Three Most Effective Exercises


One benefit of having a PERSONAL TRAINER must be that you don’t have to come up with your own work-outs every day.  I know if I spent the time planning creative work-outs, I could probably come up with some.  But most days when I wake up blurry eyed and tired, I don’t stray too far from my three favorite exercises:  push-ups, lunges, and crunches.  I have found these exercises have kept me pretty fit and, with small modifications, they continue to be challenging after years of use.

Push Ups

To me, push-ups are the single most important upper body exercise.  I do about 300 a week.  This exercise covers every major muscle group from pectorals to deltoids to biceps and triceps.  Don’t believe me?  Try the 100 push-up challenge that my TRAINER husband likes to give his clients.  Do 5 sets of twenty push-ups or 4 sets of fifteen and 1 set of ten.  If you can complete this challenge, tomorrow the soreness in your muscles will illustrate exactly which muscles you’ve worked.

Push-ups are easily modified to make them easier, more difficult or more focused on particular muscle groups.  I generally do “girl” push-ups or knee push-ups.   These are still effective and you’ll find you can do more than standard push-ups.  A change in hand placement will change the muscles worked.  Further apart you’ll be working  your pectoral muscles, close to your body and slightly behind the shoulders, your triceps will do most of the work.  If I’m feeling ambitious, I put my legs up on a fit ball.  By placing any part Jeff Angelof your leg on the ball, thigh to tops of feet, you can change the angle and intensity.  The further your hands are from the ball, the more challenging the push-up.


I used to try to achieve the toned thighs I desire by lifting heavy weights at the gym.  My thighs will probably never be slim, but I thought they could at least be muscular.  I wasn’t afraid to put 80 lbs.  on a squat rack and go to town.  I lifted the heaviest weight I could on the leg press or hamstring curl.  I got pretty strong but I also think my legs got pretty big.  I’ve changed my strategy.

I now believe my body weight is more than enough for my legs to be lifting.  I rely on the many variations of lunges instead of super heavy weights.   I lunge forward and backward.  I do walking lunges around my exercise room.   When I’m lucky enough to be jogging outside, I love to stop and do walking lunges to break things up.  I lunge up on a Bosu ball and lunge down from on top of a bench.  I like to incorporate jumping lunges into circuits for a high-intensity bout of cardio.


I’m not sure if “crunches” is the technical term but what I mean is any exercise that targets the abdominal muscles or the core.  Most of these exercises involve some kind of “crunch” or squeezing of the abs.  I like to think of the ab muscles as a built in corset and, if properly trained, they can pull in everything around your midsection.  Because of this, I try work my abs every day.  The trick to keeping this exercise effective is variety.  By mixing up the angles, the resistance and the movement, your body will continue to be challenged.

Basic crunch:  lie on your back, feet on the floor contracting abs as you curl up; this can be made more challenging by holding arms straight up above your head, holding a weight in your hands, or holding the contraction up for a few seconds before lowering

V-ups:  lie flat on the floor arms stretched out above your head, bring up your hands and feet at the same time to form a V; this is so challenging you may not need to make it harder but holding a weight  in your hands or  a medicine ball between your feet will certainly do so

Fit ball crunches:  lie back on a fit ball with feet on the floor and complete standard crunch motion;  work on balance by straightening your leg and holding while your crunch; work your oblique (side abdominal) muscles by crossing over left elbow to right knee and vice versa

Standing crunch:  stand feet apart and pull one knee up at a time as you contract your abs and curl into a C; Pull knee across your body toward opposite elbow to work the obliques


Using variations of these three exercises have kept my work-outs challenging and easy to plan.  For a full body work-out, I do circuits containing one of each type and a cardio bout.   Simple, challenging, and effective.

5k in 5 Weeks: Week 1 and Again…and Again


If all had gone as planned, I’d have completed two intense weeks of training for my 5k race by now.  Unfortunately, as usual, I have been unable to stick with a routine that involves a commitment to long cardio sessions.  So, two weeks in, I’m pretty much in the same shape as I was when I made this pledge.  Here’s why.

Week 1

Monday:  Set my alarm, assuming my birthday celebration hangover would be gone by day two…it wasn’t.  I turned off my alarm.

Tuesday:  No longer hungover but still sluggish.  My workout time consisted of watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills as I “recovered” from sets of 10 pushups or 20 crunches.  (I really think Vicki looked better before her plastic surgery…and Tamara looks great this season, she’s anti-carb, it seems to be working…)

Wednesday:  Early in to work, no time

Thursday: Feeling lazy, 30 minutes of treadmill walking

Friday:  The week is already  a wash…no reason to wake up.

Not likely to be running a 5k at this rate, time to start over.

Week 2

Monday:  Insomnia kept me up most of the night, turned off my alarm.

Tuesday:  Middle of the night visits from both of my children and again, I’m up for hours.  Turned off my alarm…again.

Wednesday:  Finally, success!  Thirty minutes of cardio with a total of one mile of running (well, jogging).

Thursday:  Forty five minutes of interval training, I’ll do anything not to stay off the treadmill. 

Friday:  Thirty minutes of cardio, again alternating between half mile walking and jogging.  So far, I sustain a half-mile at a slow jog.  I’m not feeling ready to move on to week 2, particularly since the schedule suggests not moving on until you can run 2 miles without stopping.

Well there it is.  Two weeks into my forties and I’ve not accomplished much.  I once had a college professor who was trying to encourage us to pursue post-graduate degrees.  She said, “Five years will come and go and either you will have accomplished something or you’ll be in the same place you are today.”  I always think of those words as I find myself stagnating in the same place for too long.   Two weeks have come and gone and here I am in the same place.  If I’m not careful, five weeks will come and go and I’ll still be here.  So tomorrow, I’ll try again.  Week 1 take 3.

5lbs for 5k: A Birthday Gift to Myself


Well, my fortieth birthday is upon me and those pesky 5 pounds are still hanging around.  Sigh…so…I guess I could set a new goal:  swimsuit season.  I could spend the next two months meticulously counting calories; I could even try a fast.  I could continue to get on the scale every morning, celebrate if I’ve lost .3 lbs since yesterday and spend my day frustrated if the reverse is true.  In other words, do what I’ve been doing for the last decade.

It was Steven Tyler who sang, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”  (Actually Mark Twain said it first, and he used proper grammar, but I like Steven Tyler’s version much better.)  Inspired by that memorable Aerosmith lyric, I decided to give myself a birthday gift.  I’m not going to spend my birthday feeling bad or complaining about the 5 pounds I didn’t lose.  Instead, I’m going to trade in my obsession with losing 5 pounds for a better goal.  In 5 weeks, I’ll be able to run a 5k.

Honestly, it is a relief to give myself a break from the endless mental energy I spend thinking about how to lose weight.  But maybe it is not just a gift of a more peaceful mind; perhaps it will also be a gift of better overall health.  A 5 pound weight loss for most of us has little effect on overall health.  However, preparing to run a 5k by doing 30 minutes of cardio 4-5 days a week can have several positive effects.  I will reduce my risk of heart disease, increase endurance, and help make me happier.  These things are more important than fitting into skinny jeans…right?

It’s not that I don’t exercise, I do.  In fact, I ran a very sluggish 5k race last summer.  But in the winter, I normally avoid 30 minutes of sustained cardio.  I’d rather do cardio bouts or circuit training.  Racking up 3.2 miles on a treadmill is not my idea of a good time.  But now that spring is here, and I can run (ok, slowly jog) outside, I can commit to being ready to achieve a respectable time in a 5k race to be run on July 4.  I do well with rules and programs.  A training schedule like this, I can follow.

So starting next week, (sorry, this week I’m busy “celebrating” being a 40 year old) I will begin week one of my five week training schedule.  And I will exchange a rather meaningless 5-related goal to one that really matters.  A 5k in 5 weeks.  Who’s with me?

Fat-Free and Everything After: The Disappointing Truth

Jeff Angel


Oh how I miss the fat-free diet days.  Purchase an extra-large bag of Gummie Bears before ENG 200 and eat the whole thing during the three hour lecture.  Dine on an entire box of pasta but top it with caution because spaghetti sauce has one gram of fat per serving.  Eat the meatball?  No way!  But pass that fat-free box of wine.

It was during this “health-craze” that my friend ironically complained, “I can’t lose weight no matter how many fat-free cookies I eat.”  We found it surprising that despite the extra large portions of fat-free snacks, dinners, and alcohol, we had both packed on the freshman 15 and then some.  At the time I chalked this up to the idea that diets don’t work for me.  I decided I was just one of those unlucky people who can’t lose weight.

I had a similar problem when I was pregnant for my first child and gaining weight rapidly.  By week twenty I was up 30 pounds.  My doctor, so rudely, questioned me about my weight gain.  So, I explained to him that I had been eating really healthy: whole grain muffins, full-fat yogurt, lots of cheese.  His response, “Well, if you eat two bushels of apples a day, you’re going to gain weight.  It’s still calories.”  Not the wisest thing to say to a fat and crabby pregnant lady, but I got the point.

As much as I may wish it was otherwise, calories count.  The fat-free diet was yet another example of me wanting an entire fat-free cake and eating it, too.  I want to be able to over indulge without consequence.  If fat was the enemy, then I could gorge myself as long as I avoided it.  Or, when carbs became the problem, I happily lived on brie and filet mignon.   But really, did I honestly think that was the answer?

As disappointing as it is, eliminating any one food group will not magically result in weight loss.  So here’s the TRAINER’S TIP:  EVERYTHING IN MODERATION.  At first I found this punishing. (“You mean I can’t eat this sleeve of reduced fat Chips Ahoy before bed?”)  But now I see this philosophy is actually liberating.  That’s because the word EVERYTHING comes right before MODERATION.  So instead of focusing on the limit, I can choose to enjoy the variety.  A small slice of a homemade brownie is so much better than an entire fat-free one wrapped in plastic.  So the trick is to embrace the joy of really eating whatever you want…just not as much as you may want.

Holiday Splurge: A Recipe for Caloric Disaster


I have always happily ignored my caloric intake on a holiday.  I really consider holidays to be free days and take the opportunity to enjoy eating and drinking whatever I want.  However, recently I’ve been logging my food intake on MyFitnessPal.  It has been an eye-opening, at times startling, dose of reality.  With Easter around the corner, I began to dread the evening when I would have to enter every, single indulgence of the day.  It hasn’t even happened and already I am feeling guilty.

Then, I had an idea.  Why not enter everything I will most likely consume before I consume it?  Why not figure out exactly how much damage could really be done on a holiday.  Well, what I discovered…a whole lot.

Below you’ll see my projected intake.  I’d like to say I’m exaggerating but, honestly, this is how it would have gone.  Brace yourself.

Handful of gumdrops from kids’ Easter Basket—66 calories

2 mini Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, also swiped from the baskets—100 calories

3 mimosas—600 calories (probably the saddest bit of knowledge I learned…goodbye mimosas)

4 glasses of chardonnay—480 calories

2 oz of cheese and 3 crackers–280

4 shrimp with cocktail sauce—30 calories (some good news, although this is the one thing I would probably have passed on)

Small salad with ranch—156 calories

1 roll, no butter—100 calories

6 oz of ham—260 calories

1 cup mashed potatoes–237

4 oz of ham gravy, low estimate, I love this gravy and would drink it if I could—432 calories (I’m weeping.)

¾ cup cheesy broccoli and rice casserole, I would be showing restraint only eating this much—426 calories

4 oz slice Costco cake—520 calories

2 chocolate covered strawberries—100 calories

The grand total…3798 calories.  This, of course, doesn’t even factor in breakfast or an evening snack.  Almost 4000 calories for one festive afternoon.

As terrifying as this is, the good news is, it hasn’t actually happened yet.  Now that I know, I can attempt to rewrite the food log.  So instead of adding these items with guilt and horror Sunday night, I plan to be deleting or downsizing several by making better choices.  As much as I’ll miss the OJ in the mimosas (I can save 80 calories/glass by avoiding it) and as much as I enjoy that ham gravy, I cannot afford to gain a pound in a single day.  So, alas, calories on holidays apparently do add up.  But if all goes well for me, I’ll be subtracting…at least a few.  Happy Easter!

How to Eliminate 2000 Calories in a Week…Without Starvation


Well, after a two week attempt, The 5:2 Diet has failed me…or I have failed it.  I would have thought the failure would be due to my inability to live even for one day on 450 calorie.  But that part, I was able to manage.  What I could not handle was getting on the scale the morning of my fourth fast day to find I weighed exactly the same amount as I did on Fasting Day 1.  My determination instantly disappeared and I headed downstairs for a big bowl of oatmeal instead of the lemon water that would have been my breakfast.

Thus, the day that was supposed to be my fourth fast day ended up being a return to my normal diet.  And instead of spending the day thinking about how to stretch 450 calories across 15 hours, I spent it wondering why The 5:2 Diet didn’t work.

I know the science behind weight loss.  I know that it takes a caloric deficit of 3500 to lose one pound.  I’ve learned that much from my husband.  So this diet, mathematically, should work.  Right? If I only eat 400 calories in a day…and I usually consume 1800…then I’m saving 1400…for a deficit of 2800 for the week…but I figured I deserved to overindulge a tad on my day-after-fast-days…so maybe a 2000 deficit.

Really?  That’s it?  All of this hunger won’t even result in a pound of weight loss in a week?

My conclusion, there are easier ways to create a weekly 2000 calorie deficit.  I consulted the Exercise and Caloric Expenditure chart.  Here are some of my ideas.

  • Go for a 30 minute walk five nights a week (150X5=750), do an hour of circuit training on Saturday and Sunday (475×2=950) and eliminate two glasses of wine per week (100/glassx2=200) CALORIC DEFICIT=1900
  • Stop having a bedtime snack (250×7=1750) and eliminate two glasses of wine per week (100/glassx2=20) CALORIC DEFICIT=1950
  • Do Jeff’s High Intensity Circuit Training YouTube video three times (160×3=480 calories) and only have a bedtime snack one time during the week (250×6=1500) CALORIC DEFICIT=1980
  • Do two cycling classes in a week (600×2=1200) and eliminate four glasses of wine per week (100×4=400) CALORIC DEFICIT=1600
  • Add ten high intensity running minutes to my treadmill time (110×5=550), do one cycling class (600), eliminate all wine (7 x100=700) CALORIC DEFICIT=1850

Granted some of these strategies may seem extreme, a weekend without wine is not much of a weekend, but a day without solid food is also pretty drastic.  For me, I think small adjustments to my normal routine are more appealing than twice weekly starvation days.

So perhaps, The 5:2 Diet did work.  It gave me a new perspective on a couple of things.  First, I learned what real hunger feels like.  This will be valuable knowledge for the next time someone brings left-over birthday cake to the office and I suddenly need a snack.  Second, I learned that even when I am really, truly, unbelievably hungry, there are things I can do to survive it like drink water or chew gum.  And finally, I learned that an hour of intense exercise is easier for me than a day of intense hunger.  So The 5:2 Diet book is going on the shelf and I’m going to spinning class.

Squeezing It In


My friend and I were recently comparing notes about how we squeeze in exercise between full-time jobs, raising children, and managing a household.

“I give my three-year-old his DS and let him play while I work-out, I know it’s bad parenting,” she confided guiltily.  But she needn’t worry about me judging, I have used electronic babysitters for far less noble causes.

However, her situation did bring to mind all of the people I know who go to great lengths to stay fit.  My sister, mother of three, full-time Law Professor, told me recently she had to choose between keeping up her gardening and running.  Running won.  I was certain my brother would ease up on his competitive bike racing training after his daughter was born.  He did for a few months.  These days he logs hundreds of miles after his daughter goes to bed instead of right after work.  Another friend fell and injured her knee.  As soon as she could, she strapped on a knee brace and went back to her interval classes.  She focused on upper body training and treadmill walking.  And my best friend who, like me, used to consider herself a non-runner is preparing to run a half-marathon along The Great Wall of China.

So admittedly, I get a little bitter sometimes when I wake up at 5:00 for my solo work-outs.  It’s easy to assume that people who are fit simply have more time for exercise than me.  But I know that’s not true.  We all have busy lives.  There is always something else to do other than work-out.  We all have to squeeze in the precious time it takes to stay healthy.  So I will not hit snooze tomorrow.  I will drag myself out of bed and get on the treadmill and join the ranks of the people I admire:  all who make fitness a priority when it is oh-so-easy not to.

But just in case I do hit snooze…and need to do some cardio after work instead…that idea about the DS is a pretty good one…

A Typical Conversation


My husband is an endless source of health and fitness information to me.  It is kind of nice to be able to consult a professional whenever I want about the topic that is always on my mind:  weight loss.  But I don’t always enjoy his TRAINER’S TIP:  it all comes down to CALORIES CONSUMED AND CALORIES BURNED.  I’m often trying to find a way to circumvent that reality.

Because of this, the conversation we had about intermittent fasting (aka The 5:2 Diet) is pretty typical.  It was Sunday night.  I had overindulged all weekend, as usual.  So I decided to make my case for fasting as a weight loss strategy.

 “It is another fad diet and fad diets are not a long-term solution,” he says.

“Well, it’s really not a fad diet, people have been fasting for centuries.  And, actually, fad diets do work,” I counter.

“Stacie, it may work in the short-term but a fad diet is still not a healthy solution.  No one can sustain it long-term as a life-style.   Just eat less, that is the answer.”

So simple, right?  Eat less.  I go in search of our honeymoon photo album and bring it back to the kitchen counter.

“Sorry, but I like fad-diets because I do better with set rules not just ‘eat less.’  And they work fast, that is why I find them very appealing,” I say this as I flip through pages of palm trees and beaches.  I find the one I’m looking for.  It is me on the deck of a catamaran in a pink bikini.  My stomach is flat, two rows of abs are visible and my belly button is in the place it was before I had children.  My thighs are slim, my deltoids are showing and I’m not even flexing.

“This is the result of a so-called fad diet.  This is me on low-carb, I’ve never looked better.”

“You were also working-out for two hours a day and low-carb meant you were consuming fewer calories,” he says in response.

Grrrr…I hate it when he is right.

I wish he had simply lied and said, “You still look like that.”

I also wish I could look at that picture and just be satisfied that I had that one shining moment of extreme physical fitness.

But he didn’t and I’m not.  All of this only makes me feel worse about my current state of fitness and lack of motivation to improve it.  He’s right, I did work hard back then, much harder than I do now.

I took the picture out of my album and hung it in my closet right next to my scale…but I no longer think of it as evidence that there is a quick fix.  It is a reminder of what hard work can accomplish.   Darn.

Could This Be the One?


“Could this be the one?”

No, I wasn’t reminiscing about early dates with my husband, this is what I was thinking driving in to work today.  “Could this be the one I’ve been waiting for?  A diet I can stick with?” A new diet approach was being discussed on Doctor Radio (Sirrus XM 81).  Perhaps it is too soon to post this because my fitness-basics-devoted husband may still be reading my blogs, he’s not a fan of my quest to find the “easy way” to loose weight and stay in shape.  But I have to admit that as they were discussing The 5:2 Diet Book, I was instantly intrigued.  Who wouldn’t be excited with a subtitle like The Part-Time Diet With Life-Changing Results?

Since January 2, I’ve started and stopped my New Year’s Resolution several times.  Even with my 40th birthday looming in less than two months, I can’t find the motivation to lose those annoying five…okay, 7…pounds that are lingering after a really fun Summer 2012.  Methods that worked 10 years ago when I was preparing for my 30th simply require more dedication than I can muster these days.

So, I can’t help but think that two days of watching what I eat and five days of “feasting” could be the inspiration I’ve been waiting for.  It totally fits my current fitness motto, “Minimal Effort/Maximum Results.”  I wonder if wine is part of the feast?  I’ll let you know, I ordered the book the minute I pulled off the highway.

Even though I’ve had numerous failed weight loss attempts this year, I have been successful with one thing.  Surprisingly, it is a TRAINER’S TIP and it fits my fitness motto.  I have been able to stick with INTERVAL CARDIO TRAINING.  It’s cardio for those of us who hate cardio.  Here’s the idea, you spend 30 minutes on the treadmill.   Of those 30 minutes, you spend about 5 minutes warming up at a nice, easy pace, 20 minutes of intervals, and 5 minutes in a relaxing cool-down mode.  During each interval you increase your speed every minute for five minutes.  Don’t start too fast because you won’t make it to minute five.  This is not an easy workout.  Sometimes minimal means the shortest possible amount of time but with maximum effort.  So while the fifth minute is torture, it saves me from spending 30 more minutes on the treadmill and actually produces better results.  I’m all about efficiency.

So could this be the answer?  The key to being forty, fit and fabulous?  Part-time dieting and high intensity cardio bouts?  I can’t wait to find out.

The Fit Life Wife


Today, like many days, someone heard that my husband is a personal trainer.  “Wow,” she says.  “You’re really lucky.  Does he train you?”

I can tell from the look in her eye that she is picturing me enjoying invigorating early morning work-out sessions.  She sees my husband leading me through an intense series of exercises, praising my effort, gently pointing out a break in form.  She imagines that afterward we sit down to a breakfast of egg whites and spinach and green tea.  We plan our meals for the day and how we’ll squeeze in some lunchtime cardio.  Then, with food journals in hand, we head out to take on the day.

If that were reality, I might actually be as fit as my husband’s clients.

Unfortunately, my husband leaves first thing in the morning to train other people’s spouses.  I am left to face the treadmill on my own.  On a good day, I can muster the motivation to put in a couple miles of interval training before going through a series of upper body exercises.  On a bad day, I sit on the floor sipping coffee and watching The Real Housewives between sets of crunches.

“Better than nothing,” I tell myself as I fold my work-out clothes and put them back on the shelf.  No need to wash them when I haven’t come close to breaking a sweat.

But despite my often uninspired work-out efforts, I have been able to maintain a reasonable level of fitness…especially considering my age, my motherhood, my sometimes sedentary job and particular fondness for wine.  Somehow, maybe my husband has “trained” me.  But it is not the way you might think.

Living with a health professional creates a focus on fitness probably not found in all households.  Being married to my husband, with his intense passion for his work, probably elevates that focus.  So I do learn from the programs he has made for his clients.  I do learn, sometimes begrudgingly, from the comments he makes about the meals I create.  And having a mini-gym in my home has made working-out, if not easier, at least more accessible.

So this is my blog, my journal, my lessons from my life as The Wife of someone who lives a really fit life.