Ch-ch-ch-chia

Good morning!

Willoughby and I are still in our pajamas. I’ll be changing soon (even though I’m working remotely, I do actually throw on jeggings instead of lounge around in my pjs all day. Come on, people…I am not THAT much of a bum), but I expect that Willoughby will be in his all day. That, or his pajamas look exactly like the outfit he wears every day. Haven’t figured that one out yet…

As I was eating my breakfast this morning (oatmeal with chopped dates, sliced almonds, peanut butter, and chia seeds), I decided that it would be a good idea to share the benefits of chia seeds with you. After some research (since I am not an expert), here are some of the best things about chia seeds that I could find:

That last one is my personal favorite.

Aside from their entertainment and fashion value, Chia seeds they actually have great nutritional benefits. In fact, they are often regarded as one of the best superfoods to consume!

What are chia seeds, exactly?

Definitely NOT my hand.

Here’s a great, brief description I found on their source and history (source):

Chia is an edible seed that comes from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family that grows abundantly in southern Mexico. You may have seen chia sprouts growing on the novelty planters called Chia Pets, but historically, the seeds have been the most important part of the plant. In pre-Columbian times they were a main component of the Aztec and Mayan diets and were the basic survival ration of Aztec warriors. I’ve read that one tablespoon was believed to sustain an individual for 24 hours. The Aztecs also used chia medicinally to stimulate saliva flow and to relieve joint pain and sore skin.

Now check out some stats on them. Here are some easy ways to compare chia seeds to your favorite “every day” foods. Per serving, they have (source):

  • More Omega-3 than Atlantic Salmon
  • More Antioxidants than fresh blueberries
  • More Fiber than bran flakes
  • More Calcium than 2% milk
  • More Protein, Fiber & Calcium than flax seed

The best thing about chia seeds is that you can add them into pretty much anything that you want: they don’t have a strong taste, and only add a little bit of crunch to the texture of your food; they can be cooked or eaten raw; and they can even be used in baking as a substitute for eggs! (mixing raw chia seeds with water and allowing to absorb for a little while creates a viscous fluid, as chia seeds gel went wet. This is an especially fun fact when you eat dry chia seeds and then find a gelly one stuck in between your teeth four hours later).

Although chia seeds are still gaining mainstream popularity as a superfood, they are generally available at any health-food store (I got mine at Whole Foods), and you can definitely order them online.

What are you waiting for? Ch-ch-ch-chia!

3 ways to exercise without exercising

Disclaimer: actually, you will have to exercise to exercise (<–someone just taught me this the other day…who would’ve thought??), but it won’t feel like you’re getting a workout!

Channel your inner B

If you aren’t on close terms with her like I am in my head, B is short for Beyonce.

Dancing is one of the most fun ways to twerk up a sweat, burn a ton of calories, and just feel good. According to the Mayo Clinic, one hour of dancing can burn up to 533 calories for a 160 pound person (now all you have to do is make sure you drink fewer calories than that in the adult beverages you may be consuming while dancing…)

I love breaking it down during a night out with my girlfriends or at an event, but I really love learning choreographed routines in classes or from videos. Last year, I took a six-week hip hop dance class at the local community center and it was SO fun! Not only did I leave each class feeling like a music video diva, but I was always drenched in sweat! Mmmm.

See the resemblance to B below? No? That’s because you need an eye doctor appointment.

Do the double dutch

You saw this one coming, right? If not, you should definitely schedule that eye appointment.

Joe and I have been members of a competitive jump rope team for almost our entire lives, but even simple single-bouncing (when you turn the rope and bounce repeatedly) is a challenging, entertaining, and humbling experience for most people.

Even more difficult and fun than jumping by yourself is trying to coordinate with (at least) two other people to get some double dutch going. Remember doing this on the playground in elementary school with rhymes?

If you haven’t double dutched since the playground, recruit a couple of your friends who don’t mind embarrassing themselves in front of you and go to town. The best thing about jump roping is that you can do it almost anywhere, and all you need is a rope (or for double dutch, two ropes). You’ll get some great cardio activity (Mayo Clinic estimates that jumping rope torches up to 861 calories per hour for a 160 pound person!), work on your coordination, strengthen your leg muscles, spend time with friends, and feel so completely uncoordinated that you are not unlike a baby deer using its legs for the first time.

Yep, I took the time to make that one-of-a-kind graphic. I call it “Fawn Roping.” You’re welcome. Speaking of animals…

Play like your pet

Ever noticed how many times per day your dog or cat goes from completely motionless to full-on-sprinting-for-his-life? Some days I think Willoughby is secretly training for the 100-yard dash at the Olympics and hasn’t invited me yet to watch him compete (he better not even think about not inviting his mother…).

Instead of having your significant other toss frisbees to you and risking an emergency dental appointment, gather a group of your buddies and head to a nearby park to play kickball, soccer, ultimate frisbee, or flag football. All of these sports will have you going from zero to sixty repeatedly – meaning that while you’re wrapped up in the game, you’ll be inadvertently doing interval training. Intervals are is a super efficient way of burning fat, increasing your anaerobic threshold, and revving your metabolism for a longer period of time after your game than steady-state cardio activity would.

Now go play! I’m off to do #1 in front of the mirror.

What activity gives you a workout and doesn’t feel like one? On a scale of 1-10, how much do I look like Beyonce in the second picture? Just kidding, don’t answer that second one (…unless it’s above a 7).

Top ten habits of elite athletes (for the non-elite athlete) – part II

If you missed part I of this post, I am using the article Top 10: Habits Of Elite Athletes and putting my own spin on how to adapt these habits for any average Joe (or Jane). This is the second half of the list.

4. Get quality sleep

“Athletes go to bed and wake up at the same times (within an hour) each day.”

Non-elite habit: getting enough sleep is important. We know that. What is perhaps more important is having a consistent sleep schedule in order to take full advantage of the benefits. Instead of rolling out of bed at 2pm 11am on Saturday and Sunday, shoot for going to bed and waking up within an hour of the same time you do so on the weekdays.

Of course, some people have social lives on the weekend and stay out late with their friends, which will mess up your schedule. My advice (from personal experience…yes, I DO have one friends, my husband) would be to get up whenever your body naturally awakes the first time, and then to take a short nap later in the day if you feel drained. Adhering to your circadian rhythm will help you stay on a semi-regular sleep schedule so you can go to bed easily that night. You can help shut your body down for an earlier bed time by devoting 30 minutes to relaxing rituals before you hit the hay: make a cup of tea, read a book, stretch in low lighting, whisper sweet nothings to your cat, visualize floating on top of clouds made of cotton candy, etc.

3. Follow an individualized training program

“It’s human nature to focus on what you’re good at, which isn’t always what you need. By following a professionally designed training program with components of individualization, athletes are more likely to improve their weaknesses and overall performance…”

Non-elite habit: If you are one of the party animals mentioned in the previous habit, then we already know you have friends. If you don’t have unlimited resources like many elite athletes, you can still enlist a friend to help you come up with your training plan. If your friend has your best interests in mind (or is slightly sadistic), they will point out gaps in your routine or suggest ways you can improve your weaknesses.  Having an outside perspective (from anyone) can help keep you honest and ultimately raise your chances of reaching your goals.

2. Set goals

“Setting goals provides athletes with structure and constant motivation, which ensures continual progress.”

Non-elite habit: I touched on S.M.A.R.T. goals in habit #10, but let’s go into more detail by breaking down a specific example. Ensuring that your goals are specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, and timely increases the odds of success (or at least improvement) exponentially by forcing you to come up with an plan of attack. Here’s how you do it:

GOAL: I am going to be awesomer.

….how are you going to be awesome? How do you even measure when you’ve achieved your maximum awesomeness? Why are you using a word that isn’t even real? There are a lot of problems with this goal.

S.M.A.R.T. GOAL: I am going to earn 10 new friends (specific) by introducing myself to one new person in the cereal aisle of the grocery store (non-realistic) each week for the next 10 weeks (timely), and then invite them all to a cereal party at the end of the 10 weeks to see how many of them come and agree that I am awesome (measureable + attainable).

Now go be awesomer and set S.M.A.R.T. goals.

1. Work with coaches

“Coaches help athletes stay focused and keep progressing. They remove many of the “planning” stresses from athletes and allow them to focus more on the implementation side of things.”

Non-elite habit: Again, most of us can’t afford to hire personal coaches for all the aspects of our lives. Coaches are beneficial because they stay in your face and hold you accountable for your training and goals. Here are some alternative ways to give your motivation a swift kick in the tush:

      • Instead of having a coach make up a training plan for you, look up tried and true plans created by experts who are willing to share their knowledge publicly. For example, if you want to run a marathon, tons of runners have followed one of Hal Higdon’s training plans (I am following his Novice I half marathon training plan right now, in fact).
      • Stay accountable by joining a training group that meets once-weekly (or however often you can commit to meeting), downloading an app like GymPact, making a wager with a friend that you will do “x” to reach your goal this week, or by even mentioning to the front-desk personnel at your gym that you want to try to get to the gym three times that week. You will be surprised at how invested others become in your goal and your success!
      • Post your goals and motivational pictures or quotes on your fridge, mirror, husband, have it tattooed on your hand, etc. to be constantly reminded of what you’re working towards.
      • Take advantage of others’ experience by reading inspirational memoirs, picking your healthiest friend’s brain, or following healthy living blogs. Many of these people have experienced set backs and failures, so seeing their ultimate success may motivate you to keep on keepin’ on through your tough times.

And that’s that.

What are your tips for staying motivated? For improving your personal health habits? Goals you’re working towards? I want to be invested in YOU!

Top ten habits of elite athletes (for the non-elite athlete) – part I

Joe and I went to the gym this morning and had a good quick workout. My training plan called for 4 miles today, and I was going to run outside until I saw this:

It’s also doing a weird heavy-misting-not-quite-raining deal, and since this is how I felt about being outside…

….to the gym it was.

Since I am an elite athlete, we made it home with plenty of time to spare.

SPEAKING of deranged people elite athletes, I came across this interesting article:

Top 10: Habits Of Elite Athletes

(As a side note, there was a link to a video called, “Produce the Best Breastmilk” at the bottom of the page. On a men’s website. Right.)

Reading through the article made me think about my fitness and health habits compared to those of elite athletes. While most elite athletes have access to resources that us non-athletes can only dream about (like personal coaches and trainers and heaps of gold), a lot of the habits here are completely adaptable for the lehman. Below I’ve listed the ways that I think any average person can improve their personal habits using the habits of the elite as inspiration.

10. Envision success

By playing a “mental movie” of their conquests in upcoming competitions, [elite athletes] not only improve their performance, but also pre-emptively calm their nerves. The clearer the visualization, the more powerful the impact.”

Non-elite habit: fortunately, this is an easy one to adapt. Anyone can envision success. The hurdle that many non-elite athletes (and especially those just starting fitness plans) come across is finding the confidence to truly believe that the success they are envisioning is attainable. I have found that the best way to build confidence is by setting SMART goals. Breaking down your objective by making it specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, and timely is proven to increase success (and therefore, your confidence that you can achieve more!).

Here’s an example of a non-SMART goal:

I am going to get famous really quickly from writing an awesome blog.

Here’s an example of a SMART goal:

I am going to earn one million followers for my blog by next January 22 by posting pictures of cats, promising to make my readers into elite athletes, and putting up as many pictures of my attractive husband as possible .

See how breaking it down inherently gives me a plan to follow?…

9. Cooldown

“Cooldowns help facilitate recovery by processing metabolic waste products, restoring shortened muscles to their resting length, and allowing the athlete to unwind mentally.”

Non-elite habit: this is where I messed up when training for my first half marathon. Because I never stretched or cooled down after my training runs, I wasn’t doing my body the favor of allowing it to restore itself. If running were my livelihood, would I have committed to those extra 10 minutes at the end of a workout? Definitely. But just because I’m not getting paid the big bucks or getting publicity for my physical abilities, that doesn’t mean that keeping my body in top condition isn’t important. Remembering that we only get one body, and that we want to be able to comfortably do the activities we want to do for a long time is a great mindset to practice.

8. Consume sports drinks

“Consuming a sports drink during [a] workout also helps maintain blood glucose levels within the normal range so athletes don’t have peaks and crashes in their energy levels.”

Non-elite habit: water is essential for staying hydrated throughout the day and through moderate workouts; however, high-energy activity longer than 60-90 minutes requires that you fuel your body with sodium and electrolytes that you may be losing (source). While most elite athletes probably have little concern about gaining weight, I know many people who want to lose weight and avoid sports drinks because of the high amount of calories or the long ingredients list. There are a plenty of great alternatives to Gatorade for your fueling pleasure, including regular (or chocolate) milk, coconut water, and homemade remedies (see here for a couple of easy, delicious-looking options).

7. Identify with successes

“When athletes make mistakes, they try to learn from and forget them instantly so they don’t linger.”

Non-elite habit: if I had a dollar for every time I have thought in my head, “I KNEW that was going to happen!!” angrily when I got sucked into Bridezilla and let my Eggos burn in the toaster, I would have at least $6. Obviously, harping on the fact that I continue to make the same mistake has not helped me move forward to improve.

The same goes for any situation  – my jump rope coach loves to remind the team that preparing for competition is 90% mental and 10% physical. If you have trained for an event, likely you are physically prepared for what you’ll need to do (unless you get injured or are sick). The mind is a tricky muscle to train, though, and in high-stress situations, it can make even the strongest athletes’ bodies do crazy things. Prepare yourself mentally by practicing in the exact conditions you will be performing in – if you’re running a marathon, eat what you are planning to eat on race day, run the race route before the race, do your specific warm up and cool down, and if you can, do as many races (even if they’re shorter distance) before the marathon day as possible to become comfortable with the race-day atmosphere.

6. Post-game training

“Training after a game “clumps” competition — and training-related stresses — and allows for a prolonged recovery window.”

Non-elite habit: to be honest, I had never heard this tip before. BUT I do have an idea of how to adapt it!

Elite athletes tend to practice or train the same day as a big event in order to have more down time in between games – this allows their bodies more time to fully devote itself to recovering before the next event. The lesson here is that even high-level athletes (well, especially high-level athletes) know the importance of pushing their bodies to become faster/get stronger by pushing their limits and then taking REST days. Though it may seem counterintuitive, training hard four or five days a week with two or three complete rest days will help you grow and recover faster and more efficiently than lack-luster training seven days a week.

5. Pre- and post-game nutrition

“Athletes make sure they get the nutrition they need to maximize their intensity, energy and recovery.”

Non-elite habit: fueling our bodies is just as important (if not more) for optimal physical performance as training is. The article explains is succinctly here:

“[Before working out], [t]he goal is to ingest the right nutrients to provide the athlete the energy he needs.   Afterward, the goal is recovery. Post-workout, the body is “primed” for shuttling carbohydrates into the muscle to replenish depleted energy stores and for stimulating protein synthesis (muscle rebuilding).”

Not only does splitting up your food for the day into little meals help keep your metabolism humming (plus you get to eat more often…aWeSoMe), but it provides your muscles with the fuel they need to perform at their peak and fix themselves after you DESTROY them during your workout (insert caveman scream here). If you feel like you can’t eat anything right before training, even a spoonful of peanut butter and a coconut water will help you power through without weighing you down. Afterwards, fix yourself a balanced meal within a few hours of working out to keep the benefits rolling instead of stalling out when your body runs out of gas.

Aaaand with that, this post became a whole lot longer than I was anticipating! So I’m breaking it up into two parts and then next part will be coming tomorrow.

Happy New Week’s Eve! (aka Sunday).

Planning workouts ahead of time

Today, the half-marathon training plan I’m following prescribed 3 miles + strength training. Since I played hooky with my strength training that was intended for Monday and combined it with a 3.5 mile run on Tuesday, I wasn’t sure how today’s workout would go (with just one day in between lifting). I didn’t cry getting out of bed and I wasn’t debilitated this morning, so I went ahead with the plan (<– note: you can this measurement in a whole range of situations. Not crying or doubled over in pain after eating dinner? Go ahead, have another slice of pork loin. Are you sobbing uncontrollably or just wake up in the handicapped stall of the women’s bathroom at the bar? Maybe you should get some water instead of another drink. Also, some new friends.).

On a side note, do you plan your workouts ahead of time? I have found that I really enjoy having a loose plan for the week, i.e. “run 3 miles and do some sort of strength training on Thursday.” I’ve never been able to stick with writing out the exact moves.

On one hand, I know that having an specific plan helps take out the thinking and motivates you to check the planned moves off of your list, but on the other hand…I don’t want to carry a list around at the gym. Ha. So I make it up as I go or keep my previously-dreamed-up list up in my noggin.

Instead of repeating Tuesday’s workout, I challenged myself to go through working most of the same muscle groups, but to using different exercises. Here’s what my workout ended up looking like:

  1. 50 crunches on the exercise ball
  2. lunges – 3 sets of 15 with a 30 lb bar on my shoulders (<–never done this before. I looked like a drunk trying to keep my balance during a sobriety test for the first set)
  3. hip adduction machine– 3 sets of 15 @ 100 lbs (this move was the same as Tuesday…what are some other ways to work this area? I couldn’t think of any!)
  4. hip abduction on adjustable fly machine – 2 sets of 15 @ 30 lbs
  5. hamstring push-backs on adjustable fly machine – 2 sets of 15 @ 35 lbs
  6. assisted pull-up – 1 set of 5 @ 35 lbs resistance, 2 sets of 2 at 25 lbs resistance (also the same as Tuesday…I want to try to fit in this machine a couple times a week so I can actually do a real pull-up someday)
  7. bicep curl with bar – 3 sets of 15 @ 20 lbs
  8. seated chest press on adjustable fly machine – 3 sets of 15 @ 30 lbs
  9. leaning back extension – 1 set of 15 with 10 lbs
  10. leaning weighted side bend – 1 sets of 15 on each side with 10 lbs…and then I got kicked off by a personal trainer. Wah.
  11. run 3.0 miles (26:43, and then walk to cool down for 0.5 miles)
  12. 50 crunches on exercise ball
  13. stretch
After going through today’s list, I see that I really didn’t match Tuesday’s workout at all as far as working most of the same muscle groups. Ha. I guess they just slipped out of my noggin list. Either way, it was a challenging and LONG workout.
Tomorrow is a rest day. Yay!
P.S. – I found this in the ladies’ locker room. Spray deodarent?! Obviously, I used it.

Fun cross-training

When I was training for my first half-marathon, as soon as I got over the “running-is-really-hard, why-would-anyone-do-this-voluntarily” hump, I was convinced that running as much as possible would make you faster and stronger. So I kind of skimped on my cross-training, didn’t really strength train, skipped stretching, and ran on days that I wasn’t supposed to run on (according to the training plan I was following). I really enjoyed it in the beginning, and felt like a superstar runner. And then I ended up with ITBS (not to be confused with IBS…although WHY didn’t anyone tell me about the runner’s runs before I did my first race?!), and couldn’t run without pain for more than a year.

Needless to say, I was frustrated with myself for not listening to the articles I read and to the runners who told me that cross-training, strength-training, and stretching are imperative for a balanced body. People, I don’t think you understand.

I think for a lot of people, the words “cross-training” and “fun” usually aren’t in the same sentence unless “isn’t” sits in the middle. The problem is, “cross-training” is often synonymous with “ellipticizing”. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had a lengthy affair with the elliptical and it’s one of my favorite machines to zone out on. But man…it can get boring.

Here’s the best part – I went ahead and already MADE the mistake of not cross-training for ALL of us! So we can all learn from my mistake instead of you making it yourself. You’re welcome.

The lesson: find ways to cross-train that are fun for you! Step outside your comfort zone by going to a dance class. Make it social by joining a kickball team with your friends. Strive to learn something that makes you really cool at the club (like being able to breakdance. Oh…is that not cool in the club?…)

All of this leads me to my workout for today, which was taking a tumbling class! For the past two months or so, I’ve been going once a week to a one-hour tumbling class at a local gymnastics facility. There a few great things about this:

  1. I am working towards being able to do a standing back tuck (back flip), which is one of my life goals
  2. Being the oldest tumbler in the gym by at least 10 years, I get an automatic ego boost at least once a week (I just ignore the 12-year-olds that do much harder tricks than I can do)
  3. I am pushed outside my comfort zone, physically and mentally, and feel accomplished when I see progress
  4. It’s FUN!

Right now, I am really enjoying taking these classes. But if and when I grow tired of them (or crack my skull in half), I will move onto another type of activity that seems just as fun.

Moral of the story, kids: “fun cross-training” is not an oxymoron, but “breakdancing in the club” is.

Secrets of the world’s healthiest women

Here’s an interesting article to kick off your morning (well, it’s 12:00pm here. I guess we’re technically closing out the morning…)

Secrets of the world’s healthiest women

(Source)

Some highlights:

  • “French women stay slim with petite portions.” Also, the author confirms that I definitely should continue drinking my “antioxidant-rich wine.” No wonder I always feel so good after a (couple of) glass(es).
  • “Despite scarce sunlight, Icelandic and Scandinavian people actually suffer from depression less than Americans, possibly due to all those omega-3s.” The fact that omega-3s can have such a significant effect on depression this is really interesting to me. Just thinking about the little sunlight and the temperatures in Iceland depresses me.
  • “On Okinawa, they practice hara hachi bu, or eating until 80% full.” I have read about this theory a few other times, and every time I’m reminded of it, I try to put it into practice that day. This always makes me realize how brainwashed we are as Americans to be members of the Clean Plate Club at every meal. It’s really difficult to get out of the habit of eating until you’re full.
  • And a common thread throughout these populations – “The longest-living people don’t think of exercise as a chore.” They tend to walk everywhere or stay “functionally active” instead of finding time to fit in the gym. I’d really love to live in a more “walkable” area someday and have a job that encourages activity (or at least allows for the flexibility for me to fit it in more often).