How to crush your goals (hint: set a deadline), with a bonus power and core workout

Have you ever finally gotten around to doing something that you’ve been procrastinating about and then thought, ‘Why was I so worked up over that?’

That happened to me this week, when I refreshed one of my old certifications. It’s kind of an understatement to say I’d been dreading doing that. The idea of studying — especially something I’d already theoretically mastered — didn’t sound like a whole heck of a lot of fun.

But the thing is, I needed to refresh the course in order to tackle a big goal. The last time I took this certification test was 16 years ago. In fitness, that’s like a couple centuries! Even though I keep up with continuing education, so much has changed over the years. I mean, back then people were standing on stability balls (DO NOT DO THAT) and lifting weights while standing on upside down BOSUs (DO NOT DO THAT EITHER). Oh, the horror stories I could tell from back in my Washington Sports Clubs days!

Beyond being a slacker when it came to the thought of actually studying, I was worried I had to unlearn things and break old habits. And then I became paralyzed with self-doubt: what if I took the exam and failed? How embarrassing would that be?

And then I thought: I’ll start tomorrow. The problem was that I thought that every day, and as you know, tomorrow never comes, right?

It’s kind of like when you plan on starting a new fitness regimen after a layoff. It’s easy not to start. It’s comfortable to stay where you are (except for the nagging thoughts in your head about why you should start, right?).

But then late last Wednesday afternoon, after weeks of being a total slacker, another social-media-meme-inspired thought crossed my mind.

A goal without a deadline is just a dream.

I needed to set a deadline. So without ever cracking open the book, I grabbed my phone and called to schedule the exam. The lady at the testing facility told me they had an opening on Monday morning.

Without hesitation, I said: “Sign me up!”

That gave me a mere four and a half days. I panicked for a sec but then I opened the book and it was fine. I already knew this stuff cold because I use it every day. Heck, some of the studying was even fun, and I liked how they had updated their curriculum to make it more realistic for most of my clients.

And then when I passed the test on Monday morning, I had to laugh at myself.

How much stress had I put myself through in order to avoid what I thought would be stress? What a waste of time that was!

Which is exactly how it feels after that first workout back we’ve been dreading, right? Inevitably, we’re glad we dragged ourselves into the gym (or to the track, or the pool, or the basement) and knocked it out.

So here’s to setting deadlines for those goals so we get them done! (Oh and important disclaimer, I would NEVER EVER EVER recommend to anyone without a long history as a fitness professional and who regularly takes continuing education courses that they try to pass an exam without at least a few months of study and practical application. 🙂 )

BONUS: I’ve got a great total-body workout for you that my studying inspired. Some of the moves in this workout are intermediate/advanced, so if you have any knee/back issues, follow the modifications. This one had my legs on fire the next day.

Core, Balance and Power

Warm up for 5-10 minutes with light cardio activity.

Then, core warmup: 2 times through (make sure to stabilize core muscles:
Marching abs, 10 each side
Prone cobras, 12, see below)

2 x through each side
Single-leg squat touchdown, 6 each side (repeat for two sets on each leg, see video below)

Then, 2x through, see video below:
Transverse box jumps with stabilization, 8-10 each side (beginner/intermediate: can be done without the box)
Box jump downs with stabilization, 8-10 (beginner/intermediate, do regular jump squats)


Step up to balance with overhead press, from the NASM.

Three times through:
Step up to balance with overhead press, 10 each side
Chest press, 15
Cable row with stabilization (see video below), 15-20
Squat with dumbbells, 15
Dumbbell side raises, 15
Biceps curls, 15
Triceps dips or press downs, 15

Cool down to return heart rate to normal for 5-10 minutes.

Try this and let me know what you think!

Check out these two time-crunch weight workouts that get the job done

Check out these two time-crunch weight workouts that get the job done

Don’t you love/hate it when your workout turns out to be a lot harder than you anticipated?

The following workouts from my 6 Weeks to Sculpted program definitely fit that bill.

These workouts also will help you meet the minimum twice-a-week strength-training recommendations from the American Heart Association, which suggests two total-body workouts a week for basic health (I wrote about their cardio recommendations last week).

Before you do these workouts, warm up with some bodyweight exercises and/or easy treadmill/cardio. These exercises assume a basic level of fitness — if something hurts or raises concerns, don’t do it. 🙂

With both routines, grouped exercises are meant to be done back-to-back before taking a break. Working out in this fashion not only saves time but revs your metabolism to help boost fat and calorie burn (don’t you love that?).

Workout 1: Push It

Circuit 1
Three times through
Alternating Lunges, 12 each side
Pushups, from toes, knees or hands on counter if necessary, 10
Dumbbell side raises, 10
Rest 1 minute

Circuit 2
Three times through
Step ups (keep foot planted on step, as you step up/down with other foot). Advanced, hold dumbbells or barbells, 1 minute each side
Overhead press with dumbbells, 12
Biceps curls with dumbbells, 12
Triceps dips, 12
Rest 1 minute

Workout 2: Pull It

Circuit 1
Three times through
Plie squat, holding dumbbell or kettle bell between legs, 15
Dumbbell alternating overhead press, 10 each side
Cable, band or TRX row, 15
Rest 1 minute

Circuit 2
Three times through
Reverse lunges with dumbbells or barbells 12 each side
Band or lat machine pulldown (or assisted pull up) 10
Dumbbell chest press, from bench, 10
Rest 1 minute

Want a downloadable version of these to save on your phone so you can easily access them at the gym? Click the image below and save it to your device. 🙂

Time crunch weight workouts

Music drives the workout — my November lifting playlist

Music drives the workout — my November lifting playlist

A workout without music is like … well … it’s like a whole lot of work, if you ask me. Ugh. <shudder>

But a workout with the right music? Now, that’s a lot of fun!

The right workout music playlist makes a big difference for me when it comes to both how hard I work out and for how long. Studies show I’m not alone. (For more about this, check out this blog post.)

Faster, stronger beats push us harder and make exercise seem easier than it would be without those beats.

For me, different music drives my lifting workouts than my cardio/high-intensity interval (HIIT) workouts. I tend to like heavier rock when I lift and faster paced music for HIIT and cardio (and for HIIT, I tend to like that faster-paced music a little on the angry side because HIIT makes me angry while I’m doing it. 🙂 )

I always love to know what other people are listening to when they work out so I thought I’d share my own playlist from this morning’s workout.

What kind of music do you listen to when you work out? Like I said, I’m always all ears (get it?) when it comes to what music people are listening to. (Note: the playlist below requires Spotify – free! – to work.)

Challenge on! Will this spooktacular workout make you feel like a zombie?

Challenge on! Will this spooktacular workout make you feel like a zombie?

Trainers always say you can’t out train a bad diet — or even a trick-or-treat sugar binge — but I do love a good holiday-themed workout so here’s a Halloween workout for you!

This workout is designed to spice up a machine (treadmill/elliptical/bike) cardio session but if you don’t have access to a cardio machine, you could also switch it up by adding circuits of jumping jacks, jump rope, step ups, or walking/jogging.

I’ve included levels for almost everyone. Optional equipment include light dumbbells and a step/box for box jumps.

If you’re not sure which level to do and you’re not a regular exerciser, definitely start with Level 1. (And if you think for any reason at all that any of the exercises are not safe for you, or even question the workout itself, don’t do it. 🙂 )

The lunges, punches and kicks are meant to be done on EACH side, so 10 lunges means 10 on the right side and 10 on the left, for a total of 20.

Make sure you warm up thoroughly and then cool off after the final circuit by walking.

Have fun, and report back how you did!

TIP: Save the image below on your phone or tablet so you can have easy access to it during your workout.


join us!(2)


So hot I’m a one-woman heat wave (or something like that)

One-woman heat waveA couple years ago I was shocked to notice that I’ve developed an early warning system, a spidey sense that alerts me when something is amiss.

My spidey senses have only gotten stronger with time. They let me know when I’m stressing about something, when I need to slow down and rethink things, and when I need to shut up and mind my own business.

The thing is, while my early warning system is super helpful, I’m not sure that I love it all that much.

Men, you will want to stop reading now. How do I know this? Because I tested the waters about this blog post with a couple of you and you looked … well … you looked worried. Or maybe deeply disinterested. Or something. I don’t know. Anyway, the look wasn’t positive.

But after careful consideration (and a flareup of my early warning system), I thought, ‘So what. Who cares what you think. This is a topic of interest to my people.’

And how do I know this, too? Because it’s a common conversation subject in the locker room, before group exercise classes and online among my super-hot friends.

I’m talking about hot flashes or as I prefer to call them, heat waves, because to me that’s what they feel like: intense heat that flows through the body like a wave.

I’ve got steam heat

When I get the least bit stressed — sometimes with just a random thought about something that I didn’t even know was bothering me — it’s as if my bones turn red hot, like the elements on a space heater. The heat they generate pulses out through my body through the pores of my skin.

For instance, right now I’m stressing a little about sharing this personal information about these heat waves — despite outward appearances I’m a very private person — and I can feel the fire igniting. My upper back feels hot and my cheekbones are warm. Even my legs are getting hot.

My body is warning me I might be heading into a danger zone.

My mom never talked about this stuff. Or if she did, I didn’t pay attention — back when she was likely suffering from heat waves I lived a couple hundred miles away and was oblivious to her midlife issues. And she’s gone now so it’s not like I can ask her what to expect. All I can do is look stuff up on the Internet (which, as you know, is an excellent way to scare the heck out of yourself and cause even more heat waves) and ask my doctor, who is awesome but also is a realist.

No one really knows exactly why these flushing episodes occur, except to theorize that changing hormone levels (don’t make me talk about hormones) cause circulation changes.

Heat waves add sparkle

Luckily (or not) I am used to feeling a little sweaty. I mean, I’m a lifelong exerciser and a fitness professional, so the extra “sparkle” these heat waves cause doesn’t bother me, per se. That being said, I feel kinda awful for women who don’t like to sweat.

Because now I can relate to them a little. If I’m not working out, I don’t like feeling sweaty. In fact, I like to think that a shower will hold me for at least a few hours.

For instance, I went to the post office earlier today hoping to get a package from Amazon (yay!) but instead my mailbox was stuffed with bills, which caused a slow-building heat wave. By the time I got back home I felt like I had spent 10 minutes on the elliptical: not long enough so that it constituted a real workout but long enough so that I didn’t feel shower-fresh. Ugh.

And the thing about spending time on the elliptical (or treadmill, or teaching Sh’bam or lifting weights, or any exercise at all) … well, it either does or doesn’t help abate these heat waves. Researchers can’t seem to make up their minds.

The only thing I know for sure about exercise and heat waves:

It really sucks when you have a heat wave in the middle of hard workout. Your face gets even redder than normal, your heart pounds a little harder and it’s as if your entire body is a volcanic explosion of sweat.

And while that’s super hot, it’s super not, too. When this happens to me, I try to console myself with the thought my body is ridding itself of extra toxins with all that sweating.

My doc and all the scary online sites recommend a list of supplements to help with this: flax, black cohosh and evening primrose oil. My results: Meh.

I’ve come up with my own highly unscientific, totally anecdotal method of keeping heat waves at a minimum, and it mostly works most of the time:

  • Eat a healthy, varied diet focusing primarily on veggies, fruits, lean proteins and healthy fats.
  • Work out consistently but not too hard — super-hard workouts bring on nighttime heat waves (at least for me).
  • Be aware of things that make me stressed: gossip, uncomfortable situations, etc. and do my best to avoid them.
  • Have a little quiet down time every day.
  • Watch my thoughts and notice the mind-body connection. It’s surprising how often I discover that something is stressing me out when I’ll have a random thought about it and suddenly: heat.

I’m also coming to realize that having these spidey-sense heat waves can actually be helpful when it comes to living a healthy, balanced, squared-away life …. except when it comes to coffee, because nothing brings on a heat wave like a delicious hot cup o’ Joe.

And I’m pretty sure going without my morning cup of deliciousness would be just as stressful to my system as drinking it, so I’m willing to postpone my morning shower till I’ve crested that wave.


I finally donated my size 00 jeans and I’m waiting for the magical epiphany to happen

Bye-bye jeans that don't fit

I thought so much of these jeans that I took their picture before I sent them packing to Goodwill.

Last weekend I brought a dozen pair of jeans to Goodwill and said goodbye to them forever.

This was a pretty big deal for a few reasons.

First, I get sentimentally attached to clothes. I remember when and why I bought them, who I was with and some of the fun things I did while wearing them.  With all that history, banishing them from my life seems harsh. (#hoardingtendencies)

Second, I tend to be frugal. Saying goodbye to things while they are still “good” makes me feel like I’ve wasted money.

But mostly, this was about giving up ever being size xx again and meeting a certain bizarre standard of size/weight/fitness, and all that that entails.

Frankly, I’m feeling exhausted by this. I almost don’t know what to do with myself.

Size 00 (yes, 00)

There was one pair of jeans in the pile that dumbfounded me. Had I ever been *that* small? I remember when I bought them, in July 2009, at the Lucky Jeans outlet in Kittery. Yes, I’d just finished competing in a figure show so my body fat percentage was quite low, and I’ve got a small frame to begin with but … wow. These jeans were small.

When I tried them on last weekend before putting them in the “donate” pile I couldn’t fathom that my hips could have ever been THAT narrow. I couldn’t even begin to wiggle them up over my legs. And I probably weigh only 8 pounds more now than I did then.

But here’s the kicker: when I bought them I felt pretty shitty about the state of my physique. I thought I needed to be leaner, have more muscle, narrower hips, wider shoulders, and basically a completely different body than the one I was born with. Which meant I should have been born to different parents who had swum in a different gene pool (k, not really because my parents were kinda spectacular, but you know what I mean).

A few hours after this picture was taken (in 2009), I stopped in Kittery to buy an awesome pair of size 00 jeans that I wore (shhh!) maybe three times.

*Important note: I do not apply the standards I set for myself to other people. It’s something I reserve just for me, because I’m nice to myself like that.

Adding another layer of weirdness to it is the fact I’m really not that appearance-obsessed. Come see me in the gym where I am a personal trainer some morning and you’ll see firsthand that this is the case. Some days I am too bored with looking in the mirror to bother fully combing my hair.

Anyway, there were other pairs of jeans like that, too — maybe not quite as small, but still uncomfortable. Not only physically, but also mentally.

I got rid of them all. And as I said above, I still feel kind of icky-weird about it. Like, what do I DO without that expectation of improvement hanging over me? To what do I apply this energy?

Good thing-bad thing

Fitness is a very appearance-driven industry. Not only is there a lot of time spent around mirrors, there’s a perception that you have to be uber fit, lean, strong and somehow inspirational.

Then, because of the special standards I set for myself in almost everything I do, I took that pressure to the next level by participating in a sport-hobby that is 100 percent judged on appearance (much of it based on genetic potential) so my personal standards for myself were a LOT to live up to.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking physique sports. Competing can be fun and the self-discipline that they require can be life-changing because you learn that you are capable of far more than you ever believed. Legit: it changes your life in many empowering ways. One of my favorite things to do as a trainer is to help people get ready to compete in their own shows.

And competing helped keep me focused during a really hard time in my life, when I was dealing with the fallout from the death from lung cancer of my mother, whom I cared for during the two years of her illness; a drawn-out divorce spanning two continents; and a stupid relationship I entered into when rebounding from the previous two events.

So anyway, there was this big pile of jeans sitting in the closet. Some pairs were tiny, like the size 00s. Some were a size or two bigger than I now wear, because that’s life when you compete. You have small sizes, “regular” sizes, and then the “why does she always wear a sweatshirt?” sizes for when you are in “bulking” (i.e., eating like a person who has been dieting for a contest too hard and too long) season.

Occasionally I would try on the smaller jeans and think, “Hmmm. Maybe I’ll compete again. Maybe I’ll lose that 8 pounds.” And then I’d try on the bigger sizes and think, “Wow, these are comfy. Maybe I will keep them for my ‘fluffy’ days.”

Then I moved the pile to a bureau and thought, “Hmm. Maybe I’ll put these in storage for when I am ready wear them again.”

Last weekend I thought. “Screw it. I’m getting rid of these RIGHT NOW.” And I immediately loaded them into the car and drove to Goodwill.

Weight-y stuff

The writer in me wants to tie this up into a neat little package and say that now I feel like I have lost more than the 8 pounds that those tiny jeans represented. Like, I’m finally A-OK with myself the way I am and I’ve gained freedom from the tyranny of unrealistic expectations.

Your comfort zoneThat’s the politically correct thing to say, isn’t it?

But I kinda was A-OK with myself before this. I mean, yeah, I enjoy those mornings when I wake up with a flatter stomach but I am also OK on those days when I don’t. (And a half-serious question: is it OK these days to admit that you’re kinda OK with yourself?)

When I dropped off the jeans, I told the young woman working the counter that my donation was a pile of “awesome jeans.” Because they were awesome. I miss them.

You know how it feels comforting to have a heavy blanket on top of you when you sleep? But then sometimes that blanket makes you feel too hot to sleep so you have to kick it off, but you miss its weight?

It’s like that. So maybe it’s not so much that I miss the jeans, but what they represent: the goals and the challenge, the “what’s next.”

What is next?

Feeling unfettered is new to me. I feel really uncomfortable with it. And now as I try to wrap this up and make a nice package of this post, a truism keeps ricocheting through my head: “The magic happens when you’re outside your comfort zone.”

Well, I’m outside that comfort zone and I’m waiting for that magic, that next thing, to happen. Or maybe the magic is that the next thing DOESN’T happen. What would that even be like?

I don’t know. I’ll guess we’ll see. And in the meantime, I’m going to have to learn to settle into this feeling of not having the weight of those jeans upon me.

(And yes, for the freedom-from-tyranny seekers, I have found some freedom — the size 00s and the rest of the jeans were taking up valuable real estate in my closet. Now I have more space for clothes that fit.)