Hills: Your not-so-secret trick to better running this year

Photo courtesy of WeDoRunRun.Blogspot.com

Photo courtesy of WeDoRunRun.Blogspot.com

There’s no denying that runners have a love/hate relationship with hills.

Most begrudgingly regard them as a necessary evil, others plot routes to avoid them altogether, and a small sliver actually step up to embrace the challenge.

I like to think of hills as the “vegetables” of a running regimen: They may not be the most appealing thing on the menu, but respecting and learning to love hills can make you a stronger, fitter and faster runner.

Yes, hills can hurt – both the body and the ego – but as much as they are a runner’s nemesis on the roads, they’re are also one of the ways in which runners can dramatically improve technique. But before you add them into your weekly runs, attacking them with abandon, think differently about approaching hills in order to see maximum results.

Start by following the lead of professional runners who deploy more efficient techniques for tacking hills:

  • First, rather than giving an all-out effort, try metering your exertion on the way up. The goal is not to expend all of your energy on the ascent
  • Next, fight your natural instinct to breathe that sigh of relief at the top and hold back on the descent in an attempt to recover. Instead, let the hill work for you on the downslope, and push yourself to keep pace
  • Finally, think about maintaining an even leg cadence on both sides of the hill, which will help you level out your effort. To accomplish this, you’ll have to vary speed and stride length (which, on the plus side, may just help distract you a bit from the pain).

Developing good form takes practice, so slowly add hills into your training routes and consider devoting one day each week for hill-specific drills.

In addition to evening our your exertion over the hills, be sure to maintain good posture and watch ahead for changes in terrain so you can adapt your speed and stride seamlessly. The last thing you want to do is to expend too much energy switching “gears” mid-hill.

Runners, got any more tips for mastering those mighty inclines? Feel free to share with us!

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Pregnancy & exercise: What you need to know about working out for two

Jess shares a few shots on how she stays active during her pregnancy

Jess shares a few shots now that she’s working out for two!
Credit: Jess Allen/BlondePonytail.com

You can’t read a celebrity magazine nowadays without seeing some kind of commentary on pregnancy and weight gain, whether women are being criticized for being too thin or too heavy.

All this attention on the pregnant figure got me thinking about the changing attitudes toward exercise and pregnancy and how we still have a long way to go in debunking popular myths about staying active while expecting.

To learn more (the topic hits close to home; my sister gave birth March 18), I sat down with blogger Jess Allen of BlondePonytail.com, a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, adjunct exercise science instructor, CrossFit fanatic, coach’s wife and former Stanford softball player (whew!).

Allen is not only in the final few weeks of her pregnancy, but she’s also uniquely qualified to address some of the most common concerns when it comes to working out for two.

Kinetic Fix: How do you think the views toward exercise during pregnancy have changed over the years?

Jess Allen: Thankfully, our society has embraced fitness and pregnancy in recent years. No longer is pregnancy a sentence for sedentary lifestyle. We are seeing women stay active throughout their pregnancy continuing to run, strength train, CrossFit, with modifications, for the duration!

Why is it important for pregnant women to maintain their fitness routine?

While pregnancy isn’t the time to make gains or set PR’s, maintaining one’s strength will help support the impending weight gain that occurs. I think maintaining one’s fitness throughout pregnancy not only promotes an easier delivery (I sure hope this is the case with me!), but women can recover much faster postpartum by staying active.

Walk us through your own experience: Did you amp up your workouts in anticipation of pregnancy, or did you take a wait-and-see approach?

To be honest, this pregnancy was a bit of a surprise! However, I was in the best shape I’ve been in since college, and that has played a huge role in how great I have felt during this entire pregnancy. My energy level and strength have been consistent. As a result, my weight gain has been manageable, and I’m still teaching classes! However, with some workouts, like CrossFit, I have reduced my intensity and expectations.

What’s been the biggest benefit of working out while pregnant?

By practicing a “fit-pregnancy,” I have received many compliments from women telling me how empowering it is to see! That excites me! I want to continue to set a healthy, active example for my future daughter. Staying fit is simply a lifestyle.

Has anything surprised you about exercising with your “new” body?

My lack of mobility! Now that I have a growing belly, I simply don’t have room to bend and move like I used to!

What’s the biggest myth you’d like to dispel about fitness and pregnancy?

The prescribed heart rate (140 bpm) is merely a ball-park figure. Listen to your body. If you can talk and exercise, you are probably fine to keep going. Likewise, be realistic and forgiving; you won’t be able to push yourself like you did pre-pregnancy, so adjust expectations accordingly.

Any favorite exercises for expectant moms that you can share with us?

Even though the mid-section is growing in girth at this time, planks and the many plank variations, help pregnant women support a growing belly, strengthen upper body, and maintain a strong core. Additionally, I love kettle bell swings for a full-body strength move that gets your heart rate up!

Have you made any plans for getting back to your pre-pregnancy level of fitness once Baby Girl arrives this summer?

I have thought a lot about this already! I know I must be adaptable to a new schedule and routine with a baby, but my plan is to utilize the HIIT (high intensity interval training) home workouts I have created in the past and take advantage of my home “gym.” These workouts are efficient but VERY effective, so I don’t need to spend hours working out. Because it will be summer, I anticipate spending time outside, walking my dog and gradually incorporating running and CrossFit back into my routine. Additionally, I plan to breastfeed, so my food choices will revolve around healthy, nutrient-dense foods so my daughter and I both benefit!

Interested in learning more about exercise while expecting? Check out Jess’s blog, Blonde Ponytail, for great workout tips, training advice, nutrition information and more.

And stay tuned for my post-pregnancy interview with Jess…we’ll discuss her workout and weight-loss plans after Baby Girl Allen makes her debut in just a few short weeks! 

30-minute interval workout to beat treadmill boredom

treadmill-running

If you’re nodding your head at the cartoon above, I’ve got a great workout for you!

Below is my boredom-busting treadmill routine. It’s designed to distract, so over the course of 30 minutes, you’ll be constantly adjusting your speed. And as an added benefit, this interval approach aids in burning extra calories.

So crank up the tunes, get in the zone, and watch the minutes fly by…

30mintreadmillinterval

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Maintaining an incline of one percent throughout the workout can help prevent shinsplints
  • Listen to your body: If any pace feels too fast, modify to suit your fitness level
  • Calorie burn will vary based on a number of factors: Age, weight, intensity and efficiency, to name a few
  • Finally, be sure to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program!

What’s your fit fix? Actor John Brotherton on healthy living & baring (almost!) all in Hollywood

Actor John Brotherton on the red carpet at the Daytime Entertainment Emmy Awards. Photo credit: Contactmusic.com

Actor John Brotherton on the red carpet at the Daytime Entertainment Emmy Awards.
Photo credit: Contactmusic.com

You may recognize him as the mysterious Jared Banks from daytime’s One Life to Live, but this summer actor John Brotherton will be turning fan’s screams of delight into screams of sheer terror in his latest project, The Conjuring.

Based on a true story, the movie tells the horrifying tale of how world-renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren were called upon to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in a secluded farmhouse.

It hits theaters on July 19, and if off-the-charts ratings from test screenings are any indication, we’ll be in for some major chills (so much so that it’s been upgraded to an R-rating from its original PG-13).

I sat down with Brotherton – who lives in L.A. with his wife, actress Alison Raimondi, and their two daughters, Shia and Saylor – to chat about how he maintains a healthy lifestyle despite a hectic Hollywood schedule.

Kinetic Fix: There’s a lot of talk about the pressure among leading ladies to stay fit; do you feel it as a male actor, as well?

John Brotherton: Absolutely. I remember one of my first days on ‘One Life to Live’ where I was wearing nothing but a flesh colored speedo for a scene so I could appear totally nude. My costar (with whom I was about to get very personal) was wearing a full nightie. I asked her, “Whoa, why am I the only one naked here?” She grinned and replied, “This audience ain’t tuning in to see me naked. Welcome to daytime.”

The reality is, Hollywood is vain and you are expected to look your best, always.

KF: What’s been your most physically challenging role to-date, and how did you prepare for it?

JB: Ironically, it was for a role I didn’t actually book. In 2010, I screen-tested for the title role in the remake of ‘Conan the Barbarian’ opposite Jason Mamoa (he eventually booked it). I had three weeks notice before the test, but I’m not exactly a giant, muscle-bound barbarian. So for those three weeks I was in the gym, twice a day, lifting incredibly hard with protein shakes before and after each workout – and more lean protein with every meal.

Each workout was focused on a specific muscle group (i.e chest, back, shoulders, etc.). I’d do three different lifts, five sets each lift, with reps of 20, 15, 10, 10, 10. Between each set I hit my core in various ways. The key was that I’d increase my weights every single workout.

It’s incredible what the body can do with intense hard workouts and the proper fuel. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but I know I made sizable strength gains in that short period of time.

KF: Wow! So describe a typical day-in-the-life for you in terms of diet & exercise, both during and between projects.

JB: I try to be consistent on a daily basis, but of course if a project is nearing, my training increases. Now that I’m in my thirties, my workouts have become less about ‘how much’ I can lift and more about full-body fitness. At the gym, I prefer to do a circuit rather than focus on one muscle group. I have a four mile run I try and do at least four days a week. I don’t exactly like to run, so for me, four miles is enough to push my body without the ‘torture effect’ kicking in. I also try and do the basics around the house, push-ups and pull-ups. Everyone should have a pull-up bar.

As far as diet, my house eats relatively healthy as a whole. We buy all our produce at the farmers market from local organic farmers, and we get all our meat from an all-natural butcher. Organic just tastes better and your body knows how to process it. Although, you’ll always find dark chocolate laying around and ice cream in the freezer. I’ve learned if you deprive yourself too much of the goodies in life, life just isn’t quite as fun…oh, and Sundays are reserved for pizza, of course. You gotta live a little, but all in moderation!

KF: Any tricks for eating clean on set despite 24/7 access to a buffet of craft service snacks?

JB: As much as I love and appreciate it, craft services can be the devil. There are always plenty of snacks on set, a lot of which is junk. Nuts and trail mix are my go-to snack. They satisfy the hunger bug and curb the junk food desire, especially if the trail mix has a few M&M’s to fend off my vicious sweet tooth.

KF: Last but not least, can you share a few of your favorite healthy-living tips with us? 

JB: First, put up a pull-up bar somewhere in your house and throughout the day jump up and do a few at a time. You don’t have to break a sweat, just trigger your muscles. You’d be surprised how quickly your body adapts. Same with push-ups; bang out a few here and there, for instance during commercial breaks or in your kitchen while you cook.

Second, crash diets don’t work. They lead to binges and erratic behavior. Just stay consistent and, without indulging too much, don’t deprive yourself of the stuff that makes you smile and say “yummy.” If you’re happy, it’s easier to be healthy…which keeps you happy, and so it goes…

Finally, I grill everything! Meats, veggies, whatever. It’s hard to eat too unhealthy when cooking on the grill. It’s one of my favorite pastimes: Sitting outside in the So-Cal sun, sipping on some frosty beverage, watching my kids play and smelling the grill work…it’s magic.