Ellipse Fitness Training Center

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

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!

An Apple A Day!

Get ready to go apple picking! Fresh apples boast a higher antioxidant content than supermarket apples that have often been in cold storage for months. Fun facts: There are more than 7500 varieties of apples and it takes the energy of 50 apple tree leaves to produce just ONE apple!

Apples contain pectin which acts as a prebiotic and can improve gut health; our microbiome. Apples are loaded with vitamin C, K and potassium which is mostly concentrated in the SKIN! An average apple has 5 grams of soluble fiber which can reduce intestinal disorder, improve cholesterol, and control insulin levels. Even better, the fiber makes apples filling. The phytonutrients and antioxidants in apples are linked to reduced risk of developing cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. Some studies have shown regular apple consumption can reduce symptoms of respiratory diseases like asthma. However, not all apples are created equal! Granny Smith is one of the most nutritious with its extra high-level of disease fighting phytonutrients. Unforuntalye, according to EWG (The Environmental Working Group) apples are found to be the most pesticide laden fruit. The skin of an apple contains 90% of the pesticides, but also 50% of the nutrients. Aim to buy organic. If not organic, be sure to wash well with a vinegar water solution.
*Purchasing tip: Braeburn apples are reddish-green in color. Try to find the ones that are most red which means they were exposed to sun and thus an extra supply of phytonutrients!

You know, I’ve never really been a fan of the saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat”…always felt that was a bit cruel. There’s more than one way to prepare your apples! That sounds better now doesn’t it…

Try eating fresh cut apples with a tasty apple dip! Mix plain Greek yogurt (1 cup) with peanut butter (1 TBSP), and a little Stevia if you need it sweeter, for a protein packed addition to make a more balanced snack. Out of peanut butter? This recipe works well with a powdered peanut butter too!

For a softer option chop it up, sprinkle on some cinnamon and microwaving for 1.5 minutes for cooked apple to eat or use as a topping.

A waldorf salad makes for a quick, healthy lunch! Combine chopped chicken, apples, celery, grapes, and walnuts with some greek yogurt, honey, and lemon juice & zest to serve over lettuce greens. Get the recipe here!

When apples are no longer in season, check out the Vacaville dried granny smith apples! At certain times of the year they can be found at Costco, otherwise you can check out their website. The ingredient list follows: granny smith apples. BAM! Perfect. Wouldn’t it be awesome if all foods just contained the food you wanted?

Last but CERTAINLY not least, is our very own recipe for Oatmeal Apple Pie! You’re definitely going to want to try this one out as it is perfect for fall

Oatmeal Apple Pie
Prep Time – 45 minutes
Servings – 4

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup oat bran
2 large apples, cored &chopped
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
4 scoops vanilla protein powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
4 cups water
1 tsp vanilla extract
Stevia (optional) to taste
Skim milk (1 cup per serving)

Instructions:
In a large bowl combine oats, oat bran, protein powder, salt, vanilla extract and water. In a separate bowl, mix the apples, applesauce, cinnamon, and Stevia (optional). There are two ways to proceed. You can either combine the applesauce mixture and oat mixture together and bake, or for a layered effect you can pour the applesauce mixture into the baking dish first, then pour the oat mixture on top. In both cases, bake in an 8×8-inch dish coated with olive oil cooking spray for 35 minutes at 350 degrees F. Serve in a bowl with 1 cup skim milk poured over top!

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

How are your New Year’s Resolutions Going?

Revisit your goals!

We say it often. Write them down. Cross them out. Highlight them. Whatever you can do to make them more tangible – more real. Because that is the secret…there is no magic, there is no trick (not one that works anyways) to realizing your goals. Write down attainable goals somewhere that you will walk past them several times a day, interact with your list when progress is made – or when you feel stagnant! Write little sub-goals under your major goals that will help point you in the direction of them, for instance:

Goal: Run a marathon
a.) buy proper footwear
b.) run 1/2 mile today
c.) run total of 2 miles this week
d.) run 5 out of 7 days next week
etc.

Or get creative with something like this!

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

The reason we are urging you to revisit your resolutions this week is because this is the time of year when your life gets back to normal. You settle back into a routine after Summer insanity, and that is a great time to implement new habits, to set goals, to re-focus.

There is one thing in particular that we are asking you to focus in on right now, and that is to take care of YOU! So in case you have surpassed all your New Year’s Resolutions – or maybe you have just forgotten them altogether – we’ve got a whole set of resolutions for you to adopt into your routine!

1. Workout
Make your workout a priority! This one is a little bit obvious, but being consistent with your workout routine will increase your overall energy and lead to better food choices as well as better sleep.

2. Sleep
Speaking of sleep – this too should be a priority! Plan for 7-8 hours of shut eye each night, and start winding down one hour before you intend to be asleep in order to avoid sleeplessness. TV before bed is one common mistake a lot of people make, but that intense stimulation actually makes it more difficult for your mind to relax – especially those crime shows! Cut it out!

3. Floss
This is an easy way to start taking care of yourself in a big way! Have trouble remembering to work it into your routine? Try keeping floss in the shower to make it part of your bathing routine.

4. Hydrate
One of the most important things we can do to take care of ourselves is to drink enough water. Being dehydrated affects your cognitive ability, your performance, and even your skin! Feel AND look better just by drinking adequate water. Spread it out throughout the day though! Trying to catch up on all your fluids for the day at once can lead to discomfort or in rare cases hyponatremia.

5. Take a multivitamin
If your diet throughout the day does not consist of a wide variety of foods in all colors of the rainbow, most likely you could benefit from a good multivitamin supplement. Place them somewhere you will see them every day and pop one as your insurance policy that you are getting everything your body needs to function optimally.

Make yourself a priority! Remember: if your cup is empty, you cannot fill anyone else’s. If you don’t take care of yourself regularly, you won’t be able to provide adequate care for anyone else.

Junk Food Disguised as Health Food

Health Food might be the largest growing industry with regards to groceries on the shelves. It seems like every week there is some new product out there making outrageous claims and taking up residence on the fancy shelves nearby the organic produce…that’s how you know it must be good! Right?

Well let’s talk a little bit about some wolves in sheep’s clothing, junk food disguised as health food, and foods that were designed for one specific population or usage but are being used too generally by the public and regarded as “healthy”.

Clif Bars: Perhaps these bars have pictures of cliff-hanging rock climbers on them because you’ll need to participate in that level of adventurous activity to burn off all the sugar lurking in these! The “Crunchy Peanut Butter” flavor has 17g of added sugars (see label: first ingredient is brow rice syrup. A sneaky way to say added refined sugar.)! Although the rest of the ingredients are not too bad these bars are not an ideal way to spend 250-300 calories. Instead try an RX Bar. They contain no added sugar and any sugar in the bar comes from natural sources like dried fruit.

Slim Fast: “Meal replacement” shakes took the dieting world by storm during the 1990s and 2000s. They’re quick, easy and promise convenient, steady weight loss. However, we now know that they are more likely to leave you hungry continuously because chewing is an important process for feeling satisfied from the food you eat, AND check out this number from Slim Fast’s flagship Chocolate Milk Shake: 18g added sugar in the only 190 calorie shake! That’s nearly half the calories from processed sugar. Not only will you still be hungry, but you are in for a sugar crash!

Sabra Hummus: Read your hummus label carefully! Chickpeas, Lemon juice, EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil), Tahini. That is all it should contain aside from added spices for flavor. Sabra and many other varieties of hummus in the grocery aisles are made with vegetable oil which is significantly less healthy than EVOO, and contain preservatives like potassium sorbate. Additionally while many people think of hummus as a high-protein snack it only packs 2 g per 70 calorie serving, which is ok! Not everything you eat needs to be high protein, but it is important to know what you’re in for.

Whole Wheat: Many people think of “whole wheat flour” or “whole wheat bread” as a health-food, but standards for what passes as “whole grain” are quite low. Most of these products are just about as “healthy” as white bread or white flour. Most “whole wheat” is just as processed and refined, has a nearly identical glycemic index, low fiber content, and likely has sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and/or hydrogenated oils. *Hydrogenated or Partially-hydrogenated oils (mono and diglycerides) are essentially Trans Fats that don’t have to be labelled. AVOID THEM. Nature’s Own is one popular bread brand out there with many ugly ingredients lurking within the label. Instead search for a “sprouted” whole grain bread like Food for Life’s Ezekiel 4:9 or Angelic Bakehouse bread (both found many places now including Costco!).

Peanut Butter: Peanuts. Mashed. That is what makes peanut butter. Maybe salt if you like. Unfortunately though, most peanut butters have added sugar and palm oil or some other oil added. Instead of always choosing foods based on the pretty front label drawn up by their marketing team, start choosing based on the backside of the label mandated by the FDA. It is also important to note that peanut butter is predominantly fat which makes it a satisfying snack that gives you energy, but it doesn’t really fall under the category of a “high protein” food.

Sports Drinks: One 32 oz classic Gatorade contains about 52g of sugar! Keep in mind that Gatorade was designed for elite athletes competing at a very high level for sometimes several hours in the heat (originally from Florida). This drink is not designed to quench the average thirst of the average person. Many forms of Gatorade have unsavory additives and artificial flavors or colors, and even G2 which boasts about half the sugar achieves this by adding an artificial sweetener. We’ve suggested avoiding artificial sweeteners in the past, but if you’re going to choose a product that contains them, at least make sure it doesn’t ALSO contain 20g of sugar for goodness sake!

Try this electrolyte recipe instead:
http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2017/06/16/water-outperforms-sport-drinks.aspx

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.

All About Herbs!

Last week we talked about a lot of unusual produce you might find at the Farmers’ Market or grocery store (read here if you missed it!), but herbs are another great item to source from your local market or store. When it comes time to discuss vitamin and mineral content of foods or antioxidant rich sources herbs are often forgotten, but they can be a great source of all three!

Some herbs are perennial, some biennial or annual, but for the most part they tend to offer their best harvest in the summer and early fall. Even with herbs that will survive a snowy winter, it’s important to harvest before the frosts start to settle in. You can extend the life of your herbs by freezing them on the stem or chopping and placing in a bag – or even freezing in ice cube trays with water! Usually it is suggested to make use of them within 2 months, but to extend their freezer life a little try freezing them in olive oil! This ensures preservation of their flavor up to 3 or 4 months and makes them very convenient to use in soups or while sauteing vegetables.

MINT

Mints are incredibly hardy perennial herbs which make them very easy to grow. They spread so willingly, in fact, that many people choose to plant them in a large pot, and then plant that pot in the ground so they don’t take over an area!

Mints have one of the highest antioxidant capacity of any food! Try adding fresh mint to salsas and salads or toss it in your water for a refreshing flavor! You can also steep the leaves for 5 – 6 minutes in hot water for fresh mint tea.

Click here for a fresh Summer Roll recipe containing fresh mint!

OREGANO

Oregano is another perennial that is easy to grow (and split to share with a friend!). It’s known not only for its common use in Italian foods and on pizza, but also for its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties! Oil of Oregano is a fantastic natural immune booster when antibiotics are not available or necessary.

Try this different take on classic pesto using oregano and spinach!

BASIL

An annual herb, basil is best harvested by pinching off a few leaves from a few different stems to encourage the plant to fill out vs getting tall and spindly. Traditional basil uses include pesto, marinades, bruschetta, and soups. Basil is another great addition to fresh spring rolls or tossed into a fresh greens salad. Try steeping 3 basil leaves in 1 cup of boiling water to create a tea to relieve an upset stomach or digestion!

Here’s another Summer Roll (*not fried spring roll) recipe to try – so fresh you can even cut out the dipping sauce if you’re concerned about the extra calories!

CILANTRO

This annual herb is often confused as a perennial because it reseeds so easily. Cilantro, in addition to being abundant with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, is also known to combat heavy metal toxicity in the body and aid in digestion. Unfortunately however, about 15% of the population has a gene that causes them to detect aldehyde chemicals which are found in both cilantro and soap. If you find that you fall into this group and you dislike cilantro, swap out parsley in any of your favorite recipes that include cilantro. Those in Wisconsin will even find, with the heavy frosts, cilantro can sprout up on it’s own from the prior season. When growing, the green leaves can be harvested as cilantro. Let it flower and go to seed and you have grown spicy coriander seeds! Cilantro is used in many Mexican or Asian dishes such as guacamole, salsa, and cilantro lime rice.

DILL

Like Cilantro, dill reseeds easily, but is a biennial since a plant will only live two years. Toss seeds just about anywhere, and you’ll have fresh dill available readily for years to come. Dill tastes great in fresh in salads, greens, and as flavoring for roasted or grilled vegetables!

Click here for grilled carrots with lemon and dill!

There are many, many herbs out there worth mentioning, but some easy perennials that have a wide variety of uses are Rosemary, Thyme and Sage! Plant all kinds of herbs and try using something brand new to you – your tastebuds will thank you!