First Marathon: The In’s, The Out’s, & The Point Of It All…


I just had coffee with a friend who will be running her first marathon next weekend.  As we talked about the in’s and out’s of preparing for this momentous occasion, I had flashbacks of what it felt like preparing for my own first marathon.  I remember that whirlwind of mixed emotions like it was yesterday.  The conglomeration of exhileration, self-doubt, fear, and pride.  The agonizing over my outfit, the poring over weather forecasts, the back and forth over fuel options and travel accomodations.

Looking back, I’m glad I planned out each detail…because I ended up racing in a 40 degree, 4 hour rain storm.  And, despite the monsoon and an injury that rivaled child-birthing, I look back fondly on that day.  When I crossed that finish line, I beat the self-destructing part of me, the part that places limits and saps energy and loves to tear the rest of me down.  I crossed that finish line, come hell or high water (Turned out to be both, in my case).  When that happened, I proved to myself that I was stronger than I had ever considered before.

Awhile back, I wrote about the things I would have done differently on that day, and the things I believe I got right.  I thought it would be worth bringing back, for my friend, and for others approaching their first marathon: First Marathon: My Do’s and Dont’s

You may also want to check out my friend’s awesome and witty running blog:

Happy Marathoning!  You WILL cross that finish line, hopefully with no hell or high water in sight. :)


Tone Your Whole Body & Burn Fat In One Move

Add a plank, a one-legged squat, movement, and what do you get?  A great core, quad, glute, and upper-body exercise that burns lots of calories, to boot.  Bonus: No equipment needed!

Plank variations are some of my favorite moves, working not only the core, but other major muscle groups.  Incorporate more full-body exercises like this one  into your workout for maximum efficiency and results.  Can’t get enough?  Browse my “videos” section for more.

Remember to bend the knee as you lower to the ground.  Perform 8-12 reps on each leg.  Extra credit:  Add a push-up at the bottom.

Gym Machine NOT to Skip, #3

lat pulldown2

I’ve noticed that Two Gym Machines Not To Skip is consistently one of my top-read posts.  Then it occurred to me, I really should have included the lat pulldown cable machine!  Here’s why:

~It is very difficult to target the latissimus dorsi muscles, in the outer part of your upper back, using free weights.  Strong lats, however, are important.  They’re a key player when it comes to adduction, extension and internal rotation of your shoulders.  Not to mention, strong lats give you awesome back definition.

~Access to a cable machine allows you to perform pulldowns to strengthen not only your lats, but also a number of other muscles, including your biceps, deltoids, trapezius, pectoralis minor and rhomboids.

*Note-Don’t bring the bar behind your neck!  I see people doing this in the gym all the time, but it is less effective and even possibly dangerous.  Behind the neck lat pulldowns offer no biomechanical advantages and can cause compression of the cervical spine disks, as well as disk damage if contact is made by striking the bar to the neck.  In addition, it can cause rotator cuff injuries. (Duvall, Robert. “Avoiding Shoulder Injury from Resistance Training”)

So there you have it.  The lat pulldown cable machine makes my “Not To Skip at the Gym” list.  Here it is, below:


  1. Sit down on a pull-down machine with a wide bar attached to the top pulley. Make sure that you adjust the knee pad of the machine to fit your height. These pads will prevent your body from being raised by the resistance attached to the bar. (knee pads not pictured here)
  2. Grab the bar with the palms facing forward using the prescribed grip. Note on grips: For a wide grip, your hands need to be spaced out at a distance wider than shoulder width. For a medium grip, your hands need to be spaced out at a distance equal to your shoulder width and for a close grip at a distance smaller than your shoulder width.
  3. As you have both arms extended in front of you holding the bar at the chosen grip width, bring your torso back around 30 degrees or so while creating a curvature on your lower back and sticking your chest out. This is your starting position.
  4. As you breathe out, bring the bar down until it touches your upper chest by drawing the shoulders and the upper arms down and back. Tip: Concentrate on squeezing the back muscles once you reach the full contracted position. The upper torso should remain stationary and only the arms should move. The forearms should do no other work except for holding the bar; therefore do not try to pull down the bar using the forearms.
  5. After a second at the contracted position squeezing your shoulder blades together, slowly raise the bar back to the starting position when your arms are fully extended and the lats are fully stretched. Inhale during this portion of the movement.
  6. Repeat this motion for the prescribed amount of repetitions.                                                                       Compliments of


Work It All At Once With Plank Rows

Need some variation in your workouts?  Here’s another killer plank move that’s a real multi-tasker.  It works not only your arms and back, but also your core and glutes.  My demonstration includes a beginner modification.

Depending on your fitness level, do 3 sets of 8-15 on each arm.  Beginners can also forgo weights to get the movement down first.

Firm & Burn–6 minute Video

For all you busy people out there who can’t always make it to the gym…(It’s much more fun to work out outside this time of year anyway!)…Here are some great moves to hit multiple muscle groups at once–which ups the calorie burn–all in 6 minutes.  Talk about multitasking!

This is actually one “interval” of my 45-minute Firm & Burn workouts, which combine high-energy cardio moves with targeted body shaping exercises (like the ones in the video) to tone and burn calories with maximum efficiency.  If this works for you, stay tuned…I plan to post more “sample” intervals in the future!  All you need is a set of weights.

The more reps, the better. True or false?


A buddy tells you that during her last workout, she performed 100 crunches and 75 bent over dumbbell rows, in record time.  Impressive?  Well yes, you have to admire this person’s mental and physical stamina.

At the gym, you notice a guy going 100 miles an hour on the leg extension machine.  But is this the best way to train?

There’s good reason to say that the answer is no.

If your goal is to burn fat and increase cardiovascular fitness, it’s very important to get the heart rate up, and there are plenty of good workouts that achieve this.  However, performing quick, excessive repetitions to failure greatly increases the likelihood that you’re sacrificing form and relying too much on momentum.  And if your form isn’t correct, not only isn’t the exercise very effective, it also isn’t real safe.  There must be good form, above all else.  Should you never perform reps to failure?  Well, I didn’t say that….Perhaps use heavier resistance for fewer reps.  And perform them at a pace where you can focus on the muscles you’re working, to make that mind-body connection.

Excessive repetitions increase the probability of muscle imbalance in the body, inflammation, and excessive joint stress.  Performing 100 crunches may add strength to your abs, but I can think of many other core moves that are way more effective with way fewer reps, and target your total core, including your back.

To sum up:  It’s great to want to ramp up the effectiveness and intensity of your workouts, but excessive reps aren’t necessary.  In fact, they are less effective and less safe.  Also, make sure your speed isn’t compromising good form.

Make Your Own Tasty, Simple Hummus


I just recently made my own hummus for the first time.  Prior to that, I bought tub upon tub of the store-bought processed stuff, assuming there was no other easy option.  Then a cousin of mine explained to me how simple it is to make your own, and I felt a little stupid for never trying this before.  I never even thought about it! 

If you’re a hummus-lover like me, consider making it yourself.  It is so much fresher, less expensive, so easy, and, of course, healthy.  Pair it with your favorite veggies or spread it on a sandwich.  It’s a great last-minute party food.  It really is worth the extra few minutes.  And that’s literally all it takes–a few minutes. 

You just need a food processor, a can or two of chick peas, and a couple of other ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen.  I don’t use measurements or put tahini in it, and it still comes out great.  I’m totally hooked.  Here’s what I do to make a large basic batch of the stuff, but you can add whatever you like–whether that’s roasted peppers, spinach, herbs, spices, etc. 


2 cans organic chick peas

the juice of 1 lemon, or more if desired (can add zest also)

olive oil, to taste

garlic or garlic powder, to taste

salt and pepper, to taste

Blend in a food processor and…voila.  If it’s too dry, add small amounts of water until it reaches the desired consistency.

I used ground-up garlic scapes (the “flower stalks” of hardneck garlic plants) that my mom gave me, in my latest batch.  Very tasty!  It gives your hummus some pretty green color, while also adding a nice garlic taste. 


Ground garlic scapes…..IMG_1946



The Do-Anywhere Workout



Going on vacation?  Bring this workout with you.  It can be hard to squeeze in exercise when you’re out of town, but this one is short, intense, and to the point.

You can do it pretty much anywhere–Just grab your beach towel and you’re good to go!  It’s cardio and strength rolled up into one workout, targeting your whole body while simultaneously getting the heart pumping.  Do 8-20 reps of each, depending on your fitness level, and repeat the circuit for a total of 2-3 times through.  Don’t forget to spend a few minutes warming up/cooling down.

Focus on maintenance while on vacation, trying for at least three short workouts within the span of a week (if you can do more, all the better!).  This may include a beachside jog, a visit to your hotel’s fitness center, or an intense 20-45 minute circuit workout like this one.




With your feet together, squat down and put your hands on the ground just in front of your feet. Keep your feet together and jump them back so you land in a push-up. Bend your arms and do a single push-up. Jump your feet back in and under your body and then leap up and into the air. Land on slightly-bent legs and repeat. (modifications–No push-up, no jump)






Floor Dips

Sit on the floor with your knees bent, one foot raised, hands on the floor behind you with fingers pointing toward body. To begin, lift hips off floor.  Slowly and gently bend your elbows and lower your body close to the floor. Keep abdominal muscles tight. Extend arms through the elbows and repeat.





High Knees

:30 to :60, at a moderately high/high intensity

Stand in place with your feet hip-width apart. Drive your right knee toward your chest and quickly place it back on the ground. Follow immediately by driving your left knee toward your chest. Continue to alternate knees as quickly as you can.


high knees



Lunge Twists

Hold the ends of your towel.  Lunge forward and rotate your torso in the same direction as your front leg lifting your arms diagonally above your head, then stand and return to center. Perform reps, then repeat on other side.


lunge twist



Pistol Squats

Stand on left leg. Hold right leg out in front of you so that your heel is just off the floor.  Using leg strength and balance, lower yourself down to the floor, keeping your right heel just above the floor the entire time. Keep your hands out in front of your body to help balance.  Go down until your hamstring touches your calf. Your right heel should still be about an inch off the ground.  Then stand back up.  Perform reps, then repeat on other side. (This is a very challenging move.  Don’t go down as far, if need be.  Do as many as you can, which may only be 1 on each leg.)





Donkey Kicks With Pushups

Get into plank, with wrists aligned under your shoulders.  Perform a push-up, then jump feet toward hands.  Kick feet into the air, and bring heels toward the butt.  Jump feet back to starting position.  Repeat.


push up donkey



Towel Bicep Curls

 Put the towel just right under your knee and use the towel to elevate the leg. Keep your elbows at your waist and do a bicep curl. You’re actually lifting up the leg. Go half- way down. Exhale when you come up.
Keep your elbows at your sides when you do this.  Perform reps, and repeat on other side.

towel bicep


Tuck Jumps

Jump up bringing your knees as high as you can.  Land softly with feet under hips.





Plank Press-Outs With Towel

On all fours, place folded towel under feet. Draw belly button into spine to engage abs and slightly lift knees off ground (don’t let hips lift up in the air). Press out through heels, sliding legs out into a full plank position (avoid sagging or lifting hips—body should make a line from heels to head). Brace abs in tighter and slide legs back in to start position (knees still hovering).





Towel Boat Pose

Put your towel around one foot as you go into a boat pose.  Hold 15-30 seconds, breathing evenly.  Switch legs and repeat.


boat pose towel






8 Monday Get-Back-On-Track Moves

Originally posted on equilibrium fitness:

Ah, Monday.  Time to get myself back on track after a weekend of slacking, and hard-core circuit-training always does the job.  It provides me with the swift kick in the pants that I need to start my week off right.  These workouts break up my usual running/gym routine and are extremely efficient–working multiple muscle groups, strengthening and burning fat simultaneously.

Here are some of my favorite moves. See how many reps you can do in 20-30 seconds.  Do as a circuit, if you like.  Go through all moves once, rest for two minutes, then repeat.  Most of these are typically regarded as more advanced and may not be appropriate for those new to exercise. 


Push & Reach

Start in pushup position, feet at hip width, and perform pushup.  At the top of your subsequent pushup, simultaneously extend right arm so that it’s parallel to the floor and raise left leg about eight inches, also parallel to the floor.  Hold this…

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Why You Need Carbs to Lose Weight…Really!




I’m sure at least someone you know is on, or has been on, a low-carb or no-carb diet.  Maybe even you have.  And you know what?  People have lost weight this way, for a variety of reasons.  But is this necessary?  No.  In fact, cutting out carbs could not only make you miserable like the girl in the picture, it could negatively impact your health.  Many people don’t know this, and authors of best-selling no-carb diet books certainly don’t want you to.

Carbs are not evil.  Well, some of them kind of are.  Not all carbs are created equal.  The good carbs can actually be used to help you lose weight.  And not water weight or muscle weight, but fat weight.   The key is learning which carbs, and how much of them, to eat.

We need carbs to function.  Carbs are nutrients that break down into glucose, our bodies’ primary source of energy.  They’re in milk, fruits and veggies, rice, potatoes, bread, chocolate, and many other foods.  We need 130 grams a day just for our brains to function.  And if you cut them out, you could be sabotaging your weight-loss efforts, especially if you’re active.  If you’re carb-depleted, your body won’t have the fuel necessary to get through the kinds of workouts needed to burn fat and be the fit person you want to be.  For this reason, dieticians recommend that active people get 45 to 65 percent of their calories from carbs.

Carbs in vegetables, legumes and whole grains take longer to digest and give you a steady supply of energy to keep you full longer, not to mention tons of nutrition that your body needs.

Other carbs, like sugar that is added to foods and refined (white) grains are empty calories.  Our bodies break them down quickly and the energy they give us is quick, but fleeting.  Try to limit these.

Natural sugar that is in milk (lactose) and fruit (fructose) is also “quick” energy, but these sugars aren’t considered empty calories like the above, because milk and fruit have protein, fiber, and many good-for you nutrients that will fill you up and help you lose fat.  Fruit (like a banana) is an awesome pre-workout snack because it gives you the natural, fast-digesting sugars you need to kill it during your work out.  (Just remember to eat it 45-60 minutes beforehand so you don’t interrupt the digestion process.)

Pay attention to portions and labels.  Some carb-rich foods can also be high in calories, and manufacturers sometimes sneak added sugars in with the “good” carbs.  For example, whole wheat bread can be high in added sugar.

If anything should be considered evil, I’d choose added sugar.  In fact, it’s very possible to become addicted to all of those sugary carbs, according to recent research in t the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  And while the occasional sweet treat or white carb certainly won’t hurt you, making most of your grains “whole” grains will keep you healthier, and help you achieve your weight loss and fitness goals.

So what’s a serving of carbs look like?  Here are some examples:

Starches/Whole Grains:

1/2 cup peas or corn; 1 potato; 1/2 cup chickpeas or lentils; 1/2 cup whole grain pasta; 1 slice whole wheat bread; 1/2 cup brown rice


1/2 cup broccoli; 12 baby carrots; 1 banana; 1 cup berries


1 cup low-fat yogurt; 1 cup low-fat milk; 1 1/2 oz. reduced fat cheddar


Some Sample meals:

breakfast:  whole wheat English muffin, 1 egg, 1 slice low-fat cheese, 1 serving fruit

lunch:  turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with veggies & avocado or hummus, plus 6 oz. plain yogurt with fruit

snack: 1 serving fruit and low-fat cheese stick



Add Some Power to Your Push-Ups!

I love moves that mix cardio and strength conditioning, and this one has got to be near the top of the list!

Try the push-up jack.  This super-effective plyometric move gets your heart racing and works your whole body:


1-Start in a plank position. Your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are in one line and your core is activated so that you have a flat back, pushing through your heels to create length in your body.

2-As you take an inhalation, lower your chest towards the floor and jump your feet away from each other about two feet, like you are doing a jumping jack.

3-On your next exhalation, push your chest back up to the starting position as you engage your lower abs to hop your feet back together.

This is one repetition. See how many reps you can do in :60.  You can do it.  Really!!

The Best (and Worst) Moves For Awesome Abs


Everyone pines for a six-pack.  People love to work their abs, and that’s good.  Your core is the foundation from where all your power originates.  Keep in mind that the core includes not only the abdominal muscles, but those of the back, glutes, spine, and hips (pelvic floor).  Keeping all of your core muscles strong also helps to prevent injury in athletes.

Before I continue, let me first say that you cannot spot reduce body fat on your waist, or anywhere else, for that matter.  You can strengthen your ab muscles with all of the exercises in the world, but without getting your heart-rate up through cardiovascular exercise, you won’t be able burn off the fat needed to see those strong abs you worked for.  So do your cardio!

People who want that flat tummy often gravitate toward crunches, because that’s the most well-known ab move.  However, research has shown that crunches are one of the worst ab moves in terms of how hard the obliques and rectus abdominus are worked.  The crunch only works a small part of the core, repeatedly bends the spine, and burns few calories.

The plank, a stabilizing move, works your whole core, as well as the transverse abdominus and your upper body.  It’s one of the best ab moves you can do.  What’s more, the possibilities with plank variations are endless!  Let’s first start with how to do a simple plank, because form is key:

With your forearms and toes on the floor:


  • Keep your torso straight and rigid and your body in a straight line from ears to toes with no sagging or bending.
  • Your head is relaxed and you should be looking at the floor.
  • Hold this position for 10 seconds to start.
  • Over time work up to 30, 45 or 60 seconds.  Don’t forget to breathe!

You can also do a plank with your arms fully extended, which works more of the upper body:



If you are a planking pro and can hold the pose for more than a couple of minutes, the simple plank is really no longer very effective for you.  It’s time to ramp it up a little!  Aside from the regular push-up, which is a great move, try one of these other variations below.  Happy planking!



Plank Reach

plank reach





Reach & Raise

plank reach and raise


Lateral Walking Plank



  • Simultaneously cross your right hand toward the left as you step your left foot out to the left. Then simultaneously step your left hand and right foot to the left, returning to the plank position. Your hands move together as your feet step apart. Take two more steps in this direction, keeping your abs pulled toward your spine and your pelvis level. This completes one rep.
  • Reverse directions, taking three steps the right.


Plank Up-Downs

plank up downs


Plank on Bosu Ball



Side Plank

side plank


Plank Rows

plank rows

Sliding Plank



Plank Walk-Out

 plank walkout


Oblique Crunch Plank


Bonus: Jack Knife on Stability Ball








When is The Best Time of Day For Exercise?


There are a couple of different answers to this.  Let’s start with what research says.

According to a study posted in the Journal of Physiology, afternoon exercise may yield the most health benefits because it best regulates your circadian rhythm, which leads to better sleep and a healthier you.

There is also some research to suggest that afternoon exercise (4 to 5pm) is most beneficial because that is when our body temperature is at its highest, as well as our hormone level, strength and endurance.

One reason I like to work out in the afternoon?  It keeps my metabolism revved into the evening.  This would also be true if you were to split your workout up and do half in the morning, half in the afternoon.  Not everyone has that time luxury, however.

That being said, research also points to morning exercisers as being most consistent and most likely to stick to their workout routines.  This also rings very true for me.  When I wake up early and work out before my kids are up, I feel more energetic and positive the rest of the day.  When I make it the first thing I do each day, it’s much less easy for me to put it on the back burner amidst the day’s other distractions.  This time of year, I naturally wake up an hour earlier–It’s like my body is looking forward to that early run and the “me” time goes with it–nothing but peacefulness, chirping birds and pink sunrises.

The best time to work out is the time that works for you and your schedule.  If you’re a morning person, you may be most apt to stick with exercise in the morning.  But if you’re a night owl, an evening workout may be work best.  (One thing to think about with late-night workouts–They may not be the best for your sleep.)

Do whatever makes you feel the best, and whatever you’re most likely to stick with in the long run.  As they say, the only bad workout is the one that didn’t happen.

One Of The Most Effective Cardio Machines In Your Gym…


There’s a cardio machine in your fitness center that you may have never considered using.  There may be only one of them, placed unassumingly amidst the rows of stationary bikes and elliptical machines.  You may not even know what it is.  But this piece of cardio equipment hits about 85 percent of your muscles, and can burn about 600-1,000 calories per hour.

If you haven’t tried the rowing machine, you need to.  A vigorous workout on this baby burns the same amount of calories as running on a treadmill at an incline, and more than a stair climber, elliptical, or stationary bicycle.

What’s more, it works all your major muscles simultaneously:  The quads, hamstrings, glutes, lats, core, shoulders, triceps, back and biceps.  This ups the calorie burn and increases efficiency in your workout.  In a nutshell, you burn more calories and work more muscles, in less time than other cardio machines.

Don’t think you can get the hang of it?  Think again.  The rowing machine is suitable for all fitness levels, easy to operate, and is one of the only cardio machines that will give you a low impact, non-weight bearing cardio workout at a high intensity.  Can’t run or jump due to an injury or weak joints?  You can still work up a great sweat on the rowing machine.

If you’re new to the rowing machine, make sure you have the correct form and posture down before increasing your speed and resistance.

This is a great machine for interval training.  Start with a 5 to 10 minute warm-up, then alternate fast and slower intervals for 20 minutes, followed by a cool-down.

My Experience With myfitnesspal. Did it work?


If you read my previous post, “Portion Control, Marathons and a Stick of Gum,” you’ll remember how I was using myfitnesspal to track calories in order to find out if my post-marathon eating was catching up to me.  Was I so used to eating larger, marathon-training portions that I had a tendency to do so months after racing, even though I wasn’t training anymore?

I’ve never had to count calories before.  After the birth of my second child, I lost nearly 40 pounds by eating clean and exercising almost every day.  I controlled portions by listening to my body’s signals.  Could my marathon racing have distorted my ability to still listen accurately?

I’d have to say yes.  Deep down I already knew, but myfitnesspal confirmed it for me.  Math doesn’t lie.  I’ve recommended this app to clients, so I figured, why not?  I religiously punched in my calories consumed and burned, every single day for 4 weeks.  I tried my best to stay within my allotted calorie count.  And guess what?  I lost the few pounds that I had slowly added from racing.

Myfitnesspal is a great way to learn about portion control.  It can also be a wake-up call.  Here’s why:

1.  It reminds us how many calories are in the foods we love to eat, even some foods that are considered healthy.  Athough some foods may be great for us, they can also be very calorie dense, and should be eaten in moderation.  For example, peanut butter and avocados.  Both excellent sources of fat, but if you’re trying to lose weight, measure your portions.  Two tablespoons of natural peanut butter has 200 calories!

2.  It is very easy to erase the calories burned through a good workout by eating badly.  Sad, but true.  You quickly find out what types of workouts burn the most calories.  But you also are reminded that it all adds up.  Ten minutes of brisk walking?  That counts.  Ten minutes on the stationary bike?  That counts too.

3.  If you mess up one day, it’s not the end of the world.  You can still stay within your calorie count for the week!  Like I always say, it’s all about balance.

4.  You can find out if you have any nutritional deficiencies.  I really like that the app lets you track your daily nutrition intake.  Yes, maintaining/losing weight is all about the simple math of calories in/calories out, but the quality of those calories is just as important.  It plays a huge role in how you feel, look, and how you metabolize your food.  Not to mention, your health, in general.

All that said, there are a couple of cons to using the app.  For instance, it can be tedious scanning food labels and entering every single food you’ve eaten every single day, especially if you make a lot of recipes, like I do.  Also, calorie counting day after day can become a bit neurotic after awhile.  If you get to a point where you’re saying, “I just ate a cupcake, I’ve got to go run 2 miles now!” it may be time to step back and re-evaluate the situation.

Overall, myfitnesspal can be a great tool to help people figure out proper portions, and to learn about what’s in the food they’re consuming.  Everything I’ve listed above, I already knew.  I just had to be reminded.  And now my marathon-sized portions are gone.  Hopefully for good.