Tag Archives: exercise

My Three Keys to Sticking to a Workout Routine

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I’ve talked about my journey to becoming a “runner” on here before. I still feel undeserving of the title “runner” considering I could barely run a mile in high school, but after a full marathon, several half marathons, and a boat load of other races, I think it’s fair to say that I am a runner. But getting to that place was not and still is not easy.

For years I looked at exercise and running as a means to be thin. My day would be judged as a good or a bad day on whether or not I slogged away for 30 minutes on the treadmill. This mindset made me dread working out, but at the same time, I’d feel terribly guilty if I skipped it. So it was this vicious cycle of dread and guilt that wasn’t getting me any thinner and certainly not any happier.

I’m not sure when exactly my mindset started to shift, but I think it was around the time I started doing races with New York Road Runners. I loved the feeling of training towards a goal that wasn’t related to losing weight and the adrenaline of the race itself. Over time and many, many miles, running became more of a habit, just something I did every day (or every other day), and not something I had to do in order to feel good about myself or waste so much brain space on dread or guilt. And I think what happens when running or any type of exercise becomes a habit instead of a chore is that you do get addicted to the feeling of feeling good – not feeling good because you burned X calories, feeling good because your blood is pumping, your head is clearer, you feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in yourself. But how do you get to from that place of chore to an everyday habit? Well besides a healthy dose of time and perseverance, there are 3 other keys I’ve identified over the years that were crucial for me.

Know Yourself               

This one applies to any habit, not just working out. How can you really make a change without really knowing what and why you want to change first? What are your true motivations for wanting to exercise? Most people would say to lose weight, but push that even further. Why do you want to lose weight? Do you think you’ll be happier? It may sound a little much for something as straightforward as exercise, but I promise that really being honest with yourself about why you want to make this change will help those new habits stick.

The other part of Know Yourself is a little bit easier. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Do you need a teacher or class to hold you accountable, or can you work out on your own? Do you like to be inside or outside? Don’t set yourself up for failure by saying you’ll wake up to run every morning at 6am in the winter if you’re a night owl who hates the cold. If you really hate to run, then don’t do it! Find what is most enjoyable and what works best for you. Again, just be honest with yourself and don’t feel bad it.

Convenience

This one is huge for me. There’s nothing I hate more than wasting time just to go somewhere to workout. I think that’s why I enjoy running: you can do it anywhere and it doesn’t require much planning or equipment. Think about your schedule and your commute and pick the gym or the running route that’s on your way home. Keep a bag of gym clothes and sneakers in the car so you don’t have to stop back at home. Because let’s be honest, once you’re home you’re not going back out (at least I know I’m not).

Monitoring

Much like those charts your parents kept to track when you did your chores or ate your vegetables, getting that gold star or checking off that list is a satisfying feeling. When training for a half marathon, I like to write out exactly what we need to do each day on a calendar just so that I can visually see it and then see each day crossed off as I get closer and closer. It’s such a simple act, yet so powerful and motivating. Plus, how will you know how much progress you’ve made unless you keep track of it all?

I also highly recommend Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before – it’s all about mastering habits and she provides 21 great strategies to do so.

What strategies do you follow to stick to your exercise habits? Or what would you like to start implementing today?

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Find Your Soul

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As a former Sociology major and someone who tends to over-analyze things, I’ve always been interested in trends, social expectations, and why people do the things they do. Living in New York City you see some pretty weird things that are subject to question (i.e. public defecation or waiting in line at Shake Shack for 2 hours). One such “New York” thing is SoulCycle (though it’s not just in NYC anymore). Why is SoulCycle so popular? Why are people willing to pay so much for it? Why did it take off exponentially? So I took to Facebook to enlist people to answer a brief survey in search of these answers.

What I found is probably not surprising on the surface. The number 1 reason people said they go to SoulCycle is that it’s a good workout (I can attest to that) and the number 1 reason people said they don’t go to SoulCycle is that it’s too expensive (I can definitely attest to that). What was interesting though were the contradictions in people’s depictions of the brand. Many people said they love SoulCycle because of the feeling of community, yet they also described it as elitist. Lots of people said it’s trendy, but then said it’s #basic – wouldn’t that make it not trendy anymore? Others called it spiritual or “zen”, but then called out the loud music and sweaty room – not your typical idea of zen. And finally, many people associated SoulCycle with celebs or rich New Yorkers, but yet (to my knowledge) none of the survey takers were celebrities or of Gossip Girl wealth and they still pay the hefty fee for the class. I did have a fair share of celeb sightings back in the day, but on the outside, most people were seemingly normal like me, barely making enough money to pay for a 250-square foot studio let alone fund their daily SoulCycle habit.

So what’s up with all the contradictions? My guess is that SoulCycle is at this tension point where it’s no longer for the elite or just a trend, it’s part of today’s zeitgeist. It’s helped to form this new “health as wealth” culture. As much as SoulCyle seems like it’s for the rich and famous, more and more “regular” people are buying into it – despite the steep price – along with other boutique cycling chains or Barry’s Bootcamp and crossfit. Now, saying you do crossfit or carrying a SoulCycle bag is as much of a statement as carrying a Birkin Bag. These fitness crazes have become more than a trend, they are brands; they are a symbol of status. By carrying that SoulCycle bag you’re making a statement to the world that says, “I workout. I take care of myself. I’m healthy.”

But what does “healthy” even mean anymore. Pretty much every workout, recipe, beauty product has been tied to the word “healthy” or promises to make us “healthier” that the word is rendered meaningless. What we’re really talking about when we say we want to be healthy is that we’re aspiring to be better than we are now. To be thinner, faster, cleaner, more environmentally conscious. Not that those are bad things, but healthy is no longer just about a good BMI or cholesterol, it’s about an entire aspirational lifestyle. And that’s why we’re shelling out $35 a class for SoulCycle even though we can’t afford it or think it’s for the elite: because we too want to be better, thinner, faster, cleaner.

Social media – Pinterest and Instagram in particular – are also part of this “health as wealth” culture. How many pictures of green juices and avocado toast do you see in your feed every day? But how many people actually post a picture of the bag of Doritos or Coke they ate later because let’s be honest, no one gets full from a green juice. These channels are all about sharing your best moments, creating an aspirational brand of yourself on your best days, not your worst, or even mediocre moments.

I think us Milliennials are especially susceptible to this aspirational culture. We were raised being told you can be anything you want to be, you can be the best at anything if you just try hard enough. We’ve also grown up with social media and constantly hear about the seemingly overnight success stories of start-ups and bloggers. Millennials are constantly seeking this better, more successful life/career/clothes/body/etc., but if we’re constantly striving and seeking, how do we know when we’re there?

This aspirational culture that the whole boutique health and fitness movement is part of definitely has its benefits. By constantly pushing ourselves to better ourselves, we in turn better the world and people around us. More and more great ideas and businesses are starting up everywhere. And I don’t think there’s a negative side to people exercising more, regardless if they paid $35 for it or not.

But I think what we need to be aware of – or at least I do – is are we running ourselves into the ground trying to be perfect and be the best at everything? We think being fit and having the perfectly decorated living room will make us happy, but in an aspirational culture like ours, once you have those things, there will always be something new to want. In a generation and culture that’s so ingrained in social media and success, we need to learn to take a step back, live in the moment, cut out the noise, do what works for YOU, be honest with yourself. After all, isn’t that what SoulCycle so famously preaches? Find Your Soul.

image via healthybex.com

Finding a Workout Groove

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Even though I write about running or working out on this blog, doesn’t mean that it comes easily to me. I know that I’ll almost always feel better after working out than if I don’t, but there are some days I just DON’T WANNAAAA (said in a whiny kid voice). Especially with nicer weather on its way, the only heavy lifting I want to do after work is emptying a bottle of rose.

For the past couple years, Kevin and I have really struggled to find a workout routine that we semi-enjoy, is affordable, and can stick to in the long run. I was totally spoiled when I first lived in NYC: a brand new Crunch gym was on my block, I was 3 avenues from the best running path in the city (the West Side Highway), and I didn’t have to be at work until 9:30-10AM, so I had ample time to workout and get ready without having to wake up at 5AM. I was also much less financially responsible than I am now and would indulge myself in a $35 SoulCycle class all too often.

Then we moved to Astoria. I had a different job where I had to be at work earlier and went from having a 10 minute commute to an hour and 10 minute commute. Not surprisingly, it became a lot harder to find the time and motivation to workout. I also missed the convenience of having a fancy gym and a beautiful running path at a stone’s throw. We went through a brief stint with Crossfit, which I really enjoyed, but we were getting up at 5AM in the dead of winter to make it work, and I just grew to resent that too (not to mention it was pretty darn expensive).

When we moved out of the city, I assumed and hoped that working out would magically be easier again. No longer working “New York hours” we’d have more time and we’d have the convenience of driving to a gym or running path. While that’s partly true, it still doesn’t make up the other half of the battle: being motivated enough to actually go. In an ideal world, I’d just pay for a personal trainer to tell me what to do every day. But since that’s not going to happen any time soon, I recently thought about what I have enjoyed in my exercise history (or as close to enjoyment as possible) and what I need to help me stick to it. Here’s what I came up with:

No frills. Besides the scented candles and meditative coaching at SoulCycle, I like my workouts to be simple and efficient. Take running or Crossfit, for example, it’s just you and the road or you and the barbell.

Convenient. As evident throughout this post, if it’s not easy to get to, I am not gonna go. I want to enjoy working out, but I want to enjoy life pre and post workout even more.

Affordable. Like I said, I would totally have a personal trainer if I could afford one, but for now, if it’s not something I can do on my own, I don’t want to have to pay extra for it. I do enjoy Crossfit, but most of those workouts I could do at home or on my own at a gym.

Accountability. Whether it’s training for a race or signing up for a class, I like having the structure of a schedule or even a no-show fee to hold me a accountable. This also takes the thinking out of it a little bit – as long as I can get myself to a spin class, I can leave it up to the instructor to make the workout happen.

Being honest with myself in what I do and more importantly don’t like about working out has helped us get into more of a workout groove lately. Depending on what your goals are, I always think it’s best to do what works for you and what you like, otherwise you’ll never get into that groove and stick to it. And if some days rose wins out over that run, that’s okay too 😉

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My Go-To Gym Machines

If you had asked me in high school, I never would have thought I would have willingly set foot in a gym outside of P.E. When we had to go to the school fitness center in gym class, I would strategically go to the bathroom and hang out in the locker room for 10 minutes or do “sit-ups” – a.k.a. lie on the mats until a teacher came around and then fake a sweat. I was never a physically active kid and I especially hated gyms: sweaty people cramped into one room grunting, flexing, and watching you try (and fail) to do one pull-up. Well in college, something changed. I think I realized that I couldn’t continue to eat Ellio’s pizza and corndogs (a frequent after school snack of mine) and not blow up like a balloon eventually. Also, the NYU gym was one of less intimidating places to work out – it was either empty or I was bigger and stronger than half of the guys there. Since then, I’ve tried all sorts of different fitness classes, paid for personal trainers, and now with Kevin by my side I have a life-long workout partner, so I no longer feel the need to fake my sit-ups. Still though, navigating a busy gym floor can be intimidating and overwhelming. But when armed with the know-how of a few essentials, you can go in there looking like a pro. Here are my 5 go-to gym machines that are effective, efficient, and can get you out of the gym in about 30 minutes if you blast through them!

leg pressIncline Leg Press: This machine ups the intensity from the standard leg press. Start with no weight on the machine just to get the feel for it. Keep your feet about hip-width apart, toes slightly pointed outward. Press up through your heels and hamstrings (the back of your thighs) and use the handles on the sides to unlock the press. Now continue the same motion you would on a regular leg press, continuing to engage your hamstrings and glutes. When you’re ready to add weight, I use 45 lbs on each side and do 3 sets of 12.

pull downLat Pull-Down: This machine replicates the motion of doing a pull-up, but obviously is less intense. Adjust the seat as needed, sit up straight, and pull straight down using your core and back to help you. This will work your biceps and triceps, but your back and core are what really power this movement. For more of a challenge, try the assisted pull-up machine (or go for full-on pull-ups) – our Planet Fitness just doesn’t have one. For weight, I usually do 50-65 lbs, 3 sets of 12.

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Smith Machine Squat: Start out with no weight to get the feel for this machine because it can feel a little awkward at first. Set the bar to a height where you can comfortably rest it across the back of your shoulders without having to get on your tip-toes. Keep legs hip-widith apart, toes pointing slightly outward. Unhook the bar and start to squat – you’ll feel the bar is assisted so its full weight is not resting on you. Be sure to keep your butt back and use your glutes to power you back up to standing position. Make sure your knees don’t cave in either – I struggle with this when my legs are tired. When you’re ready for weight, I add 25 lbs on each side, 3 sets of 12.

deadliftSmith Machine Deadlift: Again start without any weight. Keep your legs hip-width apart, toes slightly pointing outwards. Come towards the bar so that it’s almost touching your shins. Bend down, keeping your back straight and sticking your butt out (your thighs should be parallel to the ground) and grip the bar just wider than shoulder-width. Use your glutes, hamstrings, and core to stand up straight still holding the bar. It may feel like a small movement, but trust me, your hamstrings WILL be sore the next day. When ready to add weight, I do 25-35 lbs on each side, 3 sets of 12.

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Smith Machine Chest Press: Place a bench under the bar. Lower the bar so you can comfortably unlock it without having to reach. You want to position yourself so the bar is directly over your chest. With hands wider than your shoulders, push up to unhook the bar and slowly lower until it’s just a few inches above your chest. Your arms should be on the same plane as your torso, not lower than the rest of your body. Use your chest, biceps, and core to push up the bar to starting position. For weight, I use 10-15 lbs on each side, 3 sets of 12.

Running in Winter

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Kevin Cooks is taking a break this week as Kevin is sick with the flu and can’t eat much, let alone cook. ‘Tis the season for the flu and it’s also the season for abandoning your workout New Year’s Resolutions because it’s just SO. DAMN. COLD. OUT. So today I’m going to share a few things that help me stick out a regular workout routine even when it’s 12 degrees outside and all I want to do is bathe in a bowl of mac & cheese.

Layer up. If you don’t like running inside on a treadmill – like me – the best way to brace the cold is to add on layers as much as possible. Even if you look ridiculous, you can always take off a layer if you get too hot along the way, but there’s nothing worse than running for 30 minutes and feeling just as cold at the end as you did when you started.

Shine on. I feel a bit hypocritical with this one, because I don’t actually own any reflective gear yet, but it is DARK out there at 6AM or even 5PM. I get annoyed when I’m driving and just barely see a runner with no reflectors on, and then I realize, I am that annoying runner. So splurge with me and get one of these.

Switch it up. For when the roads are too icy to run or if you just can’t bear the cold, take it to the “dreadmill” as my mom calls it. But rather than slogging along at the same pace for 30 minutes, switch it up with speed intervals or hills. An easy one we like to do is this: 5 minutes walking at 4.0 mph, 4 minutes at 6.0, 3 minutes at 6.5, 2 minutes at 7.0, 1 minute at 8.0, repeat again for a 30 minute workout.

DIAH. No, this is not an abbreviation for those kinda runs. Do It At Home. If running outside or trekking to the gym in the snow just isn’t going to happen, you can always do something at home. Whether it’s a workout DVD (I like this circuit-based Jillian Michaels DVD and just tried Ballet Beautiful for the first time and enjoyed it!) or doing some jumping jacks and sit-ups while you watch TV. Here’s a quickie that doesn’t require much space: 15 push-ups, 15 burpees, 15 jump squats, 15 jumping lunges, 15 tricep dips (on a chair or bench), 60 seconds plank hold, repeat 3 times.

Image via Pinterest

My Journey to the Finish Line(s)

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Today I write with tired eyes and sore legs. My sister Emma, Kevin, and I ran the Newport Half Marathon yesterday! It was my fourth half marathon and Emma’s first (go Emma!), and it was the most beautiful race I’ve done to date. We will definitely be back next year!

If you had told my high school self that I would someday run 4 half marathons and the NYC marathon I probably would have laughed or ran away in fear. I HAAATED running. I hated most physical activity that wasn’t dancing to Britney Spears in my bedroom, making bizarre music videos with my friends, or heating up corndogs in the microwave after school. I’m not a natural runner or athlete, and I would dread the day we had to run “the mile” in gym class like the plague. When I went to college, I started going to the gym with my friend Hayley more as a social thing at first, but eventually it turned into more of an obsession. I went through a bit of an identity crisis in college, trying to find my place within the vast and structure-less NYU (and NYC), and this anxiety manifested itself through my exercise and eating habits. These were things I could control; how I fit in to the millions of people in NYC as an 18-year-old was not (at least that’s how it felt at the time). So even though I was working out and watching my diet constantly, I still HAAATED working out. It was something I had to do. Calories in, calories out. There’s nothing enjoyable about that.

It wasn’t until I started doing road races through New York Road Runners after college that my mentality with running and working out started to change. With races, I felt like I was running towards a goal, not just running to burn calories. Also, the time I would spend alone, pounding the pavement, started to act as therapy for me. Running became a release. For 30 minutes or an hour (or 3+ when training for the marathon!), I could think about all the crazy things that go through my head, uninterrupted, and not be judged. Not to mention how great it feels when you finish a run. Endorphins are a real thing!

Now several years and miles later, I can’t imagine my life without running. Sure there are days when I don’t want to do it, or days when I don’t do it and then usually feel worse that I didn’t just go out, but I think that’s just part of the love-hate relationship everyone has with running. It is not an easy or fun thing to do. It takes discipline and hard work, but if you stick to do it, I promise you will feel the rewards (both mentally and physically). I know that’s a lot easier said than done, so I’ll also be sharing some of my running tips, favorite gear, and experiences on this blog. I mean, we’ve got to do something to offset the Salted Caramel Cookie Bars and Spicy Cocktail Meatballs  we’re making over here, right?!

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A New Year’s Resol-soup-tion

It’s been almost a month since my last blog post, and while I haven’t written in a while, I can assure you that this time has been filled with lots of cooking, eating, and drinking (repeat that sequence about 14 times). From gingerbread cookies to Gaga’s lasagna, it’s been a nonstop comfort-food-filled-and-sugar-high month.

To “make up” for a month’s worth of indulgences, many people vow to be healthier or go to the gym in the new year. Frankly, this annoys me. First of all, these gym newbies take over all the treadmills from us regular gym-goers from January until those resolutions grow stale. Let’s be honest people: flocking to the gym on January 1st isn’t going to get rid of the 5 chocolate Santa’s you gobbled up in December. And the “be more healthy” resolution is perhaps even more of an empty promise than the born-again gym rats. In order to be more healthy, you need to set real, tangible goals (i.e. cook at home more, eat smaller portions). The reason so many of these resolutions fail is that they are too elusive to see any real progress or change, so people just give up. But if you take easy, measurable steps, you’re much more likely to stick to and succeed at your goals.

Now I’m not here to lecture. What do I really know about resolutions and life goals? I’m mostly just bitter about the new guy at the gym who’s always walking on my favorite treadmill (WALKING, not even running!!) But I am here to share a delicious recipe for Italian Wedding Soup. I came across a recipe last week via Pinterest (check out my page!) that piqued my interest. I’m not sure why, as I’ve never actually had or made Italian Wedding Soup, but something about the meatballs and kale sounded enticingly healthy, yet still satisfying. And I was right. This soup feels and tastes like the ultimate comfort food, without weighing you down after. Forget your “be more healthy” resolution; making more meals, like this soup, should be a resolution in itself!

Italian Wedding Soup (adapted from The Kitchn)

makes 5-6 servings

Ingredients:

1 lb ground turkey meat (or ground chicken)

1/2 cup dry bread crumbs

3 eggs

1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

3 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 medium yellow onion, diced

4 garlic gloves, minced

8 cups chicken stock

1 bunch kale, roughly chopped (I used an entire 10 oz. bag from Trader Joe’s)

1. Combine turkey, bread crumbs, 1 egg, 1/4 cup of each cheese, oregano, salt and pepper in a bowl. Roll into 1-inch diameter balls. You should have about 20-25 meatballs.

2. In a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook the meatballs in batches until lightly browned on all sides. Set aside on paper towels to drain excess oil.

3. In a large stock pot, heat remaining oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until tender, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the kale, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add the meatballs and cook 5 minutes more.

4. Meanwhile, combine 2 eggs and remaining cheeses in a small bowl. Pour the egg mixture into the hot soup, stirring constantly. Cover and simmer until the eggs are just set, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper.