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Health Education Week: Heart Health

In honor of Health Education Week we are bringing you some discussion on tips, reminders and education on heart health and diet! Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among all adult populations in this country, and although there is a genetic element to it, it’s been demonstrated that lifestyle is far more significant!

Below we will talk about some of the most common dietary choices out there that lead to cardiovascular disease:

Trans Fats

The vast majority of us have heard one way or another that Trans Fats are bad. Consuming them tends to raise LDL (bad) cholesterol AND lower HDL (good) cholesterol – a double whammy! Honestly though, you may have to scour the grocery store to find any products that list it on the label. So why are we still talking about it?

Deep Fried Foods are one common source of trans fats for many people out there. We get it: it is tough to beat french fries! And over here in Wisconsin you may be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t occasionally drooled over some deep fried cheese curds.

IMPORTANT: Pay attention to the temperature suggestion on your cooking oil! Over-heating oil (generally it will start smoking when this occurs) actually turns it into Trans Fat! Many are unaware of this, and it is a large part of the reason that deep fried foods is particularly culpable.

Margarine is another common Trans Fat consumed by many people out there. It was once thought that because margarine is plant-derived and lower in saturated fat than butter that it was a preferable substitute, but research shows that the partially-hydrogenated oils that make up margarine are significantly more detrimental to your health!

Baked Goods such as donuts, cakes, cookies, pies, etc. tend to contain high volumes of Saturated and Trans Fat.

What Can I Do About It?

Craving Deep Fried Food?

Try making your own by cutting up potatoes or sweet potatoes, adding olive oil and bake away! Haven’t tried Delicata Squash yet? Here’s another chance to try! Slice in 1/3” moon shaped pieces, toss with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast for a French fry feel!

Too Deeply Biased Against Butter?

Moderation and a natural choice would be my go-to suggestion, BUT I know that many people have taken butter out of their diet for so long that there is no going back. Or perhaps you are intolerant of dairy or have chosen to go 100% plant based? Find a spread that does NOT contain partially-hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils, and little saturated fat.

Snack Time?

Choose a healthier option by making your own healthy “treats” at home or eating fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth! Try a simple granola bar recipe and make it your own. Click here for an EASY and KID-TESTED Grab-and-Go Granola Bar recipe.

Processed Meat

Bacon, sausage, pepperoni, salami, cold cuts and cured meats. These processed meats tend to include a lot of added salt and preservatives. In addition, the n-nitroso, formed from sodium nitrite, in processed meat are linked to various forms of cancer. (Why do they add this to processed meat? To preserve the red/pink color of the meat, to improve flavor by inhibiting fat oxidation, and prevent the growth of bacteria). Try limiting processed meats to once a week or less as well as choosing fish, poultry, or lean red meat as an alternative.

The daily recommendation for sodium intake is 2,300mg max. The average U.S. adult consumes over 4,000mg PER DAY! Added salt can be found in packaged foods including chips, crackers, breads, canned products, condiments, and almost anything you see that is packaged in the stores. Try to avoid too many processed foods (whole foods have 0 added salt for the record!) and/or try to use other flavor enhancing techniques such as using natural spices, lemon juice, herbs, and more!

If processed meats are a staple in your home? Seek out nitrate/nitrite free lunch meats, bacon, sausage etc and keep an eye the sodium levels!

Added Sugar

When you “drink your calories” with sugar sweetened drinks your brain is not able to process the sugar intake as quickly, limiting the brain’s ability to say “You’re full – please stop!”

A high-sugar diet may also stimulate the liver to dump more harmful fats into the bloodstream. This leads to over-consumption, increased risk of inflammation, elevated blood glucose levels, and increased risk of heart disease.

Choose water whenever possible or at least an unsweetened beverage. You can also add fruit, cucumber, or herbs like mint to your water to change up the flavor if you struggle with plain ol’ life-giving, magical H20

Quit Wasting Fruits and Veggies With These 7 Tricks!

It’s such a terrible feeling! You have a plan for your food. You open the fridge and WOAH! You throw it away and eat chips or some other less-healthy choice instead. But who has time to go shopping every 2 or 3 days to ensure they’re produce is always fresh??

Well here are some tricks that will keep your produce delicious (and edible!) much longer! You’re going to want to write these down…

Bananas

We all love banana’s, but they can go bad quickly. Hopefully you already know that when they go bad we can peel them and throw them in the freezer for smoothies or banana bread, but if you want to enjoy your bananas fresh wrap the stem in plastic wrap. This keeps the amount of gas they expel that causes them to ripen at a minimum which means you can enjoy a delicious banana another few days!

Celery

You tried to get ahead of the game and prep, but now your celery is limp and soft! Well no worries – stick them in a bowl of water, and they come right back to life! You can avoid this tragedy by wrapping it in tin foil before storing it in your refrigerator. This will keep your celery nice and crunchy up to a month long!

Carrots

Carrots too often will become soft and lose their crunch, but fear not! Rehydrate them in water for a little bit – overnight if necessary – and they spring back to life! Carrots and celery both can be chopped ahead of time and placed in a bowl or tupperware in water to store for 2 or 3 weeks without losing their crunch!

Mushrooms

Eating healthy is difficult enough, but it can seriously break the bank if the food you are buying is going bad before you can eat it. Mushrooms keep fresh the longest when stored in a paper bag instead of a plastic or styrofoam container!

Lettuce

Keep your veggie drawer lined with paper towel. This soaks up any extra moisture that makes many greens go limp and steals their crunch away. Also, when storing lettuce or herbs in a bag or container put a piece of paper towel in to soak up any extra moisture and they will last MUCH longer! If your lettuce has already started to look pretty sad, rip off the brown parts and give it an ice bath! As little as 30 minutes can be enough to bring it right back to life.

Berries

Nature’s candy is notorious for growing fuzz in your refrigerator – especially if you bought it on sale! Prevent growth of mold by giving your berries a vinegar bath after purchasing them! Use 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water. After you giving them a bath in this mixture you can rinse with water to get rid of any remaining vinegar taste.

Avocado

Most people know that adding salt and fresh lime juice will extend the life of guacamole, but here’s one you might not have known about: When making guacamole keep the seeds from the avocado to put in the guacamole. This helps to keep it fresh several more hours or longer! Don’t plan to eat it today? Cover your leftover guacamole or avocado with plastic wrap and you’ll be able to feast again tomorrow.

Now you know! And knowing is half the battle. Now you’ve got to go shopping and put these tricks into action before you forget! You may literally save hundreds of dollars a year – or more!

Cut Down on Harsh Chemical Use and Waste with Castile Soap

Castile soap is an olive oil based hard soap made with pure, all natural/organic, chemical-free plant based ingredients that is also biodegradable AND doesn’t expire. The most common brand you’ll find is Dr. Bronner’s castile soap made both as original and with numerous scents from various essential oils. Castile soap can make at home kitchen, bath, and body products! Use it as a dish soap with just a few drops! You can find it at most big-box stores or natural foods stores, and all of our recipes below use it in dilution which means not only are they good ways to cut down the use of chemicals in your home and waste products in the garbage can, but it will save you MONEY!

Why should I make my own cleaning products?

The EPA indicates artificial fragrances in cleaning products as an indoor irritant and pollutant. Why? A single fragrance (simply labeled “fragrance” on the ingredient list) can include as many as 600 petrochemicals! (Petrochemical = chemicals derived from petroleum. Probably not what you want to inhale, put on your skin, etc.)

DIY Pine Sol Substitute

Throw the following in a spray bottle:

– 32 oz warm water
– 1.5 tsp castile soap
– 6 drops fir needle essential oil
– 4 drops rosemary essential oil

Simple Shampoo

– 1/4 cup coconut milk
– 1/4 cup castile soap
– 20 drops essential oil of choice (optional)
*If you have really dry hair consider adding a few drops of olive oil or almond oil*

Seal in a jar, or use an old pump soap bottle. If it is a foaming dispenser add 1/4 cup distilled water.

https://wellnessmama.com/3701/homemade-shampoo/

Natural Wet Wipes

– 1 cup warm water
– 1/8 cup castile soap
– 5-10 drops of an essential oil (optional)

Combine in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid (another canning jar opportunity!). Cut squares from a plain cotton T-Shirt and submerge in the jar with the liquid and flip the jar upside down until all is soaked. After use, wash the cloth out in the sink and return to the jar to reuse.

DIY Laundry Detergent

– 1 cup castile soap
– 3/4 cup baking soda
– 1/4 cup fine sea salt

Dissolve baking soda and sea salt in 2 cups warm water, then add all ingredients to a one-gallon container and fill with water. Use 1/4 cup per load of laundry. This makes enough for 60 loads of laundry! Talk about saving money!

Mop Water

So easy! Just add 2-3 TBSP of castile soap to your bucket of water and clean your floors naturally!

Body Wash/Hand Soap

Even easier! For body wash just slightly dilute your castile soap with a little water (2:1 ratio soap:water).

Love your foamy hand soap? Refill a foam dispenser with a 1:4 ratio of soap:water and you won’t even notice the difference!

Still using traditional products? Learn more about them at www.epa.gov/saferchoice

Want to know even more ways to use castile soap? Find more recipes here!

Clean Eating with Convenience

Healthy Eating – much like anything else – is much more attainable when you give yourself the right tools to make things simpler for yourself! Let’s overview some kitchen gadgets that you might consider adding to your arsenal for convenience!

Instapot is the latest gadget craze. Instapot is a multi-cooker that takes the place of a slow cooker, pressure cooker, rice cooker, steamer, browning pan, and warming pot all in one! Rumor has it, once you make hard-boiled eggs in the Instapot, you’ll never go back. Oatmeal is cinch too!

Did you know you can make your own yogurt with just milk and starter yogurt in an Instapot? Follow this link to find out how!

The “Emulstir Emulsifier” makes at-home salad dressings super quick. Simply fill your ingredients, which are listed on the bottle, give the handle a few squeezes and your dressing is ready! No tracking down recipes and it is readily stored in the cabinet. Try Dijon, Raspberry Vinaigrette, or traditional Balsamic vinaigrette.

You can even make your own at-home dressing container by taking a canning, or repurposed glass food jar, mark the outside as you add measured ingredients to make a quick go-to option the next time you want a quick healthy dressing!

If you haven’t yet invested in an Instapot, a slow cooker can still do the job of helping you have a healthy meal ready when you come home from a long day at work at a tiny fraction of the cost!

Start super simple: Toss in a 3 pound bag of frozen chicken breast + ½ cup of water (or get fancier with chicken broth, salt and pepper), cooking on low for 6-8 hours for nicely shredded chicken. Or try something with a little more pizzaz like combining chicken, black beans, tomatoes, corn, and salsa for a southwest style dish! Literally, just throw it all in for 6 – 8 hours and then shred the chicken – serve over rice if you like.

Electric Tea Kettles can add a few minutes to your day by providing boiling water in 2 minutes! Make quick tea, as the name indicates, or shorten your time boiling water to dump in a pot and cook noodles, potatoes, etc. Boiling water also cleans your microfiber cloths!

Make sure your electric tea kettle has a feature that shuts off the appliance when the water starts boiling for extra convenience!

Chopping, cutting, shredding etc is maybe the largest barrier to home cooking for many people. Food Processors can speed up your weekly food prep by turning minutes into seconds. With standard vegetables, the processor can often be cleaned up with just running water. Shred carrots for quick salad toppings, quicker stir fry’s, add to wraps, or more! Try “processing” all your vegetables for the week at once.

You’ll need to use a rubber scraper to get it out, but make your own simple hummus:
– 2 cans of drained chickpeas
– 2 cloves of garlic
– juice of ½-1 lemon
– 3 TBSP olive oil
– 1 tsp of salt
– 1 tsp cumin
– ¼ c water
– ¼-1/2 tsp of paprika

Everyone should have a supply of canning jars, even if you aren’t planning on canning. Canning jars are an eco-friendly option to store extra food portions in the freezer (like chili, nuts, soups, etc) or foods like refrigerator oatmeal, on-the-go salads, or even a protein shake. Below are some simple ways you can start adding convenience to your life with the use of canning jars! Many products you already purchase probably come in glass jars with reusable lids – pick a handful or more of the most conveniently shaped and keep them instead of recycling them. (jar sterilization is a cinch if that is a concern)

Deliciously simple refrigerator oatmeal

The salad possibilities are endless

Even more ways you may never have thought of

Just Breathe…

Draw air in through your nose on a slow two-count. Blow air out of your mouth like you’re blowing out birthday candles twice as long, to a count of four.
Now in for 3 seconds, out for 6. Can you get to 4 seconds in, 8 seconds out? Repeat a few more times.

You have just successfully calmed your Central Nervous System and reduced the circulation of excitatory neurotransmitters and stress hormones. Sound like some hippie-dippy BS? Well according to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is directly linked to ALL of the top 6 leading causes of death in the United States:
– heart disease
– cancer
– lung ailments (i.e. pneumonia)
– accidents (car accidents, falls, etc)
– cirrhosis of the liver
– suicide

This is going to sound like one of those ridiculous promise-you-the-world prescription drug commercials…”Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could greatly reduce your risk of mortality from the 6 leading causes of death, improve your energy and performance, and reduce chronic pain due to inflammation in just a few minutes a day – well you can!”

And you don’t even need to pop a pill. Just breathe. Intentionally and actively for a couple minutes a few different times per day.

Here’s a test. Lie on your back and place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. If only one or the other hand rises you are significantly under-utilizing the volume of your lungs. For those already aware of “belly breathing”: try hooking a finger under the rib cage and then take a breath. If it doesn’t get pushed out you may just be pushing out your belly artificially instead of effectively breathing with the diaphragm. Respected strength training mogul Mike Boyle recently discovered that essentially ALL of his clients with chronic back pain could NOT breathe into their belly when instructed to. While this doesn’t prove necessarily that low back pain is caused by shallow breath, it does show a strong correlation that the two are related which is well worth paying attention to.

Types of Breath and When to Use Them

• Forceful Breath

This is the type of breath many of us in the strength training world are familiar with: a forceful exhale to lock down the abdominal muscles and protect the spine during powerful movements or heavy lifting. Forcing an exhale, making a “shhh!” sound, is an effective way to produce more force and protect the body during moves like Kettlebell swings, push-ups, ball slams, etc.

• Pursed Lip Breathing

In through the nose as if you’re sniffing up snot that keeps running out of your nose during your worst cold. Blow air out of pursed lips and using the abdominals to squeeze the last bit of air out of your lungs. This type of breathing has been demonstrated in medical settings to very quickly raise patient’s’ blood oxygen levels several percentage points within just a few breaths. This type of breath should be used during your warmup to better prepare your body for intense activity, and during breaks to help you adequately recover. Maintaining a high blood oxygen during exercise can reduce feelings of fatigue, dizziness or light-headedness, and even reduce your perceived exertion! (How difficult an exercise “feels”)

• Deep Breathing

Similar to pursed lip breathing we’ll breath in through the nose and blow out through the mouth, except you insert a pause into the mix. Breath in through the nose about four seconds, hold your breath about six or seven seconds, exhale for eight. Start with just 4 breaths at a time, twice a day – working up to a maximum of 8 breaths twice a day. The focus and the pause are what set this breathing technique apart, and after just your first cycle through you can almost rest assure that you will be more relaxed, less anxious and experience a pleasant type of euphoria. Make use of this breath when dealing with excess stress, experiencing anxiety over a difficult decision, worrying, etc.

Now there are many different types of breathing out there, but we have chosen just to highlight these 3 as we think they are the most relevant and beneficial for the people we work with. The most important thing to take note is that your breath is a tool and while you generally do it unconsciously (thank goodness, or else sleeping would sure be interesting!) there are certain times when it will greatly benefit you to breathe intentionally.

Fall Harvest Breakdown! (read before Fall Farmer’s Markets!)

Fall is starting to show its face and so is the fall vegetable harvest!

“Winter Squash” is designated by a hard outer skin, unlike summer squashes like zucchini and yellow squash. Winter squash varieties include spaghetti, butternut, kabocha, delicata, acorn and more! Boost your immunity and health with winter squashes because they are high in fiber and vitamin C content! Just 1 cup of squash provides about half the daily recommendation! This week we’re hooking you up with some of the easiest ways to include squash into your weekly cooking regimen and prep.

Spaghetti squash can be prepared as simply as slicing it in half, cleaning out the seeds, and placing it face down on a lined baking sheet in the oven. Bake at 375 degrees for 35-45 minutes. It’s done when you can poke a fork into the skin. Allow to cool slightly, fork your spaghetti like strands right out and chow down! You may not even need to dirty a dish 😊 Get a little fancy by brushing on some olive oil and sprinkling salt/pepper on before baking or serve your spaghetti strands with a little marinara, parmesan, or this writer’s favorite – chili!

Delicata squash (del-eh-ca-ta) is a little less intimidating in size compared with other squash, and these are known for making delicious baked squash “rings”. There are many who have missed out on this delicious squash because it is not widely carried in supermarkets and they just don’t recognize it at the farmer’s market. Simply cut the squash into 1/2” rings (the skin is edible!) and scoop the seedy center out. Brush both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay rings on a metal (lined is ok) pan and bake at 425 for approximately 10 minutes per side. Keep flipping as needed. You’ll finish with browned/caramelized rings that are reminiscent of sweet potato fries but even better! If you haven’t seen, heard, or tried delicata squash yet, definitely ask at your local farmer’s market!

Butternut squash is known for its creamy roasted taste and variable use as a puree. Since the aim this week is to make eating winter squash as simple as possible, toss your whole butternut squash into the slow cooker and cook for 4-5 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low. When done, you’ll be able to cut right through the skin, scoop out the seeded middle, and have cooked squash ready to puree, add to soup, or incorporated into a pasta dish! If you are a little more adventurous, peel the squash with a vegetable peeler, core the center, and cube it up (toss with olive oil and salt/pepper) for roasting in the oven at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes. So delicious even on it’s own! Butternut squash lends well to a variety of flavors from cinnamon and nutmeg to cardamom and/or curry spices to Mexican spices!

Kabocha squash. Wait, kombucha now kabocha? Green kabocha have a nutty, earthy flavor while the red kabocha tend to be a bit sweeter. Cut the squash in 1” wedges like you might do for a cantaloupe (the skin is edible when cooked), toss with olive oil/salt/pepper and roast 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Jazz up your roast with infused olive oils if you like! Once roasted the squash can be eaten as is or used for purees. If your kabocha is a little too tough to cut raw? Try this method: http://sweetsimplevegan.com/2017/02/how-to-roast-kabocha-squash/
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Now if you are part of a CSA or just prefer to grab whatever type of produce is on sale that week, it’s important to note that these different types of squash are often interchangeable in recipes! The main differences in squash come down to water content, sweetness, and texture. Don’t fret, just do a quick online search. One easy way to incorporate squash, for even the pickiest of eaters, is to find muffin, pancake, and quickbread recipes that use squash! Nobody will be any the wiser 😉

Identify your squash here! http://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/a-visual-guide-to-winter-squash-varieties-article

Kombucha Brewing At Home

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Kombucha tea is a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, probiotic bacteria and yeast and has quickly become a probiotic sweetheart.  Many have found the tangy and fizzy taste to be a nice alternative to harsh sodas and other carbonated beverages. Kombucha contains B vitamins and the probiotics/living bacteria can be a good bacteria boost for gut health (replacing intestinal microflora and breaking undigested carbohydrates into smaller molecules).  Some have said that the healing properties, from various disorders, are a result of the acid in kombucha binding with various toxins for elimination.

Kombucha uses the fermentation process, which has been used for centuries to produce things like wine, beer, sourdough, sour cream, yogurt, kimchi, tempeh, sauerkraut, and more!  Did you know vanilla is produced by the fermentation of vanilla beans?

WHAT HAPPENS DURING FERMENTATION?

To ferment kombucha, the yeast in a SCOBY (an acronym for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”) breaks down the sugar in a sweetened tea which undergo fermentation.  This in turn produces alcohol.  Some of the alcohol is converted to acetic acid which gives it the vinegar smell and also the proper acidic level to prevent “bad” bacteria from forming. (Kombucha on average is less than half a percent alcohol by volume so don’t be alarmed!)

According to wikipedia, the process for creating kombucha relies on “anaerobic ethanol fermentation (by yeast), anaerobic organic acid fermentation (by bacteria), and aerobic ethanol oxidation to acetate (by bacteria) all take place concurrently along an oxygen gradient.”  Now you know.

HOW DO I BREW MY OWN KOMBUCHA?

What you’ll need:

– 2 cups kombucha (purchased, use from a prior batch, or get some from a friend!)

– 1 SCOBY (purchased or get one from a friend!)

– 3.5 Liters of water

– GLASS container to hold 4 Liters, or more (be careful of non-glass containers as they can leach toxins into your brew.)

– 1 cup of white sugar

– 8 bags of black tea (steer clear of flavored teas like Early Grey that contain oils which will disrupt the brewing process)

Let’s brew:

1. Bring 3.5 liters of water to a boil

2.  Stir in 1 cup of sugar until dissolved

3.  Add 8 tea bags and pull pot from heat

4.  Allow to fully cool.  You now have sweetened tea.

5.  Remove tea bags and pour sweet tea into your brewing jar.

6.  Add SCOBY to your brewing jar and cover with t-shirt or paper towel material and secure with a rubber band.

7.  Brew for 7-30 days.  Many find 7-14 days to be the right strength for tastes before it becomes too vinegary.

8.  After brewing period, pour into serving jars, growlers, etc.  You can either place directly into the refrigerator or you can leave in a warm and dark place for 1-3 days to add more fizz to your drink.  After the 1-3 days, put in the refrigerator.

Congratulations, you have kombucha!

WATCH THE HOW-TO-WITH-HEATHER HERE:

Want to store your SCOBY?  Cover your SCOBY with brewed kombucha and store in a sealed glass container in your cupboard for up to 30 days.

Want to share a SCOBY with a friend?  Peel away a layer of a thicker formed SCOBY or after fermenting your tea, leave some in an open glass container and a new SCOBY will form!

Deconstructing the Plank

This week we are going to completely break down another one of our most basic moves – the plank! Most people are aware of the planks most central component: a strong core. This week you will discover that there is MUCH more to it than that alone, but let’s start here.

We define the core as any and all muscles that attach to and/or stabilize the spine, which technically probably includes a near majority of the muscles in your body! Your core connects your lower body to your upper body. Most of our daily movement either emanates from the core or moves through it. Being able to actively “turn on” your core is vital for obtaining good posture, is key in balance and stability, maintaining a healthy back, and in everyday activities. Being able to quickly activate or “turn on” your core muscles is often the difference between sustaining injury or not when lifting and/or moving some everyday object or having to react quickly like catching yourself during a trip and near fall.

Now as we talk more about what goes into a quality plank it may help to imagine a soldier – standing at attention.

Their back is tall, ears aligned over their shoulders, legs straight. They are standing at a-TENSION! “Chin up, chest out, shoulders back, stomach in.” Flip them down on the ground with arms forward and you have a beautiful plank! The next time you plank, think to yourself, “if I were flipped up onto my feet, would I be standing tall and straight?” PUSH through your heels in your plank to create tension. Pretend a cat is climbing up your leg, digging in its claws (we know, ouch!). Instinctively your muscles would tighten, pulling the knee cap “up” on the thigh – the front of your leg is now “engaged”.

Next, pretend your pelvic bone is a bowl. Slightly tip the bowl backward like you are trying to pour water out of your back side (gross image, but bare with us). This engages, or creates tension in the external obliques, rectus abdominis, glutes, and hamstrings. Check out this great article to get more in-depth with pelvic tilt!

Hopefully by this point in the article, you have gathered that planking includes alignment and tension throughout the body! This continues into the upper body. Be sure your elbows are securely under your shoulders. Turn your palms down, and spread your fingers for the most sensory input (no prayer hands!). Push your body up into your upper back, or in other words lift yourself through the shoulders – don’t allow them to collapse together on your back. Your head should be aligned with spine – think about giving yourself a double chin. If there were a pole on your back it should make contact at the back of your head, shoulders, and tailbone.

Now that you’ve found all this tension in your body it is time to find a little movement! A strong plank is in part created by proper breathing, meaning breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. When you breathe deeply, you should feel your entire rib cage and belly expand to its fullest extent. When exhaling all the way you activate your deep core muscles, which is exactly what want to be calling upon during planks! So many of us are chronic “mouth breathers” which can lead to a whole host of issues like exercise induced asthma, sleep apnea, chronic hyperventilation and even increased allergy symptoms. Now, take a DEEP breath…or MANY deep breaths!

So that’s it. Nothing to it, just: TENSION (stand tall), feet dorsiflexed, quads/front of legs engaged (cat claws!), slightly tip the pelvis (belly button to spine and close to nose) for core activation, elbows under shoulders, chest into upper back, head alignment, BREATHE!

Go forth…and plank

Deconstructing The Squat

The squat is the perfect analogy for life. It’s about standing back up after something heavy takes you down.”

~ unknown

When most people think about squats, what do they think about? Quads? Maybe glutes too? However, this foundational movement goes MUCH deeper than that! A weighted squat is quite literally a total body exercise, and this week we are going to break it down piece-by-piece for you:

START FROM THE GROUND UP
Not the other way around!

Instead of picking up weights, making sure they are secure and then bending your knees dropping into your squat, bring your attention FIRST to your feet! Weightlifting experts suggest focusing on broadening the foot, spreading the toes laterally, and making as much contact through the floor as possible. Imagine someone has placed several playing cards under different parts of your foot, and you are trying to prevent someone from pulling them out! You might be surprised to find how much more active engagement you feel throughout the muscles of the lower body. Ready? Yes you! Imagine those cards under each corner of your foot – now squat! Just a few, don’t burn yourself out – we want to take a moment to do just a few bodyweight squats with each paragraph to solidify what you’re reading and make it more real.

Next up are the ankles! Take a look at the graphic above. Notice the angle at the ankle – it is not 90 degrees with the knee directly over the heel, because that would shift your center of gravity too far to the back making it impossible to hold weight safely. Ankle mobility might be the most common limitation people face when it comes to getting into a deep squat. Try drawing the alphabet or big circles in both directions with the ankles, really pushing the range of motion and moving slowly throughout the range. Maybe move your ankles for a minute or two, then try another couple of squats – try thinking about pulling the front of your shin down towards the tops of your feet (but don’t pop up off those heels!)

Moving up the leg to the knees now. Many people struggle to keep their knees in line with their ankles/toes as they get deeper into their squat. This is most commonly due to inner thigh weakness, glute weakness, hip tightness or all three. Find a mirror! Watch your knees on the way down and continue to hold them in line – pay attention to whether you start feeling your squats in different areas! Ask a coach to assistance if you find your knees continue to fall in towards each other; there are a few ways to work through this common movement dysfunction. The Split Squat is one excellent example of a unilateral exercise that can help us identify instability and weakness. During split squats and side lunges take care that you don’t allow your knee to fall inward by engaging the outer glute and pressing through both the inside and outside of the foot. Hip lifts and single-leg hip lifts are also great exercise to help develop stable glute strength. Now you know what comes next – put it to work! Focus on the position of your knees while squatting and try keeping them pointing directly in line with the toes! Maybe try a few squats with your feet narrow, wide, in the middle, turn the toes outward a little. See what feels most comfortable.

Speaking of hips! The very first step for the squat is to send the hips back – THEN begin sitting. Too often we start bending our knees into our squat before we have even begun to send the hips back and this sets us up for dysfunctional movement right off the bat. Alright fine, maybe just one squat this time…start with the hips!

So that pretty much covers your lower body – but we haven’t even got past the hips yet! What happens above them is just as important for your squat form especially if you are going to be carrying weight. Squat Holds and Quad Rocks (see a trainer for demonstration) is a great exercise to help get you into the habit of engaging your core muscles during the squat. A quad rock IS a squat if you turn the movement vertical, however this variation drastically reduces the amount of weight you have to move. Often we forget about the upper body here and just focus on the legs, but especially if we are loading the squat we MUST have core engagement to ensure the safety of the spine. Tuck the chin in (double chin) to keep the spine straight all the way through the top, and don’t forget to pack those shoulders!

So there you have it folks – the squat in 500 words or so. There is even more that we could say if we wanted to continue delving into this movement, but let’s allow this to sink in and if you like seek out some one-on-one time with a trainer to fine tune your squat.

Diet Myth-Busting!

This week we are busting diet myths! First up, it’s…

EAT LESS, WEIGH LESS.”

While that CAN be true in some cases, usually people don’t want to lose weight – they want to lose fat! So, if you are comfortable depriving your body the nutrients it needs, feeling hungry all the time, and losing muscle, water and bone density – then this is the diet for you! In order to maintain muscle and proper body functioning (especially for people involved in strength training several times a week like our Ellipse members!) you need to eat at least a certain number of calories in the proper ratio of protein, fat and carbohydrates.
Now of course if an average person was eating 3,000 calories a day sure, cutting their calorie intake a little will probably help them lose some weight. For most of us however, when we “diet” we tend to cut out entire macronutrient categories (*cough cough* carbohydrates), and slash caloric intake below a baseline level needed to ensure your body doesn’t enter “starvation mode”.

LOW-FAT, LOW-CARB, SUGAR-FREE, DIET, LITE”

These are marketing terms dreamed up in a corporate office to sell cheap (in quality and ingredients, not always in price) products to the incredibly large market of people desperate to lose weight. We’ve discussed the downside to artificial sweeteners in the past, but products with these labels tend to be highly processed, and are often just junk food disguised as a guilt-free indulgence – however, they are anything but. Low or Fat-Free products often have added sugar to make it taste good enough to eat (see the classic example of fat-free frozen yogurt)

EAT SMALLER AMOUNTS FREQUENTLY TO BOOST METABOLISM.”

The truth is the number one way to boost your metabolism is by increasing the amount of muscle you have – that’s about it. Constant digestion has a negligible effect on your metabolism and might even do more harm than good for your teeth and intestines. Eating a healthy snack (think: Veggies and Hummus, Fruit and Greek Yogurt or Peanut Butter, etc) between meals however can help you to stay more satisfied during the day and prevent overeating at meal time.

EATING PROTEIN AND CARBS SEPARATELY AIDS IN WEIGHT LOSS.”

This one is patently UN-true because in fact the best way to ensure efficient digestion of protein is to pair it with a high-fiber carbohydrate. Many of the healthiest protein options come pre-paired with carbohydrates already like beans, nuts, seeds etc.

EATING FAT MAKES YOU FAT!”

This one is very important because many people striving for a healthy diet almost totally abstain from dietary fat, which is to their detriment because many vitamins (A, D, E and K) REQUIRE fat to be absorbed into the body. Also adding small amounts of healthy fat (EVOO, Coconut Oil, etc) to vegetables makes most people much more likely to eat them, and help you feel full! (Think: apple = still hungry vs. apple + peanut butter = energy + satisfaction)

DON’T EAT AFTER 8 PM!”

This might be good advice, but not because late night calories are really any worse than daytime calories. Most of the time late night snacks are our worst ones. High fat, high sugar snacks that don’t actually serve any purpose to sate hunger. Try not to go more than 5 hours without eating during the day to avoid being famished late at night, and try to contain your eating hours roughly within a 12-hour window – that alone might help you save a couple hundred calories per day!

Consider these myths BUSTED