New Year’s Resolutions- Evolve, Don’t Resolve

December 14th, 2012 by Kathy Ekdahl

What do I think of New Years’ Resolutions?  Not much! Even though I am a pretty dedicated person, I have never really succeeded at keeping my resolutions. I am sure I am not alone. Typically, resolutions are made out of hope and wishes , and rarely with thoughtfulness or long term planning. I think we can do better.

While it is really exciting to have these hopes for The New Year,  the excitement of having wishes fulfilled is quickly diminished by the reality of the task at hand.  And, feeling “once again” let down by your own failure to succeed at your resolutions can do more harm than good. Over committing to anything is often a recipe for later disappointment.  And feeling disappointed in ourselves often leads to behaviors that are the opposite of our initial resolution. Irony at its best! So- how do we change this?

 First, don’t wait until January 1st 2013 to make cocktail fueled resolutions. Since December is typically a great time for reflection, take the next two weeks to reflect on exactly what you want for 2013. “I want to lose weight in 2013” is not exact. Instead, “I am going to lose 10 pounds by April  1 st “ is more exact, and can be planned out accordingly.   “I am going to work out every day in 2013” is not realistic.  “I am going to commit to exercise 3x/week”  is more doable  and, once you have achieved 3x/week, you can reconsider more exercise if time allows.

 Once you have a specific goal in mind, now consider what actions you need to take to achieve these goals, and what support you may need in the process.   If your goal is weight loss, actions may be daily food logs, reading up on the latest nutrition recommendations and research, or clearing out your home of unhealthy junk foods.  For support, you may choose to join a nutrition support group, or see a nutritionist.   If your goal is to exercise more, specifically plan out what kind of exercise you will do. This, of course, depends on your goals and your current fitness level, but be realistic.  Actions to take would be going through your daily schedule and planning in advance when you can exercise, and choosing where you will exercise.  For support, you may need to join a gym or a fitness class, or hire a fitness trainer. Support can also come in the form of committing to a road race, or getting a workout partner. Think about this now! 

So, once you have actions and support plans thought out well, start the process NOW.  NOW.  Do not wait until January, which can then become February which can then become never.  The process of personal change is just that- a process. Change is like a dimmer switch, not an on-off switch.  You are evolving in a positive way over time, not making an empty promise on a whim.

Are you a fitness role model for your kids?

November 10th, 2012 by Kathy Ekdahl

One of the greatest joys I have as a trainer is to watch the children of my clients  grow up with exercise in their homes. It got me wondering- what kind of a role model are YOU for your children? Do you exercise on a regular basis? Or, sit on the couch like a slug? Do you talk positively about exercise, or complain about how much it hurts, or how hard it is?  Do you complain about being fat in front of your children? Or, do you diet restrictively, which teaches them that some food is bad and some food is good?

Just askin’ the questions…. hoping to make YOU think.

While you are thinking about exercise, eating well, being a good role model- here’s a photo of a future trainer- my friend Miss Nik- doing renegade rows.

At 7 years old, Miss Nik has watched her Dad  exercise at home with me for several years. She can do a beautiul plank, great walking lunges and a heck of a Down Facing Dog. Today- renegade rows- YOU GO GIRL! And, I know what you’re thinking….. did she WANT to do these? Absolutely. She wanted to do the same exercises as her Dad. That’s how kids learn that exercise is fun, important and something to build into their future. Think about the message you are sending your children around exercise and eating well.

Can You Be TOO Flexible?

November 5th, 2012 by Kathy Ekdahl
I was asked by one of my clients the other day- Can I be too flexible?  I suppose if she was a circus performer, maybe no, but for us regular folks- absolutely!  Often, being too flexible creates more physical problems than being too tight. When the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the body do not have the tension- i.e. strength – to hold the bones in proper alignment, you can get in real trouble.
 
There are many more hyper-flexible women than men. This may be partly because women typically did not perform strength training as a population until recently-20 years or so- and that would’ve helped to balance out our flexibility. But mostly, it‘s because, genetically, we are more flexible than men. For women, flexibility is promoted and applauded through sports like gymnastics, cheerleading, skating and dancing. Women are the first to embrace yoga for “improved flexibility” , but most yoginis are already too flexible!  Of course, we all like to do what we are best at, but ignoring one aspect of fitness and overemphasizing another is a recipe for injury.
 
The topic of “hyper- flexibility” has been on my mind, as I have several women clients who are over flexible and have lots of chronic pain. I really feel there is a connection between years of lack of stability and strength and pain syndromes like fibromyalgia. Coincidentally, I was attending a fitness conference at Cressey Performance in Hudson last week, and Eric Cressey mentioned the same findings I have observed. (Eric works primarily with throwing athletes- baseball is his specialty- and he is top in his field). He discussed that there are men as well who are hyper- flexible, and this can be a benefit in some sports like baseball.  Eric explained that pitchers, for example, are often highly flexible. But, while this can be a great plus, they still need to balance their flexibility with lots of functional strength training. And yet, many young pitchers have been taught by coaches to do a lot of stretching. Of course, this trickles down from the majors, where some pitchers routinely over stretch their shoulders and backs. This does not end up well for many of them, as, over time, flexibility without stability always produces injuries.
 
I have seen the same issue occur with golfing athletes- pros or otherwise. Flexibility alone does not make a good golfer, as some people think. Flexibility is important  in golf, but it has to be in the right places at the right time. Over flexible shoulders with tight lats and chest muscles from poor posture will lead to shoulder and elbow injuries. Conversely, strong shoulders, with optimal flexiblity of the upper back and torso, leads to strength, resilience and golf success.
  
 For us average people, we often over stretch because we feel tension somewhere.  As I have mentioned in previous columns, just because a muscle feels “tight” does not mean it is short and needs lengthening with stretching. Sometimes muscle tension is a sign of weakness, or over use, or even referred tension from other areas. A classic example of this is when tension is felt in the hamstring. Most people feel tight hamstrings and then do excessive stretching, without considering any other exercise therapies. You may actually need to strengthen the hamstrings themselves, or the muscles of the hips and core to help prevent the hamstrings from over working. (PS- If you can easily touch your toes, or bring your straight leg to 90 degrees when lying on your back, then you don’t need hamstring stretching)

So, if you are very flexible, please add stability exercises  like planks, bird dogs, lunges, push-ups to your exercise regimen. Try and get out of the habit of continually over stretching- it just does not benefit you as much as you think! While stretching may temporarily decrease pain, over time, it’s just making things worse.



Five Easy Tips To Make Running More Fun

August 7th, 2012 by Kathy Ekdahl

I’ve been running on and off for over 37 years. At age 52, I am starting to enjoy running again after years of dreading it. Why? Maybe it’s my age, my wisdom or just experience, but I really have changed my mindset around running. That, and the fact that I listen to my body now, rather than ignore it, has made running fun again.

For the first 15 years I ran, it was because I “had” to, either to stay in shape for sports, or to stay thin. In my 30′s and 40′s I changed from running to aerobics and pounded myself into the ground in a different way. By age 47, I had alot of aches and pains and the beginning of arthritis, and turned to more strength training to help my aging body. Boy was that essential! I feel better now than ever, and with my renewed healthy joints, I am  running again. It’s not the same as in my 20′s or 30′s: not as fast, not as easy, but certainly more enjoyable. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along my journey as an “on again off again” runner:

Walk when you need to- What a revelation I had one day while running… I gave myself permission to walk whenever the exertion was too much. Unless you are a competetive runner or  training for a specific event, walking during your run (or jog in my case now!) eliminates the fear of extreme exertion, and will make your run more pleasant. It’s more pleasant because you know you can walk if you need to, but you’ll still have a good aerobic, calorie burning experience. In the grand scheme of things, it does not matter if you walk a bit during your outing.

Warm-up before running- So many runners don’t warm-up at all, and I’m not sure why? All athletes should warm-up. All exercise formats should have an organized warm-up period.  It reduces injuries and improves performance. Who wouldn’t want that? My warm-up consists of foam rolling, dynamic streching and some isolated stretches for extra tight parts….which are increasing in number.  My aging joints feel so much better when I am warmed up.

Stretch after running-  Again, why don’t most runners stretch enough? I do think it is partly because it takes extra time,  just like the warm-up,but stretching is so important for running, that one can not run well without extra stretching. It is not an option especially as you age, when soft tissue gets less elastic. Because running most definitely stresses tissues, you are at greater risk for injury. If time is of the essence, stretch later in the day.  But, stretch every day. Your body will love you for it.

Get the right shoe for you- The athletic footwear industry has thousands of styles of shoes available to the avergae consumer. From technical wonders, to barefoot mimics, it’s hard to know what sneaker is right for you.  First and foremost, don’t fall prey to gimics or fads. “Toning” sneakers were a biomechanical disaster waiting to happen. That’s why the manufacturers are being sued. Minimalist sneakers are also gaining favor, and I personally like them and have used them for years. But again, they may not be for everybody. If you are new to running, go and get fitted where professionals can look at your gait.  Some runners feet roll in, called pronation, while others roll out, called supination. Different sneakers are necessary for each of these footstrike types.  Once you get fitted correctly, you can stick with that model for years and  choose to purchase it where  you’d like. The internet will often feature last year’s models on sale, and you can get great deals by just going one year older.

Vary your terrain and runs- Running the same distance on the same route on the same road or treadmill is boring, and the repetetive nature of the course can increase risk for injury. Try a trail run, or a shorter hillier run, or a fartlek run, where you run over obstacles, varrying terrains, at varying speeds. Mix it up!

I think the overall lesson is run smarter. Listen to your body. Go at a comfortable pace, enjoy the outdoors, contemplate life. Do it not only because you “have” to but because you “want” to.

Can you change bad habits into good?

May 1st, 2012 by Kathy Ekdahl

I’ve been thinking alot about how simple habits drive most of our behaviors, especially around food.  We eat the same things most every day. We drink the same coffee from the same coffee shop  in our cars, drive the same route to work, or watch one particular news show, without any thought that these are just habits.  What if our habit of eating a cookie every day at 3pm is just a habit,  and nothing else? Can we change this behavior if the habit is not serving us well?

A recent article in The Boston Globe G Section interviewed Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit” . I found his insights into human behaviors and habits very intriguing and relevant to my work around eating well and exercising.

For example, Duhigg says (and I paraphrase) that every habit has three components – a cue, which is the trigger for the behavior, a routine, which is the behavior itself, and a reward, which is how your brain decides if it wants to repeat that behavior. If one can focus on changing the cue or the reward, one can change the behavior itself. He explains that behaviors are permanently stored in your brain, so just erasing them isn’t possible. But overriding them can be! By  focusing on the cue or reward,  you can override the behavior and thus  begin to change the habit. WOW!

Cues are one of 5 categories- time of day, place, presence of certain people, emotion or ritualized behavior. Think about these cues as you are performing your particular habit.  Begin being aware that the cues are driving your habit. If you can change a cue- the place, the person, the time, then you may be able to change a habit. For example, I often pick and graze when waiting for dinner. What if I did not wait in the kitchen, but went upstairs instead? This may supercede the habit.  Now, think about the rewards. What is the reward for your habit? Let’s say your habit is eating a cookie at 3pm every day.  What is your reward? Is the reward hunger? If so, then another food may do just as well. Or is it that you need a break from work? If so, could you take a short walk instead? Try and figure out what potential reward the cookie represents. Could you imagine another equally satisfying reward?

When it comes to over eating, attempting to break a bad habit without true awareness of the why or how just won’t stick. Willpower alone never works. Conscious thought, willingness to veer from the typical, whether it is a person or situation where you over eat, or a habital reward for a bad day, is the only way to change a habitual eating pattern.

Conquering Overeating IS Possible IF You Use Your Mind

November 28th, 2011 by Kathy Ekdahl

While the title is obviously over simplified, it is the truth. Conquering over eating is about awareness, thoughtfulness, dealing with emotions and stress head on, and creating coping mechanisms for stress other than food.  In my previous blog, I gave you concrete techniques for stopping overeating,  but the topic is very complex and deserves more attention. So…here it goes…

As I mentioned previously, the average American gains between 3-7 pounds over the holidays. This most likely is not surprising to you. But what surprised me is that research has shown that we then never get that weight off. Despite good intentions and New Year’s Resolutions, each year we end up weighing more. Year after year after year. But, the weight gain is not just from Thanksgiving Day nor Christmas  Eve nor even Hanukah week, it is from week after week of poor eating. It seems that the time between Halloween and January 1st is a season of  ridiculous over consumption.  And, once we start, we just can’t stop!

So why do we allow this to happen when we know the consequences are so serious? Our genetics, for one reason.  Across the plains of ancient Africa, our ancestors naturally went through periods of starvation, then abundance. From digestive hormones, to fat storage, to brain chemistry, we are programmed to accept overeating as a natural part of life because starvation was often right around the corner. Nowadays, McDonalds is right around the corner.  And that brings me to the second reason we overeat. Over indulgence is in our faces at every minute of the holiday season via television, advertisements and social gatherings. Who could not resist eating fattening foods when they are so prevalent? Who? Well, the emotionally vulnerable American, or the stressed out American, or the lonely American. And there are millions of us. Combine stress and emotional trauma with “in your face” foods, and this is how we have become so nutritionally ill.

But, this is no excuse. We are more than just genes, and we are better than any food can make us feel.  But it takes thought, awareness and concrete behavioral changes to overcome temptations. Willpower is not the way- thinking is the way. This is why diets fail. Diets don’t address the mind. Remember, the same brain that can lead us to crave sweets, can also lead us to crave fruits and vegetables. But you must stay aware… aware of how you feel, what emotions trigger your eating, what your fullness quotient is, and what your hunger cues are…..

Step 1 begins today.  Start a journal that tracks your eating- where, when, how much. Get specific. Next, figure out what is your biggest challenge and unhealthiest eating pattern and target that first. You undereat during the day? You eat alone at night? You eat when stressed or sad? Consider these important questions first.  On your log, keep a track of your emotions, your stress and your sleep, which all directly relate to your eating patterns.  Don’t forget to use the techniques and tips I gave you in the last blog, and  most importantly, ask for help. There are many psychologists and therapists who can help with emotional overeating.  A good trainer can always help as well!

The Holidays Are Coming! The Holidays Are Coming! Are YOU Ready?

November 13th, 2011 by Kathy Ekdahl

As I write this, there are only 12 days  left to Thanksgiving.  I can’t believe it!  Is it me, or as we age, does time compress? Maybe…

I do know one thing: as I age, I no longer wish to experience the holidays as a time for over indulgence.  I am done with the stress over eating, the stress over drinking and the regrets that come after. While it is well known that most of us gain weight over the holidays, what is even more distressing is that, research shows, we then never lose that weight, thus gaining 3-5 pounds year after year after year. This weight gain is not automatic nor inevitable. We have choices.  But, these choices need to be backed by mindfulness practice, pre -holiday nutrition diligence and practice, and concrete strategies for behavioral change and coping with the stress of the holidays.

My first suggestion is to take the next two weeks to practice the techniques and mindfulness behaviors  we then want to use over the holidays. Begin food logs. Eliminate unhealthy foods NOW so that you can either: keep off these trigger foods completely, or if you CHOOSE, eat them over the holidays with control and mindfulness. The key to eating treats and special holiday foods is to do so with true awareness and enjoyment, not  by stuffing or bingeing. If we all took a moment to slowly eat our treats, to enjoy each and every bite,  to enjoy the way the food looks, the way it smells, the way it tastes, we would definitely eat less of it. Practice this now. Before you eat any special treat or holiday food, take pause.  Take 3 breaths first, getting yourself centered and aware. Then, look at the food, the way it looks. Enjoy its beauty. Next, slowly eat the food, pausing between each bite to really taste it. If necessary, pause longer between bites to ckeck in with your feelings of fullness. These techniques are proven to decrease over eating. Start practicing now!

My second suggestion is to begin to set up structures and plans that will allow to you stay aware and on track during the holidays.  Make a plan for how you are going to eat and drink. Include easy things such as planning low cal healthy appetizers, a meal with plenty of vegetables and healthy protein, using a smaller plate for smaller portions, or limiting portions initially to no bigger than 1 cup. Make only one or two desserts, rather than 3 or 4, and give away leftovers so you do not continue to  over eat past the holiday itself.  And please, there is no need to have a never ending candy jar sitting around the house.  No one will miss it if you eliminate it. That’s just your excuse to allow yourself to eat candy without accountability and awareness. Your choice. Let’s face it- if we ate indulgently for JUST the holiday itself, we would never gain the 3-5 pounds most of us gain during this season. The weight we gain is a factor of multiple meals, multiple over indulgences, and lots of excuses.

Lastly, take time this week to put down on paper your vision for a better holiday- not a  perfect holiday- no holiday is ever perfect- but a better one .  While you can not control your brother-in-law and his craziness, or your mother and her criticism, you can control how you choose to react. Write down your vision. Then, live it.

Exciting things happening at Personal Best (exciting to me anyway!)

November 3rd, 2011 by Kathy Ekdahl

Just got back from a wonderful trip to Italy. Saw no evidence of the classic mediterranean diet! Every meal- at least the typical restaurant meals we ate- were filled with meats, cheeses, white bread, white pasta and wine.  (Very few vegetables except tomatoes) What a combo….All the foods that I generally caution my clients to eat in extreme moderation, I ate every day, every meal. But I did not gain any weight! What’s the secret? You’ll have to wait as I will be writing more about what I like to call “The Italian Experiment” soon… but for now- two quick announcements….

My ebook “Getting Golf Ready- A Woman’s Guide to Golf  Fitness” is in it’s final editing stages. What started as a small give -away project two years ago, is now an 80 page ebook. I am very proud of the book, and very grateful for the help of Pat Mulally of www.GolfGurls.com for her expertise in creating the book and helping with editing.  If you are interested in learning more about the book- email me and I can put you on the book release distribution list.

Also, upon my return from Italy, I learned that I was a finalist for the ACE and Life Fitness 2011 “Personal Trainers To Watch ”  national award. What a privilege to be listed as a finalist with all of the other fabulous trainers!  With close to 400 nominations,  I guess all of my years of community service, diligence and continual desire to learn more and be a better trainer,  have finally paid off.  It only took 23 years to get the kudos! Next award- at age 75!

The Cleansing Craze- Do they work? Is a cleanse for you?

October 2nd, 2011 by Kathy Ekdahl

The other day I got an email from a distant “friend”. With no background in nutrition, science or health and fitness, she announced she is “running a cleanse”.   Another acquaintance posted on facebook that he is 8 pounds down after one week of his cleanse, 17 more to go??  It seems that every Tom, Dick and Harry is either sponsoring a cleanse or participating in one.  So what has spurned this craze? Is it safe?  What is the purpose of a cleanse? Do they work?

Let’s review the facts. Cleanses have been around for centuries. Cleanses began as a spiritual experience performed for religious reasons.  They were always combined with religious practices as well, so that cleanses acted as a combined tool for creating spiritual purity.  To this day, many religions such as Seventh Day Adventists and Muslims cleanse on a yearly basis. Yoga cleanses, or Ayurvedic cleanses, have been around for close to 4000 years. But, spiritual purity is not the reason for the ridiculous abundance of cleansing programs in this decade.  Aside from cleansing for spiritual reasons, the ONLY reason that cleanses are now super popular……. quick weight loss. Many of the cleanses are used as just one more magic pill, magic potion, magic diet… whatever is the QUICKEST way to lose weight.

Unfortunately, this is a major problem because cleanses never produce permanent weight loss.  Never. That’s why my acquaintance above is on his THIRD cleanse! He starves himself, loses weight, brags about it and then gains ALL the weight back, and more.  I can only speak for myself, but I would much rather be 5-10 pounds overweight and stay the same, than lose 20 pounds and then gain 30 back.  And that’s what cleanses may do if you don’t permanently accept the new eating habits you have practiced through the cleanse. But, no one can!  Nutritional deprivation from a low calorie diet or a cleanse always leads to eventual over eating in order to compensate for the deprivation. It’s evolution. It’s genetics. It’s hormonal, it’s physiologic.  In nature, periods of starvation are always compensated for with periods of gorging. That’s the way many wild animals live their lives, and it works well for them! Of course, a big fat polar bear does not care if it’s big and fat. It wants to be big and fat.  But, that is the opposite of what we are trying to achieve!  We are doing it for weight loss, right? Guess what?  For permanent weight loss, it just does not work.

This is because, when you cleanse…which is classically about undereating in some way…. not only do you lose fat, you also lose muscle.  Research has shown that during a typical low calorie diet that produces 15 pounds of weight loss, up to 9- 10lbs of that weight loss is water and muscle tissue, not fat. Muscle loss means slow down of metabolism and subsequent weight gain.  And, the weight that you gain back is not good weight gain….. it’s pure FAT gain. Cleanses also create a hormonal tornado that compels you to over eat.  Hormones that signal hunger escalate, hormones that signal fullness diminish. It’s the way our bodies are designed to self regulate.

So, now you know the negatives about cleanses. Are there any positives? Sure! For one, cleanses teach you that you CAN do without processed foods, sugar, or other foods that are not condusive to good health. Once you have success, if you are intent on being healthy and not just losing scale weight, you can incorporate these changes into your ongoing nutrition. Cleanses restart your taste buds. Butternut squash tastes phenomenal IF you can learn to appreciate its goodness and quality forever, and not just during the cleanse.  Lastly, cleanses can help you determine your food tolerances or even allergies. Eliminating foods, then reintroducing them, is a great way for you to be aware and understand how these foods affect you.

There are many different types of cleanses. Some cleanses are merely a gimmicky name for clean eating. If the “cleanse” you are trying is full of veggies, fruits, healthy fats and lean highly digestible proteins, and this is opposite from how you are eating,  then this may be a cleanse for you!  And, ongoing,  you should try and always eat like this. But, really, this is how we should be eating anyway.  At the other extreme, cleanses that involve only minimal food choices, or involve no foods at all, are dangerous and counterproductive.  I can’t ever recommend any of these.

If you take nothing else from this article but this… remember… cleanses never produce permanent weight loss. They may actually contribute to body fat gain in the long run. Is it worth the risk?

Building a Foundation for Fitness Success

September 8th, 2011 by Kathy Ekdahl

There’s an old saying that I always come back to…

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

When it comes to personal training, this is perhaps my biggest frustration. I can create the best, safest, most effective exercise program, but if my clients don’t do it, then what good is it? About 20% of my clients have difficulty  getting on track and staying on track. It does not matter what I say, what I do, how I nag, whether I call, email or stop by, if the client can not find the self motivation and self care to help themselves, there’s nothing I can do.

Many people have many excuses for not exercising. Some are valid, some are not.  All of them can be justified by the client. So the bigger question really is, how does the client adress these excuses and overcome them? Often, the excuses are created by underlying issues with time management, stress, lack of self esteem, past failures and…. gremlins…. that tiny voice in your head that creates doubts and holds you back from success. Until we discover the reasons for these gremlins and our continued “stuck” behavior, we won’t, can’t , move forward.

This is where I was with a very dear client. Smart, beautiful,accomplished, wealthy,giving, she had almost everything. The one thing she did not have was her health.  Over time, I realized there was nothing more I could do for her until she was ready. Luckily, at the same time, I began exploring alternative methods for empowering my clients: life coaching. Life Coaching is something I had experienced  personally via one day workshops, self help weekends, books, CD’s and more.  But, the workshop experience was fleeting. I never followed through. And, I did not have the finances to work with a life coach every week.   One day, after a particularly frustrating day, I had a thought….. What if there was a workshop series, where clients could experience life coaching in a group setting, where the cost was affordable, and the follow up was extended and clear?

This is how the Today’s Superwoman Series was created. With the help of a life coach, Maureen Letendre of In demand Coaching , and  acupuncturist Julie Dalbec of Marlborough Wellness Center, we put together a comprehensive group coaching forum which has been a huge success for everyone involved, including us! And, my special client…she is finding success too.

So… if you are stuck, have gremlins, can’t initiate, life coaching may be for you! If you are local to Metrowest Boston, Massachusetts, you can take advantage of this great group coaching experience. For more information, concat Maureen at www.indemandcoaching.com.