10-Minute Bar-Based Core Blaster Workout

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I’ll let you in on a little secret: Ab exercises are my fitness kryptonite. As much as I love working out, I go deer-in-headlights at mere mention of the word “sit-up.”

But skipping out on my midsection isn’t an option; core strength is critical — not just for support and stability but, let’s face it, also fitting into this season’s skinny jeans.

My solution? Sneak in core strength training through a series of compound exercises (working several muscles groups at a time), rather than isolation exercises (working one muscle group), thus avoiding a mid-gym meltdown.

Enlisting the help of some innovative new equipment helps, too: Enter the ActivMotion Bar, which I’ve been experimenting with recently thanks to the folks at Fit Approach. It’s a weighted bar filled with rolling steel weights, which creates instability through a fluid-like motion to better challenge your body during some of your typical workout moves.

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Got 10 minutes? Try this bar-based core series — perform each of the five exercises below for one minute each, and then repeat the entire circuit.

Use a broomstick in a pinch, a weighted bar at the gym, or invest in an ActivMotion Bar if you want to kick things up a notch for at-home workouts.

1. Walking Lunges

Stand tall with head and feet facing forward and core engaged. Raise bar straight above head, straightening arms but keeping shoulders down. Keeping abs and butt tight to stabilize yourself, slowly step out with right foot into a lunge.

Make sure your knee doesn’t go beyond your toes, and try to keep both legs at 90-degree angles. Pressing into your front heel, lift up to a standing position; alternate sides across the room for 60 seconds.

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2. Bar Windmills

Again, start by standing tall with head and feet facing forward and core engaged. Press bar up with right hand, taking care to keep shoulder down and core engaged. Slowly bend to the left side, reaching for your left foot while keeping right arm directly above your right shoulder.

Pause for a beat before rising carefully back to a standing position. Repeat pattern for 30 seconds before switching sides and raising your left arm while bending to the right.

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3. Ab Roll-Ups

Lie on the floor with our feet shoulder-width apart, soles of your feet touching the ground, knees bent and core engaged (think about pulling your belly button through your spine and down to the floor). Using both hands, raise the bar above your shoulders — try to keep some softness in your elbow so you don’t lock out the joint.

Slowly roll up, one vertebrae at a time, keeping bar lifted toward the ceiling and core engaged. Once you’re sitting up, slowly lower back down through each vertebrae, keeping bar raised. Repeat for 60 seconds.

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4. Kayaker Twist

Sitting on the floor with your feet out in front of you and your knees bent, lift feet a few inches off of the floor (option to modify: keep feet on floor). Lean back slightly, but be sure to use core to keep spine straight — no hunching forward or arching your back.

Hold bar in both hands, and with a steady rowing motion, slowly turn to left side and dip the bar toward the ground. Lift back up and through center before twisting to the right and letting bar dip down on that side. Alternating sides, repeat for 60 seconds.

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5. Sumo Side Lean

Take a wide stance with feet slightly turned out. Raise bar straight above head with both hands, taking care to keep shoulders down and back straight. Lower into a sumo squat, checking to make sure that knees are in line with ankles and don’t extend beyond toes.

Slowly lean to left side without twisting; your body should remain in one plane when viewed from the side. Return to starting position and, keeping bar above head, lower to the right side. Repeat, alternating sides, for 60 seconds.

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For more information on this product, check out ActivMotion Bar’s website here.

Disclaimer: You’re doing these exercises at your own risk, so please be careful. If you’ve got an injury or concern, it’s best to consult with your health care provider and/or trainer to make sure you’re cleared to work out and are using proper form.

Portland Fit Fix: Getting Intense at Firebrand Sports

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Firebrand Sports founder Sara Stimac likes to say her studio’s not just in the business of changing bodies; it’s in the business of changing lives.

One rainy afternoon a few years back, she and her parents, John and Linda, sat down with a white board, a bottle of wine and a dream to do something different in the world of fitness. What resulted is their flagship studio in Portland’s Pearl District, which offers all-in-one workouts that fuse cardio, strength training, flexibility, endurance and core into its signature group fitness classes, Pyrolates and FireBarre.

I recently took Stimac up on an offer to come in and try one of her Pyrolates classes, and…well, this review will be pretty short since I can sum up the experience in just a few sentences…

What I expected: Look! The Victoria’s Secret models are doing it! A) What package can I buy to look like one of them, and B) How hard can this be??

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What I got: (Inaudible whimpering)

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Scared yet?

Nope? Well, then the first thing you need to know is that you’re going to get well-acquainted with the Megaformer, a 10-foot-long, 250-pound Medieval-torture-device-looking contraption that has been described as a traditional Pilates Reformer machine on steroids.

Students are encouraged to wear form-fitting clothing that won’t get caught in the machine. Grippy socks are mandatory — not only for hygiene reasons, but also to give you some traction when you’re strapped into the device and looking for some additional leverage when performing certain moves.

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Next, you’ll also get a crash course in the high-intensity-yet-zero-impact Lagree Fitness method (Firebrand is the first and only studio in Oregon licensed to offer it), which strengthens and elongates the muscles without adding bulk, improves endurance, jump-starts the metabolism, burns fat and increases flexibility.

Lagree was founded on the principle that you don’t need more time to workout; you simply need more intensity in the workout. The method claims to combine up to five hours of traditional exercise into one (very tough!) 50-minute class.

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Finally, expect to get your butt kicked — surely, swiftly and out of your comfort zone. You’ll do some familiar poses, such as planks, pikes, squats and lunges, but in a very controlled manner with the addition of small, yet super-subtle movements using weighted pulleys and/or a spring-loaded board.

Inevitably during each segment, I found myself slumping over, my body involuntarily shaking and crying, “Uncle!” as Stimac cheerily circled around the room making form corrections. And right as I was about to collapse, she’d ask us to start pulsing up and down in one-inch increments. Cue full-body meltdown mode.

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Your brain will be screaming at you to stop, and your muscles will be shuddering from failure. But if you take the recommended three classes per week, Stimac says you can expect a stronger, leaner, tighter frame that’s more flexible and resistant to injury.

For the faint of heart? Maybe not. But if you’re short on time and want a results-based workout, Stimac promises to make your knees buckle and keep you coming back for more!

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Wanna feel the burn? First-timers can take a class for $15, and the regular drop-in rate is $30. For more information, visit FirebrandSports.com.

How I Run: Inside Tracker’s Jonathan Levitt

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I first bumped into Jonathan Levitt in the Twitterverse, which always reminds me how small a world it is that we live in. We connected over the fact that he works for a fitness start-up, and got nostalgic after chatting further and realizing he lives in the same town I did while in Boston (Allston) and is a member of the November Project tribe there.

After hearing about his big running goals for the next year, I asked him if he’d share some of the details via How I Run. Here it is, in his own words:

“Growing up playing hockey and baseball, the last thing I had ever imagined I’d enjoy was running. I was watching the 2013 Boston Marathon in Wellesley, seeing thousands of runners go by at the 13.1 mark. I thought if tens of thousands of normal-looking people (I’ve since learned runners are not “normal”) could run a marathon, why couldn’t I? Just a few weeks later, the One Run For Boston began, a cross country relay uniting runners from LA to Boston. It was then that I fell in love with running and even more importantly, the incredible community that exists.

A few weeks later, while out at a bar after a Red Sox game with a few new One Run For Boston friends, somebody brought up November Project. I had heard about it on Twitter, and had been interested in going. At around 11:30pm, we all agreed to show up the next morning, bright and early (6:30am!) at Harvard Stadium. Since then, my November Project friends have inspired me to run longer, stronger and much much faster. Since joining, I’ve run my first marathon, a few halfs and many other races.

I’ve been working in the health and fitness industry for three years now, and currently work at InsideTracker, a personalized health and science analytics company that monitors your nutrient and hormone levels to provide recommendations on how to help optimize performance based on food and lifestyle changes.”

1. What’s your favorite route? Anything along the Charles River in Boston!

2. What shoes do you wear? New Balance 1400’s for speed work, and Altra Zero Drop Torins for distance.

3. What other run gear can’t you live without? Garmin 220, ENERGYbits and November Project #GrassrootsGear (see photos!)

4. What’s your best time-saver or “runhack?” Run in the morning before other things get in the way!

5. What running-related thing are you better at than anyone else? Tweeting, which is often done while running. I’ve received so much free stuff as a result of tweeting, and am proud to help connect other runners with products and services (my running coach, Steven, and InsideTracker, in particular!) that help increase performance.

6. What do you listen to while running? Podcasts about running/nutrition or country music

7. What are you currently training for? Boston 2016. My plan is to BQ this spring with a 2:59 marathon.

8. What are your recovery & sleep routines like? Sleep by 10pm, up at 5am to train, 3x a week with November Project. November Project is a grassroots, morning fitness/social group/best described by just showing up and experiencing it yourself. (Check it out in 16 cities in the US and Canada, with more to come this year!)

Recover harder than you train! I focus on nutrition with the help of InsideTracker, which provides individualized nutrition and lifestyle recommendations with the goal of optimizing performance and recovery.

I have tart cherry juice, turmeric and black pepper every night before bed, which helps with sleep and has anti-inflammatory benefits.

9. What’s the best running advice you’ve ever received? Get uncomfortable. It’s not supposed to be easy.

10. What’s your favorite running-related memory? The One Run For Boston in 2013, just weeks after the Boston Marathon bombing. It started at 11:30 at night, and went up Heartbreak Hill and to Boylston Street along the Boston Marathon course. We finished at 12:30am, completing a 3300 cross country relay aimed at connecting runners across the country and showing solidarity in the face of a horrible tragedy.

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11. Fill in the blank: I’d love to go on a run with __________. Shalane Flanagan. (Again!)

I’ve run with Shalane at November Project, but I was tapering for her 5k race the next day (my goal race for the season) so I didn’t try and keep up to her on the hills. I hit my goal of a sub 18 5k (17:42) at a 5k she helped to organize and promote, to support her hometown track.

Her bold attitude when it comes to putting yourself out there by sharing your (big) goals has inspired me to do the same, and I’ve been so much more motivated to keep pushing as a result.

Thanks, Jonathan. Always fun to connect with a fellow November Project tribe member, and best of luck with that spring BQ goal!

Runner friends of all levels, please email me — info (at) kineticfix.com — if you’d like to be featured.

Recipe: Easy Weeknight Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables

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You know what pre-dated Pinterest fails? Recipe fails.

I’ve had my fair share of ‘em, which is why I’m excited to share this practically-foolproof winter meal with roasted root vegetables.

If you’re feeling timid about working with a whole chicken, just ask the butcher to butterfly it for you at the store. Believe me, there’s nothing quite like these veggies, which soak up all the yummy juices from the skin and flavor from the bones!

Easy Weeknight Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 lb. chicken, butterflied open
  • 5-6 small potatoes
  • 3-4 small beets
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 1 medium onion
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp rosemary
  • 1 Tbsp thyme
  • 1 Tbsp sage
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Lemon

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Wash and/or peel and roughly chop potatoes, beets, carrots, celery, onion and garlic.
  3. Spread veggies out on baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and half of the seasonings.
  4. Lay chicken on top of veggies, drizzling with more olive oil, and sprinkling on the other half of the seasonings. Slice lemon and place a few slices on top.
  5. Bake in oven for 50-60 minutes or until juices run clear and a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 165 degrees F.
  6. Transfer chicken to a cutting board to rest for 10 minutes, and return the veggies to the oven to crisp up for 5-10 more minutes.
  7. Plate on a platter with veggies on the bottom, chicken on top, and garnish with a squeeze of roasted lemon.

Try not to overcrowd the vegetables in the pan; the more room you leave between them, the more they’ll cook evenly through.

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If you want an even juicier bird, rub it with the seasonings and an extra tablespoon of salt the night before, allowing it to soak everything up overnight in the refrigerator.

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You’ll know the veggies are done when they’ve got a nice caramelized glaze on them and you can pierce them easily with a fork.

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Even after the chicken skin browns up, you’ll want to check the underside to make sure it’s done; the first time I made this recipe, some of the thicker parts needed more time to cook through.

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Special occasion? Serve with a nice light red or creamy white wine, and enjoy!

Swim-less in Stumptown

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Calling all swimmer/triathlete friends: I need your help.

I figured this might be a good place to crowdsource some knowledge — not just for me, but for anyone else who finds themselves in a similar predicament.

After almost 20 years (yep, dating myself there) of running, I’m mixing things up with more cycling and swimming — thanks, in large part, to the encouragement from my fellow Coeur Sports teammates.

Throughout last season, my #bikelove blossomed — from learning how to clip in to completing an Olympic distance race to long group rides on weekends.

But my #swimlove? Er, not so much.

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See, with running and biking I feel like the mechanics are pretty self-explanatory: one foot in front of the other, one pedal stroke at a time. Sure, we can shave off seconds and prevent injury by fine-tuning form and fitness, but once you have a grasp of the basics, all it takes is time and practice.

Swimming, on the other hand, is not something that feels intuitive. At all. And although I took the obligatory swim lessons as a kid, I had to re-train myself to do laps last year.

I can wrap my head around the movements — stroking, kicking, breathing — and get myself back and forth across the pool for 30-45 minutes, but there’s still something missing. Basically, I feel like I’m not moving smoothly or quickly enough for how much effort I’m putting in.

So my mission for 2015 is to figure this out once and for all, and — aside from knowing that I need some outside help — I’m not sure where to start.

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That’s where you come in.

Step one is to whip myself into shape in the pool, then step two is to (eventually) translate that to open water. But how?

I know I need someone to watch what I’m doing, tweak my form and help me worth with, rather than against, the water…but I’m stumped on the best approach: instructor vs. coach, personalized assessment vs. lessons from scratch, one-on-one vs. group, etc.

At this point, I’m not looking to get primed for a specific event; I just need to train to be able to train, if that makes sense.

But please don’t tell me to join a local masters program. I tried that in SF and got left in the dust with a group who said they were too slow to train with the actual masters group at that pool. Between getting lapped a gazillion times and dealing with smug looks from a Michael Phelps body-double, I’m not keen to try that again anytime soon.

Runner seeking advice: I’m searching for #swimlove in 2015; can you help? 

Portland Fit Fix: Calling All ‘Cardio Gangstas’ to Burncycle

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A perennial favorite on the list of best bike cities, Portland reigns supreme when it comes to two wheels. So it should come as no surprise that there’s no shortage of cycling studios for us fair-weather riders in search of a good workout during the winter months.

Enter Burncycle, which opened in fall of 2013 and offers full-body spinning, integrating hand weights, push-ups and core work on the bike. Jessi Duley, owner/instructor, pint-sized powerhouse of positivity and self-professed spin-class fanatic, opened its doors just three short weeks after giving birth to her first child– how’s that for dedication?!

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Apparently she also made Santa’s “nice” list last year because Burncycle just got more bikes in time for the flood of New Year’s resolution riders (yay for no more wait-lists!).

Duley wants riders to feel empowered and ready to seize the day, and her goal for the studio is to “do everything with intention so you can lock in the zone, be present and earn your sweat,” as embodied in the mural that greets you when you walk in the door.

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But what can you expect when you come to class?

Well, for starters, smiles at the front desk from the ladies who will get you set up with rental shoes, fitted on your bike and teach you how to clip in.

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Next, there’s the matter of Burn etiquette. If you want to join this pack, you’ve gotta bring a good attitude, give it your all, focus on the 45-minute task at hand and bring enough energy to help rock the room.

Or if you’re a little low on the energy part, you can always rely on your pack-mates; just don’t pop a squat in the front row if you want to do your own thing that day.

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As far as the ride itself, there are three things that set Burncycle apart (and may feel Soulcycle-esque for those of you who are familiar):

First, the room is dark so you can get in the zone. Second, you’ll use some small dumbbells in the second-to-last segment of each ride to give your upper body some lovin’. And, last but not least, there’s the pack mentality where you’ll feed off one another’s energy as the ride progresses.

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Our firecracker of an instructor, Kira, led us through a series of energetic jumps, tap backs, runs and sprints interspersed with all kinds of push-ups, dips, presses and crunches for a heart-pounding, ear-thumping dance-party of a workout.

Between affirmations she worked the lights to set the mood during different songs and encouraged us to pedal away our worries for the week. And before I knew it, we were onto our weight segment and swinging towels around our heads to rally for the final few minutes of class.

Final verdict? Party with this pack, and you’ll leave sweaty and smiling.

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What to know before you go:

  • New riders get their first class free in January (resolution, anyone?!)
  • Otherwise you pay a $18 drop-in fee for one class or can buy a package for multiple classes
  • You’ll also need a pair of cycling shoes; bring your own or rent a pair for $2
  • Expect to have a blast; the room’s dark, the music’s loud and the energy’s through the roof
  • Refrain from wearing loose clothing that could get caught in the bike; I like capris and tanks
  • Hydrate before, during and after — and fuel up with a light snack 30 minutes before class
  • Bring a positive attitude, an open mind and prepare to feel the burn!

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Want to hit up a class and experience the feel-good vibes yourself? Visit BurncyclePDX.com for more information.

Fave Fix: GoodBelly 12-Day Belly Reboot

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The holidays tend out to bring out the crazy in all of us, right?

Case in point: After months of excess, we toss kale in our grocery carts and halfheartedly call it “eating healthy” (even though we’re buying roughly twice as many calories per serving in food now, as compared to the holidays, says this study) or commit to a crazy cleanse or restrictive diet that’s destined to leave us yoyo-ing throughout 2015.

Why abuse your gut in an effort to lose it?

My suggestion instead: Be nicer to your belly with a 12-Day Belly Reboot.

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The kind folks over at GoodBelly contacted me to check out their new program, which launched just in time for the New Year. During the Reboot, you drink one 8 oz. glass or one shot of GoodBelly a day for 12 days. Along the way, you’ll be able to track exactly what’s happening in your body and get extra motivation in the form of tips and coupons.

“Since probiotics do their work in the belly and beyond, there hasn’t necessarily been a way to see tangible results of their impact on overall health, ” said Alan Murray, CEO of GoodBelly. “Our new Belly Reboot was created to offer consumers a way to really track and understand how probiotics can impact the way they feel in just 12 days.”

Made with the well-researched probiotic strain, Lactobacillus plantarum 299v (LP299V®), GoodBelly supports digestive health. Unlike many other live and active cultures, though, LP299V survives passage beyond the stomach’s acidic environment in order to support the rest of the digestive system, and ultimately overall health.*

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GoodBelly offers multi-serving quarts and single serving shots, available in flavors like Blueberry Acai, Mango, Pomegranate Blackberry and Strawberry. Each serving packs 20-50 billion live and active probiotic cultures to promote healthy digestive and immune systems, as 70 percent of the body’s immune system resides in the digestive tract.*

I kicked off my  12-day test just as things got hectic around the holidays. The juice was delicious, and the shots were convenient (some sweet, some tart, depending on the flavor), but best of all? Between last-minute shopping stress, unusually decadent meals, lots of travel and — to top it off — an especially active cold and flu season, I was not only able to stave off sickness, but also keep my energy up and banish bloat.

If you’re on the supplement bandwagon, like me, you may already take probiotic pills. In that case, GoodBelly’s a great way to add some variety (not to mention extra vitamins and calcium) to your diet. And if you’re new to the idea, it’s an easy — and delicious — way to augment your healthy eating habits for 2015.

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“We believe that what you eat and drink has a direct impact on your overall health,” said Murray. “Which is why we’re committed to creating functional beverages in exciting flavors that are easy to drink and absolutely delicious.”

Now, that’s really going with your gut.

For more information on the GoodBelly 12-Day Belly Reboot, click here.

*Some studies suggest GoodBelly’s probiotic may help balance the bacteria in your gut when consumed daily as part of a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle. GoodBelly is a food product and not a treatment or cure for any medical disorder or disease. If you have any concerns about your digestive system, please consult a health care professional.