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The Benefits of Stretching

We’ve all been there, it’s the end of your workout and all you want to do is go home...not spend the extra 5-10 minutes stretching. Or maybe you walk into the gym and the squat rank is open for once and you run to it to make sure you get it before anyone snags it, and you neglect your warm up.

Making excuses to avoid stretching is very easy, after all, stretching can’t be that important, right? Wrong. Stretching is very important not just to improve flexibility, but to increase your range of motion, to prevent injury, helps your joints stay strong and healthy, and it increases blood flow to your muscles.

What stretches should you do? Stretching is going to be slightly different at the beginning of your workouts versus the end of it. When you stretch at the beginning of your workout, you want to avoid static stretching. Static stretching is often times what comes to mind when you think of “stretching” (ex: touching your toes, holding your arm across your chest, etc.) The reason you want to avoid this type of stretching pre-workout is to avoid injury. You want your muscles to be warmed up before you do any type of static stretching, so how do you warm up?


Warm up:

  • 5 min warm up on a piece of cardio equipment
  • Myofascial massage (Aka foam rolling – I’ll write an entire blog post about this because it’s that important) – time frame doesn’t necessarily matter. I personally foam roll for 3-5 minutes for my warm up. I roll out my upper back, lower back, glutes, hamstrings and quads.
  • The following is dependent of which muscle group you work
    • If you’re working shoulders or arms, you want to make sure your shoulders are open and not tight. To help this, stand in between a doorway with your hands placed about shoulder height holding onto the doorway. Slowly put bodyweight into the stretch to really open up your chest and shoulders. Move your hands up higher and do that same stretch. Afterwards, I also use a PVC pipe to help open up my shoulders. I hold onto it wider than shoulder width, bring it above my head and bring it around to my hips and then I bring it back around. I do this 5-10 times.
    • If you’re working legs or back (specifically dead lifts), it’s important to open up your hips if you’re not naturally very mobile. Do high kicks to open up your hips (left leg kicks to right hand) and do about 10 per side. Then, take a resistance band and place it around your knees. Stand straight and kick up and out, do about 5 per side. Then, go into a squat-like position and take 10 steps each way. All of these exercises help open up the hips and improve squatting and dead lifting form.
Post workout stretching:
  • This is the type of stretching that comes to mind when you think of stretching. Foam rolling post-workout is also wonderful!
  • My personal stretch routine (you should use a yoga mat):
    • Stand at the top of your mat with your arms stretched up above you and really reach (hold for 15-30 seconds)
    • Take a deep breathe in, and when you exhale, come down and touch your toes (hold for 30-60 seconds)
    • Walk your hands out to a plank position and hold
    • Slowly lower yourself down with your arms extended out in front of you and reach (hold for 30 seconds)
    • Bring your palms to your chest and press up into a “cobra” pose. Make sure your shoulders are away from your ears (hold for 30-60 seconds)
    • Push back to child’s pose (hold for 60 seconds)
    • Come up to your knees and put one leg in front of the other and really go into the stretch (15-30 seconds)
    • Extend the forward leg until it is straight while keeping the other knee on the ground and with the leg that is extended, point your toes towards the ceiling (hold for 20 seconds) – do the same thing with the other leg
    • Sit in a comfortable position and reach up towards the sky, then bring your arms behind your back and open up your chest (hold for 10-20 seconds)
    • Bring one arm across your chest to stretch your shoulders and arms, try to not hold your arm at your elbow, but rather at your forearm or arm, do the same thing with the other arm (hold for 15-20 seconds)
    • Bring your hand above your head to stretch your tricep, repeat on the other arm (hold for 15-20 seconds)

Foam Rolling

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Myofascial release, or better known as foam rolling, is something EVERYONE should be doing. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Increases blood flow to the target area, which decreases recovery time between your workouts (in the vernacular, it can significantly help alleviate muscle soreness)
  • Loosens up the muscles in the target area and can help alleviate muscular and skeletal pain
  • Can assist in adjusting your back
  • Increases your range of motion
When should you do it?
  • You should foam roll both before and after your workouts, for it can be used to stretch, increase blood flow, warm you up and cool you down.
  • Foam rolling in the morning can be beneficial to waking you up and increasing alertness throughout the day, it also helps with muscle stiffness.
How should you foam roll?
  • If you google “foam rolling”, you can see with what exact you foam roll with. It’s a cylindrical shape, but the degrees of stiffness vary dependent on which kind of foam roller you go with. There are very stiff rollers made from PVC pipes, and they can really get to the tough spots, but they can be painful, especially for beginners or boney individuals. There are also very soft rollers for those who are very stiff or are a bit older. Personally, I like a stiff-ness that is somewhere in the middle.
Where should I foam roll?
  • Upper back: Lift your hands above your head and slowly roll your body up and down, it’s essentially giving yourself a massage! Move your hands down toward your sides and continue the rolling.
  • Glutes: If you’re having lower back stiffness, it’s probably stemming from tight hips/glutes, and rolling out your glutes will help loosen it up.
  • Hamstrings: You can do single leg rolling or you can do both legs at the same time, or you could do both and really get into your hamstrings
  • Your IT band: This is pretty painful, so be careful. Lay on your side with one leg on the roller and the other propped on the ground to give you leverage for the rolling
  • Quads: This can also be painful if you have tight quads, again you want to use one leg as leverage and the other as the roller.

5 Reasons To Get Up and GO! To Yoga

 

Yoga can be intimidating, especially for someone who is used to a gym setting (or for someone who has never even stepped foot inside a gym or yoga studio). When new yogis leave their first class with me, with the post-yoga blissful smile swept across their faces, I ask them why they haven't tried it before, and I usually get one of these 5 responses to why they haven't done yoga:

  1. I'm not good enough to go to a yoga class
  2. I'm not flexible enough 
  3. I'm not a 'real yogi' 
  4. I'll never be able to do that (insert fancy headstand here) 
  5. I'm not in good enough shape

If you have ever thought along these lines, I am here to encourage you to let go of your ego, let go of all expectations, and let go of your fear of yoga. Everyone is on a separate yoga journey, and I promise you – no one is looking at yours. Everyone is too focused on their own practice, and not worrying about how funny you look in your downward dog. It's okay to be inflexible, that is why you SHOULD go to yoga. Like anything else in life, yoga takes practice, patience, and a whole lot of heart. 

Hopefully these 5 reasons will nudge you out the door and into the wonders waiting on your yoga mat! 

Release the crazy. You have a million thoughts running around inside your brain, a million expectations, a million things on your to-do list. You can drive yourself crazy with the non-stop drive and push to always be moving towards a goal or pushing your limits to move past it. Yoga allows you to breathe life into the present moment, and this enables one to breathe out the 'crazy.' The crazy thoughts that come across your mind, the crazy feelings of not being enough, the crazy feeling that you should be doing better, doing more, doing something else. These feelings slowly begin to fade away when you are forced to simply breathe in, and breathe out.

To work on your 'insides'. Yoga throws you into your body and breath. It allows you to work on the insides – the guts, the secret & hidden places of tightness that you hold onto. I am always on the go, and am usually being pulled a multitude of directions in life, work, and family affairs. For me, Yoga allows personal time to be selfish, time to work on any inner shiftings and uses a combination of breath, sweat, and movement to sift out the dirt in order to dig into what hurts. When you allow yourself space to work on what's happening on the inside, it begins to make the outside a whole lot happier.

To whittle away your waist line. A complete yoga practice fuses breathing techniques, meditation, and asanas (poses). Yoga is a great way to burn calories, and can be an absolute calorie scorcher dependent on the intensity of the class. Not only is yoga a great exercise, but it also leads to decreased levels of stress which decrease your cortisol levels leading to weight loss. 

Brings more awareness into your life. The ripple effects of yoga extend far from the four corners of your mat. Getting into a regular yoga practice will open up your world by allowing you to tune in. By tuning in, you begin to cultivate awareness for your own breath, for what you put into your body, and a deeper awareness of how you are truly feeling at any given point of time. 

It will make you (and your hips) happy. In our digital world, we often spend hours hunched over a computer screen working away. Even if you're lucky enough to have a standing desk, or a job that doesn't have you typing over a computer for most of the day, odds are you have tight hips and a little bit of inner-tension built up throughout the day. 

Getting your daily dose of yoga, even if it's only a ten minute, mid-work break can help stimulate blood flow to the limbs, clear your mind, and let you get back (or start) your work day refreshed and ready to work. There are plenty of online resources, but this quick guide from Kino MacGregor is one of my favorites if you need a little yoga boost in the middle of the day.

Shine awareness, light, and a little bit of happiness into your daily routine by adding yoga into the mix. Just try one week of continuous yoga and see where it takes you. Get up and go – your mind, body, and soul will thank you later.

How To Balance It All

Crush-Fitness-Balance

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”  - Thomas Merton

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “Ashley, how do you balance it all?” As a wife, mother, student, and fitness motivator, life can get a little crazy! I breathe it in and take each day one step at a time.

Prioritize. We all have crazy lives with appointments and deadlines. A person will find time for the things they deem important. The first thing is to plan according to what works best for you. If you’re a morning person, maybe get up a little earlier to get a workout in before going to the office. As a mother, I plan my workouts for after my husband gets home and I tuck my son into bed.

Prepare for life. I always have a plan B ready and waiting for when life throws wrenches into my schedule. For instance, an absent babysitter or forgetting what vehicle was left with the car seat. Yes, I have left people stranded with my child because I forgot to give them the car seat. Maybe it’s a Friday night and Ricky gets home late from work, since my gym closes early on Fridays, I’ll end up taking my rest day that night instead of my usual Sunday night. At the beginning of my fitness journey I was not versed in the art of having a plan B and it caused anxiety! It took months before I realized that it is okay to change your path when the destination is always the same. It may be the longer route but hey, enjoy the ride.

Goals. After prioritizing, you know what kind of time is left over to accomplish your goals. This is a tricky one! I know when I started my fitness journey I wanted to look fabulous in six months. Well…I looked much healthier that is for sure! I just was not realistic with my goals. Weighing in at the hospital right before having my son at almost 200 pounds, it was going to take more than six months. Set small goals that lead to your ultimate goal and this will lead you to success.

Patience. I’m sure all of you have heard the saying ‘trust the process’. Don’t roll your eyes just yet. It takes a minute for your body to respond to what you are asking it to do in regards to the demands you're placing on it. Yes, stepping on the scale and seeing the same number everyday is frustrating. Not seeing the kind of definition you expect after a week is frustrating. I had these same frustrations not even two months ago after I switched from bulking to cutting. I wanted my body to respond faster and be leaner overnight and ended up finding myself unhappy. Finally, I had enough of gravity’s judgments by means of the scale and I threw it up into the top of my closet, and it has been there ever since. Peace of mind starts by loving yourself enough and accepting where you are on this wonderful journey.

Rest days versus relaxing. Of course this is part of balancing life! Rest days are very important and underrated. I capitalize and plan most of my errands on these days. For some, rest days can create anxiety, at least it did for me in the beginning. I wanted to achieve my end goal faster. Not only did I not understand that rest days are essential for muscle growth, but they are also necessary for mental recovery. Relax on your rest days because you’ll need it for killing your workout the day after!

Mental health and me time. This is my favorite one. It’s the foundation upon which all of these pieces of the puzzle rest. With mental health, your body will follow. I have said this from day one. Stress, depression, eating disorders and other mental battles that all of us fight every day can creep in and leave you feeling helpless and alone. Do one nice thing for yourself every day. This can be anything! Personally, I love being outside with my son playing at the park or marking up my walkway with chalk, it really doesn’t matter. Sometimes it is a quiet night curled up binging on my favorite Netflix series. Don’t act like you don’t Netflix binge, everyone does it!

So, how do I balance it all? With a happy heart and smile on my face, I take one step and one day at a time. That is all anyone can do. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff. How will you balance your week?

The Balancing Act

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7 Ways To Stay Healthy on the Road

Summertime is here, and that means road trips, travel time, and a plethora of holidays. Staying healthy on the road is one of the hardest things, and whether you are traveling for work or play, it is essential to infuse healthy eating and fun types of exercise into your travel routine.

Try one or more of these 7 suggestions to help stay healthy while traveling for work, adventure, or fun.

  1. Food prep your way to success. Packing healthy snacks for the airport or long car ride is the perfect way to prep your way into a healthy adventure. I typically pack bags of veggies like celery, carrots, and peppers to snack on for those moments of pure boredom. My dirty pleasure would definitely have to be flavored popcorn (dill pickle popcorn from Trader Joes) to be exact. I always have LARA bars, or nuts in my bag as well for the times I get super 'hangry.'
  2. Try the every other day rule (engaging in some type of exercise every other day) For longer trips, or for those of you who travel non-stop for work, this is a great goal to set so you don't completely get out of the workout/yoga routine. This flexibility allows you to be lazy the day after that 30-hour bus ride, or day full of meetings, but holds you accountable to get up and be active the next day! I love switching it up because I always get bored. Try yoga one day, a Youtube video the next, and head off on a half-day bike ride or walk around the city after that. The exciting part is your scenery is forever changing, so there is no time to be bored.
  3. Get outside and see where your mat takes you. For me, being in new surroundings means a whole new jungle gym to adventure in, and this includes sweating it out outside. I love posting up in a park, amidst the city skyline, or in a random neighborhood. All you need is your mat, some good jams, and your breath. 
  4. Bye bye beers. Limiting alcohol consumption is the easiest way to cut those empty calories, and feel truly better about your body inside and out. At home, I rarely drink on the weekdays, but during long-term travel I find myself craving a cold beer (or five) at the end of a long day. One beer won't going to kill you, but one every day adds up (that’s an extra 800 calories /week, the caloric output of 1.5 hours of a sweaty, challenging vinyasa class). Try opting for water or iced tea before or after you practice, it will make your early morning wake up call much easier.
  5. Explore YouTube yoga videos. It is really hard to find good Yoga videos online for free. I really enjoy the Yoga with Tim Youtube channel. Tim Senesi is a likeable teacher who provides in-depth, foundational flows that focus on different body parts and/or sequencing styles. If you're feeling adventurous, try a BUTI YOGA video. BUTI Yoga is an unconventional, sweaty, dance-infused style to get your heart-pumping and 'booty' moving. Travis Eliot is also a great resource for cross-functional yoga videos. Every yoga teacher brings a unique approach to the practice, and there really is a video for any mood, level of intensity, or focus you're looking for.
  6. Rise with the sun. Getting up early while traveling allows you to pack the utmost adventure, work, and LIFE into your day. Even if you're not an early riser, I dare you to get out of bed with the sun. Get out and go for a walk, see how the city wakes up, watch it come alive before your eyes. There is nothing like waking up before the rest of the world!
  7. Balance, balance, balance. If you accidentally have beer and pancakes for dinner one night, rent a paddle board or make a goal to walk for a couple hours the next day. Balance is so crucial to sustaining health, and it’s important to realize that you are going to have days where you eat all the wrong things. Food is part of the experience when we travel; it is such an essential part to culture, but yoga can help counteract the crap, put your mind at ease, and re-establish the reality that it's all going to be pretty damn incredible. 

Picking A Gym: What to Keep In Mind

 

 

The day has finally come: after pondering the idea for months between runs outside and workouts in your living room, you’ve decided to finally make the move and join a gym! You’re excited, you’re pumped, and you can hardly wait to walk through those shiny, glass doors.

But, wait…

What gym should you even join?

As it goes with many things in life, there is no one size fits all gym.

And just like you might adore leg day, but hate training back, you may love one gym and hate another. So, before you jump into things and purchase a membership, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Location. Even if you absolutely love a particular gym, if it’s too far away, it may not be worth it. Bad weather, lack of motivation, short timing…all of these factors may get in the way of your workout routine. To get the best bang for your buck, try to find a location that’s relatively close to you that you know you’ll be able to access on a daily basis.
  2. Equipment. Take a tour! Any gym manager will be eager to show you around the space. Try out the equipment, see what they have to offer, and double check that everything works for you and your regime.
  3. Environment. This one is key. It’s likely that you’re going to be spending a decent amount of time in this space, so getting a feel for the ambiance is crucial. Look around at the type of people working out there, sense your comfort level, and ask any questions or voice any concerns you may have. You want to feel good at the gym, so you’re going to want to be at peace with the environment you’re in.
  4. Cost. Gym memberships can be pricy. So, before going to visit one, check out the gym’s website and look at the member packages to make sure joining will work well for you and that the timing feels right!
And with these 4 thoughts in mind, visit as many gyms as your heart desires! You’ll know the right one when you see it!