Give the Gift of Fitness

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If you’re looking for any last minute gift ideas, don’t forget the gift of fitness. Here are some great ideas for the fitness inclined, or as a hint for anyone you’d like to see become more active.

Now keep in mind, there are lots of gimmicky fitness gifts out there, but these gifts will help anyone get the most out of their workouts.

Workout shoes. A properly fitted pair of shoes that are specific to the task at hand are a must if you want to excel at your particular sport. If you’re a runner, make sure you buy running shoes specific to your gait and cushioning needs. For strength training, a minimalist style shoe that makes your foot work more naturally might be a better option. Every activity or sport has an ideal shoe type that goes along with it. If you have questions on shoe styles, a gift certificate to a shoe store specializing in fitting the right shoe type to a specific body and sport may be the way to go. Check out Merrell’s Shoe Styles

Mobility tools. Everyone wants to feel good while they move. Back tightness, knee pain, and overall stiffness can often be lessened or alleviated with proper stretching and activation of weak muscles. A simple tool that we use with our clients to improve mobility is a foam roller. Nothing more than a dense cylinder 6” in diameter and 36” long, this tool gives you an ideal surface to apply pressure against tight muscles, allowing that muscle to relax back into proper muscle tone. Once your body is moving properly, you can perform at your best – both in and out of the gym. Check out this Foam Roller from Perform Better

Workout gloves. No one wants torn and calloused hands due to gripping dumbbells and barbells or hanging from a pull up bar. Workout gloves protect your hands and may even aid in grip strength. Lightweight gloves with moisture wicking properties are the way to go. Think of it as a second skin that cushions and protects the hands, so you can focus on more important things. Check out Bionic’s Line of Gloves

A water bottle and shaker bottle. A good water bottle will help you drink more water during your workouts, and staying properly hydrated could improve your health and performance. Choose a bottle that works for you but remember to go BPA free and find one that is easy to clean. In addition, a good shaker bottle is always a staple item to keep in your gym bag. Just pack it with a scoop of protein powder, add water, and shake it up for a simple post-workout snack that aids in recovery. Check out Blender Bottle’s Line of Products

Workout tracking tools. Everyone loves to see how hard they exercise – it’s not only a pat on the back, but sometimes a necessary part of learning your limitations. Tools like heart rate monitors, GPS, activity tracking devices, and nutrition aps spell it all out for you and give you a snapshot of your effots. This is great for keeping records or as a reference on how hard you must work to continue seeing results. Check out Garmin’s Wearable Technology

So from the tried and true to the latest fitness gadgets, these gift ideas are sure to get used as long as they are given the opportunity. Just remember to buy one for yourself as well!

Fittest Loser 2015

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Are you ready for a change? Is 2015 the year to turn your good intentions into reality? The Daily Herald and Push Fitness are teaming up to offer you a shot at making it happen.

“We’re looking for hard workers who need direction,” says Joshua Steckler, owner of Push Fitness. “Someone who is willing to face their weaknesses, is willing to listen and follow through with the goals they’ve set for themselves.”

The participants who are chosen will receive 12 weeks of free instruction from a personal trainer and a nutritionist. Workouts will take place at least three days a week at Push Fitness in Schaumburg.

Contestants will be featured in before and after photos and in stories highlighting their progress. Results will be measured each week. The Fittest Loser will be chosen based on percentage of weight lost.

To apply, click HERE

Applications will be accepted through Monday, January 5.

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Fittest Loser at Work

The Fittest Loser Challenge is not just for the five individual contestants — for the third year, the Daily Herald is inviting companies and organizations to get involved.

Last year, the Fittest Loser Community Challenge — geared toward members and employees of park districts — and the Corporate Challenge — geared toward employees of companies — provided community members an opportunity to work with a team of co-workers to get fit.

This year, the two challenges are being combined in order to make it even more inclusive for those who work for other types of employers. The new challenge, sponsored by Assurance, is called Fittest Loser at Work, and is open to teams of five from any type of company, organization, or workplace.

The program runs parallel to the Fittest Loser Challenge for 12 weeks from February to May. The winning team will receive a $2,000 donation to the charity of their choice, as well as individual prizes.

Last year, 194 community members participated in the Community and Corporate Challenges, and 24 of the participants lost more than 9 percent of their body weight by the final weigh-in. This year, the program is expected to grow.

Think you and your co-workers are up for the healthy challenge?

To sign up a team of five and for additional information, click HERE

Cheryl.Lindsay_fitness_trainer

Find Your Perfect Pull-up

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The pull-up is one of those exercises that demands respect, even though most people don’t particularly like it. It’s a simple concept – grasp an overhead bar and pull yourself upwards until your chin clears the bar.

The pull-up is an excellent measure of upper body strength and many of you may remember performing the pull-up or bent arm hang as part of your fitness testing in junior high.

The pull-up works muscles of the arms, shoulders, back, and core. It’s a great exercise for increasing muscle tone in the arms and back while improving grip strength and shoulder mobility.

The problem is, many people lack the strength to do a proper set of pull-ups, but that’s okay. Finding some practical ways to assist the upper body will allow you to complete a set of pull-ups while taking advantage of all this exercise has to offer.

I’ll start with one of the simplest pull-up variations and then progress from there.

squat_pullup2The Squat Pull-up. In this version, you are gripping a bar set at chest height and using your legs to assist by squatting through the pull-up so your lower body is holding some of your weight. Take a slightly wider than shoulder width grip on the bar and step forward slightly with each foot but maintain an upright posture. Slowly bend your knees and squat down until your arms are fully extended. Push with your legs while you pull with your arms until your chin clears the bar. For a more challenging version, use only one leg to assist.

rubber_band_assisted_pullup2Rubber Band Assisted Pull-up. Hang a resistance loop band from the pull-up bar. Choose the correct band based on the amount of assistance you need. Take an overhand grip on the bar and slip your foot through the loop. Fully extend that leg and place your non-assisted foot on top of the other foot to hold everything together. Keep your body perpendicular to the floor and perform the pull-up as described.

traditional_pullup2Bodyweight Pull-up. If you possess the strength, the traditional pull-up is an ideal exercise to add to your routine. A common mistake many people make is not fully recruiting the muscles of the back. Be sure to fully extend your arms at the bottom and as you pull yourself up, drive your shoulders down and back. This uses more of your back rather than relying too much on your arms, which will fatigue quickly. If the basic pull-up is too easy, hold a dumbbell between your feet or wear a weighted vest.

So no matter what your fitness level, be sure to add pull-ups to your routine for a great way to tone and strengthen the upper body.

 

 

Healthy Snacking

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Want to take control of your weight once and for all? Eat more – more often that is.

Eating more often does not necessarily mean eating more calories, but spreading out those calories into more portioned meals and snacks.

Your food intake should be timed every few hours to fuel your body consistently throughout the day, rather than eating once you actually feel hungry. Now of course I’m talking about nutritious foods. Snacking on sugary foods that hold no nutritional value will do nothing more than starve your body of nutrients while enhancing fat storage.

Eating balanced snacks between meals will help control your blood sugar – something that your body is constantly trying to stabilize so you can perform efficiently.

If your blood sugar drops too low, you’ll feel a crash in energy levels, you may become moody, shaky, or irritable, and you’re more likely to reach for something sugary or unhealthy. Your ability to make sound food choices at this point becomes more difficult.

Spiking your blood sugar by eating too many carbohydrates in one sitting, especially after letting your blood sugar drop too low, may have you feeling drowsy or sleepy shortly after the meal. This is due to large fluctuations in blood sugar which are worsened by eating too much in one sitting or having allowed too much time since your last meal. This abuse to your insulin response over and over again can lead to chronic blood sugar issues and possibly type 2 diabetes. Over time this will lead to more fat storage and an increase in weight.

So now that you know the importance of consistent eating, what types of foods should you eat?

A balanced meal or snack not only consists of nutritious foods, but it also needs to include all 3 macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates, and fat. A balance of these three nutrients ensures that the body is getting a balanced supply of calories. A snack with too many carbs and not enough protein and fat will spike your blood sugar temporarily, only to give you that crash as your blood sugar drops, resulting in low energy and a craving for more sugar. So even though a banana is healthy, just eat half and pair it with a protein/fat food, such as a hard-boiled egg, to balance out your snack.

Some other healthy snack options include:

-          Protein Smoothie – 1 scoop whey or egg protein powder, 1 cup frozen fruit, 1 Tbsp natural almond butter, 8 oz  water 

-          1 hard-boiled egg and ½ cup blueberries

-          Green salad with 4 oz chicken, 1/4 avocado, and sliced apple

-          6 oz Greek yogurt, ½ cup raspberries, and 1 oz crushed walnuts

-          1 packet plain oatmeal, 1 scoop protein powder, and 1 Tbsp peanut butter

-          Large leaf of lettuce, 4 oz shaved turkey, 1/4 avocado, mustard

-          ½ cup cottage cheese, 1 sliced peach, and 1 Tbsp flax meal

So support your health and energy levels by eating the right foods and eating them often.

Get Your Mind Set For Weight Loss

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Mindset

When setting out to accomplish a task such as losing weight, it’s always a great idea to practice goal setting. If you don’t know where you want to go, it will be very difficult to get there. The end goal you visualize and work towards can be extremely motivating because it’s personal to you.

But, so many times we are looking so far ahead that we fail to fully experience what is happening right in front of us. We are so busy thinking about the destination that we fail to enjoy the journey. The journey is the most important part. The journey is your lifestyle. The journey includes the choices you make every day.

 

Stop looking at exercise and nutrition as a short-term thing that you’re doing right now and learn to see it as a long-term habit that you will practice from now on.

If you’re serious about taking control of your health, stop looking at exercise and nutrition as a “short-term” thing that you’re doing right now and learn to see it as a “long-term” habit that you will practice from now on. If you look at the big picture and have the mindset of changing your lifestyle rather than changing your bad habits long enough to lose a few pounds, you will greatly improve your chances for success and overall wellness.

 

Your understanding of wellness will influence your daily choices so you need to be confident with your decisions.

The easiest way to change your mindset towards a healthier lifestyle is by educating yourself. There are so many opinions when it comes to exercise and nutrition that you may sometimes feel overwhelmed. Talk to an expert or look at actual research that is not influenced by the profits of the companies trying to sell you their products. Which foods should you be eating to help you build muscle and burn fat? Learn how to cook meals using these healthy food options. Are you gluten intolerant? Do you have an issue with dairy? Should you be eating organic? Learn about unhealthy food additives and how they can be negatively affecting your health. What type of exercise is best for you? Ask questions and get answers. This education will be affecting what you do on a daily basis so you need to be confident with your choices.

 

Once you decide that you are in it for the long haul, you can begin applying your new education on a daily basis and begin to turn your lifestyle around.

So now that you have the education, it’s time to apply it. This is where your passion and overall mindset come into play. How bad do you want it? Do you really want to be healthy and fit for life, or does it come back to that goal of getting in shape for an upcoming event or because you want to wear a swimsuit in a few months? Once you decide that you are in it for the long haul, you can begin applying your new education on a daily basis and begin to turn your lifestyle around. But, you have to want to do it for the right reasons.

 

Your focus should always be progression rather than perfection.

Changing your mindset for the rest of your life is not an easy thing. We know it may very well be a struggle most of the time and seldom will everything be perfect. But, it you have the right attitude and the education to make the right decisions, you are definitely on the right path. Your focus should always be progression rather than perfection. As long as you are pointed in the right direction and moving forward, you will see and feel the benefits. Find a way to make the most of your journey and the destination will be all that much more rewarding!

Recruit your Glutes

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Does your job have you sitting on your rear most of the day? If so, chances are you have some muscle imbalances – most likely in your core and hips. I’ve addressed the core in past articles and its importance in overall wellness, but I’d like to build on that with a discussion about the glutes.

The glutes are key components in both hip stability and mobility. They work alongside many other muscles of the midsection to keep you moving efficiently. If the glutes are weak or not working at all, it could be compromising the surrounding muscles of the low back, hamstings, hip flexors, and abdominals – which can lead to systemic mobility issues.

We always preach the importance of multi-joint movements such as squats and deadlifts, but if you can’t recruit your glutes on these movements, you may end up with back issues or a strained muscle. You definitely won’t be able to progress as much as you’d like if your weak glutes are always holding you back.

Try the following exercises to build a strong glute foundation.

The Glute Bridge. Lie on your back with your knees bent about 90 degrees. Pull your toes off the floor so only your heels are touching and rotate your toes outward slightly. Raise your hips as high as you can without over-arching your back. As your hips rise, focus on squeezing your glutes together long enough for a strong contraction. If you feel your hamstrings more than your glutes, slide your heels closer to your hips and rotate your toes outward a bit more. Repeat for 10-20 reps.

Glute_Bridge

Lateral Band Step. While holding a resistance band, step on it so it’s anchored down in the middle part of your foot. Cross the band over and pull up and back to create some tension on the band. Begin with feet hip width apart and strive to always keep tension on the band. While keeping your feet parallel to each other, step laterally to a shoulder width position. Keep your knees slightly bent and your hips back as you step. Maintain constant control and be sure to minimize any side to side tilting as you step. Never lead with your toes, but rather the lateral edge of your foot. Step back and forth in a controlled manner for 10-20 reps.

Lateral_Band_Step

The Bird Dog. Begin on your hands and knees with arms straight and knees bent 90 degrees. Engage your core and stabilize your hips so your low back maintains a natural curve. Simultaneously raise your right arm and your left leg. Extend your fingertips forward as you point your toes back. Think of squeezing your glute on the elevated leg without over-arching your back. At the same time engage your shoulder blade on the elevated arm. Hold for a strong squeeze and then repeat for 10-20 reps per side.

Bird_Dog

So perform any or all of these exercises as a means to improve your glute strength and recruitment capabilities. Couple these with multi-joint movements such as squats, deadlifts, and lunges as you progress to get the greatest overall results.

Get Your Protein

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Scoop of chocolate whey isolate protein tossed into plastic white shaker, with focus on the protein in the scoop and falling protein blurred

 

No matter what type of diet you practice, most would agree that a balance and variety of foods is key to overall health. Many clients come to us eating too many carbohydrates and not enough protein. Not that protein is more important than carbohydrates, or fat for that matter, but if you lack quality protein, you’ll have a hard time maintaining healthy body composition. Protein is essential for preserving and building muscle and its consumption helps reduce hunger while stabilizing blood sugar levels – all of which help you burn fat while supporting overall health.

We always preach the importance of building your diet on a foundation of natural and wholesome foods, especially protein dense foods such as beef, chicken, fish, and eggs. Additionally, having an alternative option like a protein powder is a great option for a pre and post-workout shake as well as convenient snack options.

So how much protein do you really need? The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that those individuals who are strength training regularly need 0.5 – 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. You may need more or less depending on your body composition and individual goals, but this is a good rule of thumb.

We recommend the following protein powder supplements if you aren’t getting enough protein from whole foods.

Whey Protein Powder. Whey is a type of protein derived from milk. It contains all the essential amino acids our body must obtain from food so it’s a top choice of many athletes or those wanting to maintain and build muscle. Whey should be avoided by those with lactose issues or those who may have an intolerance to dairy products.

Egg Protein Powder. Egg protein is generally a powdered version of egg whites. It contains all the essential amino acids and many vitamins and minerals so it’s also a great source for muscle-building proteins. Egg protein is lactose free so it may be a good option for individuals who can’t do whey protein.

Collagen Protein Powder. Collagen protein powder is made from the connective tissue, skin, and bones of animals. It might not sound appealing but collagen is similar to gelatin used for cooking and it contains a substantial amount of protein. Collagen has a slightly different amino acid profile than whey or egg, but it can still help repair and build muscle, while supporting bones and connective tissue. A good quality collagen supplement may be an option for someone with both dairy and egg allergies.

Plant-based Protein Powders. Vegetarians as well as those wanting to get more plants in their diet may benefit from a plant-based protein supplement. A combination of rice, pea, and hemp protein will give you a dose of all the essential amino acids and adds the benefit of phytonutrients as well.

With any supplement, it’s important to understand that its safety and efficacy will be dependent on the ingredients. Is the source grass-fed or raised on factory farms? Are the animals treated with hormones or antibiotics? Were chemical pesticides and artificial sweeteners used? Was the protein powder heated during processing or chemically treated? These are all important questions that should be answered before you make your purchase.

So ensure a balanced diet by eating quality protein and supplementing when needed.

 

Try the following shake as a healthy snack option:

Combine in a blender:

1-2 handfuls of fresh spinach

½ frozen banana

1/4 cup frozen berries

1/2 avacado

1 scoop of your favorite protein powder

A few ice cubes

Add water until desired consistency is met

 

Don’t Let Traveling Sabotage Your Health

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businessman at the airport

I’m trying to eat right and lose weight but I travel almost every week. Sometimes I’m in the car for several hours and other times I’m getting on a plane and flying across the country. How can I improve my diet when I’m away from home? -Brett

Hi Brett, eating well and in a timely manner can sometimes seem nearly impossible when you’re out of your element. The following tips will help you take control of your diet when you’re traveling and away from your kitchen.

Do your homework. Once you know your traveling schedule, go online and check out restaurants and grocery stores in that area. Many restaurants have healthy options if you know what to look for. Ask your waiter how the food is prepared and request modifications if necessary. Stay away from sauces, breading, and heavy dressings. A lean meat and a side of vegetables with water or iced tea is obviously a better choice than a combo meal at the fast food drive-thru. Many grocery stores also have lunch or dinner options available as long as you choose the right foods.

Preparation is key. Healthy eating requires you to have food options available so you don’t skip meals. Poor planning and skipped meals during the day will increase your chances of eating too much or the wrong kinds of foods at night. Once you get settled into your hotel, do some grocery shopping and pick up some healthy snack options. Nuts, fruits, and protein powders require no refrigeration and can be taken along in your bag or purse. If you have a small refrigerator in your hotel room, you can pick up some fresh vegetables, Greek yogurt, or sliced deli meat to have around for breakfast or snacking. You could even pack a cooler and take snack options or a salad with you during the day if you know you’ll only have a small window for lunch. If you just go through your day without a food plan, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Avoid temptations. You may find options like bagels, doughnuts, and other pastries available when you walk into early morning meetings or someone may have ordered pizza for a lunch meeting. If you go into these situations on an empty stomach, it’s hard to resist these unhealthy foods, especially when everyone else is eating right in front of you. If you stick to your plan and eat healthy foods every 3 hours, you won’t be taken over by these unhealthy temptations.

Hydrate. You should always have a bottle of water with you at all times. Staying properly hydrated will keep you performing at your best and will make you less likely to reach for a coffee in the middle of the afternoon or a can of cola as you walk by the vending machine. A bottle of water and a healthy snack will keep you energized and productive.

Don’t skip the workouts while traveling. People who exercise regularly also eat healthier. An early morning workout gives you a positive mindset which will keep you focused throughout the day on what’s best for your body. If your hotel doesn’t have an exercise room, get outside for a 30 minute walk or jog. If you’re driving a car for several hours on a day trip, take time to stretch and focus on a few deep breathing techniques. Give your mind a break by moving your body.

So if being away from home is a common part of your job, some careful planning and dedication will help you keep your health in check.

The Healthy Food You’ve Been Told to Avoid

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OliveOil

Fats have had a bad reputation for too long. It’s time to understand the importance of fat in the diet and how to make sure you’re eating the right kinds.

Why are fats so important? First off, fats are an essential nutrient for the metabolic processes of our bodies, such as our ability to absorb nutrients and metabolize energy. Healthy fats support brain, skin, and joint health as well. Including fat with your meals will help you stay satiated longer by helping to control abrupt changes in blood sugar levels which is key for long-term health and weight loss.

A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that eating medium chain triglycerides, such as coconut oil, before your workout will increase fat oxidation during the workout. This means that consuming healthy fats will actually help you burn more body fat as a fuel source, therefore improving your overall body composition.

So what are some healthy fats? Fats found in natural foods are always healthier than processed fats. Eat plenty of natural fats from avocado, coconut oil, nuts, olives and olive oil, fish and fish oil, as well as grass-fed organic dairy products.

If you’re currently on a low-fat diet, chances are you’re eating too many carbohydrates and setting yourself up for failure rather than long-term success. Increase your good fats and you’ll soon see and feel the difference.

Short Workouts Have Their Advantages Too

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How much time must you commit to exercise for it to be effective? This is obviously dependent on your goals, but a recent study found health benefit in as little as 5 minutes a day. Now, I’m not suggesting you cut all your workouts down to 5 minutes, but if you constantly talk yourself out of exercise because you’re short on time, it seems anything is better than nothing.

Our workouts at Push Fitness are 45 minutes, but much of the exercise homework we prescribe to our clients is typically 30 minutes or less. The following is a sample workout we’ve prescribed that should only take you 15-20 minutes and uses minimal equipment for increased proficiency.

Warm-up. Begin your workout with a 5 minute warm-up protocol. This could be anything from walking to jumping rope. Steadily increase your heart rate for the first 3 minutes and then stabilize or bring it back down slightly for the final 2.

The following 4 exercises should be completed circuit style – perform all 4 in a row and then repeat for 3 total rounds. For the first round you’ll perform each exercise for 20 seconds, the second round for 30 seconds, and the third round for 40 seconds. Rest when needed but push yourself to keep moving.

Squat to Dumbbell Press. Hold of a set of dumbbells at shoulder height with palms facing together. With feet shoulder width apart, squat down to a comfortable depth while making sure your heels stay planted on the floor. Stand up, exhale, and press the dumbbells overhead. As your arms near extension, pull your shoulder blades back and together to stabilize at the top. Bring the dumbbells back down to shoulder height and drop back into your squat position. Repeat for the appropriate time.

Squat_to_press

Plank Hold. Assume a plank positon with elbows bent 90 degrees and positioned directly under your shoulders. You are looking to maintain a straight line from your ears, through your shoulders and hips to your ankles. Maintain a slight natural curve in the low back and keep your knees unlocked. Tense your abdominals inward towards your spine and continue to breathe as you hold the position for the desired time. If this basic plank is too easy, raise one leg or extend one arm out in front of you.

Lunge with Arms Overhead. Grab a set of dumbbells and press them overhead and lock out your arms. Step back into a staggered stance but keep about 60% of your weight on the front leg. Bend both knees equally as you inhale and let your hips drop straight down, pausing when you have a 90 degree bend at each knee. Tighten your legs and hips as you exhale and step back to your starting position. Repeat on the other leg and continue alternating legs for the desired time.

Overhead_Lunge

Pushup. Assume a pushup position with hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Tighten your core, and make sure you have a straight line from shoulder to ankle. As you inhale, slowly bend your elbows and let your body drop down until you have a 90 degree bend at each elbow. Exhale as you push back to your starting point. Repeat for the appropriate time. You can make the pushup easier by elevating yourself on a bench or pushing off from your knees rather than your toes.

After your third round, recover for a minute and then perform at least two minutes of cool-down stretching. The following 3 stretches will target tight areas of the hips, legs, back, and shoulders.

Back Stretch

Hip Flexor Stretch

Lying Hamstring Stretch

So if your schedule is tight and you’re short on time, even 15-20 minutes of exercise is time well spent.

 

 

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