Product Review: DOD Fitness

The fitness industry is booming, and with that we are seeing all kinds of new products come to market.  It’s hard to stay up to date on what is out there.  Luckily, I have a really great contact at 411 Video Info to keep me in the loop!  Today I am going to be reviewing a fairly new product line from DOD Fitness.  The goal of these products is to make exercise easy and comfortable for everyone.  Currently there are three product types that help eliminate pain many people experience in everyday exercises.

First I want to talk about the wrist wedges.  These are designed for people who experience wrist pain while performing body weight exercises on the hands.  I have seen this issue first hand in yoga class.  Not everyone has the wrist strength to remain in poses that require the wrist to bed back 90 degrees, and holding a pose past your threshold could result in a strain.  I personally have no use for this product, but I know that there is a large demographic who does.  I would say about 50% of my peers in yoga class could benefit from this product while flowing through a standard sun salutation (poses like Downward Facing Dog, Upward Facing dog, Chaturanga, and Plank Pose).   This product has the potential to increase the effectiveness of a beginner’s yoga practice by reducing the wrist strain during basic flow or long holds.

The knee donuts are what I found to be the most useful product for me.  I had Osgood-Schlatter in my knees as an adolescent and still have a knobby area of bone growth that can be painful when combining pressure with hard surfaces.  It is not shooting, just unpleasant.  I used the knee donuts while performing Modified Kettlebell Pushups on one knee  (an Amy Dixon move).   The knee donuts allowed me to perform a max amount of reps in one minute because it eliminated my normal pain by cushioning my knees.  I am also currently getting over an injury to my meniscus and the donuts not only eliminated any pain, but also the anxiety that I may tweak the same injury again.   The knee donuts are great for any exercises that require you to be in a tabletop position as well, which could benefit anyone who practices Pilates with knee pain.  I could even see myself using the donuts while cleaning my bathrooms or gardening, since I tend to be kneeling for long periods of time.

Last we have the neck circle.  This product I personally found little use for.  The intention is good, the circle keeps your head in a neutral position while performing exercises on your back, thus reducing tension.   I feel the demographics for this product would be physical therapists, senior citizens and individuals with a muscular imbalance that causes neck strain.  I do believe I will come across a client who will need this product, but not nearly as often as the wrist wedges and knee donuts.  I am constantly hearing gripes of knee pain and wrist strain getting in the way of exercises, but neck pain is often linked to a postural issue or muscular imbalance I would look to correct as a personal trainer.

If you are interested in learning more about DOD Fitness or purchasing their products, visit there website here.

 

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Product Review: Smart Bar

1001555_611192732307519_882851334_nIf you don’t live in the Virginia Beach area, you have probably never heard of Smart Bars.  I only came across these hand made bars while scanning through WordPress myself.

Being a personal trainer means I am always on the go,  my dinner often consists of protein bars, green smoothies or whole fruit.  Over the years I have become very picky when it comes to the protein and snack bars I chose.    Many products marketed as healthy are filled with sugar, chemicals, and non food ingredients with a name more than 3 syllables long.   I have my “go-to” snacks, but I am always looking for something new–for myself and to recommend to clients.

When I am looking for a nutritious snack, I look  at the ingredients first.  You want to make sure you can pronounce everything on the list.  In addition I like to keep sugar under 8 g when choosing a snack or protein bar.  If the sugar is relatively low and the bar is made with all natural ingredients, you are usually in a good place.  Protein is always a plus. One sneaky nutrition fact to be looking out for is Sodium, which fills so many “health” foods.  I don’t worry about the fat content. If the bar is filled with healthful and natural ingredients like almonds and walnuts, it’s good fat and will keep me full through all my evening sessions.

Lets talk about Smart Bar now.  Smart Bar is created by Matthew May, a chef in Virginia Beach.  He makes the all natural granola bar by hand with whole food ingredients.  The round granola bar uses only 9 ingredients and contains no preservatives.  It’s also gluten free! The snack bar is advertised as “perfect for breakfast”, “perfect for lunch”, for “before or after your workout” and as an “anytime” snack.  Take a look at the label here:

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I had half of a bar this morning and it is very tasty.  You can pick out all the ingredients as you nosh.  It is a chewy vs. crunchy granola bar, like a bowl of steel cut oats without the nuisance of dishes to clean.  I had a bowl of fruit around 8 am and half a Smart Bar around 9:30 am and I was full and satisfied until 1:00 pm.  All the ingredients in this product are things I enjoy on their own (dried fruit and chocolate are my weaknesses), so it is no surprise that I enjoyed the flavors and texture of Smart Bar.

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I love the round shape, you trick yourself into thinking it is a cookie

I was a little surprised by the sugar content.  This all natural snack bar has 2 g more sugar than a snickers bar.  I would like to see honey  further down on the list of ingredients.  However, dried fruit is pretty high in sugar as well, so that could be another culprit.  I would not recommend this bar for anyone who is watching their carbohydrate intake.  On the other hand, this is a great pre workout snack for endurance athletes.  I will probably save the rest of these bars for a snack prior to a 10 miler.

1510987_619496081477184_148302298_nOverall, this is a tasty all natural snack or meal replacement.  I love that you are not ingesting any sketchy hidden preservatives.   I would recommend Smart Bars to endurance athletes (runners, cyclist and triathletes), who have the need for the 45 g of carbohydrates that his product pacts.  While the bar is very wholesome and delicious, I don’t think I could recommend it to my everyday clients who are looking to lose and maintain weight.  I would love to see a lower glycemic version of this product with less honey and maybe some more nuts.

I absolutely love the packaging.  Each bar is individually hand wrapped in wax paper.  I can tell the labels have been put on by hand.  It is refreshing receive a quality product from a small business. If you are in the Virginia Beach area I recommend making an order for pick up, just to give them a try.

If you are interested in purchasing Smart Bars you can do so here.

In addition, I want to share with you my current “Go To” Bars.  You can find them all at most grocers.  Chia Bars by Health Warrior are a little new to the mainstream grocery market but I saw them at Harris Teeter recently and I know you can get them at Whole Foods.  Chia Bars are great for in between meals.  They contain just 5 g of sugar and only 100 calories.  This is great for anyone looking to lose or maintain weight.

A good tip is to avoid anything that tastes like dessert.  If it is low sugar and tastes like a snickers, it is probably packed with unnatural, non food ingredients.

What is your “Go To” snack/meal bar? Leave a comment, I am interested!

 

 

Take Your Workout Outside

In honor of Earth Day, today I am going to give you 5 reasons to take your exercise routine outside.

After a harsh winter we are all a little low on Vitamin D.  So why not get your tan on while you are shredding those abs and sculpting those glutes? On a beautiful day I take my body weight circuit to the soccer field across the street, along with my workout buddy when she is free.  Ordinarily I would be logging miles on these beautiful spring days, but a running injury has me wising up and trading my 8 milers into burpees while I heal.   If you are #blessed enough to live by a beach, take a body weight circuit to the sand.  This past Saturday I created a 45 minute plyometric circuit to complete with two friends on the beach.  By the time we were finished our quads were screaming, we had plenty of spectators and some sand in our pants.

As seen on my runs:

I can understand a long treadmill run (and sometimes engage in them) when we have 8 inches of snow,  ice storms and unbearably low temperatures. But why in the world would you choose a stagnant treadmill over the great outdoors this spring?  Unplug the headphones from your Netflix and go gadget free outside, it will leave you feeling revitalized and probably a little more exerted! Read on:

More Dynamic Workout

  • Studies have shown that running outside expends more energy than the treadmill when covering the same distance
  • Outdoor running requires you to battle hills, wind and the change in terrain (proprioceptive gains)
  • If running is not your thing, you better bet that squat jumps and lunges require more effort in grass, sand or other surfaces less predictable than your gym floor

Vitamin D Boost

  • Sunlight is a natural source of Vitamin D
  • Aids in preventing cancer, hormonal problems, obesity, and inflammation
  • Strengthens your immune system

Catch Quality ZzZz

  • Natural sunlight helps set your internal clock
  • It helps with normalizing hormones and tells us when to eat and when to snooze
  • Increases overall quality of sleep

Lower Stress Hormones

  • Studies have shown that blood levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) are significantly lower after outdoor exercise versus indoor exercise
  • Study participants score higher when measuring vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self esteem after outdoor exertion when compared to it’s indoor counterpart

Decrease Boredom

  • Florescent lights and dull walls sound miserable compared to a blue sky and birds chirping
  • Inclement weather creates an interesting challenge
  • Make it social by exercising with a buddy every now and again, or better yet on a regular basis

 

“Prehab”-How to Avoid Running Injuries

Being an injured runner this spring has not been easy on my spirit but it is probably doing wonders for my body.  On the first nice (warm) day of 2014 I decided to go out on my 8 mile loop.  It was a great run followed by a not so great stretch, dinner and bed.  The next day was beautiful so I decided to repeat the same 8  mile run.  Right around mile 6 I felt a twinge in my right knee (that was new), at about mile 7 it was a shooting pain.  As someone who has never had a knee injury, I panicked.  I shunned running for the next two weeks.  I was doing mostly HIIT, plyometrics, kettlebells and some yoga here and there.  My knee pain was almost gone until my friend called me on a gorgeous Monday and asked me to join her on a run.  I had just walked my dog three miles with zero pain so I accepted her offer and headed home to meet her.  About 3 miles in the pain was back. UGH.   Frustrated and desperate I made an appointment with my physical therapist that Wednesday.

Long story short, I have damaged the surface of my meniscus.  Apparently it is not bad, but It was 100% preventable.  I was NOT practicing what I preach to all my clients: RECOVER RECOVER RECOVER.

I have made myself a human experiment and I am using every means I can to rehab my knee.  So I am icing after use and applying heat during the day.  I am not running.  I am doing plyometrics sparingly.  I am having orthotic inserts made.  I am stretching thoroughly and I am participating in PREHAB exercises.

Pre-habilitation is the proactive way to prevent running injuries.  I know how a runner’s brain works.  We want to log miles and improve; not stretch, roll and do leg lifts with the time we allocate to our workouts.  It took me a long time to learn that in order to be a better runner, I have to take care of my body. When I am injured, I feel almost depressed.  Every race posting I see on Facebook has me disgruntled.  I am beyond jealous.

So here is how you can PREHAB your body as a runner

  1. Stretch well after every run:  When your IT band, hamstrings, glutes, hips, calves and quads are tight they are more prone to injury.  Don’t limit yourself, stretch whenever you have a free chance.  You may look like a weirdo in the grocery store line but at least your hamstrings will feel good.
  2. Buy a foam roller and actually use it:  A foam roller is like a massage at home.  Myofascial release is so key in recovery.  I try and dedicate time after almost every workout.  If I don’t have time I bring a lacrosse ball to work and roll it over tight muscles. Roll while you watch TV or during your evening downtime.  If you have time to get on Facebook and Pinterest, you have time to roll.
  3. Strengthen your glutes: Your Gluteus Maximus and Gluteus Medius are often weak in runners which can lead to injuries in other lower extremities (commonly the hamstring).  There are a number of exercises that can be performed to strengthen your Glutes.  This article from Runner’s World has some great exercises to try.
  4. Strengthen your hips: Your hips don’t lie.  They need to be strong and flexible when you are logging miles. See the video below for a 6 minute workout that activates your hips and glutes.  It requires no equipment.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lW6uFHrHbDU
  5. See a specialist:   If you have unusually high arches or flat feet you may benefit from seeing a podiatrist.  They will mold or scan your feet for orthotic inserts to place in your running shoes.  Over time high arches get higher and flat feet get flatter, so this is a great way to prevent any future muscle imbalances that could occur as compensation for your less than ideal foot physique.
  6. Attend a Clinic:  Running clinics are held all over the country to help runners fix their form and prevent injury.  I am yet to attend one myself, but It is my goal to complete one by the end of the summer! Find one near you here!
  7. Recover: Allow time for your body to heal weekly.  Plan to rest on a day that is already busy with errands.  This will give you less free time to think about your lack of exercise on that particular day.  I do gentle yoga on my off day.  Below is a short yoga recovery to try

 

Gluten Free and Vegan Mug Cake

My latest kitchen experiment is another mug cake.  I am always attempting to make something easy and delicious when a craving strikes but it is usually a fail.  Yesterday I rummaged my pantry to see what I could come up with.  To my surprise my concoction was actually delicious! For some reason I had an open bag of gluten free yellow cake mix so I used that as the base.  I don’t even like yellow cake mix but I doctored it up with some creamy coconut peanut butter (by earth balance) and coconut oil.  I don’t consider baked goods a dessert until there is chocolate, so obviously I added a handful of semi sweet chips.  Here is what you will need:

Mug CakeYou obviously do not have to go with the brands I used, but I recommend all of them! Here is how to make your mug cake:

  • scoop your cake mix into a large mug or glass bowl
  • add in the peanut butter, coconut oil and stir
  • add 2 tablespoons of water (or more) and mix until your have a brownie batter consistency
  • Fold in a handful (about 2 tbsp) of semi sweet chocolate chips
  • Microwave from 1.5+ minutes (depending on your microwave). Watch it the whole time,  it is easy to overcook microwaved baked goods
  • Remove when it is still a little gooey, more like a blondie than a cake.  Since all of the ingredients are safe to consume raw you don’t need to worry
  • Let it set for a minute or two or mix it up while the chocolate chips are hot to create a ooey gooey chocolate cake (see pictures)

Review: Cindy Whitmarsh UFIT Series

On Monday I received Cindy Whitmarsh’s UFIT series from 411 Video Information to blaze through and review.  The series consists of three separate videos: The Ultra Lean, The Ultra Tight and The Ultra Burn.  Each DVD is 4o minutes long, with two 20 minute interval training workouts.  These workouts are based on the principals of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and are designed to blast calories and tone in a minimal amount of time.  There are three exercises per circuit; 1 minute of cardio and two minutes of strength/toning exercises.  Each circuit is performed only once, with no repetition of exercises.  If you want the short version of this review, scroll to the bottom and read my “Takeaway”. 

Cindy WhitmarshTuesday I started with Ultra Lean.  This DVD consisted of two 20 minutes interval training workouts.  The first segment focuses on the upper body: working biceps, triceps and shoulders. There is one minute of cardio exercise  for every two minutes of strength training.  Cindy uses a number of traditional strength exercises and drills that are easy to catch on to if you are new to strength training or just a little rusty.  The upper body segment requires dumbbells, I used a set of 8lbs.  While 8 lbs worked well for most the exercises, I could definitely have used a set of 10-12 lbs for some of the shoulder and bicep work.  I would recommend having a range of weights handy depending on your ability.

The 20 minute lower body portion of the Ultra Lean DVD followed a similar sequence working in cardio and strength training.  Again, most of the exercises are ones you have likely seen/done in the past, making it easy to catch on.  I wish I had  heavy weights on hand for the dead-lift intervals because I did not feel challenged.  Most of her lower body strength exercises focus on the butt.  At the end of the video she burns out your tush with a lot of glute work.

Wednesday Morning I jumped right into another DVD from Cindy’s Series.  I went with Ultra Tight to start my day.  You can see a trailer above.  Hard Body is the first of the two workouts included in Ultra Tight.  This was a total body workout that focused on multi-joint functional movements all while keeping your heart rate up with cardio intervals.  The Hard Body segment  kept my heart rate medium/high for the full 20 minutes.  6-Pack Abs is the second workout in the Ultra Tight DVD.  It includes both standing and mat work with one minute of cardio for every two minutes of toning.  I liked the fact that the cardio moves worked the core, allowing you to really burn out your middle for the full 20 minutes.

Tip: If you own a kettlebell or a dumbbell 12+ lbs, I recommend having it handy for the swings performed in Hard Body (if you are familiar with kettlebell swings).  A 8-10 lb dumbbell was too light for me in that movement.  If you are new to weights, an 8lb dumbbell will work fine.

I really enjoyed the Hard Body workout because you are working your upper body, lower body, core and cardiovascular system simultaneously for the full 20 minutes.  I also appreciate that Cindy implements cardio into the abdominal routines for the 6-Pack Ab workout.  I often find that abdominal workouts get a little slow and relaxed, but that was not the case with this routine.  The Ultra Tight cardio moves were a little more advanced than the Ultra Lean DVD, which made it my favorite of the two strength focused DVDs.  Overall, I enjoyed this workout and I would definitely continue to make it part of my fitness regimen.

Thursday I woke up sore, tired and groggy so before I began my UFIT series I did a short yoga practice to wake up.  The last DVD in the series is called Ultra Burn.  This DVD consists of a cardio workout and a workout called Sculpt and Stretch.  I sweat my butt off during the cardio.  It consisted of  athletic moves like jump squats, lunges and kicks.  I made a few modifications to increase the intensity; adding weights and by making exercises pylometric.  Sculpt and Stretch was an active recovery.  It was a mixture of exercises to lengthen muscles and tone.  Cindy used a lot of modified yoga postures and added pulses and movements to make the stretches more athletic and dynamic.  The stretches were paired with strength exercises to tone and improve balance.  I would recommend doing the cardio portion right before the Sculpt and Stretch because your muscles are really warm and it makes for a good recovery sequence.

Takeaway

After several weeks of this workout series you would need to up your weights and add dumbbells to body weight moves to continue to challenge your body.  For me, 40 minutes is just a little bit too short.  But keep in mind, this does not include a warm up or cool down.  I did like how the workout was broken up into two segments.  It is great for people with a time pinch who cannot dedicate an hour each day to a fitness routine or for those who are not physically ready for an hour long interval training workout.  It also allows you to mix and match workouts, depending on your day or cardiovascular exercise regimen. The series is $40 and includes a meal plan and exercise schedule which unfortunately I do not have access to.  I think beginners could start with one 20 minute workout in addition to their running/walking/biking routine and progress to completing 2-3 workouts at a time.  If I were advising clients, I would recommend they start with the Ultra Lean, move onto the Ultra Tight and finish with the Ultra Burn series.

I was afraid that the series would not be high enough impact for me, but I experienced muscle soreness from the first DVD on Wednesday and I am still sore today (Thursday).  I think this series is effective because of it’s pace.  There is not time for rest or too much instruction between exercises.  In addition, the exercises are athletic and uncomplicated so you can easily modify them to increase or decrease the intensity level if you need to.  This is a great DVD to break out when you are crunched for time as well.  It is a relatively flexible series and could meet the needs of a wide range of fitness levels and lifestyles.  Since it appeals to a large audience,  I could see myself recommending this to my clients as a routine for their off days.

I want to advise you to warm up and cool down. There is no warm up in any of the workouts so please take about five minutes to heat up your body before you  begin.  I did a short 10 minute yoga flow before beginning since I roll out of bed and workout in the mornings. Below I have posted a good 4.5 minute warm up from Fitness Blender. You can do this prior to any of the UFIT workouts if yoga is not your thing.  In addition, you need to be cooling down.  Cindy gives you a 1-2 minute stretch and no cool down.  Chose an easy exercise that keeps your body moving and brings your heart rate down before you static stretch.  Don’t skip stretching, your muscles will pay for it the next day.

Recommended Warm Up: