6 Benefits of Yoga & Basic Poses

yoga at homeThe other night I decided to try Jillian Michael’s Yoga Meltdown (you can try Level 1 for free on YouTube). I never though yoga would ever be a good workout. I figured it would be a great way to get some stretching in but didn’t realize just HOW MUCH body strength it takes all around and how much it would raise my heart rate at parts. The entire workout is about 35 minutes and runs in circuits, like most of her workout DVDs. I found the video easy to follow and felt mega relaxed afterwards and even during parts of it with certain positions.

All of this is to say that I am looking forward to exploring more yoga videos and maybe even a class at some point. Here are the 6 top benefits of practicing yoga:

1) Relaxation yoga encompasses a variety of poses that stretch out your body in new ways. I always do my regular stretches after a cardio workout but many yoga moves put you in new poses and positions you’d never be in otherwise. I found myself relaxing and having to focus on my breathing more to hold the poses, and became relaxed in the process. Yoga encourages you to take deep breaths and hold your stomach in and your back straight for good form.

2) Focus & Mentality Many poses can be uncomfortable or extremely difficult at first. You may find yourself having to focus on your breathing, your balance, and your mind frame as you enter into a pose. This makes us more aware of our bodies as well as the multitude of body functions that have to come together to make a single stretch work. The more you practice and focus your energy in yoga, the more you’ll be able to focus in real life at work, in relationships, with alone time, etc. It’s like working a muscle in your body and mind at the same time. Yoga can also help improve your mood. As you become more relaxed and aware of your mind and body, it can be easier to have a clearer conscious and be more observant instead of instantly reacting to things negatively.

3) Flexibility & Balance – I was amazed at how much balance and strength it took to do a lot of the poses in the video. I can only see this improving over time. Flexibility can help in many ways as well, I always sleep better when I’ve been stretching regularly.

4) Stress Relief & Mental Calmness – Yoga can be extremely calming and relaxing. Just take a couple deep breaths in and out as you read this and you’ll instantly feel more at ease. Postures have also been shown to help with anxiety and help improve your sense of well-being. Check out some of the best poses for stress relief.

5) Pain Management & Relief regular yoga sessions can help strengthen your back and help with muscle soreness and tension. Lower back pain is a huge issue for many individuals and most people tend to ignore the back when hitting the gym. Yoga focuses on your entire body and a lot of attention is given to strengthening and loosening up your back and your flexibility. It’s also been shown to help with migraines and headaches.

6) Increased mindfulness – as we become more aware and in-tune with our bodies, we also become more mindful of how we treat them and the ways in which different foods and activities make us feel. A study at the University of Washington showed that regular yoga practice increases the connection between the mind and the body and makes individuals more aware of how different emotions and foods make them react in daily life. This means that many people were able to better handle food cravings through regular yoga practice.

Here are some basic poses to start with. Try to hold each position for 20-30 seconds. If you can’t do the full extent of one, that’s fine, do what you can. In about a week you’ll start to see how flexible you become!

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30 Day Squat Challenge

I’ve seen this trending recently, especially on Instagram. Think I’m going to give the 30 Day Squat Challenge a go in line with Ripped in 30. It’s also a small enough commitment, 2-3 minutes a day that we should all be able to do this! I just did my first 50 and I gotta tell ya, after 30 I started to breathe heavy and my legs got shaky. I can only imagine how strong this will make my glutes after 30 days!

When doing a squat, I like to raise my arms perpendicular to the ground in front of me. It helps me maintain balance. Make sure MOST IMPORTANTLY to never extend your knees past your toes. Your back can be bent forward, just keep it flat. Let me know how it goes and maybe, eventually, I’ll be brave enough to post a progress pic of my bum haha.

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Running: Why I do it, how to start, and the amazing benefits

Usually when I tell people that I love running they look at me like I’m crazy or just flat-out tell me that I am. What started out as a way to get out of the house as a teenager, has turned into a passion and a drive that has helped me lose over 40lbs in the past two years and kept me happier in my life than just about anything else! Here are 101 reasons to start running!

Some common misconceptions I hear about running ALL the time:

Running is hard on your joints and can ruin your knees

I don’t want to mess up my hips

Running is boring

Running doesn’t burn that many calories

While it is true that when you run you are hitting the ground with 4x your body weight, running can actually help to protect your joints. There are also a lot of ways to project your joints when you run and only increase your mileage by 10% each week. When tissue that supports joints (cartilage) breaks down, it’s referred to as Osteoarthritis and can be extremely painful. Many people believe that running accelerates this process but that’s actually not true. Runner’s World has a great article on how running improves joint health. In fact, the biggest cause of OA is actually high body fat and increased weight that bares down on the joints on a day-to-day basis. Dropping just 10lbs can take 45lbs of pressure off of the knees! Running, along with exercise in general, allows cartilage to pull in oxygen, compress and expand, and stay healthy while flushing out toxins. Not to mention, running helps keep your bones strong and keep your body young from the inside out.

For me, I run for the challenge, the runner’s high, and the feeling that I have competed with myself and accomplished something whether it’s a 10 minute run or a 40 push through the pouring rain. The endorphins that are released during your second wind on a run are something that I live for. Sometimes a good run is just what I need to reset my mentality, mood, and get my head back in the game. I’m also always more motivated to eat healthy and there’s nothing like a good sweat to flush out toxins in your body and skin.

Here are some of my favorite benefits of running:

  1. Stress reliever/eliminating depression – the best time to go on a run is when you are in a bad mood, no really, trust me. Within minutes of getting outside or hitting the treadmill, you will start to feel euphoric and that feeling will follow you for the rest of the day. You’ll also be able to sleep easier and deeper at night after you’ve put in a good run for the day.
  2. Growing your mind/training your brain – running is a great time to throw on some headphones, zone out, and think about your life, your goals, what you want, and how to get it. I can’t tell you how many realizations I’ve come to by going on a long run on the weekend. It also creates an environment for you to focus and train your mind. You will need determination and perseverance on longer runs and up those steep hills. Often times, overcoming our minds is the hardest part for runners. Learning to turn off the part of your brain that says “I think I’m tired” or “we can’t do this” – you’d be surprised how far your body can actually take you. Running and aerobic activity can also make you smarter. The more you exercise, the better your ability to make sound judgements, be less indecisive, and boost your concentration and memory.
  3. Improving balance and coordination – can you stand up and hold your foot behind your body without tipping over? The more I run, the more I notice my ability to balance and function improves. Running outside and on varying terrain requires your body and stature to constantly re-adjust. It also greatly increases your core strength.
  4. Improve your immune system – the more active we are, the healthier we are, and therefore more likely to fight off those nasty colds before they take us down hard. When I’m running on a regular basis, I hardly ever get sick.
  5. Boost your confidence – run tall and suck in your stomach and over time you’ll feel the results. You’ll also be impressed with your own efforts, distances, and your mood. It’s hard not to feel confident, powerful, and sexy when all of this happens. You’ll be more motivated to keep running, eat healthy, and have more energy.
  6. ENERGY! – Yep! You’ll have more of it. You’ll want to do more and will be surprised at how much more alert you are. Suddenly that 2-3pm slump isn’t so bad anymore and falling a sleep becomes a breeze.
  7. Muscle definition and a flat tummy – there’s nothing like running on a regular basis and starting to see the fat melt off, getting that defined line in your legs, and seeing the muscle underneath start to show. You’re a beast and it shows! Running is a great way to increase your lower body strength and lose stomach fat.

So maybe now you’re thinking “maaaaybe I could run” – you don’t have to be hardcore about it to call yourself a runner, either. Runners are people that run once a week, run marathons every year, or occasionally go on jogs. They are ALL accomplishments and something you should be proud of. Here’s a few tips on how to get started and some things to think about:

  • Start off slow – don’t get crazy and try to go on some 4 mile run on your first bout
  • Stay off the pavement – although the outdoors provides a better challenge and burns more calories than running on a treadmill, it can be a scary place to start. If you are going to run outside, find a track or run along the road on the dirt or gravel if you can.
  • Get some sweet kicks and fun running gear. Invest in that arm band for your MP3 and make that workout mix you’ve been meaning to get to. I spent a pretty penny on some neon/glow-in-the-dark Asics last year and I cannot tell you what a great purchase they were. Plus, I’m always more motivated to hit the trails when I know how cool my shoes look 🙂 81CZ6UmqqIL__SL1500_
  • Download a running app (like Nike Training Center) or find ways to log your runs, distance, etc.
  • Set a goal or find a race that interests you. I still want to do the Survivor Mud Run, the Warrior Dash, and the Zombie Run at some point. Get a group together to train and then celebrate when you actually make it through the finish line!
  • Track how you feel before and after a run. Monitor your mood and see how running challenges you and changes your outlook.

The most important thing about exercise, health, and fitness, is finding something you love and can be passionate about. Running isn’t for everyone but I’m constantly enthralled by the stories I read of people that are 50 or older who have never ran a mile in their life and are suddenly training for half-marathons and 5ks. YOU CAN DO IT! Consistency in anything is key and the more you do something, the better you will get, the stronger you will become, and the happier you will live your life.

What What About Your Butt: Exercises For Your Tush

Everyone knows you can’t spot reduce or lose weight in one particular area, however, there are exercises you can do to change the shape of certain areas over time. And the more fat you lose, the more these results will show. I always say I’ve got a 6 pack just hiding under my tummy flub. Here are some of my favorite exercises for the caboose (in no particular order). You really can lift it!

  • Front Leg Lunge – stand up straight and lunge forward with your hands on your hips while you take a long step forward with one leg. Bend at the knee no further than 90 degrees. Your knee should be right over your foot and never past your toes. Be careful of hyper-extending. Step back and repeat 15-20 times on each leg.
  • Squats and Wall Sits– you can use a wall for balance if you need. Hold your arms out straight in front of you, parallell with the ground. Squat down as if you are sitting on an imaginary chair, again holding your knees at a 90 degree angle and keeping your back flat. For the wall sit, simple hold the squat position against the wall, it looks easy but try holding it for 1-2 minutes and feel the burn.
  • Leg Lift With Hip Raise– While lying flat on your back with your legs straight, raise one leg (keeping it straight) up into the air. Keep your arms flat to the ground and then raise your hips into the air, hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat 15 or so times with each leg.
  • Back Leg Butt Lift – this is one of my ABSOLUTE favorites. I learned it back in the day when I was like 10, doing my Mom’s crazy 80s workout DVDs – The Firm. Get on all fours with your forearms and knees on the ground. Raise one leg backwards at a 90 degree angle and lift straight up. You’ll feel this pretty fast. I usually do about 50-60 on each leg. You can also do a similar exercise where  instead of raising your leg at a 90 degree angle to the back, prop yourself up on your right hand, with your left forearm still on the ground. Then raise your right leg to the side (yes, like a dog taking a leak).
  • Forward Bends and Kicks – this will improve your balance and help with lower back pain. Stand with your feet together and then bend forward while raising one leg back behind you. As you do this hold out your arms straight in front of you for balance. Hold. Then repeat 12-15 times with each leg.
  • Standing Diagonal Kicks – standing with your hands by your hips, raise one leg diagonally behind you, hold for 10-15 seconds, release. Repeat 10-15 times on each leg.
  • Simple Bridge – similar to the leg lift with a hip raise. Except for this one you keep both feet on the ground and raise your hips up, keeping your arms/hands on the floor. Hold for as long as you can and release. To up the burn, squeeze and release as you hold.
  • Chair Lunge – these WORK and by work I also mean BURN.  I will do 12 of these on each leg and be like “omg omg omg HALP!” You can also use a bed or something that’s about the same height as a chair. Rest one foot back behind you on the chair then lunge forward with the other leg making sure to not extend past 90 degrees.
  • Calf Raises – you wouldn’t think these would do much but I guarantee you’ll feel these fast. There are 3 ways to do these depending on how you place your feet. Start with your toes pointing straight out in front of you with feet together. Then raise up onto your toes 15 times slow then 10 times fast. Do this 4 times. Then switch it up to get your inner and outer calves by pointing your toes together in a triangle (like you’re about to click your heels like Dorothy) and then also with your toes pointed outwards with your heels touching. Some people may want to use a chair for balance.
  • Side Leg Lift – laying on your side resting on your elbow. Take your legs and move them 1-2 inches in towards your stomach so they aren’t completely straight from your body (this protects your lower back). Then raise your top leg up and down slowly and controlled. Do about 25-30 reps on each leg. You can also modify this for your inner thigh by bending your knee of your top leg and placing your foot in front of you, then lift your bottom leg up, keeping it straight.
  • Superman – this is great for your butt and your lower back. Lay on your stomach and hold your arms straight out in front of you while you lift both legs off the ground. Try to only have your stomach touching the ground. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then rest and repeat 15 times. You can also do flutter kicks with your legs to add more of a challenge.

These are just a few of my favorite tush exercises but there’s tons more out there! I’ll leave you with this gem I found on Pinterest while back…

30 Day Shred: Day 1 and why you should join me

My alarm went off at 4:59 this morning and I didn’t mess around. OUT of bed, into my sports bra and workout gear and downstairs to the TV. Jillian Michaels was ready to yell at me and get my ass into shape. 30 days from today will be August 10th. I hesitated as I wrote that (that means everyone on the interwebs can keep you accountable now), good let’s do this.

I will keep you guys updated on my progress and my thoughts on the workout program. Doing the workout this morning was a little rough for a few reasons

  • Getting used to working out right when you wake up is difficult
  • I’m a little bit out of shape at the moment
  • My upper body strength is pretty much non-existent

Other than dripping sweat by the end (flushing out all those toxins, too) and feeling sore immediately, the workout was awesome. What’s great about this DVD (and boy have I done a LOT of workout DVDs) is that it’s only 20 minutes, goes by super fast, and won’t wake up your roommates. A couple of people have asked me “isn’t is just the SAME workout over and over again for 30 days? ugh!” Actually, no. Here’s what it is:

1 DVD: 3 workouts (Level 1, 2, and 3)

Level 1 is done for 10 days and so forth.

Within each 20 minute workout there are 3 circuits that contain strength training, cardio, and abs along with a warm up and cool down at the end (don’t you dare skip the stretching part!)

Here’s how Level 1 Circuit 1 is broken down after the warm up: More details here.

2 minutes of Strength Training

30 seconds of push ups

30 seconds of lunges and bicep curls

Repeat

2 minutes of Cardio

30 seconds Jumping Jacks

30 seconds jump rope (no actual jump rope)

Repeat

1 minutes of abs

30 seconds of crunches

30 seconds of reverse crunches (lifting legs up at 90 degree angle)

So as you can see there are three 5 minute circuits and then the additional 5 minutes are spent warming up and cooling down. Jillian encourages you to PUSH it to the max, if you only have 20 minutes, there’s no time for a break! Love that. As far as weights go, you’ll be surprised how little you actually need. I have 3 and 5lb dumbbells and that was all I needed so far. I may pick up heavier weights as I advance. Also keep in mind that starting out without any weights will still give you results, there’s so many lunges and squats, you’ll feel it, trust me. I primarily used the 5lbs for most of the workout, except at the end where she has you do side lunges with front rows, I had to bring it down to 3lbs for that one, still feeling it. There’s also tons of other great sites with recommendations.

I highly encourage taking before pictures and measurements. I know you don’t want to now, but you’ll love knowing how awesome your results are after! Also, make a rule to only check in halfway and at the end. You’re not going to look completely different on day 3, but you will feel amazing! I’ve read lots of reviews on this workout and people have said that after 5 days they see a major difference and have tons more energy.

I plan on using Loseit the entire time I do this as well. Here’s what my meal plan for today looks like:

Breakfast – 310 calories

1/2 Cup Whole grain plain Quaker Oatmeal

1/2 Cup Almond Milk

1/2 Cup Applesauce on top after microwaved

Mid-Morning Snack – 175 calories

1oz of raw, unsalted almonds

Lunch -300 calories

Lean Cuisine of my choice

Afternoon Snack – 200 calories

Dinner – 300 calories

2 scrambled eggs with onion and lunch meat

Whole cut up hot house tomato

Sometimes I put 2tblspns or so of salsa over the eggs for an extra kick! Very delish.

The 30 Day Shred will only get easier and you will only get stronger as your progress. Take a look at these photos of people who rocked it for 30 days and have the results to show from it!

Comment below and let me know if you’re gonna do this with me!! Isn’t that last picture incredible!

Stretch it out: It’s Important!

How many of you stretch on a daily basis? Where’s that sea of hands I should be seeing? At least after every workout, right!? Guys! This is important! Stretching is one of the most overlooked fitness activities. I get it, you’re TIRED after running 2 miles, lifting weights, doing that Turbo Kick jazz abs class, or maybe just playing Wii Tennis. But you NEED to start stretching and make a habit of it.

Stretching has many benefits, is one of the best ways to prevent injuries, increase flexibility and balance, and decrease lower back pain. Let me give you my personal story. I’ve had to keep myself from running for a while now and it is NOT fun. I know, I’m one of those crazy people that really loves running but it’s hard to get myself on the cross trainer instead of the rush of the treadmill. I made the mistake of not only increasing my mileage too fast AND running outside on cement but I also didn’t do enough stretching. Now my Achilles heal is super angry at me.

There’s also been much debate about WHEN to stretch. Before you go show me your Google results on why your opinion is right, listen to what my dance instructor told me in High School: “think about a carrot that’s been in the fridge, you take it out and when you try to bend it, it snaps. But if you warm up the carrot, get it to room temperature, you’ll find that it will bend more freely and not tear.” Kind of hard to argue with that logic. This is why I truly believe it’s best to stretch AFTER you workout. Don’t get that confused with not warming up, because that’s important as well. But if you bounce and pull your muscles before they’re ready you’re going to be sore and not in a good way.

When stretching make sure to take it slowwwwwly, hold each stretch and make sure to do them equally on both sides. I’m not going to spend a ton of time researching what stretches are the best, fact is, some might work better for some than others. Here are some stretches that I do on a regular basis.


Badass Honey Badger Fitness Challenge!

 

Ok – I know my blog posting has went waaay down in frequency. And I will post more, May has just been super crazy. So as a treat to encourage you not to stop reading my blog, I give you, the ultimate diet/exercise plan. Well, what my friends and I are going to do at least. Also – I have to give credit to my pal Becca (on the right in the picture above) she not only made that amazing photo but helped with a lot of the tips below 🙂

First of all, this is a marathon – not a sprint. We are all in this together and the more we share with each other about our progress, our hurdles, and our occasion chocolate binges, the better. There is strength in numbers and we haz lots of them. Below are some suggestions/tips that Becca and I have come up with.

 A lot of people want someone else to hold their hand the entire way, tell them what to eat and when to workout. But come on 1) that’s not realistic and 2) the minute someone tells you what to do you’re just going to find a way to not do it. No one thing works the same way for two people. I could eat nothing but bagels for 4 days and gain 80lbs where you might do the same thing and gain a cup size, it doesn’t make sense. Just because a friend did something doesn’t always mean it will work the same way for you. I want to encourage HEALTHY (not crazy) eating habits and lifestyle changes. Let’s encourage each other to always eat enough food, never starve ourselves or try to kill ourselves with too much exercise. Let’s also realize that just because you fall off the wagon and eat an entire cake (what, I’ve done it) doesn’t mean you have to give up forever. It means that the second you put that fork down and wipe the frosting off your face you’re going to reach for a glass of water and the next meal you decide to eat will be good for you.

 DIET TIPS/SUGGESTIONS

  • No eating after 8pm.
  • Only lean proteins, vegetables, and unprocessed sugars/starches. For example, a serving of steamed yams or fruit are acceptable side dishes/desserts. Limit carbs but don’t take them out completely. If you’re going to eat pasta or bread chose whole grains and breads with lots of fiber!
  • Drink only water, black coffee, or unsweetened tea. Sugary and/or carbonated beverages are OUT.  No alcohol (FAACK). Also stay away from Diet soda if you can. Diet soda contains a chemical that can actually increase your appetite, plus, come on, that shit ain’t good for you.
  • Snack often, but think healthy 100-calorie options that are high in protein and low/no carb, such as grapes, yogurt, nuts, veggies, low-fat string cheese, etc.
  • Keep portion sizes small.  A portion of even lean meat is only the size of a deck of cards, and truly no other portion in any meal should be much bigger.  If you want seconds, have extra salad or veggies—and eat slowly to feel full faster.
    • Sometimes I’ll eat Lean Cuisines for a while (although very high in sodium and NOT the best choice) they have helped me to shrink my stomach and train my eyes about how much I should be eating at once.
  • Track everything consumed on LoseIt.com (let’s find each other on there and be friends, too!)
  • ONE cheat meal/dessert per week to keep us from feeling deprived.  But make it COUNT (think CHIPOTLE). 
  • Drink WATER! Tons of it. Try to get to 100oz a day. I know it sounds daunting and can take a lot of effort (and trips to the bathroom) but it’s a great way to clear up your skin and flush toxins (and fat) out of your body.
  • Eat more fiber! Eating 30-35g or more of fiber a day can magically eliminate an additional 200-300 calories. Well the magic part is in your poop, but you get it.

 EXERCISE

  • Work out a minimum of four days a week, and a maximum of 6. This can be done before work, after work, on the weekends, and by a combination of these if necessary. And lunch runs count!
  • Allow your body one full day of rest to repair muscles. Do not work the same muscles two days in a row.
  • Workouts should include cardio as well as strength training, and even classes to keep it fresh and fun.
  • Remember to track all exercise and calories exuded on LoseIt.com as well.
  • I started up a 10-day fitness challenge of my own. I’m doing the Turbo Jam workouts below and eating healthy meals, staying around 1200 calories/day.
  • Create your own 10-day kick off challenge and rotate cardio with resistance training!
  • Remember that the more you workout in one day, the more you can eat. See Loseit.com