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A few weeks ago I got an email from one of my former students.  Mary was not one of my group fitness students from the gym, she was one of my wonderful ninth graders when I taught high school in Minnesota.  Of course, Mary is grown up now.  And she was sending me an email to announce that she has just completed her group exercise instructor certification.  I am thrilled!

I was bursting with pride reading that this beautiful, intelligent young woman is well and wants to help others be well, too.  Mary will always live in my teacher memory as a bright and energetic student who could improve my day just by walking through the classroom door.  I was more than happy to oblige her email request for teaching tips.  In fact, I sent her everything I could find in my teaching files about water aerobics routines and technique.

This summer, Mary will teach water aerobics at the community pool in her hometown, the same town where she was once my English student and where I also once taught water aerobics during summer vacation.  Mary will do a fantastic job, I have no doubt.  I’m just so excited for her to begin teaching group fitness, as I’m excited for the lucky gals who will get to take her classes.

If I had one little tiny bit to do with this, I’m absolutely delighted.  But Mary has always believed in leading a healthy lifestyle and, in the end, there is another fit person out there helping others to get fitter.  Plus, I think Mary is really going to have fun sharing her love of exercise with others.  It’s a good day for everyone.

As you may recall, back in January I wrote a post about resolutions, suggesting making small incremental changes in your life, instead of going for one big drastic goal. I’m a firm believer in the power of these small changes, and I also support making resolutions year-round. No need to wait once a year to make a difference –after all, today is the first day of the rest of your life, right? Recently, I added a small change to my daily schedule in the form of a twenty minute morning run. As it so happens, twenty minutes has turned out to be my magic number. It’s long enough to break a sweat and burn some calories, leaving me feeling refreshed, but not drained. As a result, I’ve had more energy at the office, and through some bizarre logic, has me getting to work on time!! This is the most surprising part for me, a chronic running-out-the-door-chasing-after-the-bus person my whole life. I think it’s from the combination of energy and time management that comes with prioritizing my morning.

Better yet, knowing that I’ve gotten at least a little bit of exercise relieves some stress in terms of finding time to work out later. I prefer to do some other physical activity later in the day in addition to these short runs – play tennis, do short interval training, or take a yoga class.  But if I don’t get to any of those, I know I already met my personal bottom line requirement for the day.

The biggest hurdle in morning exercise – getting out of bed – got a little easier after I invested in a few good accessories: Nike Air Pegasus + 26 shoes (rated a Best Value Buy  by Runner’s World), my new NUX cross back bra (made with some glorious moisture management material), and a teeny tiny ipod shuffle, loaded with upbeat music. All matching, of course 😉 Never underestimate the power of good workout clothes and accessories to motivate!

What gets you motivated to start a new routine? Have you made any small changes that are making a big difference in your well-being?

– Jean

I used to be one of those people that hated the summer. Summertime always meant having to pretend I liked being physical and doing outside things; I didn’t mind those things in theory (I mean, I like nature, I like the feel of sunshine on my skin), but I felt so lazy and out of shape that I could never really enjoy playing or participating. I think it was a mix of low self-confidence and lack of exercise – I hated the way I looked trying to do summer activities, and I hated that I couldn’t really participate fully.

I have to admit, I love being outside. Ever since I started running, I trained outside. I have really grown to love exercising, and while classes at Healthworks are among my favorite activities, there is something about exercising outside that just feels amazing. Last year, I visited my friend J.’s summer home in Maine, and basically for the first time in my life I played every sport that everybody else was playing. Soccer, frisbee, basketball, running, swimming – I did it all, and I loved it. It felt pretty amazing to be able to just go for it, without caring what I looked like or if my body allowed me to be the fastest. I just engaged and went for it, and had a good time.

Every once in a while I have similar experiences, where I suddenly realize that I have this body that can do all sorts of fun, amazing things. J., her boyfriend and I went canoeing on the Charles yesterday. I used to really hate canoeing and kayaking – I never felt like my upper body was strong enough, and I always got so tired, grumpy, and frustrated. This time, though, we just had fun. We all paddled and splashed around a bit, and I felt like I participated the way my body could, which was just as much as anybody else. It feels pretty amazing to be in good enough shape to do all these things. I think I finally get why people like to be active. It’s fun!

– Hannah

I have a serious crush on Healthworks right now.

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to take part in the Healthworks Blogger Bash, which was amazing! Along with about 20 other women bloggers, I took an awesome (and seriously challenging) spinning class with Eden Kessler, then headed to Alibi at the Liberty Hotel to imbibe some deliciously refreshing RIPE cocktails mixed with Double Cross vodka, and nibble on pizzas from Scampo restaurant. It was great to be around so many inspiring ladies who author health- and food-related blogging websites. A big thanks to Healthworks for organizing! And of course, thank you to all of the sponsors who provided our drinks, food, and pretty awesome swag bags — (pretty awesome being a vast understatement). I’ve been loving all of the new blogs that I added to my Google reader after the event, and enjoying the swag bag goodies.

Among said goodies was some Mad Hectic oatmeal, which was totally new to me. It comes in delicious flavors like raspberry dark chocolate and almond pecan, and provides 13 GRAMS of protein! I am a diligent breakfast eater, and a big fan of easy, filling recipes to whip up in the morning. I mixed about half a serving of Mad Hectic chocolate raspberry with a half a serving of regular plain oats, in order to cut down on the sweetness a bit. It definitely kept me full through my work morning. When I reached my mid-morning snack time, I had the pleasure of sampling a cup of Siggi’s Icelandic skyr yogurt, for which I had a coupon in my swag bag. Siggi’s is amazing – slightly tart, with very little added sweetener (no high fructose corn syrup here!), super thick (even thicker than greek yogurt), packed with protein, and comes in unique flavors like pomegranate acai, and grapefruit. I opted for blueberry today, and added a little granola for what I consider to be a perfect snack. I’m looking forward to adding these new foods to my repertoire, and trying out the rest of my samples and coupons in the next few weeks.

In case there was ever any doubt – Healthworks is truly the best gym ever, and amazes me with the ways that it goes beyond a fitness center, to really be a healthy lifestyle support network for us Boston women.

My foot is ok – basically all healed. I have a bit of a cut on the top, but the bruising is gone. I have rested up, and following the end of an incredibly stressful semester, I am back and ready for action. I can’t explain how good it feels to be moving my body again. I think I used the hurt foot as a little bit of an excuse to bum around and be lazy – I mean, yes, it hurt, but there were probably ways I could have been active. It’s so tough to keep going in the thick of things. The semester was ridiculously crazy for me, and sometimes I just succumb to the feelings of stress. I know that it would make me feel better to just exercise for a little bit, but taking the time to go to the gym, or even just to go outside, somehow feels really stressful in itself. Thank goodness the semester is over! Plus, after a while of living the bum-life, I start to feel antsy. I noticed that, though I didn’t gain any weight (yay!), my body felt different. Usually, when I spin or run a lot, my thighs get very muscular, and I’ve noticed lately that my pants have been fitting differently (maybe that means I lost muscle?).

Last weekend my roommate and I decided to go for a run together. We used to run together all the time, but unfortunately M. tore a ligament this year and hasn’t been running at all. Lately, her physical therapist said it would be ok to run, but at a slower jogging pace – which, as it turns out, is my pace! So, on a gorgeous day, we headed out to hit the bike path. It felt so good to be up and moving, and to keep up with M., who is usually a very fast runner.

I’m back to my regular exercise schedule of 4 to 5 times a week, and it feels so good. I love feeling sore. Especially now that it feels summery outside, all I want to do is move my body!

– Hannah

I was totally spoiled at the recent Healthworks Blogger Bash.  What a party!  I finally got to meet some of the other bloggers, and some lovely women who have been hiding out in the back of my classes.  We were all treated to cocktails at Alibi.  I was good though, and got myself home by 10 p.m. to rest up for my early-morning classes at the Back Bay HW the next morning.  Fitness Flashback and Body Express were even better this time because I wore my brand new sports bra, courtesy of NUX and my blogger swag bag.  What’s better than new socks?  New sports bras, of course!

I have to say, I was daunted by the pale pink color of the sports bra I was given, since I’m sort of an always-feels-safer-in-black kinda gal.  But there was just enough black piping around the edges to make me feel at home.  The luxe-but-stretchy fabric definitely didn’t hurt either.  I was lookin’ pretty darn good for 6:30 in the morning, and I felt great (as in fully supported) as we started our jumping jacks and 80’s style jogs and arm combo patterns.

This morning’s line-up: a little Kenny Loggins, a little Pat Benatar, a little Starship.  Outstanding way to start the weekend!  I was pretty in pink, feeling like a goddess — even if I was sweating like a banshee.   You can bet this new NUX sports bra will automatically be in the weekly workout wear rotation, right to the top of the pile.

– Sarah

In honor of Zumba Open House Week at Healthworks, I wanted to share with you one of my favorite parts of the class – the music.  It’s the part that gets me pumped up and makes the class feel less about working out and more about having fun.  Though the workout has its roots in Latin culture, my favorite Zumba class took me around the world as I experienced the tunes of Bhangra, Samba and Reggaeton all in one express session.

Here’s peek at a playlist from one of Brooke H.’s Zumba classes. (Click on the links to get a preview of what to expect at this week’s Open House – the sounds are sure to get you ready to groove in class)

She Wolf – Warm up
Fuego – Cumbia
Bailanlo – Salsa
Batucada – Samba
Bounce and Move – Soca
Pam Pam – Reggaeton
Mundian to Bach Ke – Bhangra

This is not so much a confession as a fact, because labeling it a confession would suggest that I harbor feelings of guilt surrounding this proclamation:

I love the treadmill.  I would rather run on the treadmill than run outside.

There.  I have no shame in this statement.  However, I will say that my proclivity for that wonderful mechanical belt machine does create a mental distinction between myself and who I consider to be “real runners.”  But?  Treadmills don’t make you change direction, they tell you exactly how fast you are going, at HW they have lovely televisions to provide distractions, and they shelve my ipod which provides the soundtrack to an awesome run.  Plus, the gym environment assures that bathrooms are always nearby, you will be sheltered from the weather (snow, rain, hail, extreme temperatures), and there is a water fountain at your convenience.

However, I recently made the rash decision to sign up for a half marathon .  While this prospect terrifies me, my fear stems mainly from my history of injuries and so I have been taking the training fairly conservatively.  In the process of returning to running post pubic bone stress fracture, I closely adhered to the “10% rule” that my orthopedist prescribed.  This is to say, that I started running 1 mile, every other day.  Each week, I could increase my distance by 10%.  It may have seemed excruciatingly slow progress, but I now think that this is the way to ease into running and increasing weekly mileage at a safe rate.  In any case, with the help of a friend who recently ran the Boston marathon and who will also be running the ½ marathon, we devised a plan that would allow me to keep to my only-4-days-a-week running schedule and gradually increase my distances.  The major difference was that my weekend runs would increase in length to get my legs used to longer distances.  And, I decided that these runs should be outside to replicate possible rqace conditions.  So, a couple Sundays ago, I set out, with trepidation on a 10 mile run.

Observations on my first 10 mile outdoor run (and my inner rebuttals):

I. Hate. The. Wind. 

—–I will have to get used to the wind.  See, I’m running this race where there may be wind.  Just sayin. 

 Hills are tough.

—–Again, I will have to get used to hills.  Also?  Hills are awesome in that they go both up and down.  Downhill running makes me feel superhuman.

 You can sort of cheat your distances.  Cutting corners?  The treadmill won’t let you do that.  The treadmill is a stickler for precision.

—–However, ultimately, you really cannot cheat.  Once you go out, you have to somehow get back home.  Quitting in the middle of a 10 mile loop is not really an option.

 I have no idea what my pace is.  (I covet Garmins, but cannot afford one.)

—–Not knowing my exact pace means I am listening to my body and going at the pace I can handle.  This feels good.

 Over the course of 10 miles, though, my angst towards outdoor running dissipated.  I didn’t need the distraction of my ipod or the television, because the scenery was constantly changing.  I was surprised at how much the scenery could affect my attitude and run.  Instead of fixating on the numbers on the treadmill, I was awaiting whatever was around the next corner.  I also loved seeing other runners and feeling a tacit camaraderie.  Finally!  I could count myself among them.  Towards the end middle of the run, I felt strong and internally triumphant.  At the end of the run, I felt utterly accomplished.  The one downside, I will say, is the bathroom issue. Let’s just say, a detour was necessary.  But now I know that on race day, I will have to be more mindful of my pre-run fueling.

 Bottom line: I will still be doing my week-day indoor runs, in the name of convenience and efficiency of time (I go to the gym before work), but I am thinking of keeping those long weekend runs.  I’m definitely an outdoor running convert.

This morning as my bus crossed Mass Ave Bridge, I was heartened to see so many people walking and biking.  I usually listen to NPR on my iPod radio or read Newsweek during my commute, but I always look up as we cross the Charles River and take in the view of my adopted city through the windows of the No. 1 bus.

Boston is vastly different from my Midwestern hometown in many ways, but one of the reasons I chose to move to Boston was so I could live in a place where I do not have to drive or own a car.  Walking is my favorite mode of transportation, and spring weather reminds me how much I love using my feet to get from Point A to Point B.

In Minnesota I drove everywhere, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the world’s best driver!  However, every friend in Minnesota has a driveway or free street parking, all stores have parking lots, and many businesses even have drive-through windows so you don’t even have to get out of your car at all to order coffee, do your banking, pick up dry-cleaning, or return DVDs.  One summer when I was in a car accident that crunched my little red Chevy, I was determined to bike or walk everywhere while my car was repaired.  This goal proved nearly impossible in a city built for driving.  And it was kind of ridiculous that I spent an hour walking to teach an aerobics class and then an hour walking all the way back because I had to go very much out of my way to avoid the highway overpass standing between the gym and my apartment.

I hope I never take for granted the walk-ability of Boston.  My favorite restaurants are all within a 20-minute walk from my apartment, I can speed-walk to the Back Bay Healthworks in 10 minutes and, if I want to see whether there are any Boston Ballet tickets for the Sunday afternoon performance, I can walk to the Opera House, too.  I have had to transition my shoe collection from stilettos and fiercely-pointed toes over to flats and rounder wedges for safety reasons but, when the sun comes out and it’s warm enough for flip-flops and tank tops, it thrills me to see how many Bostonians do the city walk.  Of course, this morning I watched them from my bus seat, but I know that if I want to walk to work in the morning, I can.  It takes an hour, and it’s hard to do on the days I carry a gym bag (which is pretty much every day).  But I’m in great company when I commute to work on foot.  Walking will always be better than my rural commute on a two-lane highway, going 20 mph, stuck behind a John Deere tractor.

So tie on those sneakers and walk to your next destination.  Just watch out for the cobblestones!

I recently took part in the SHAPE Day event at Healthworks in Cambridge.  The Shape Day events which included BURN  and master classes were put on by the club to help benefit the Healthworks Foundation.  The Foundation helps empower women and children with physical activity at its two Foundation Fitness Centers: Healthworks at St. Mary’s and Healthworks at Codman.  For only $20 (a discounted rate for BURN classes) women could come in and experience the strength and interval training BURN is known for or they could choose to participate in various master classes including Ride! and Zumba.

I chose to participate in the BURN class because I haven’t been to one since I started playing volleyball and dodgeball this past winter.  I thought in addition to contributing to such a great cause as the Healthworks Foundation, I could do myself a favor by kickstarting my spring training.

During the course, we started with a warm up and then set out running hills on the treadmill building up to an 8% incline at our peak.

Then for our group’s first strength session we worked on squats and performed weighted lunges with hammer curls.

For our second round of interval training we worked on speed.  This was my favorite part because we could control our speeds and our trainer, Lauren, encouraged us to push ourselves to move out of our comfort zone.  By sprinting a little bit faster each time around, it really worked out our legs by lengthening our strides.  As Lauren put it, we were to pretend we were being chased by the “jungle life in Cambridge.”  Not sure if she meant the bikers or the cabbies but it felt good pushing myself faster than I normally would.

To round out the class, our final strength session involved core exercises including plank moves and scissor leg lifts.

It felt great to sweat it out and get myself back on track to work out regularly.  Helping such a great cause on top of that just made the good feelings from exercise even more sweet.  If you didn’t get a chance to participate in the Shape Day activities you can still donate to the Healthworks Foundation here.