal trainer can maximize results in minimum time by creating an exercise plan specifically for your body.  The one-size-fits-all exercise program is inefficient and wastes time.  Differences between men and woman, beginner, intermediate or advanced, young or old, fast or slow metabolisms, special conditions, limitations and goals all need to be considered when creating an efficient exercise plan.

Workout Safety.  A personal trainer watches your form, monitors your vitals and can provide objective feedback about your limits and strengths.  Most of us tend to ignore some of the subtle signals our body provides.  We either push through pain or give up too soon.  A trainer can watch what you are doing while you are doing it, and can help push you or slow you down as necessary.

New to Exercise or Need to Get Started.  Beginners can benefit greatly as a trainer can help you maximize your time while helping you stay within your limits so you don't overdo it.  Simple yet effective routines build and tone muscle, increase energy, and reduce fat.  Knowledge, structure, and personal accomplishment build confidence, and maximize results.  A trainer can also help you set goals and map out a specific schedule so you know when, how and where you'll fit in your workouts, and teaching you how to build and modify a fitness program to achieve optimum results.

Need Privacy or Hate the Gym.  Find a personal trainer who works independently in a private training studio.  If you hate waiting in lines in an overcrowded supergym hire an independent trainer as equipment, time and one-on-one attention are reserved for you alone.  In today’s economy a private trainer with a private studio is reasonable and economical.

Lose Weight.  The number one reason people hire a personal trainer is to lose weight and get into shape.  If your resolution is to lose the fat and build muscle, a trainer can keep you on track and help you achieve your goals.

Individualized program and instruction.   People with chronic health conditions and injuries benefit from trainers who are helping clients by working within their health care providers guidelines.  Planning a safe and efficient program can keep you injury free so you can reach your training and health goals.

Specific Illness, Injury or Condition.  If you have any specific issues like arthritis, heart disease, old injuries (knees, shoulders, back, etc), working with an experienced trainer (who works with your doctor) can help you find a program to help heal injuries and avoid any further problems.  Want a safe, effective workout to keep you healthy and fit?  Make sure your trainer has experience with your specific issues!

Improve Technical Skills, Sport or Event.  If you play a particular sport, a sport-specific trainer can help you improve your skills by showing you new training techniques specific to your sport.  A trainer will incorporate skills training into your program so you improve strength, endurance, agility and mental focus.  An experienced trainer can help you figure out what you need to do to stay strong without taking away from your other training.  A trainer can also help create a training program and map out a plan for the coming event.  Find an experienced trainer who does sport-specific training.

Bored or Need to Be Challenged.  If you need some variety in your workouts, a trainer can bring a fresh perspective, new ideas, workouts, and exercise toys to challenge both your body and your mind.  A trainer can also motivate you to push past those self-imposed limits, encourage you to lift heavier, go longer and challenge yourself more than you would on your own.  It’s very hard to slack off with a trainer standing over you!

At a Plateau, In a Rut or Not Seeing Results.  The best exercisers can get stuck on a plateau or need to break out of a rut.  An experienced trainer is the perfect solution to jump start your routine and motivation to overcome plateaus and ruts.  A trainer can also look at your current program and eating habits and help you see where you could make changes to create more effective workouts. A trainer can also help you determine if the goals you've set are realistic for you.

Want Supervision and Support During Workouts.  Some people know how to exercise and they even know how to do the exercises correctly, but they like having a personal trainer for support and supervision. If you're lifting very heavy weights or need someone to help with partner-type exercises, working with a trainer might be a good choice for you.  A trainer can spot you during workouts and help you come up with a good training plan for your goals.

SCHEDULING AND FOLLOWING A CONSISTENT EXERCISE ROUTINE | Back to Top
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Decided to drop a few pounds?  Then cut out fatty foods, start walking on a treadmill regularly, and the pounds will come off.  Beginners don’t need to be fast; the best tip for maintaining a successful fitness regimen is just be consistent.  Have to skip a day?  Then exercise the next day – that’s consistency.

The difference between being successful or not is exercise on a regular basis.  This is true for strength training, weight loss, endurance training, from beginners to advanced.

Frequency of exercise is the single most important factor in reaching weight loss goals, satisfaction with results, and feeling good about progress.

Whether you like to walk, run, swim, lift weights, or use any other piece of exercise equipment, I want to emphasize the importance of frequency. The exception is bodybuilders who know not to work the same body parts two days in a row as muscles need time to repair and grow larger.

Following a consistent exercise plan is praiseworthy regardless of the type of exercise, repetitions, or sets that you perform. When you exercise regularly you begin to not only look and feel better... you will sleep better too.

Someone who wants to lose weight can walk almost daily or do any other aerobic exercise that gets the heart rate up to a fat burning pace.

Remember to praise yourself for every little accomplishment. You are not competing against anyone but yourself, and just doing your routine deserves acknowledgement.

The first step in scheduling and following a consistent exercise routine is to set a time to exercise by writing your appointment down, then following-through. The structure of making an appointment serves as a commitment.  A structured exercise program makes follow-through easier and is one of the building blocks of discipline.  Sometimes it’s as simple as that.  (Unless you’re exercising while you’re reading this), stop what you’re doing and schedule (in writing) your exercise appointment now.

Let’s start with this very important rule, “Never overdo the first few workouts”.  Beginners often fall into this trap, especially if overly excited or trying to show off.  Avoid going “all out”, as this may cause joints to lock-up and muscle pain which can discourage you from being consistent.  Don’t try to do in two weeks what can take months to accomplish.

Before exercising, warm up and stretch.  This helps prevent injury and maximize efforts.  Workouts should start out smooth and easy.

Don’t focus on the same muscle group every workout.  Concentrate on the body as a whole by planning a routine that helps tone and tighten the entire body.

Research effective exercising or talk with an expert about creating an effective exercise routine and how to workout safely so you can reach your goals.

 

LOW-FAT THANKSGIVING | Back to Top

The holidays can play havoc on our waistlines.  Yet many of the traditional foods served during Thanksgiving are perfectly healthful.  It’s what we do to them that loads them up with extra calories and fat.  If the thought “Thanksgiving is just around the corner” leaves you apprehensive about eating too much fat-laden food, here are a few tips to help you enjoy some basic foods at the center of the Thanksgiving celebration without expanding your waistline:

Appetizers don’t need to be full of fat and calories to be tasty.  Have plenty of fresh vegetables on hand.  Use low-fat or fat-free sour cream and yogurt for dips.  Delicious low-fat dips can include spinach dip or mango black bean salsa.  Serve homemade baked pita chips or tortilla chips as a tasty alternative.  Assorted nuts and dried fruits make great snacks and add variety and flavor.

Turkey has little fat, is full of protein, and is an important source of B vitamins.  Turkey breast is your best bet, but be sure to remove the skin first.  A three-ounce serving of skinless turkey breast has about 120 calories and one gram of fat.  If you choose to eat dark meat instead, a three-ounce skinless serving delivers around 160 calories and six grams of fat (two grams of which are saturated).

Cranberries are a great source of vitamin C and contain compounds that are believed to block certain bacteria that cause infections.  Add oranges to make cranberry orange sauce and you add even more vitamin C, or add apples to make cranberry apple sauce.

Sweet potatoes are a rich source of beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, and fiber.  Leave out the butter and excess sugar.  Use orange juice and a sprinkling of brown sugar for flavor instead.  Limit your portion size to no more than half a cup.

Regular potatoes are also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals.  Lose the butter and heavy cream in mashed potatoes, and use reduced sodium, fat-free chicken broth or fat-free milk and sour cream instead.  Flavor with garlic, fresh herbs, and ground black pepper.  Keep your portion size small.

Gravy and stuffing are notorious sources of fat and calories.  Make a lower-fat gravy by straining the fat from the drippings (a fat separator makes the job easier), and using cornstarch or a sprinkling of flour as thickening agents rather than a butter and flour roux.  Add extra flavor to your gravy by using herbs and wine.  You can make a low-fat stuffing by omitting butter, using fat-free broth and, perhaps, lean turkey or chicken sausage instead of pork sausage.  Omit sausage altogether if you like and use meaty mushrooms and extra vegetables instead.

Vegetables should be steamed or roasted rather than slathered in butter or cheesy sauces.  Skip the fried onions rings on top of the green beans (add toasted almonds or walnuts instead), and use vinaigrette dressing or herbs for flavor.  Make sweet glazed acorn squash rings, sautéed green beans, roasted carrots and parsnips, or cider-glazed brussel sprouts.

Pumpkin is a terrific source of beta carotene and fiber.  Enjoy a lighter-crust pumpkin pie by using phyllo dough.  Use egg whites, or egg substitute, and fat-free evaporated milk in the filling.  Great low-fat Thanksgiving recipes can be found on-line. 

Remember, don’t starve yourself beforehand.  You will likely eat (feast) more if you’re super-hungry.  That means don’t skip breakfast; do fill up with whole-grain crackers, fruit, and raw vegetables if hunger pangs strike before the big meal, and do drink plenty of water.

When the time comes to sit down to your Thanksgiving meal, you will be ready to enjoy it without overdoing it.

FITNESS RESOLUTIONS HAPPEN ANYTIME | Back to Top


If you want to make lasting changes, set appropriate expectations, learn what you need to be successful, and focus on what you want to do!  Here are some new year’s resolution tips to help you change your lifestyle, and make fitness happen for you.

Desire to Change.  Change must come from the inside and you must be ready. If you aren't really ready to make the necessary changes, your chances of success are low.  Before making a resolution, sit down and “analyze, focus, think, and rethink” what YOU “really” want.

Ability to Change.  You must have the tools and skills. If you can't read, how will you understand the pages you've wanted to read?  If you are looking to exercise or lose weight, think ahead, do your research now, and you will have your tools in place when you are really ready, willing, and able to make changes.

Have realistic expectations.  Strive for goals that are attainable. Setting a realistic goal is everything.  Expectations that are too high or unrealistic can discourage future progress or can set ourselves up for potential failure.  Success can be achieved by creating smaller modest goals “hurdles” to encourage a larger goal.  For example, improved health is a realistic expectation of weight loss.  However, success in relationships, work and other areas of life is not a realistic expectation of weight loss -- make those separate goals.

Set a learning goal.  To make successful lifestyle changes requires knowledge, time, and commitment. Leaping in to change before doing the necessary preparation is a recipe for failure.  Rather than expecting ourselves to make a change right away, we can instead learn about what we need to do to make a successful change. Get the facts, find out what steps are necessary, realistically assess the potential obstacles in your life to making these changes. Use this information to develop your own plan.

Set goals.  Whether it is to run a marathon, complete a bicycle race, run a 5k race, or lose weight, setting goals will make you more likely to achieve them. Write your goals down and figure out what you need to do to accomplish them.  Hire a fitness professional or join a baseball team because then you will have a support crew helping you achieve success.

Plan well ahead.  Don't make your fitness resolution on New Year's Eve.  Instead devote some time a few days before to reflect upon what you really want to achieve.

Outline your plan.  Decide how you will deal with the temptation to skip a day. This could include calling a friend for help, practice positive thinking, or reminding yourself what you really want out of life. Consider making your new year’s resolution part of your long-term goal for a “Life resolution,” part of your everyday life.

Make a "Pros & Cons" list.  Regularly remind yourself of the benefits associated with achieving your goals by creating a checklist of how life would be better once you obtain your aim.  A pros and cons list can help to keep your motivation strong. Update the list over time, and ask friends to contribute. Keep your list with you and refer to it as needed.

Don't keep your resolution a secret.  Tell your friends and family about your goals, thus increasing the fear of failure and eliciting support.  Find a buddy who shares your New Year's resolution and motivate each other.

Supportive Environment.  Do other people want you to change?  Move away from non-supportive people.  It's part of every drug and alcohol rehab program -- don't hang out with drug addicts and bartenders.  Find people that are excited about the new you and talk with them when you need support.

Reward yourself.  Give yourself a small reward whenever you achieve a sub-goal that does not contradict with your resolution, thus maintaining motivation and a sense of progress.  For example, if you've been sticking to your promise to eat better, your reward could be going to a movie with a friend.

Track your progress.  Keep track of each small success you make toward reaching your larger goal. Break your goal into a series of steps, focusing on creating sub-goals that are concrete, measurable, and time-based. Short-term goals are easier to keep, and small accomplishments will help keep you motivated. Keeping a food diary may help you stay on track.

Focus on what you are going to do.  Too many health-related changes can feel like deprivations. It is harder to maintain motivation for not doing things. It is more rewarding focusing on what we are going to do.  For example, for a weight loss goal think about what you can add to your life. If you need to reduce high fat foods, consider a goal of eating lower fat foods. I have a goal of eating more fruit each day, so every time I want a snack I see it as an opportunity to have a fruit. I have also maintained a goal of eating an extra portion of vegetable with my dinner. This makes me feel more like I am doing something for myself rather than just taking something away.

Cut back, don’t cut out.  Don’t set yourself up for failure by making certain foods off limits. It’s wiser to cut back on those items so you won’t feel deprived. You’re more likely to stay on your diet that way.

Don't beat yourself up.  Obsessing over the occasional slip won't help you achieve your goal. Do the best you can each day, and take each day one at a time.

Confidence.  Studies on change show that those who truly believe they can change, do. Doubters are more likely to fail. Believing you can change encourages commitment, motivation and enhances success.

Stick to it.  It takes about 21 days for a new activity, such as exercising, to become a habit, and 6 months for it to become part of your personality.

New Habits Take Time.  New behaviors must be repeated over and over before they can become habits. Remember to give yourself small rewards instead of a pass or fail grade.

Reward behaviors, not results. If you stayed on a 1500 calorie-a-day diet all week and have promised yourself one desert on Friday night, give yourself the reward even if you haven't lost the two pounds you intended to lose.  Expect to revert to your old habits from time to time. Treat any failure as a temporary set-back rather than a reason to give up altogether.

If you fall off the wagon, keep trying.  Look at this as an important part of change, not a permanent set-back.  Nobody gets it right the first time.  It is important to get back to your positive behaviors and not beat yourself up. If your resolution has totally run out of steam by February or March, don't despair. Start over again! There's no reason you can't make or recommit to a New Year's resolution any time of year. Make resolutions at the time of year you choose and not when everyone else says to do it.

Make fitness fun.  Find a physical activity you enjoy.  Create a circle of support around you to assist you in maintaining your resolution. Have a game plan to help you reach your goals.  The important thing is to choose activities that you can enjoy and get your body moving on a regular basis.  Workout with a friend, hire a personal trainer, choose a sport you can play, or workout alone.  Enjoying the time you have each day, makes it all worth it.

Stamp out stress.  Stress can adversely impact your health. Keep a positive attitude, learn relaxation techniques, exercise regularly and eat well-balanced meals and get sufficient sleep.

Be consistent.  You cannot achieve your goals without being consistent.  You don't have to be in the gym every day, but you need to participate in some type of activity almost every day of the week. Go walking, hiking, biking, or go for run. Whatever the activity is, be consistent with it and make fitness happen.

Make workouts short.  You don’t need to spend two hours in the gym.  In less than 45 minutes you can get a very efficient workout.  Add intervals or full body circuit training into your routine for results.

If you don’t know where to start, choose a professional in the field to help you create a plan of action.  Whether you're planning on becoming more physically fit, spending more time with your family, learning something new or quitting an old bad habit, I congratulate you on the very act of trying to do better.  I wish you good luck with your 2010 endeavors.  Have a great New Year!

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