Wondering If You Need a Gym Timeout? Here’s How to Know

Wondering If You Need a Gym Timeout? Here’s How to Know

Hey hey hey, my #beastmode #gymmotivation #crushingit people! This post is for you.

When was the last time you took a break from working out?

I’m talking about taking a real break … not just a day or two off from your usual routine.

If you spend at least 45 minutes a day getting sweaty, most days of the year … probably for years on end … I’m talking to you.

You might go to the gym, run, or take group ex classes, or maybe you do exercise videos at home. And most of the time when you work out, you push yourself.

Maybe you need a vacation from your workouts.

BEFORE YOU THINK “STOP BEING WEAK” AND QUIT READING ….

Don’t Be Me

First, just so you don’t think I’m being Judge Judy: I am you.

Well, at least I was until a few years ago, when shit happened and I suddenly couldn’t work out every day. (Ironically, that “shit” was a bunch of random health issues and injuries I thought I was protected from because I worked out and ate a clean, balanced, and healthy diet, took my vitamins, and did all the “right” things.)

When I had to cut back on my workouts, I thought I would balloon up in weight, or suddenly lose my fitness base, or I don’t know. It just seemed like something bad would happen, or maybe I just wouldn’t feel like myself any more.

For sure, I would lose that odd virtuous feeling I had after a good workout. (See? I know you.)

Not working out every day sucked, big-time, until I noticed something.

On the days those random health issues weren’t nagging at me, I actually felt pretty great.

Fewer Workouts = More Energy

I had energy I didn’t know I was lacking before. It took me a while to realize this, but little things started to change.

One night I noticed that I wasn’t stressed about getting to bed at a certain time. Seriously, I used to be obsessive about getting enough sleep, so that I could make it through the following day.

But the realization totally hit home when, on a weeknight (OMG!) I found myself getting ahead on my weekend chores. There I was, standing at the kitchen sink, thinking, “Who am I? How did this happen? I’m like a normal person, but I didn’t even know I wasn’t normal till now.”

Because usually, I would have collapsed on the couch, nodding off till bedtime.

Are You Part of the <5 percent?

Now, remember: I’m a personal trainer, so fitness is my pretty much my life. I work out, I have taught (easily) hundreds of group ex classes over the years (which require hours of practice), plus it’s not unusual for me to demonstrate exercises for clients several times during training sessions.

Meanwhile, most of us struggle to find time to work out a few times a week – due to our schedules, interest, or motivation. Truth: according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, only about 5 percent of Americans get 30 minutes of exercise a day.

Even though I was so active, according to the medical literature, I also wasn’t in the overtrained crowd, or even in the overreached crowd.

Mostly, I was in the over-worked-out crowd, as are many of us who include “fitness enthusiast,” “gym rat,” “exercise nut,” “athlete,” or other exercise-activity descriptor in our identity.

I Dare You

If any of this is you, I’m throwing down a dare. I dare you to unleash the beast. How about you take a week off?

And THEN, after that week, try working out only every other day. Do that for a month.

Scary, right?

You won’t fall apart. You won’t even lose strength or fitness. And you also won’t gain weight, unless you start eating extra.

I promise. Like 100 percent promise.

Seriously. Be a real beast and be brave. Be human. Just try it.

Get some balance back. Your life is waiting.

How to Roast Frozen Veggies (and Save Money!)

How to Roast Frozen Veggies (and Save Money!)

Don’t you hate throwing away food? 

It’s kind of like throwing away money.

The thing is, you probably never intend to throw away food when you buy it. But here’s the usual scenario:

You go to the grocery store and, with perfectly good intentions, buy fresh veggies. When you get home, you only use some of that beautiful produce and by the time you want to use the rest of it, it’s gone bad.

Gross.

This is why I mostly use frozen veggies. They save money over the long run and the nutritional breakdown between fresh and frozen veggies shows they are comparable (1).

The problem with frozen vegetables is that sometimes the texture can be off or they can taste a little bland. That’s why I’ve become kind of a ninja when it comes to preparing frozen veggies.

One of my favorite uses for frozen veggies is to roast them, especially during the fall and winter. They caramelize, which makes them sweet and delicious, plus they get a little crispy. So good!

And even better is the fact you can roast them straight-up from their frozen state. No thawing required!

The Secret to Perfectly Roasted Veggies

Here’s the trick: You have to preheat the pan AND the oil to prevent your veggies from getting soggy as they thaw in the oven.

Last weekend I had a terrible case of insomnia so I got up super early and decided to get my grocery shopping done … and that meant I had to go to Walmart because it was the only store open. I am not a huge fan of the produce section at my local store, so I hit the freezers for my veggies.

Bonus: I scored a 5-lb. bag of California blend veggies (carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower) on sale.

When I got home, I roasted the whole bag and had veggies on-hand for several days.

This method will work with nearly every kind of veggie, but keep in mind that thicker/bigger veggies (like broccoli) will take longer to roast than small veggies (like sliced carrots or green beans).

How to Roast Frozen Vegetables

  • Line 1 or 2 rimmed baking pans with foil (to help with cleanup later).
  • Put 1-2 tablespoons of high-heat oil (such as coconut oil or avocado oil) on the pans.
  • Place pans in oven heated to 425 to 450 degrees to preheat. (I like hotter ovens for thicker/bigger veggies.)
  • Meanwhile, coat the frozen veggies in a small amount of fat/oil. The oil not only helps with taste but also can help your body better use the micronutrients contained in the veggies.
  • When the oven is heated, CAREFULLY remove the pans from the oven and make sure the oil is equally dispersed in the pan. 
  • Add the veggies in a single layer.
  • Place pans in oven.
  • Cook for 30 to 45 minutes (again, thicker/bigger veggies take longer to cook). Carefully stir the veggies every 15 to 20 minutes to ensure even roasting.
  • When done, remove from oven and season with salt/pepper/herbs/spices.

How To Serve Roasted Veggies

How To Roast Frozen Vegetables

Roasted frozen veggies with balsamic glaze and a sunny-side up egg.

Roasted vegetables make a delicious side dish, and they taste even better the next day.

Personally, I do not like microwaving leftover roasted vegetables because they get mushy, so I usually heat them in a pan on the stove. It’s a win-win: it only takes a few minutes, and they taste better.

You can use them cold in a salad sprinkled with goat cheese, dried cranberries, and vinaigrette; make a warm salad with greens and chicken or shrimp; or top them with an egg (one of my lunchtime faves).

Seriously, roasting your frozen veggies will make you appreciate your grocery’s freezer section!

Why You Can’t Give Up, Ever

Why You Can’t Give Up, Ever

I have a funny story for you.

About 3 weeks ago, I started a “30-day get-back-into-shape” plan. I’d just come off a bad spell – including a weekend in the hospital. That’s a long story all on its own, which I’ll write about soon (when I’m feeling brave).

Basically, though, I was sick of feeling sick.

My plan was going great. I was working out every day (just right, not too much), making headway on some business and personal stuff, and I was happy with the progress I was making.

Seriously, even though I was concentrating mostly on cardio exercises during the first week (part of that long story), I was getting stronger. One night I had my group training session clients do some sun salutations, and I was surprised at how easily I could lower into chaturanga without going to the floor, and push into full upward-facing dog.

It felt amazing.

In fact, that’s when I started thinking about putting together a real 30-day plan for this blog, that I could do in real-time with my readers. How awesome would that be? (Awesome!)

And then that let me to think:

“Slow down, speed racer. You know how it’s gone these past few years. If you make this a ‘thing,’ you’re gonna jinx yourself. Instead, write about it offline as you go, get the 30 days done, and THEN publish it for readers to follow along with.”

‘Ha, Ha, Ha!’ Saith The Universe

The next morning I woke up at my usual time and walked the dog. I noticed I felt colder than usual and generally “off.” I couldn’t seem to warm up when we came inside, so I took my temp.

It was 94 degrees … on two different thermometers.

Now, on the one hand having a low temp wasn’t shocking, as I was just coming out of a significant thyroid “crisis,” caused by a medical snafu (that long story I referred to above). And I always run a low temp anyway (again, thyroid).

But on the other hand, that’s ridiculous. I bundled up, drank some hot tea, and kept moving, and eventually my temp came up a little bit, so I went to work.

By nighttime, I was downright sick, with a real fever this time, and for the next three days all I did was sleep.

That meant I missed a major exam I was supposed to take for an advanced qualification I was working toward. Plus, I’m self-employed, so my income took yet another hit (part of the long story).

Mostly though, I basically 1) felt like shit and 2) was beyond embarrassed by this nonstop barrage of problems. Plus, I was exhausted and I looked like a stoner because I was so tired.

Not very fit-spirational!

To top it all off, I developed shingles … and out of the blue my knee started hurting, which made me walk with a limp.

Did you ever see the old Mary Tyler Moore show, where she goes through a bad spell? It’s considered one of the top 100 sitcom episodes of all time – it’s called Put on a Happy Face. It’s a classic because we can all relate to it.

When I went to see my doc, a few more things came up (part of that long story, having to do with thyroid issues).

We agreed: I was in the midst of a bonafide “spell.” Like, all I could do was laugh. But … also not laugh.

Because how would I turn things around?

How to Get Out of a Rut

… or stop getting your ass kicked, and start kicking ass instead.

I already knew the answer, and I sure wish it was sexier. There’s only one real way to move forward, even if you’re in the middle of a “spell.” 

The bad news: It’s the opposite of following a 30-day plan.

Now, I already knew all this based on my numerous (ha!) years of experience both living my life and coaching others. But the thing is, like everyone else on the planet, I wanted a plan that took me from A to B to C … preferably as fast as possible.

The good news: The key to moving forward is simple, whether or not you’re in a spell.

You just have to keep moving ahead, probably more slowly than you like, at least to start.

The bad news part two: You have to be patient, do stuff you might not always want to do, and get a little uncomfortable from time to time.

Seriously, I’ve used the whole “be patient, take your time, do a little bit of something every single day” routine numerous times. It’s how I got into fitness in the first place, after a partially misspent youth. It’s also how I achieved my goal of writing for major newsstand magazines, got a publishing deal on a book, trained for and finished a triathlon, prepared for a bodybuilding show, and more.

Chances are you won’t move toward your end goal in a straight line, and you might even back up/move sideways a little. You might even move at a snail’s pace.

Also, chances are you are gonna have to make some trade-offs along the way. 

We’ve all seen the meme:

 

It’s pretty accurate.

And none of this means you can’t follow a 30-day plan. But what it does mean is that it might take 45 (or more) days. You might change vehicles mid-trip. You might decide you actually enjoy the scenery on a particular detour, and you could even change your ultimate destination.

The thing is, you just can’t stop.

Here’s my plan. Do a little working out every day. Load up my diet with nutrient-dense foods (I have a great recipe tomorrow). If I’m tired, rest.

Reevaluate in a week.

Are you ready to start with me? I have a feeling that the trip is gonna be worth it.

Try This Treadmill Cardio Workout And Rev Up Your Results

Try This Treadmill Cardio Workout And Rev Up Your Results

Here’s a little secret that will firmly cement my seat at the not-cool-kids table.

I like cardio workouts. Yes, even though it’s really popular to diss them as somehow being “less-than” what happens in the weight room.

Let us count the ways to love cardio, shall we? With actual science to back it up:

  • You can listen to good music and zone out (1).
  • Playing little games like going harder for a minute or two, or changing inclines, keeps it interesting and more effective (2).
  • It clears your mind of the stresses of the day (3).
  • Your mood improves significantly (4).
  • Feeling in “cardio shape” – being able to sprint up a couple flights of stairs without getting out of breath – is a good thing.
  • Plus, oh yeah, your health: it helps fight cancer, heart disease, diabetes, brain degeneration, disease-causing inflammation, and way, way, way more (5).

But yes, there’s that awful middle-of-the-workout realization: “OMG I have to do this for 15 more minutes?”

And on busy days, having to choose between weights OR cardio kind of sucks, because chances are you want the results of BOTH.

Here’s a solution that will:

  1. Make the cardio workout fly by,
  2. Boost the fat-burning results, especially belly fat (6),
  3. Improve overall health and functionality better than just cardio or just weights (7) (8).
  4. Give you more muscle definition (yay!).

Cardio + Weights = Better Results

Have you ever noticed that some people spend an awful lot of time doing cardio, but they never really change how they look?

Or if they do change, they are just smaller versions of their old selves, not necessarily “toned” looking?

That won’t happen with this kind of workout.

Because what you’re going to do is put an intensity-based resistance-training circuit in the middle of your cardio workout.

When you add a burst of intensity to your workout, you increase its effectiveness for burning fat. Plus, when those intense bursts involve resistance training, you get muscle-building benefits.

Having more muscle is good for a lot of reasons – not only does it make you stronger, but it revs your metabolism a bit.

Plus, as you get older, it’s normal to lose some muscle. The older you get, the faster this muscle loss happens, unless you take measures to help slow it. This is why I always advise my clients to pack on the muscle now, because they’ll be glad later that they did so (it’s kind of like saving your $$ for retirement).

The circuit below will burn more calories, work more muscles, and boost your overall results compared to a steady-state (i.e., plugging along at a steady pace the entire time) cardio workout.

For what it’s worth, when I’m faced with a cardio machine workout, I almost always end up doing something similar to the workout below.

Treadmill Cardio Workout

If you don’t have a treadmill, that’s cool – you actually can use any kind of cardio machine: elliptical, Stepmill, bike, etc.

Beyond that, all you need is a set of dumbbells. If you have a TRX suspension trainer, you can also use that for the rows and/or push-ups.

Warm up with 5 to 10 minutes of cardio on the machine of your choice.

Then, get off the machine and do the following:

  • 30 jumping jacks
  • 15 push-ups
  • 30 alternating reverse lunges
  • 15 overhead dumbbell presses
  • 30 bodyweight squats (or front squats, holding a dumbbell in front of you for additional resistance)
  • 15 bodyweight inverse rows/TRX rows or dumbbell/barbell bent-over rows
  • Get back on the machine for 5 minutes, alternating 1 minute easy/1 minute hard intervals.
  • Repeat for a total of 20 to 25 minutes before cooling down on the cardio equipment to return your heart rate to normal.

Cardio+Weights Workout Facts

Here are some quick details about this fat-burning, muscle-sculpting workout.

1. Who Is This Workout For?

Pretty much anyone can do this workout. If you’re new to exercise or it’s been a while, definitely use a light weights and pace yourself, as this is a sneaky one. In fact, I’d recommend doing a little less than you think you should the first time through.

2. How Long Does This Workout Take?

This workout should take around 30 minutes.

3. How Often Should I Do This Workout?

If you’re doing total-body workouts like this one, you will want to take a day off between them, as the actual change within your muscles occurs during the time BETWEEN workouts.

That being said, if you use very light weights and/or just the weight of your body (like with the TRX), you could so a similar workout daily – just use different exercises.

4. What Muscles Does It Work?

This one primarily works your cardiovascular system along with your body’s biggest “fat-burning” muscles: legs, back, and chest.

Mix It Up To Keep It Up

Two big reasons people stop working out: lack of time and boredom!

This workout beats both of those issues. Give it a try and let me know how you do!

Want a Stronger Core?

Try my 6-day challenge, which includes a mix of exercises AND diet tweaks designed to help ban the bloat and strengthen your midsection. 

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How To Stop Neck Pain During Ab Crunches

How To Stop Neck Pain During Ab Crunches

Dear Wendy,

I often have a difficult time finding a comfortable position for my neck when doing ab crunches, bicycles and so on. Can you offer some pointers to help me?

– J.

Dear J.,

I used to get nagging neck pain when doing ab work too – in fact, I ended up in physical therapy twice as a result of neck pain. Ouch!

But after making some key changes in how I train and work, I’ve been pain free for years (knock wood!).

Before we get into form issues, I have a couple questions.

Things That Might Set You Up For Neck Pain

1. Have you ever had a neck injury? Does your neck hurt when doing other activities? If so, definitely get checked out by your doctor to make sure you don’t have anything serious going on.

2. Do you spend a lot of time sitting — in front of the computer,  at a desk, driving, playing video games, doing crafts or whatever? If so, your posture is likely playing a role in the pain.

Most of us slouch when we sit a lot, rolling our shoulders forward, which sets off an avalanche of muscle tightness and looseness which can equal neck issues, headaches and more.

Confession: poor posture caused my neck pain.

Mine occurred when I was an editor. I spent a lot of time behind a desk, either on the phone or at the computer. And even though I worked out daily, it wasn’t enough to overcome my posture issues until I rearranged my workspace so that it was more work- and body-friendly (better chair, appropriate height keyboard, etc.).

If you’re stuck sitting, check yourself regularly to see if you’re slouching.

Also, add these exercises to help improve your overall shoulder flexibility and mobility while strengthening your core:

And now – finally!!! – here’s how to stop your neck from hurting.

How To Avoid Neck Pain During Ab Crunches

One of the kickers when working abs: if you think about the posture we get into when we’re doing ab work, it can mimic the very posture that causes the neck pain in the first place. We round the shoulders, bring the chin forward, etc.

Below are the don’ts.

Basically, craning your neck forward is a no-no. Also, initiating the movement from the shoulders is a guaranteed ouch. (Thanks to my model Elisabeth Kilroy, who agreed to be my model after I wrangled her at the gym one afternoon.)

 

To get into the proper ab crunch form make sure:

  • You are bracing your lower abdominal muscles. Your lower back should pressing toward the floor so that the muscles between your hip bones feel taut.
  • Next, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth (yes, weird, but it helps to anchor your neck muscles) and then
  • Gently cradle the back of your head in your hands, elbows pointing straight out. It’s important not to actually hold or yank on your head during the movement.
  • Keep your neck long by only slightly tucking your chin, as if there is a big orange held between your chin and chest.
  • Next, perform the crunch by focusing on drawing your ribs toward your hips while lifting your shoulder blades from the floor. In other words, make the movement more about your torso than about lifting up your head/shoulders.

The same basic form goes for doing bicycles, except when you are doing the exercise think about rotating your shoulder toward your opposite knee rather than pulling your elbow across your body.

Have a question you’d like me to answer? Leave a comment or drop me a message. I’d love to hear from you!

Stay strong!

Do You Want A Stronger Core?

Try my 6-day challenge, which combines a few key exercises with simple diet tweaks. Sign up by clicking the image below!