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!

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! 

Healing our hearts and minds in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon

A woman kneels and prays at the scene of the first explosion on Boylston Street near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15. (Credit: Getty Images)

A woman kneels and prays at the scene of the first explosion on Boylston Street near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15. (Credit: Getty Images)

After being glued to the TV, transfixed by social network updates and in a perpetual state of prayer for the safety of Boston residents and law enforcement last week, many of us are feeling emotionally drained in the wake of the marathon bombings and subsequent manhunt.

Such tragedies and shocking news events are not only beyond stressful for those involved, but they can also impact those of us who are observing from afar. Plus, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when we’re bombarded with emotionally-charged images and graphic descriptions in today’s 24/7 news cycle.

I sat down with media psychiatrist and bestselling author Dr. Carole Lieberman to discuss the emotional impact of last week’s gruesome events – and how we can begin to move forward from here.

Kinetic Fix: There seems to be an uptick in these horrendous acts in our society; would you hazard a guess as to why?

Dr. Carole Lieberman: The world definitely seems to be spinning out of control with more violence than ever. There are many reasons for this, including desperate people wanting their 15 minutes of fame, copy cat crimes, a bad economy that’s dragging on for too long, violent media (especially violent video games), children being raised in single parent homes, and increased stress in general.

What kinds of feelings are normal after an event such as the Boston bombings?

People will feel anxiety, depression, insomnia, a desire to stuff themselves with comfort food, and so on.

The psychological impact of the Boston Marathon terror attack is to trigger the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that is still laying dormant in us from 9/11. The similarities between the Boston attack and 9/11 trigger our memories. These similarities include there being two bomb blasts in mid-city with buildings crashing on top of people and people running in a panic on an otherwise beautiful sunny day. On top of this, the ricin letters are triggering our memories of the anthrax letters that followed soon after 9/11.

At what point should we consider seeking help from a doctor?

If your symptoms last more than two weeks, or if it is interfering significantly with functioning well in work and family settings, you should consider seeing a mental health professional for psychotherapy and, in some cases, medication.

What are some steps we can take to alleviate our feelings of anger, sadness, hopelessness, etc.?

There are many things you can do to alleviate these symptoms, such as spending more time with your family and friends, going to religious services, volunteering to help people who are less fortunate and spending time in nature.

Finally, what would your recommendation be to those of us who may feel as though we are losing our faith in humanity?

It’s easy to lose one’s faith in humanity after reading one violent headline after another and feeling like the world is filled with evil people. The antidote to this is surrounding yourself with people who have a lot of humanity, such as people involved in your church or those who are volunteering to help the less fortunate.

DIY lavender bath fizzies

Have a DIY spa day with these quick and easy homemade bath fizzies

Have a DIY spa day with these quick and easy homemade bath fizzies

Looking to soothe aching muscles after a long run or heavy lift, but don’t have the time (or budget) to get to the spa?

Try this simple at-home recipe for lavender bath fizzies, courtesy of Indie Lee, founder of the all-natural skincare line, Indie Lee & Co.

What you need:

  • 1 cup baking soda
  • ½ cup citric acid
  • 1 Tbsp Jojoba oil
  • 15 drops lavender essential oil

How to make it:

  1. Mix 1 cup baking soda and ½ cup citric acid together
  2. Add a tablespoon of jojoba oil to the baking soda mixture
  3. Add 15 drops of lavender essential oil, mix until it’s fairly smooth consistency
  4. If needed, add a few drops of water at a time, until the mixture is moist enough to stick together and hold a shape
  5. Form into individual tablets using tablespoons or ice cube trays
  6. Let dry overnight, then drop a few at a time into a hot bath and enjoy!

Extra tip: Customize with natural food coloring or dried flowers to enhance the fizzies, which also make terrific gifts when packaged separately in cellophane.

For more information and a step-by-step tutorial, watch the video here.

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.

Get Your Fix: Zola’s “Fruits of the World”

Check out our latest and greatest healthy living obsessions!  Zola

If you read up on the 10 hot nutrition trends for spring, you know that coconut water is making a comeback (has it ever left?), thanks to its loyal following of fitness junkies and athletes who use it as a high-potassium replacement for sugary sports drinks.

But while I love to use the slightly-sour liquid in place of water or juice in smoothies, I’ve never really been a fan of sucking it down straight from the bottle – until now.

At the suggestion of my friend, Fit Approach co-founder Jamie Walker, I tried Zola’s version and found it is indeed all it’s “cracked” up to be (plus, as an ultra-marathoner, boot-camp instructor and yogi, I’m pretty sure Jamie knows a little something about hydration).

Not only does it contain five essential electrolytes – potassium, sodium, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium – but unlike a lot of stuff that’s that good for you, it also actually tastes great.

How? Founder and intrepid traveler Chris Cuvelier has been trekking around the globe for more than a decade in search of the world’s best sources for the tastiest and most nutritious exotic fruits – which just happen to be Thai coconuts and Brazilian Açaí, by the way (the company also offers a yummy line of antioxidant-packed Açaí juices, too).

I guess you could say the, well, “fruits” of his labor turned out to be some pretty darn delicious and refreshing ways to replenish, re-hydrate and recover.

Thanks to the folks at Zola for providing samples for review; all opinions are my own. 

Advice for avoiding a spring break diet disaster

A vacation doesn't have to derail your healthy eating habits. Photo credit: Brobible.com

A vacation doesn’t have to derail healthy eating habits.
Photo credit: Brobible.com

It’s Spring Break season, and with so many folks hitting the beach, there’s no better time for some smart vacation eating tips from celebrity nutritionist and dietitian Lisa DeFazio.

Sure, you can hit the gym and watch what you eat before vacation, but when your flight is delayed or you’re faced with an all-you-can-eat (and drink) option at the hotel, temptation sets in. Here, Lisa tells us how to stay on track during that next trip without wasting your pre-vacation hard work.

Kinetic Fix: Lisa, I’m good all year ’round; won’t watching what I eat on vacation take all the fun out of my trip?

Lisa DeFazio: No! It’s not about watching what you eat the entire vacation, it is about choosing when to splurge and balancing daily food choices to help you look and feel your best! You also do not want to overeat every day consuming high fat, high sugar foods, as you will have less energy to enjoy the trip, not to mention you may not feel like wearing your bikini after a high fat high sodium meal!

KF: Ok, so say I’ve got an unexpected flight delay and will be stuck eating a meal the airport; what do I do?

LD: Many airports have better choices now, like sandwiches with fruit or a grilled chicken salad, but it’s always a good idea to pack some snacks in your carry-on to be sure you don’t end up with a slice of pizza and an ice cream cone during your flight delay. I recommend Special K Popcorn Chips [DeFazio has partnered with the brand to offer guilt-free snacking options] — with 120 calories per serving of 28 chips, this guilt-free snack is perfect to munch on at the gate.

KF: What’s the best approach if I’m on a cruise with that infamous all-you-can-eat buffet?

LD: First, look over the entire buffet to see what your choices are. Fill half your plate with salad, vegetables and fruit, choose lean grilled or baked chicken or fish, and rice pilaf or baked potato. Choose one splurge dish like mac and cheese or creamed spinach. Share dessert and drink water or diet soda.

KF: Easy enough. But what about the opposite – on a road trip – how can I eat healthy amid gas stations, convenience stores and diners?

LD: My gas station top picks are pretzels, yogurt, protein bars, vitamin water and nuts. At diners it’s a good idea to choose a turkey sandwich, grilled chicken sandwich, turkey burger or veggie burger and ask for fruit instead of fries.

KF: And if I’m on a budget, can I still eat out and stay healthy without breaking the bank?

LD: Go online and search for coupons at your favorite restaurants, research restaurants near you that offer better choices and compare prices. It is easier now with menus, calories and prices all online! You may be surprised that many healthier restaurants are not as expensive as you think!

KF: But if I do happen to indulge (or imbibe!) a bit more than usual, can I minimize the damage?

LD: Yes, many people have one splurge meal or day per week but just be sure you get back on track the next day. On the days before and after a splurge load up on fruits, veggies and protein, include high fiber carbs like sweet potatoes or brown rice, drink plenty of water and exercise!

KF: Finally, any quick tips on how to ease back in to healthier habits when I get home?

When you get home go to the supermarket and stock your fridge with fruits, vegetables, yogurt, lean protein and better-for-you foods! Stock the pantry with smart snacks like Special K Popcorn Chips, which pair nicely with protein-packed hummus or zesty salsa. Walking and drinking plenty of water will get you back into your routine. Take it slow, and do what you can!

6 ways to spring clean your workout routine


Spring is in the air, and there’s no better way to kick off a healthy start to the season than by getting some new gear, revamping your diet and freshening up that stale winter workout routine. Here are six tips to get you started.

  • Set your baseline. Only about 20 percent of Americans get an annual check-up, but it’s critical to keep tabs on things like blood pressure, cholesterol and vitamin deficiencies before diving into any new workout program.
  • Shake things up. The best way to bust out of a rut is to turn an old habit on its head; swap evening sweat sessions for early morning exercise, try playing with portioning instead of calorie counting, etc.
  • Clean out the fridge. Toss old, expired items, then keep a critical eye out for anything low in nutritional value (soda, processed meats, ice cream). And while you’re at it, raid the cupboards to rid yourself of unhealthy holiday leftovers.
  • Try a new workout. Now’s the perfect time to pick a new program that will really challenge your body and prevent plateauing. But keep it simple; if you subsist solely on cardio, add some weight training – or start a 60- or 90-day program, such as Les Mills Combat, for example.
  • Commit to a race. Adding a goal gives workouts a greater purpose than losing weight or fitting into skinny jeans. Research local road races, and start with a beginner-friendly 5K distance (see Cool Running’s Couch-to-5K program here for inspiration)
  • Get some new gear. Spring is also a great time to update your workout wardrobe. Replace worn-out items with shorts, tanks and tees in breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics. And don’t overlook sports bras, which only have a life span of about six months.

Healthy office habits: 10 ways to squeeze some fitness into your work day

Find your workday zen: Stretching at your desk at regular intervals relieves tension and tight muscles

Find your workday zen: Stretching at your desk at regular intervals relieves tension and tight muscles

If you’re pressed for time – or just not feeling the gym – there’s still hope for staying in shape despite a hectic weekly schedule. Read on for 10 tips for incorporating a focus on fitness into your work day.

  1. Eat breakfast: A healthy day at the office starts before you leave the house. Eating breakfast not only stokes metabolic fires and staves off late-day junk food binges, but it also improves concentration, allowing you to tackle mid-morning challenges with ease.
  2. Step to it: Forget about jockeying for the spot closest to the door; instead, park across the lot and hoof it in. It adds mere minutes to your commute, but walking those few extra steps burns calories, gets blood pumping and charges you up for the day ahead.
  3. Take the stairs: Unless you’re in a skyscraper (no, three floors does not count), taking a few flights up and down is a great way to bookend your workday with exercise. Bonus points for storming the stairwell at lunch and during bathroom breaks!
  4. Forgo the phone: Tempted to send a quick email or call that colleague down the hall? Let your legs do the walking instead of your fingers, and you’ll burn some calories and make a healthy face-to-face connection.
  5. Make errands work for you: Set your trash walking-distance from your desk, go to the printer at the end of the aisle, hit the mail room once a day, etc. Forcing yourself to get up at intervals throughout the day is good for both mind and body.
  6. Brown bag it: Save time, money and calories by packing your own lunch. Sure, it takes a few minutes each weekend to portion out five days of healthy meals, but it pays off when you’ve got a nutritious and delicious grab-and-go meal to ward off the afternoon slump.
  7. Eat, then hit the street: Enjoy your lunch, but use the second half of the hour to get outside, stretch your legs and breathe some fresh air. Taking that  time to clear your head allows you to attack the afternoon while others are battling a fast-food coma.
  8. Stretch it out: Prolonged sitting in front of the computer can be a pain in the neck – literally. Every hour or so, try to take a few minutes to perform some simple desk stretches that can help ease muscle tightness and tension.
  9. Don’t forget to hydrate: Water is vital to many of the body’s functions, so regular intake of fluid is important throughout the day. And since the brain is 90 percent water, proper hydration leads to better concentration, productivity and alertness.
  10. Snack smart: Looking for an extra boost between meals? A combo of carbohydrates and protein will help maintain blood sugar levels and stave off cravings, so stock your desk full of fruit, cheese, crackers, nuts and other goodies to avoid the afternoon siren song of the vending machine.