Archive for February, 2010

What to do when you can’t do traditional exercises

We hear a lot about obesity these days and the usual solutions range from gastric bypass surgery to the inevitable plea for diet and exercise. But with all this attention, there’s one aspect of obesity no one’s really talking about. I discovered this missing link when I started working with two clients, sisters and nurses, both of them morbidly obese. The problem? They couldn’t do the same kinds of exercises as other clients because of their size…the machines were too small and some exercises were just downright impossible. Together, came up with some solutions to these problems and, if you’re in the same boat, you can too.

The Challenges of Being Obese

Besides the obvious challenges of being overweight or obese in our world, when it comes to exercise, plus-sized people have even more obstacles getting in their way. My clients have shared some of their experiences with exercise such as:

Intimidation at the Gym. Gyms can be scary, even for the most experienced exerciser. Walking into a room full of sweaty exercisers, all of whom seem to know what they’re doing is hard for many of us. My obese clients have mentioned how much more humiliating it is when you’re very overweight.

Confusion about Cardio. Cardio exercise can be a challenge at a gym. Some of the problems these clients have faced include:

Machines that are difficult to use or cause knee or back problems.
Swimming is a recommended exercise for obese people and this is wonderful if you have a pool in your backyard, but what if you don’t? Walking around in a bathing suit causes instant panic for plenty of people, but even moreso if you’re overweight or obese.
Recumbent bikes are another good option for obese people. The problem is, many aren’t built with big enough seats and climbing onto them can be a real challenge.
Walking. This is a simple exercise that can be done anywhere, right? For people with joint or knee problems, walking isn’t always comfortable and some of my clients have even experienced name-calling and other rude behavior when they’ve gone out for a walk.

Strength Training Issues.
These are just a few of the problems my clients have encountered when they’ve tried strength training at the gym:

Weight Benches are too narrow and/or too tall for larger bodies. Many seats on strength machines are too small for larger behinds.
Getting up and down from the floor is a workout all on its own and many supine exercises cause problems breathing.
Many clients carry weight around their bellies which make some exercises impossible.
Traditional leg exercises such as squats and lunges are difficult for people with knee problems and balance is sometimes an issue as well.
If I were queen of the world, I would wave my magic wand and eliminate this obesity problem altogether. Until my magic wand gets here, I’ve put together some ideas for people who need to be more creative when it comes to exercise.

Private Personal Training

Personal training is an excellent option for anyone, but especially someone who’s obese and looking to lose weight and get healthy. However, because of the gym-intimidation factor, there are plenty of obese people who miss out on the opportunity to work one-on-one with an expert. One option, if you want to avoid the masses, is to work privately with a personal trainer. You can opt for hiring a trainer to come to your home or work with a trainer at a personal training studio. Some of the advantages in working out at a studio include:

The ability to negotiate sessions and pricing. Many chain gyms have a set price and set packages for personal training. If you go through a studio, you may have more room to negotiate pricing and even the length and frequency of your sessions.
Privacy. Most studios are small and often exist only to provide personal training (though some may also offer group fitness classes as well). At some, you can even request private training–meaning they’ll schedule you at a time when no other trainers or clients are there.
Experienced and educated trainers. Nothing against trainers at health clubs, but having worked at one, you’re more likely to find more experienced trainers at a studio.
One note–not all personal training studios are alike, so do your research. Visit different places before you make a decision and check the trainer’s credentials and experience.

Online Personal Training

If you’d like to work with a personal trainer but don’t have the funds or time, consider joining Plus One Active for online personal training. When you sign up, you’re assigned your very own trainer to set you up with a workout. If you’re a beginner, keep in mind that you won’t have someone there monitoring you and watching your form. If that may be a problem for you, start with a live personal trainer and move on to online training when you’re more comfortable with exercise. For more information about this, read my review of My Fitness Expert


10 Signs You Might be an Annoying Fitness Freak

If you’re into health and fitness, you probably want everyone in your life to be into it too. That’s an honorable goal but, going about it the wrong way may do more harm than good. Learn about the 10 signs that you might be an annoying fitness freak.

1. You Nag Too Much
Most of us have the best intentions when we nag – we want the people we love to live healthy, happy lives – if they would only just do what we say! Naggers tend to:
Never let up – Asking, “Are you going to workout?” is one thing. Tweeting, Facebooking, texting and sending smoke signals all day will send them running for cover.
Be controlling – “Here are the workouts you should do each day – this PowerPoint presentation explains everything.”
Make everything about exercise – “Why don’t you jog as you’re taking out the trash? Maybe you’ll burn a few calories.”

Stop the Nagging

Realize that nagging may actually backfire. Encouragement and praise for the healthy things they are doing may make more of a difference than badgering them.

2. You’re Self-Righteous
Back in college, my roommate and I were digging into some chips when my friend, a fitness freak, walked in and gasped, “Oh my gosh, I would never eat those.” We looked at each other like we’d just discovered we were eating a handful of dog poop.
Fitness freaks can make others feel bad about their choices by pointing out our perfection:

Using the word ‘always’ – As in, “You didn’t workout because you forgot your shoes? I always exercise, even if my feet bleed.”
Using the word ‘never’ – As in, “I would never eat anything with sugar in it, even with a gun to my head.”

Get Off the Pedestal

Pointing out how perfect you are only creates distance. Sharing your struggles may encourage friends to open up as well, giving you an opportunity to help.

3. You’re Judgmental
Being judgmental is another trap we sometimes fall into. Some things a judgmental fitness freak might say:
“Should you really be eating that?”
“Oh, you’re ordering that? I call that a heart attack on a plate.”
“You mean you never do any high impact workouts? How do you live with yourself?”

Back Off

We sometimes shame people into making better choices, but no one likes to feel bad about what they’re doing. Some gentle nudging (e.g., “I had this salad last week and it was phenomenal.”) without harping on calories may be enough to get them to think twice. If it doesn’t, there’s not much we can do about other people’s decisions. Focus more on being a good role model and offering support when it’s appropriate.

4. You’re a Know-It-All
As fitness freaks, we have a huge database of fitness knowledge inside our brains. The knowledge helps us make good choices, but it also may encourage us to force those choices onto others. You might be a know-it-all if you:
Toot your own horn: “Do you know about the effects of fatty acids on metabolic function in ischemic myocardium? Because I do.”
Use big words – “You should dorsiflex as you abduct to work the vastus lateralis.”
Give unwanted advice – “I noticed your legs are kind of skinny. Have you thought about doing more squats?”

Zip Your Lips

While fitness freaks know a lot, we don’t know everything. Wait for someone to ask for advice before giving it and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something. People respect honesty.

5. You’re Inflexible
Some fitness freaks have an all-or-nothing approach to living healthy. Take it too far and you not only annoy others, you may not be enjoying life as much as you could. You might be inflexible if you:
Bring carrot sticks to every party – If you’re on a special diet, that’s fine, but turning up your nose at every dish might offend others.
Are the resident calorie counter – At a birthday party, you’re the one who shouts, “I read that one piece of birthday cake has 947 calories.”
Refuse to eat anything you haven’t had analyzed in a laboratory.

Bend a Little

Being healthy means making healthy choices most of the time. However, allowing some indulgence from time to time can enrich your life and make you more approachable to others.

6. You’re One-Dimensional
As a fitness freak, I love talking about exercise, sometimes to the point of annoyance. Sharing enthusiasm is fine but, if it’s all you talk about, other people may avoid you like the plague. Some signs to look for:
When someone asks about your weekend, you have no idea what you did besides workout.
You dominate the conversation – Steering every topic back to your marathon training or your deep love of flaxseed oil may cause instant eye-glazing.
The last 8 books you read included the words “exercise,” “health,” “workout,” or “training” in the titles.

Branch Out

Fitness is important, but trying other things, like photography or travel, is invigorating and makes you more interesting. Finding balance is something we all have to work at.

7. You’re Self-Important
Some of us fitness freaks are so proud of what we’ve accomplished, we may come off as a little full of ourselves. We all need a pat on the back for our hard work, but forcing compliments can turn people off. Some things to avoid:
Bragging – “I did 76 pull-ups today and I barely broke a sweat. Man, I am awesome!”
Showing Off – At every party, you challenge everyone to a one-arm pushup contest.
You Repeat Yourself – You always tell the same story about how you wrestled a grizzly bear into submission with your own strength.

Toning it Down

There’s nothing wrong with being proud of our accomplishments and telling others about them but, sometimes, actions speak louder than words. Being healthy, strong and confident shows who you really are.

8. You May Be Insensitive
“You’d be beautiful if you lost weight – You have such a pretty face!” We’ve all heard that cliche, and fitness freaks can be just as insensitive sometimes by:
Oversimplifying – It’s not helpful to say, “Why don’t you just eat less?” to a person struggling with the scale.
Condescending – Saying, “You can’t keep up? You really should work on your endurance,” to your friend will not inspire more workouts.
Dismissive – If you get what you consider a silly question (”How do I use a treadmill?”), dismissing it (”What? Everyone knows how to use a treadmill!”) ensures they won’t ask another one.

We fitness freaks forget what it’s like to be a beginner. Remembering our own struggles can help us empathize and give encouragement when needed.

9. You’re Intimidating
Many fitness freaks have been exercising for so long, we forget that other people don’t have the same knowledge or the same stamina we do. That may creep into the advice we give, sometimes without us realizing it:
“I think you’ll burn the most calories doing a 90-minute spin class. I do it three times a week, along with my marathon training, and it rocks!”
“My favorite exercise is handstand pushups – they really work your shoulders!”
My workout schedule?” (Checking your watch) “How long do you have?”

it’s great that people come to us for advice, but we don’t always know what other people can handle. Remind advice-seekers that they may need different workouts when they’re just starting out and that what you do may not work for them.

10. You’re You
Sometimes you annoy others simply by being the healthy, fit person you are. It can be hard being around someone who has it all figured out and your very presence may remind them of that fact. There are some people who will be annoyed no matter what you do but, if there’s someone who constantly picks on you because you’re a health nut, you may feel like you have to defend your position.

Remember that being healthy, fit and strong isn’t something to apologize for. If you’re engaging in some of the behaviors listed above, you may have some things to work on. However, if you’re simply living your life the way you like and you feel good about yourself, then that’s what matters. Keep up the great work!


Top 10 Health and Fitness Trends of the ‘00-’10 Decade

Every decade has its share of health and fitness trends and the last 10 years brought some doozies. We renewed our relationship with carbs, invented a whole new way of exercise using our Wiis, rediscovered our abs and gave them a new name (the core) and created tons of great technology that makes it easier than ever to exercise. Check out this past decade’s top health and fitness trends – the good, the bad and the ugly.

1. Low Carb Diets

Carbs took a beating in the ’90s with the resurgence of the Atkin’s diet, which focused on high protein, high fat, and low carbs to induce rapid weight loss. In the early 00s, carbs came back into the spotlight with a host of new diets, such as The South Beach Diet and Protein Power, but with a more forgiving approach to eating carbs.

The last few years have gone even better for the much maligned carbohydrate as we realized that carbs were not the enemy. This was the decade we realized that carbs could actually be good (e.g., whole grains, fruits or vegetables) and bad (e.g., refined sugars). The high protein craze, though extreme at times, did have an upside: We’re now more aware of how food fuels our bodies and the importance of balance.

2. Exergaming

We’ve always loved our video games, but this was the decade we realized that we could play games and get fit at the same time – or at least get off the couch a little more. The introduction of the Nintendo Wii changed how we play games and even how we exercise. The interactivity of the controllers and the ability to track body movement gave us a whole new way to move and a host of fitness games like Wii Fit, Wii Fit Plus, EA Sports Active and EA Sports Active: More Workouts.

Celebrities also jumped on the Wii train with Daisy Fuentes Pilates and Jillian Michael’s Fitness Ultimatum 2010, both of which failed to thrill.

Who could predict that we would be balancing on virtual tightropes or juggling imaginary balls for exercise?

3. New Health and Exercise Technology

The Internet changed our lives back when Al Gore invented it, and the past 10 years has given us new technology to do everything from counting our steps to directing our workouts straight from our smartphones. Some of the best include:

Fitness Apps – With apps like iPump and iFitness we now have no excuse not to exercise.
GPS Tracking Gear – Heart rate monitors are so 90s. The latest GPS devices can count your calories, map your location, track your stats and make you breakfast.
Body Monitoring Devices – The popularity of pedometers surged in the past few years and we’ve seen even more devices such as the Philips Activity Monitor and the BioTrainer to track everything from sleep patterns to physical activity levels.

4. Dancing Away the Pounds

The popularity of dancing for exercise comes and goes (remember the line dancing craze in the 90s?) and this decade we caught the bug once again. Spurred by the surprising popularity of Dancing With the Stars and our desire to make exercise less like work and more like fun, a wealth of new workouts and classes popped up this decade to help us dance away the pounds. Some of the stand outs include:

Cardio Striptease – Striptease went mainstream this decade, prompting numerous women to ask one another, “Are you going to pole dancing class tonight?”
Zumba – This fun Latin-based dance class came out early in the decade and has gotten even more popular with a mix of dance styles including salsa, samba and merengue.

5. The Rise of the Amateur Athlete

In the last 10 years, one of the more interesting trends has been the rise of the amateur athlete, particularly beginning marathoners. Statistics tell us that around 299,000 runners finished marathons back in 2000 and almost twice as many (407,000) finished in 2007. Not everyone is thrilled with the trend, but runners all over the world are taking advantage of some of the resources we’ve created in the past decade to make it easier:

Online Marathon Training Programs mean we don’t need coaches or running clubs to train.
Finding marathons is easier than ever and there are new ones popping up every year.
Marathon training has evolved into shorter training runs, which means you don’t have to quit your job to run a marathon.

6. Exercise Gimmicks and Gadgets – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Exercise gadgets have long been a part of American culture and this decade saw its fair share of shiny new gear and gimmicks – some good and some that defy explanation.
The Good

We saw plenty of new tools for balance, stability, power and core training including:

Kettlebell Training
Balance training gear like the BOSU Balance Trainer, the BOSU Ballast Ball
TRX Suspension Training
The Bad

There was no shortage of ab equipment on late night infomercials promising everything from a treadmill-like experience for your abs to melting the fat from your waistline:

The Ab Rocket
The Ab Circle Pro
Ab Scissor
The ugly

Some of the more unusual offerings of the past decade include:

The Power Plate
3 Minute Legs
The Shake Weight
The Rock and Go

7. The Rise of the Anti-Shoe

Another interesting trend in the past decade are anti-shoes, or shoes with Masai Barefoot Technology (BMT). These types of shoes are designed to mimic walking in the sand. The sole is curved and has multiple layers, making it feel like you’re walking on an uneven surface. The idea is to activate more muscles as you walk, improve your posture and provide some shock absorption for joints. Some even promise to strengthen and tone the muscles in the glutes, hips and thighs, although whether this is actually true remains to be seen.

Other ‘fitness shoes’ like the Reebok EasyTones and Fit Flops cropped up in the last decade as well, promising us more ways to work while we walk.

8. Extreme Weight Loss

Weight loss has always been a concern and it remained in the spotlight throughout 2000s. Slow, steady weight loss was the choice for some, but thousands chose the surgical route, with more than 100,000 people opting for weight loss surgery in 2003.

Extreme diets were another popular method of weight loss and we saw a resurgence of fad diets like Master Cleanse Diet, which requires drinking a mixture of lemon juice, syrup, water and Cayenne pepper. Yum. Other trendy diets included The Raw Food Diet and The Coconut Diet.

TV shows got in on the fun with shows like The Biggest Loser, in which overweight people compete with one another to lose weight by spending hours exercising, sweating and, occasionally, puking.

9. Core and Functional Training

We’ve always been somewhat obsessed with our midsection, but the 2000s brought us a new understanding: There’s more to our abs than just the 6-pack (a.k.a. the rectus abdominis).

This was the decade we discovered our core, a collection of muscles in the torso that support our spine and keep us stable and balanced. The best part of this was that many of us moved away from our obsession with flat abs and focused more on strong abs.

Even better, we finally moved beyond boring old crunches in favor of fun, dynamic exercises like knee tucks, woodchops and planks.

10. Healthy Lifestyle Changes

One of the healthier trends over the last decade is a turn towards living a healthy lifestyle. While we still worry about our weight, more of us are concentrating on healthy behaviors that make us feel better and fit without obsessing on the scale.

Counting calories has become a way of life now that we can easily access online diet tools. We know more about portion sizes, fiber, good fats and bad fats than ever before and we’ve even learned how to read food labels.

More restaurants are providing nutritional information on their menus and even fast food joints got on the bandwagon with more salads, fruits and healthier choices. Best of all, this is the decade we started to understand that living a healthy lifestyle can actually be fun.


Simple Ways to Live a Healthy Lifestyle

You hear a lot about living a healthy lifestyle, but what does that mean? In general, a healthy person doesn’t smoke, is at a healthy weight, eats healthy and exercises. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
The trick to healthy living is making small changes…taking more steps, adding fruit to your cereal, having an extra glass of water…these are just a few ways you can start living healthy without drastic changes.


One of the biggest problems in America today is lack of activity. We know it’s good for us but avoid it like the plague either because we’re used to being sedentary or afraid that exercise has to be vigorous to be worth our time. The truth is, movement is movement and the more you do, the healthier you’ll be. Even moderate activities like chores, gardening and walking can make a difference.

Just adding a little movement to your life can:

Reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes
Improve joint stability
Increase and improve range of movement
Help maintain flexibility as you age
Maintain bone mass
Prevent osteoporosis and fractures
Improve mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression
Enhance self esteem
Improve memory in elderly people
Reduce stress
So, even if you opt for small changes and a more modest weight loss, you can see the benefits are still pretty good. One study has found that just a 10% weight reduction helped obese patients reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and increase longevity.

Simple Ways to Move Your Body

You can start the process of weight loss now by adding a little more activity to your life. If you’re not ready for a structured program, start small. Every little bit counts and it all adds up to burning more calories.

Turn off the TV. Once a week, turn off the TV and do something a little more physical with your family. Play games, take a walk…almost anything will be more active than sitting on the couch.
Walk more. Look for small ways to walk more. When you get the mail, take a walk around the block, take the dog for an extra outing each day or walk on your treadmill for 5 minutes before getting ready for work.
Do some chores. Shoveling snow, working in the garden, raking leaves, sweeping the floor…these kinds of activities may not be ‘vigorous’ exercise, but they can keep you moving while getting your house in order.
Pace while you talk. When you’re on the phone, pace around or even do some cleaning while gabbing. This is a great way to stay moving while doing something you enjoy.
Be aware. Make a list of all the physical activities you do on a typical day. If you find that the bulk of your time is spent sitting, make another list of all the ways you could move more–getting up each hour to stretch or walk, walk the stairs at work, etc.
Learn about more ways to fit in exercise.

Eating Well

Eating a healthy diet is another part of the healthy lifestyle. Not only can a clean diet help with weight management, it can also improve your health and quality of life as you get older. You can use the new Food Guide Pyramid to determine how many calories you need and what food groups you should focus on or, if you’re looking for smaller changes, you can use these tips for simple ways to change how you eat:

Eat more fruit. Add it to your cereal, your salads or even your dinners
Sneak in more veggies. Add them wherever you can–a tomato on your sandwich, peppers on your pizza, or extra veggies in your pasta sauce. Keep pre-cut or canned/frozen veggies ready for quick snacks.
Switch your salad dressing. If you eat full-fat dressing, switch to something lighter and you’ll automatically eat less calories.
Eat low-fat or fat-free dairy. Switching to skim milk or fat free yogurt is another simple way to eat less calories without having to change too much in your diet.
Make some substitutes. Look through your cabinets or fridge and pick 3 foods you eat every day. Write down the nutritional content and, the next time you’re at the store, find lower-calorie substitutes for just those 3 items.