Friday, February 8, 2013

351/365 Pantless Yoga

Friends and Fitness Enthusiasts,

Okay that was a trick, welcome to today's post! My point is just that you can be a yogi without the yoga pants (though, let's be real, yoga pants are just the best). Yoga means union; it's a union of the mind, body, spirit, and breath. There are a 196 yogi-isms known as Yoga Sutras (threads). I've been practicing yoga for about 3 years but I never learned about these until about 3 months ago. The meaning of my practice has definitely changed since I have a better understanding of the fundamentals. I'm going to try to do the same for you.

The main principals of yoga are the practice of maintaining a state of tranquility and non-attachment to fears, insecurities, etc. So what does that have to do with the up dogs, down dogs, and holding Warrior 2 for what feels like eternity? We do those yoga poses to bring awareness to our bodies and how our breath moves us through each pose. By focusing on our bodies, we can let go of all the chatter in our minds and anything weighing on our hearts. The goal is for your mind to be clear and to focus only on your breathing by the time you get to shavasana. This is a difficult task especially after just one session; that's why it's called a practice. You are constantly trying to get yourself to that state of ease and peace. With diligence, it's possible!

Back to the title, you don't need to wear yoga pants or be in a yoga studio to achieve a yogi state of mind. Breathing is at the very heart of yoga and you can (and should) do it everywhere. Here's a breathing exercise you can do to clear your mind and burn some calories (breathing deeply burns calories!):

1. Put one hand on your belly and one hand at the base of your ribs.
2. When you inhale, fill your belly first with air, then your ribs, then your chest.
3. When you exhale, release from your chest, ribs, and belly.
4. Repeat until you feel zen-ed out

Move your hand from your belly to your chest then back to your belly so you can feel your breath move within you as you inhale and exhale. It may help to close your eyes to focus. You can literally do this anywhere and practice your yoga. I was in the shower and felt really stressed out. I did my three-part breath, taking in the scent of my soap and letting the hot water wash away my troubles. After a few rounds I felt better and ready to step out into the real world again.

I understand that yoga classes aren't for everyone but I do think that everyone can benefit from taking time for yourself to breathe deeply. There are so many beautiful aspects to yoga. As I grow deeper in my practice, I'll be sure to share them with you. Please share any questions or comments you have!

In health,
Lauren

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

350/365 Plantz a-Make Her Dance: Tips for Getting More Vegetables into Your Diet

Friends and Fitness Enthusiasts,

We know fruits and vegetables are great for us but are we eating them as often as we should? According to the USDA, we are supposed to consume 3-5 servings of vegetables a day. I know it can be hard to add them into your diet but here are a few techniques I use that may be helpful to you:

- If you eat salad, put all of your chopped romaine, spinach, Bibb/Boston, etc. lettuce in a container at the beginning of the week.I have been reusing the same giant, plastic container I got months ago when I bought Earthbound Organics's Spring Mix. Every weekend I go to the grocery store, chop up all my lettuce for the week, and store it in that container. It makes it so easy for me to put handfuls of salad into my container to take to work in the morning.

egg white omelette with broccoli, celery, onions, and mushrooms
- I've always loved omelettes but, never thought I'd ever have time to make them. Not so! My dad is a genius when it comes to working smarter and not harder. He stores all his chopped veggies in a container so he can just take a handful to fry (in grape seed oil, of course) when he's ready for breakfast. You can be so creative with these. This week I'm enjoying red bell peppers, onions, shitake mushrooms, and Chinese eggplant. Putting in that extra effort to chop everything ahead of time cuts down breakfast making by half. This meal also gets an A+ if you're paleo, more on that later.

- Though it's better to have fresh vegetables over frozen, I understand it's hard to take time to chop your vegetables every week. An easy way to prepare vegetables is to steam them either in the microwave or on the stove. If you're microwaving, pour your veggies in a bowl and fill the bottom with water. Microwave it for 3-4min. They should be vibrant and tender. If they aren't, microwave them a minute more at a time until they are.

- If you've got a little more time and want to be a little more ambitious, try roasting your vegetables. Set the oven to 350F. Get your vegetables together. I recommend broccoli, bell peppers, cauliflower, and potatoes to start. Chop them all about the same size and put them in a bowl. Pour oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder over the vegetables. Toss until they are evenly coated. Spread the vegetables onto a pan and bake them for about 25-30 minutes. Your veggies should be fragrant and a little brown but, not burnt, toasty on the outside and tender. Who knew vegetables could be so dynamic? Roasted vegetables are amazing. I love them. I could eat them literally every day AND since they shrink down and are so tasty you can scarf a whole mess of them down without even realizing it. Heck, you could easily get all 5 servings from roasted vegetables. Moving on...


Vegetables are not as grab-and-go as granola bars or yogurt cups but they are definitely great for you. If you're not convinced that vegetables are super cool or want more of a challenge, watch this video. Jose Andreas is just the coolest:

In health,
Lauren

Friday, February 1, 2013

349/365 Triathlon Shmishmathalon, You Got This

Friends and Fitness Enthusiasts,

Alright so to pick up where we left off about a year ago, I was training for my first and second triathlons. I did mine through Richmond Multisports. If you're in the VA area, I highly recommend participating in one of their races. They have been around for over ten years, are well organized, and know what they're doing. Plus you get matching shirts and socks! I digress. Really though, for a total newbie in the triathlon game, I found my experience to be wonderful. Everyone was friendly and any question or concern I had about what to do or where to put my stuff was addressed.

Moving on!

What did you say? You've already signed up for your first tri? Awesome! Now the fun begins: training. Your training will depend on your strengths, how fit you are to begin with, and how many days you can commit to training. We all have different strengths, this is my breakdown: running > cycling > swimming; swimming was my focus and I worked on it 3 times a week. A training method you should consider adopting is called a "brick." This is triathlete-speak for biking then running immediately after. This is to simulate the transition you'll have to make during the race. If this is your first race of any kind and that sounds insane, no worries, it is. But you'll be a triathlete soon and an insane, fun challenge is what you signed up for. Once you figure out your schedule, write it down! Make yourself a calendar to keep track of your training and stay motivated. It may seem daunting now but, you can do it. Here's how I did it:

The Swim: Don't drown. Keep swimming. Don't stop. Go faster.
That was my mantra while I was in the pool. Before we go any further, if you're a girl, get a one-piece swimsuit. I made the mistake of wearing a two piece and my top came undone when I was doing a turn. In front of older people doing aqua aerobics. Awesome. Clearly, since I had little experience swimming, I needed all the help I could get. I asked lifeguards at the pool and my swimmer friends to coach me on my stroke. Youtube was helpful but if you know anyone who can watch you and teach you how to swim freestyle, go for that instead. Swimplan is a great website for coming up with swim routines because it is tailored to your abilities. The site will ask you for your pace doing x number of laps. For example, if your workout includes intervals, it will give you times to work towards based on the time you gave. As a non-swimmer, it was weird for me to train until I realized I should treat this like running. Start out swimming for 15 minutes. Take as many rests as you need while keeping count of your laps. The next time, try to take fewer rests and swim more laps instead. Eventually, you'll get to your race distance and beyond. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming...

The Bike: Thighs of Steel
Triathlons can become very expensive sports. When you go to a triathlon store or see triathletes, they may intimidate you with their fancy fuel belts, their slick outfits, and their shiny bikes. It's okay. No one really starts out like that and if they do, they're not reading this blog so don't worry about it.  My point is just that the cycle bikes are really where people spend their money. You can get all crazy with the carbon frames, alien helmets, and all that but fear not. At the end of the day, we all have to push one pedal in front of the other. If you can't afford one of those bikes, work with what you've got. Get your bike tuned up, make sure the tires are inflated properly (this will prolong the life of your tires and will be much easier on your legs), and adjust your bike so it works best for your body's mechanics (aka adjust the seat so that your knee is slightly bent when your leg is extended and that your foot pushes straight down on the pedal rather than forward; your ankle should be in a right angle).

I know it's hard to get long rides in especially if you live in a city. My recommendation would be to take cycle classes. They are great for training your endurance while in the comfort of an indoor facility. If you can't get to a cycle class, an upright bike will do just fine. Just because you're a strong swimmer or a seasoned runner does not mean you'll automatically be a great cyclist. You need to train your muscles to do the specific work you're asking them to do.

The Run: My Happy Training Day
Of the three activities, running is my favorite and what I do most often. If you're not already a runner, work up to your distance just like you are for swimming or cycling. I've written a handful of posts already on running. Just scroll down to the bottom of the blog and click the running label or right here. I was pretty good on my run training since I was also training for a half marathon in March and the triathlons were in the summer.

Putting It All Together
The triathlons I did were about half the distance of the Olympic triathlon. The distance for the first (May) were as follows: 300m swim, 12mi bike, and 5k run; the second (June) were: 650m swim, 18mi bike, and 5k run. I started training in January. Like I said, my biggest challenge was the swim. I dedicated Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to working on my stroke and getting faster. On Tuesdays I would run about 3 miles and on Thursdays I took a cycle class and ran 1.5-2 miles afterwards (brick, baby!). I would also try to do yoga at least once a week to stay limber and body weight strength training once a week to stay strong. I highly recommend you stretch after all your cardio sessions so you're not tight. Range of motion is crucial for exercise and being a functional person (I sense a new blog topic...).

That's a lot, I know but, it's totally worth it if you're willing to put in the time. I didn't just want to participate in a triathlon, I wanted to compete. Everyone is different though. If you just want to finish then finish strong.

The Result
After my five months of training, I was pretty proud of myself. I finished 4/11 for my age group in my first tri and 4/9 for my age group in my second. It was definitely work. I had never felt so exhausted or so invigorated in my life. Transitions are a whole other beast I didn't talk about; comment if you want to know more about that. Essentially, you have to figure out how you're going to transition from swim to bike and then bike to run. This post is just meant to whet your appetite. Anyway, it was a great experience and when I have more money I will revisit the triathlon scene. I highly recommend it and am proud to say, "I am a triathlete!"

In health,
Lauren

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

348/365 It's Me Again because Guess What...It's Never too Late!

Friends and Fitness Enthusiasts,

Wow, it's almost been exactly one year since my last blog post. I know you missed these blog posts blowing up your news feed  :)

So first off, this blog is a testament to the fact that it's never too late to hop back on the wagon. Maybe you set out to work out four days a week but, have only worked out twice in the last three weeks. It's OK! You can always start over. If you've taken psychology in any capacity, I'm sure you've heard of Prochaska's Stages of Change. Basically, you start out wanting to change a behavior, you plan for it, you're ready to go, you do it, you maintain it...forever. But, as we all know, life does not work like that. We get busy. It's the holidays. You've run out of steam and can't think of another fitness topic to blog about...there are plenty of reasons to get off the wagon. Prochaska says, "Ain't no thang baby! Get back out there and try again."

I feel like this post is appropriate since it's nearly February. At this point, you may be a champ and have kept up your New Year's Resolutions. You may be like me and never made a resolution for 2013. It's okay. We can make one now. We can make a new one. We can restart an old one. The world is your oyster, kid. Take hold and do something!

Here are my resolutions for 2013:
1. Finish this blog, maybe even post more than 365 posts
2. PR for my 10K time, shooting for under 53 minutes; under 50 minutes would be really nice
3. Practice yoga at least three times a week
4. Hike and get outside way more; I've got a calendar made already, look out for it and join me if you can! More on that later.

I'm back, internet friends, and it feels good.

In health,
Lauren

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

347/365 Trying for Triathlons

Friends and Fitness Enthusiasts,

Run, Forrest, Run! That's all I've been doing for the past few months. Running and yoga have been my exercise modes to train for this half marathon. One day while icing my knees after a run, I realized that I should probably cross train so I don't wear out my body one step at a time. Since I can't imagine running for 5 hours (the minimum I would be running for a full marathon), and I have a feeling that my body won't be able to take the pounding of running for long, I thought about what other activities I could do. Why not a triathlon?

I've always written off triathlons saying, "Well, the biking I could do but, swimming? Pssh...swimming is not for me." With a pool at my gym/work, there was no way I could continue ignoring that aspect of training. The lifeguards at my pool are super friendly and were eager to help me work on my form. I'm now into my 3rd week of swimming and am in love with it! Swimming well really just comes down to form (teaser...get excited for a post all about swimming!)

Running? Check. Swimming? Check. Biking? Pending.

Again, using my undergrads as resources, a girl on the cycling team was able to direct me to a sweet road bike by Specialized. I still know nothing about bikes, what you should look for, what's good, what isn't but, I'm told that the Specialized Dolce for Women is an excellent bike to begin one's love affair with cycling.

My next step is to actually get the bike and ride. There are tons of resources on the web for how to train for a triathlon. My modus operandi for now will just be to get all three activities in during the week with some yoga and strength training too. Eventually, I'll have to work on transitioning from cycling to running but that will come in due time. Until then, perhaps give triathlons a second look...the swimming part isn't really that bad!


In health,

Lauren

Saturday, January 21, 2012

346/365 Fruit and Veggie Smoothie...Wonder Drug?

Friends and Fitness Enthusiasts,

In my family, my dad is notorious for health fads, specifically fruit/vegetable smoothies.  Every few years since I was young we have welcomed a new blender into our kitchen and the smoothie craze would begin. We drank everything from carrot juice to green juice to mangosteen and back to carrot juice again, and so on. These phases would last a few months then die out. My father has always had an obsession for juicing. This time I think it's here to stay.

My dad showing off the variety in our daily smoothie
After watching a documentary on food and healthy eating, my father made a list of foods that we should eat on a daily basis. These foods include kale, beans, cauliflower, red wine, mushrooms, beets, and so much more. It's a lot to prep and cook these foods. My father is all about working smarter and not harder; enter smoothie phase 2012. He decided to invest in the Ninja Kitchen System 1100. Here he can stuff all the veggies and fruits possible (pears, beets, radishes, an apple, grapes, acai juice, celery, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, kiwi, a banana, berries, and flaxseed since variety is key!) and blend them to a pulp. In about 1 minutes and 30 seconds you have a variety of nutrients blended and several servings and fruits and vegetables gulped down into your body.

We certainly don't do it for the taste. We drink this mad concoction because we know it is a great way to prevent disease and infection. Note the dominance of vegetables in this smoothie. Vegetables have less sugar than fruits and are still packed with antioxidants. I think we can all agree that we get plenty of sugar in the rest of our diet and it's harder to eat lots of vegetables compared to lots of fruits. I don't feel particularly healthier just yet but I'm sure the unseen processes in my body are singing. With all the running and swimming (more later) I'm doing, I'm certain my cells are thankful for the antioxidants to battle the stressors and free radicals floating around inside me. I will say this, my dad's hair is darker and thicker than it's been in a long time. "Pope head," as my parents have lovingly called balding, seems to have been staved off at least for now. Cheers!

In health,
Lauren

Monday, January 2, 2012

345/365 Thrills of Running Down Hills

Friends and Fitness Enthusiasts,

Running hills are a great way to train to run faster. The motion of running on an incline is an exaggeration of how we run on flat ground. By training up hills, you can work on your knee drive upwards and your leg extension as you propel yourself forward. If you find a nice stretch of hill (like 400m/0.25mi), sprint up and jog down four to six times for a quick and exhilarating work out. Form is crucial for running up and down the hills to avoid injury and increase performance.

As you may know, my cousin and I are training for the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in March. Our neighborhood offers a nice variety of terrain for us to run including those dreadful hills. Too many hills on our runs seems to have caused my cousin's knee to bother her. She went to the local running store to purchase a sleeve for her knee. The sales associate however advised her to wait on the sleeve and to just try to take it easy and not run so many hills. Since we cannot just make perfectly flat routes out of thin air, he coached her on how to approach declines.

When running down a hill, I usually just let my body fly while still maintaining a toe strike; I feel my knees a little more when I do that. Instead, he suggested to run with a gentle heel to mid strike and to lean forward. Your lean doesn't start at your waist but at your ankles to keep your posture the same as if you were running on flat ground. This requires you to bend your knees more on your landing and be more aware of your posture. I tried doing this and in fact, I did go down a lot faster with more control and no knee pain. Speaking of knees, be sure to ice after a tough run especially if you have previous injuries. Icing will decrease inflammation and speed recovery; 15-20min is ideal.

As always, stand tall, tuck your pelvis underneath you, drive your knees straight up (to avoid twisting of any kind), keep your shoulders and head back, and have a great run.


In health,

Lauren

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