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As the year comes to an end, we begin to think about the last 12 months. We ask ourselves, ‘Did I accomplish the things I said I would in January? Am I happier? Am I stronger? Have I grown as an individual?’ Everyone wants to be better. We always want to find new ways to do more with less. People always ask me, what I’m working towards, and how I’m doing it.  Hopefully, this message will answer some of those questions. Regarding work life balance importance, I’ve put together a collection of my thoughts, the tools I use and ideas for how to implement them that I hope will be useful for you and help you find balance in multiple aspects of your life.

Giving Back

Fitness has always been a passion of mine and I was looking for ways to give back to the world. A great friend and mentor of mine (Antonio Coke) made a comment one day over lunch that stuck with me: “Life isn’t about what you take from it, but what you can give back.” Before I turned 30, I really had the mindset of taking what I could from the world. Some would refer this to “doing me.” I work for large corporation out of Chicago as my day job, and truly enjoy what I do. But I could never quite shake the feeling that something was missing.

I’m a firm believer that life works in mysterious ways, and all it takes are small moments to make a big difference. In April of 2018, I was asked to lead a class at FFC to see how I would like it. The week I turned 30, I led my first class, and got a taste of fulfillment. The feeling of giving back to the world. I later proceeded to sign up for my ACE certification in Group Fitness and had 6 months to take the exam. Fast forward to the end of September, I took the exam and passed. I was legit. Where am I going with this?

Work Life Balance Importance

Finding balance is still one of the most difficult parts of my life, even today. From working out in the morning, working a 9 to 5, and teaching at night, I needed a plan. Friends and family ask me all the time, “How do you have time for everything?”

Through trial and error, I learned that the only way I was going to be able to handle everything was with a balanced workout and diet schedule. As we get ready for the new year, I’d like to give back by providing ideas and thoughts that I have implemented in my life to bring fulfillment.

So many times, we hear about people “wanting” to do something that makes them happy but that they’re “too busy.” For me, I have found that having a morning routine, nightly routine, structured diet, and focused workout schedule helps me function at maximum capacity. Integrating all 4 of these factors has helped me find balance within my daily life while giving back to others.

Please note – the purpose of this message is to answer the questions of those who have asked about what I do and how I do it. My process and ideas below are specific to my schedule, goals, and body type.

Factor #1: Nightly Routine

Before going over my morning routine, I thought it would be better to go over how I end my days in my nightly routine. I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t sleep the way I need to, my next day is derailed. I wake up every day at 4:00 am, and work best after seven true hours of sleep. I use the word “true”  because that is actual sleep.

I am an advocate for social media, but I push myself to not become dependent on it. Two factors that help me with that can be accessed as settings within the iPhone, and are now available with the iOS 12 update (check out this quick guide for how to set them up).

  • Downtime – I have my apps shut down from 8:00 PM – 4:30 AM
  • App Limits – I limit the amount of time I spend on Instagram (30 minutes), Facebook (15 minutes), and LinkedIn (15 minutes)

These settings help me by allowing my brain to wind down an hour before sleep. For the longest time, I found myself flicking my thumb along that screen until I was ready for bed. I’ve come to learn was that blue light and media were stimulating my brain, which delayed the time it took my brain to get to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

REM sleep is important for many reasons, but what I was wanting especially was the muscle recovery piece. Having my apps shut down at 8:00 PM also pushed me to read books and/or journal. This helped me with allowing my mind to get away from the day and/or let anything out onto paper. Now, if I’m reading, I’m typically out within 15 minutes around 8:45 PM.

Factor #2: Morning Routine

My morning routine is important to me because I am able to start the day by focusing on myself. My day job requires me to contact customers and partners all day with minimal downtime. While teaching class in the evenings, I am giving myself physically and mentally to each participant to ensure they’re getting a workout they wouldn’t get on their own. A 4:00 AM wakeup is out of the ordinary for most, but works well for me as I like to start my day with journaling and a workout. I use the app Sleep Cycle, which gradually wakes you up versus dramatically with the default Apple settings.

I get to the gym at 5:00 AM. I always start my day with a cardio session, which varies between kickboxing and running. Each workout is followed by a long shower then back home for my first meal. Once done, it’s usually around 7:00 AM, and I am ready to head to the beautiful world of Corporate America. From the time I wake up to the time I get to work, I have already been awake for 3 hours and my body/mind is clear for the day.

Factor #3: Nutrition & Sample Diet Breakdown

Nutrition has been a key factor of success in sustaining morning workouts, evening workouts AND my day job. While working with FFC’s dietitian, Alicia Huggler, I learned I wasn’t eating enough to keep up with my workouts plus my resting metabolic rate. Now, I change my diet throughout the month as I change my workouts. Below is a breakout of what I eat on a monthly basis.

          

The first week of the month includes higher carb intake as I lift heavier. As the month goes on, I replace my carbohydrates with fats (which is highlighted in blue above). This resets each month as I reintroduce carbohydrates into my system. In working with Alicia, I learned many different things, such as to eat the skin of my sweet potatoes because they are a great source of fiber and nutrients.

Factor #4: Fitness & Sample Workout Breakdown

When it comes to my workout schedule, I do my best to mix things up with cardio, strength training, HIIT and circuit training. Below is an overview of the schedule along with descriptions of each focus and why I do them:

  • Cardio – I jump between kickboxing and running workouts, and do them in the morning, as they’re a great way for me to wake up and start my day with something I enjoy.
  • Strength training – I lift weights twice a week (with a focus on “pushing and pulling”) to ensure I’m retaining muscle mass while doing cardio on a daily basis. “Pushing” might include squats, shoulder press, lunges, chest press, etc. “Pulling” might include deadlifts, upright rows, rows, etc.
    • Week 1 (heavy strength training): 5-10 reps / set x 5
    • Week 2 (intermediate strength training) 10-15 reps / set x 5
    • Week 3 (light strength training) 15-20 reps / set x 5
    • Week 4 (recovery) 10-15 reps / set x 5
  • HIIT – I do evening HIIT workouts following strength training days, which allows me to increase my heart rate quickly while using weights, ropes or kettlebells.
  • Circuit training – I follow an hour-long run with circuit training a part of my Saturday morning routine because I’m following a rest day and need to wake up my entire body. I’m not looking to break records, more so integrate push, pull, and core exercises into one workout.

 

Weekly Workout Breakdown

I break up my schedule on weekly basis: weeks 1 – 3, heavy, intermediate, light; week 4, recovery. Some months have 5 weeks vs the typical 4; I extend week 3 (light strength training) into week 4 and perform the “light” schedule for 2 weeks.

In the screenshot above, you’ll notice a “recovery” week, where I continue movement, but at a lower intensity. I do a single workout instead of two-a-days; in the morning I use the extra time to do light stretching and foam rolling to wake up.

When it comes to technique and proper form, I work with expert FFC trainer, Jeremy Gorden. His experience in personal training has helped me with building lean muscle mass, while staying an agile runner. I always recommend hiring someone to push you plus they’ll see things you won’t.

Summing It Up

As for final thoughts, I hope this message is received not as a manual of how to live your life but, as an example to pull from. Remember, this is what works for me and what I enjoy doing. If you could take one thing from this, and it impacts you in a positive way, this is a success. As you prep for 2019, take a second to think about something you’ve always wanted to do, and just go for it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re 30, 40, or 50, we all have the choice on how to live our lives. What you give back to the world is what you’ll be remembered by when you’re gone.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” -William Shakespeare

Omar

Post written by FFC group fitness instructor Omar Romero.

About Omar

Omar is a fitness enthusiast based out of the Chicagoland area. As an FFC group fitness instructor, his focus is around functional fitness mixed with high intensity interval training. His personal philosophy is based on hard work and no excuses. You can see his other published pieces by clicking here!

As the year winds down (2018, where the heck did you go?), it’s only natural that we start to think about new beginnings too. And sure, you could wait until January 1 to think about your big goals — but starting a little earlier gives you all the time you need to visualize what you want to create for yourself and nail down the strategies you’ll take to get there. Ready to formalize your big, scary aspirations for 2019? Here’s a handy DIY guide to smart goal setting!

This guest post is adapted from one that was originally featured on aSweatLife.com.

Smart goal setting 101: open your notebook.

Yes, we’re going old school pen-and-paper for this smart goal setting session. We’re big fans of the tactile and visual elements of this exercise. The way you set up your paper gives you freedom within a clear structure to write out your thoughts in a concise way.

A DIY guide to smart goal setting with aSweatLife

Photo courtesy of aSweatLife

Do this:

  • Draw a line down the middle of the paper and write “vision” on the left and “goals” on the right.
  • Underneath the goals side of the page, divide it into three sections – they’ll be for your one-year, five-year and ten-year goals.
  • Finally, under each yearly increment, write down “career,” “personal,” and “health.” You’ll eventually come up with a goal categorized underneath each of these umbrellas.

Start with a vision.

Close your eyes and imagine your ideal day ten years from now. Like, the absolute best day ever, where everything goes perfectly and you’re able to do all your favorite activities — regardless of schedules, transportation, and hours in a day.

There is no right or wrong way to create a ten-year vision. It might be a stream of consciousness, words that provoke feeling, song lyrics that describe how you feel or a full walk-through of your day from start to finish. The more specific, the better. Go through your ideal day, and do it more than once to pick up on more nuances each time that you can use for better specificity.

Do this:

  • Close your eyes, picture your perfect day in 10 years and get creative as you write it down.
  • This process will set you up for the “goals” side of your paper in the right column. After envisioning a perfect day ten years from now, ask yourself, “How do I get there?”.

Formalize a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal.

The BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is a goal so big that you aren’t sure if you can even attain it.

During this time, let go of any constraining thought processes. For example, don’t limit yourself to thinking that your goal has to be work-related or that it has to be 100 percent attainable. This goal doesn’t have to work right off the bat — in fact, not having it work is a part of the process, as is going back to the drawing board and re-evaluating your thinking after the next few steps.

Do this:

  • Write down your BHAGs underneath the ten-year goal section. You might have one or two (but no more than two) goals for each category – career, personal and health. It might scare you to write them down, but do it anyway.
  • Give it an exact date. The idea is to go big and take yourself seriously about it at the same time.
  • Write in the present tense, i.e. “In ten years, I am living in Colorado as a ski instructor for Aspen Snowmass.”

Work backwards from your BHAG.

By slowly taking steps back, you’ll have career, personal and health goals for a specific date in 2019 looking you in the face. These set you up with actionable goals to work towards versus ambiguous New Year’s resolutions like “I’m going to eat healthier foods this year.” This specific way of goal setting brings purpose and sense to those well thought-out sentences.

Do this:

  • Take a step back now and ask, “What’s a mid-level step to get to that goal?”
  • Still think as specifically as possible to create your five-year goals with another end date on them in 2024.
  • Finally, ask “What needs to happen in the next 365 days to make that five-year goal happen?”

Related: breaking your big goals down into smaller goals should help to prevent burnout, but what if it happens? Here are some easy tips for getting back to your baseline and recovering from burnout. 

The best (and worst) part?

These goals are meant to be displayed where others can see them – and can hold you accountable.

Here’s the cool part – the part that’s hard for a lot of us to wrap our heads around. If your goals change, that’s fine. Decide to shift your focus? Cool. Your vision changes drastically? No problem. Update your goal plan accordingly and re-post. Just because you write it down doesn’t mean you’ve signed your life away. You’ve just given yourself some daily direction to cut through the clutter and go after what you want.

Do this:

  • Put your vision and goals up somewhere and be proud to look at them daily.
  • Let others see your goals too! They’ll be able to encourage you, ask for updates, and hold you accountable.
  • If your vision or your goals change, update your goals on the display, and re-evaluate your next steps.

Now what?

The question isn’t whether or not you can do it — you’ve just practiced smart goal setting and created a space where you can do it. Your big, hairy, audacious goal shouldn’t feel quite so scary anymore. Share your goals with your friends and family so they hold you accountable in the coming year, and talk excitedly about your goals (and the mini-goals you have to tackle first) to anyone who asks you about New Year’s resolutions. You’re on your way to doing something amazing, something exciting, something that 99 percent of people won’t be brave enough to go after — shout that from the rooftops and go crush that goal.

Post written by FFC contributor, aSweatLife.

Want to learn more about aSweatLife? Head to aSweatLife.com for tips, tricks & more health/wellness content!

Bullying starts earlier than you think – but you can arm your loved ones with the tools to combat it. When we think of bullying, we generally envision the jocks in high school throwing the little guy in a locker or the mean girls on the bus making fun of someone’s hair texture. The fact is, it starts a lot earlier than that. Studies show that although bullying activity peaks in middle school, it can begin as early as preschool. What start out as simple disagreements over crayons or who gets to throw the ball quickly turn into teasing. Once a child has shown that teasing gets under their skin, it manifests into bullying. Bullying becomes a habit. Below I’ve outlined some tools one can use to help stop bullying.

Confidence as a Tool to Help Stop Bullying

The key to help stop bullying – especially in those early years of preschool and elementary school when children are forming their own personality – is to teach them to love themselves and know they have value.

At the same time, we don’t want to develop a little monster who thinks they’re better than everyone else. That’s a problem of another sort. The goal is to develop children who build a sense of self-importance and self-confidence in themselves.

They also need to learn whose opinion is important. Johnny – who picks his nose and eats glue – might not like them, but his opinion doesn’t mean as much as that of mom or dad. Developing confidence at a young age is not a quick fix either. It’s a process. It takes time, attention and cultivation. Like raising a child.

And in the age of cell phones, today’s children have it worse than children just a generation before them. Cyberbullies – the bully who doesn’t even have to be standing in front of you to upset you – is the worst. And they don’t just tease children. Most adults have dealt with this on some level. If allowed to fester, bullying could lead to poor grades in school, depression, sleep disorders, drug use, incarceration or even suicide. It cannot be allowed to fester.

Martial Arts as a Tool to Build Confidence

I have a potential solution for you. I say potential because there is no catch-all, quick-fix answer to eliminating all of the jerks in the world. My potential solution is training martial arts. And no, I’m not advocating kids just wallop the guy who stole their pencil. Martial arts, in addition to teaching self-defense, teach self-confidence in the individual from the word go.

In my classes, I tell my students they are individuals and they are part of a class, but I do not promote that they are on a team. I don’t think there is anything wrong with team sports, but I believe in today’s world – where often everyone gets a trophy and having 3 or 4 good players wins you a title – children can get lost in the mix.

In martial arts, you succeed or fail by what you put into it. Sure, Mom or Dad or the babysitter get participants to class, but once they step on the mat it’s all up to the student. And sure, that can be intimidating, but the right instructor – one who is a real educator and builder of people – can inspire that child and arm them with the tools to deal a not-so-friendly world.

Related: learning how to take a step back can help too – here are some simple tricks for practicing mindfulness.

I have more to tell you so stay tuned. Better yet, come train with me at FFC Park Ridge – my classes are for all ages; 4 years through adults. Both classes and private lessons are available.

Post written by FFC Park Ridge Martial Arts Instructor James Hirth.

About James

James started teaching students, ages 4 and up, in Tae Kwon Do and self-defense at FFC Park Ridge in October. For more information or any questions, email him at jhirth@ffc.com.

I love data. Being in marketing, I love being able to make smart decisions based on numbers and know that the route I’m taking my work has a good likelihood of succeeding. I also am a big fan of nerdy stuff when it comes to fitness and wellness – so naturally I use BOTH my Apple watch and Myzone belt when I work out, use MyFitnessPal to track meals (though, with varying levels of consistency), and mostly stay up-to-date on new trends. So when I learned about the V02 Max test and its ability to measure aerobic ability and also calorie burn related to heart rate, etc., I was pretty excited. I created a list of V02 Max test FAQs based on what was going through my brain during my own test – check them out!

What is a V02 Max test?

According to Korr Medical Technologies, which is an industry-leading company that creates equipment for these tests, VO2 Max is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption that can be attained during the most intense exercise possible. Basically it’s how efficiently your body uses oxygen during exercise.

Who is the VO2 Max test for?

While the VO2 Max test is especially ideal for endurance athletes, marathoners or anyone training for a fitness event, the VO2 Max test is also ideal for anyone who wants to improve their fitness on any level.

Why should I get a V02 Max test?

Not seeing results despite all the work you’re putting in at the gym? This piece of the puzzle can help – for example, I learned that in order to burn fat while exercising, I have to keep my heart rate in a very specific zone and actually was over-exercising for my goals! Do less? … If you say so, data.

 

Related: another similarly surprising truth regarding fitness things you thought you knew a lot about – like your Fitbit. Check out this trainer’s hilarious breakup letter to her Fitbit.

How long does the test take and where can I get a V02 Max test done?

The whole process, from changing into workout clothes, the explanation of the process, short workout, data capture and analysis took about 45 minutes, give or take. Depending on how long you take to get ready, this could easily be done over a lunch hour (however, due to the fasting/ caffeine restrictions listed below, I recommend trying to get it done as early in the morning as possible so you can so you don’t turn into a hangry zombie).

You can get them done many places – Fitness Formula Clubs has a number of metabolic carts (which have the special machine) plus a traveling one that makes its way around to the clubs! The test is $149, and there are other kinds of add-ons and tests (like resting metabolic rate, blood lactate, etc.) you can opt into for additional cost.

Are there special dietary restrictions/fasting for the V02 Max test?

Yes – if you’re getting the basic V02 Max test done, you’ll need to plan to fast for 4 hours before, abstain from caffeine for 6 hours before and rest from any exercise or activity for 24-12 hours before. You can drink room-temperature water up until the test but nothing super cold! And there are different requirements for the other add-ons, so make sure to check with a team member well before your test.

Do I need to shower after the test?

I did, because I got up to a pretty high level of activity… I am essentially a human waterfall. Put frankly, I sweat profusely. So you may want to bring a change of clothes and plan to shower after your test.

What do you wear for the V02 Max test?

Comfortable athletic clothes should do the trick – something you’re not afraid to possibly sweat in, and shoes you can easily run on a treadmill or cycle on a stationary bike in.

Tell me about the weird, Bane-like mask.

The mask is where all the VO2 magic happens and is how the machine is able to measure your oxygen intake and usage. These are just a few questions I had about the mask.

Can I do the test without the mask on?

Nope – the mask is how you obtain the data. It’s actually super cool – it isolates both the oxygen you take in and your carbon dioxide output and then uses a machine to measure the oxygen content.

Does the mask make you feel claustrophobic?

Being honest here, as someone who doesn’t like anything on my face at all, just a little bit. But only when you first put it on – I couldn’t even notice it (aside from being able to see it occasionally when I looked down my cheeks) after the initial set up. And the staff (FFC endurance Coach Chris Navin, in my case) does an amazing job of explaining everything to you and walking you through putting it on.

Can you breathe normally?

Yep! I thought it was going to feel restricted from the looks of it, but you can breathe totally normally when you put it on and when you’re doing the treadmill or cycling portion.

What does the mask smell like?

Basically like a big ‘ole snorkeling mask. It’s fun – I started daydreaming about my next beach vacation.

Does it pinch?

Nope! It took a second to adjust the straps for my face but once we had that done, it was fine!

Do they clean it first?

For all my fellow slightly germaphobic homies out there – they definitely clean it first. Coach Chris has special disinfecting wipes and wipes down the mask/straps/etc. before you put it on.

Running on the treadmill for the VO2 Max test

So you have to run on a treadmill or cycle for how long?

In order to get your oxygen consumption measurements, you have to exercise with the mask on for a certain amount of time, at a graduated scale of intensity, while wearing a heart rate monitor, like a Myzone belt.

Do I have to run on a treadmill?

No! It’s definitely recommended, but for people with injuries or issues related to running/walking, you can also do the test on a stationary bicycle. If you don’t want to run, just let the staff member know – the point is to get you up to your max exercising ability, which may mean different things for different people.

How long do I have to exercise for?

You will be working for about 10-15 minutes, which is about the time it takes to cycle through the warm-up and increasing speeds, up to your max level of ability (by the end of my test, I was running at about 8-9 miles an hour, give or take, for a minute or two.) Like I said, this is different for everyone!

Do I have to wear a heart rate monitor? What if I don’t have one?

Yes, in order to get the right data, you’ll need to wear a heart rate monitor, like a Myzone belt. Don’t have one? Don’t worry! The team will have a belt for you and will help you put it on.

What kind of data do I get from the test?

After your test is completed, you’ll get a handy dandy readout of your data, plus some cool charts, graphs and summaries of what it all means. I got an outline for a workout plan – basically I have to keep my heart rate under 150 to ensure I burn fat during my workouts. I also got more information about how I could apply this to running races, marathons and other endurance events, if I chose to pursue one in the future.

Overall Takeaways From the VO2 Max Test

It doesn’t take a whole lot to impress me…. but holy data! This was a really cool test – and definitely changed what I thought I knew about my workout habits. You’d think running faster would be better for your fitness, right? Not necessarily – especially related to your goals. I found out through this test that I actually have to pull back on my exercise a little bit – and that I can definitely lift weights and do other types of exercise that will keep my heart rate in that specific zone and that I will still see results from it. I haven’t done a resting metabolic rate test (RMR – the one that tells you how many calories you burn at rest) yet, but I will! That, coupled with these results of the VO2 Max test, will help me work smarter, not harder. And I’m all about that!

Have more questions about the V02 Max or RMR test, or want to schedule one for yourself? Email metabolictesting@ffc.com!

Post written by FFC marketing manager, Megan Zink.

 

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About 8 years ago I made a change to how I approached my training. Well, to be precise, I actually started training and stopped “working out”. It all started with a fitness plan.

It’s made a huge difference in how I get results, my overall health and resilience, and my understanding of how my body reacts to stressors. My results in the gym skyrocketed and it all started with a process that occurs outside of the gym; I started following a program that a coach would write for me.

My mentor once described a good program as a “helicopter view” of the trainee’s current position and where they want to be. A good fitness plan allows us to see the whole picture and how we will get from point A to point B.

“Making it up as you go” or not having a plan at all provides us with what he calls a “car view”; it doesn’t allow us to see the whole picture and leaves a lot to the imagination. How often do you get in a car in unknown territory and leave the navigation up to your imagination? You don’t, right? Because that’s a huge waste of time! Why would you do that in the gym?

“My mentor once described a good program as a “helicopter view” of the trainee’s current position and where they want to be. A good fitness plan allows us to see the whole picture and how we will get from point A to point B.”

If you are just starting out, working with a program can be intimidating. Even a simple program can look very complex on paper and seem hard to read – which is why I’m going to break down FFC’s brand new Workout of the Month program and make sure you feel confident from the start. The first step? Grab your worksheet below!

The Workout of the Month Fitness Plan Breakdown

Each Workout of the Month will come in a 4-week block.

  • Week 1 – exploratory week
  • Week 2 – intensity increase
  • Week 3 – higher weights, lower volume
  • Week 4 – the home stretch = higher weight, higher volume
Week 1 – Exploratory Week

This is a time to get comfortable with the exercises and figure out what weights you will use with the exercises that will result in the prescribed RPE (rating of perceived exertion). RPEs will range from 6-8 depending on what kind of work you are doing. Here is a chart to help you figure out your RPE:

Why work to an RPE instead of using percentages? The short answer is flexibility and health.

Not flexibility in the sense of being able to do the splits, per say, but flexibility in the sense of being able to adjust your working weights to how you feel that particular day. If you got a lot of sleep and ate well before your workout, you may feel like a million bucks and be able to match the RPE with a heavier weight than normal. Great!

Some days, you may be tired from a long work day or not sleeping well or whatever life is throwing at you and a lighter weight than normal gets you to the prescribed RPE. That’s cool too! We’re all about getting work done and keeping it safe, relative to our current readiness. Winning!

Week 2 – Intensity Increase

Now that you have your weights dialed in, you can get after it a little bit during week 2. You will usually see increased intensity during this week due to what you figured out during week 1’s exploration.

Week 3 – Higher Weights, Lower Volume

During week 3, you will see a lower volume in your strength work – but that doesn’t mean you’re doing less – you will be adding weight to make up for the decreased volume. This week is known as the “PR and go home week” — get to the gym, work a little bit harder than you have been, and go home feeling satisfied. Hooray!

Week 4 – Higher Weight, Higher Volume

Week 4 is a tough one. This is the pinnacle of your training block that will bring increased volume as well as increased weight. However, as long as you are within the prescribed RPE, you are safe and sound.

Here’s the thing… if you stick to the program, you will see that you are able to work with heavier weights but remain at the same RPE. That’s pretty cool, right?! You’re getting stronger!!

How to Read the Workout of the Month Worksheet

You’ll notice that the exercises in this program are sectioned off by letter (A, B, C, D). Those letters indicate that those exercises in that letter group are to be performed in succession. For instance, in the A section of the Monday workout you will perform 5 Overhead Med Ball Slams, 10 total (5 on each side) Deadbugs and 10 total (5 on each side) Banded Leg Drops.

You will then repeat that circuit 2 more times in that order. Then you will move on to section B and perform those exercises in succession for the prescribed sets and reps. Easy peasy!

If you are new to the gym and training in general, ease into it. Any program is to be viewed as more of a suggestion than a rule. For example, you could start with just 1 resistance day and 1 metabolic day for the first week. Or maybe a 2 resistance to 1 metabolic ratio is more your speed. Or, for you gym veterans, you could perform all 6 days.

Do whatever makes you feel good! The goal is to feel and move better while getting stronger and more resilient. We don’t need to beat ourselves up – we just need a plan and an honest assessment of our current capabilities.

Also – make sure that you are using the key provided to pick an exercise that is right for you. You should be able to perform the exercise you choose confidently and within the RPE for the prescribed set and rep range. If you need help choosing your exercises, please ask a trainer for help.

What Can You Expect?

Now that you have your weeks laid out and now how to work with the program, let’s talk about some intricacies. Writing a fitness plan for thousands of people is daunting. How do we fit it all appropriately for the individual’s skill sets and goals?

Well, it’s pretty simple if you let it be. This program will be designed for targeting general fitness. It will help you get stronger, lose some body fat, become more resilient, and improve your cardiovascular health. Yes, it really can do all of that!

Skill levels will be addressed with exercise and RPE selections. Do what’s appropriate for you! More and more difficult is not better, what is appropriate to you and what you feel confident doing is better. Working outside of your skill set isn’t going to get you to your goals faster, it’s just going to increase the risk of injury and most likely burn you out more quickly. We’re in this for the long game here. Consistency trumps intensity!

Taking It a Step Further

If you are curious to learn more about the exercises in this program or want to gain a better understanding of it, feel free to strike up a conversation with one of FFC’s trainers. We want you to succeed and get the most out of this offering! Professional guidance is never a bad idea when you are working toward a healthier you.

We hope that this helps get you started on your journey. Questions will come up and that’s ok, just contact a trainer at your club and they will be happy to help you at any point. We are very excited about this opportunity to expand our service to you and the quality and value it will add to your fitness journey!

Post written by FFC Oak Park Fitness Director Mike Connelly.

Check out the move of the month – the kettlebell swing!

Water makes up 60% to 65% of our total body weight. When we exercise, we lose water through sweat – this water needs to be replaced. Even a 2% loss of body weight through sweat (i.e. 3 lbs of loss for a 150 lb person) can put you at a disadvantage. If this fluid loss is not replaced properly, dehydration will occur. This is a serious condition that can diminish energy and impair performance, among other symptoms. However, it can be easily spotted and prevented. Here are a few ways to prevent dehydration and keep up with your water intake.

Signs of Dehydration 

Thirst is one indicator of dehydration, but it is not an early warning sign. By the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Other signs of dehydration include:

  • Feeling dizzy and lightheaded
  • Having a dry or sticky mouth
  • Producing less urine and darker urine

Related: have other nutrition questions? Talk to one of FFC’s on-site registered dietitians! Click here for a free 30-minute consultation.

How to Prevent It

Drink Fluids

Preventing dehydration starts long before the activity. The easiest way to avoid dehydration is to drink lots of fluids, especially on hot, dry, windy days.

How To: the night before, as well as before your workout, you should intake the following fluids:

  • 16 ounces of water before bed
  • 16 ounces of water in the morning
  • 4-8 ounces every 15 minutes

Related: speaking of the night before, here are some meal prep tips you can use in addition to these hydration hacks to make sure you’re staying on track!

Be sure to also replace your fluid loss post exercise: 24 ounces of fluid for every pound lost!

Water is usually the best choice, but you can also get fluids from water-based juices and smoothies!

Dress Appropriately

Always dress appropriately for your activity. Wear loose-fitting clothes and a hat if you can, this will keep you cooler and cut down sweating.

Fitness tip: if you can’t remember how much water you drank today, you haven’t had enough!

Pressed for time? Many of us struggle to fit exercise into our already busy days. Additionally, many of us think that a workout needs to be be at least 45 minutes to count. Throw that thought out the window and get your fitness in 30 minutes or less while competing against the clock! (Compound body moves, like these, also help to make your workout more efficient). Try this quick lower body workout to work your legs to the max – minimal equipment needed!

Equipment needed: Medium weight dumbbells, a mat and a body bar (for balance).

Set up your equipment and start your clock. See how many times you can get through your circuit, and challenge yourself to improve your total rounds performed on the next attempt. (And be sure that form is always your top priority)!

Warm Up

Warm up with one round of the following (30 seconds each):

  • Jogging in place
  • Alternating body weight lunges
  • Jumping jacks
  • Body weight squats

Lower Body Workout Challenge

Choose five of the following moves to rotate as many times as you can in 25 minutes.

Weighted Walking Lunges (10 reps per leg)

Walking lunge lower body workout

Walk through the lunge instead of stepping your feet back together. Make it more difficult with a dumbbell in each hand. (Perform a basic lunge if space is an issue).

Dumbbell Deadlifts (15 reps)

Dumbbell deadlift lower body workout

Start standing straight, then bend, keeping your shins vertical and your back straight, hinging just at the hips. Return to standing for one rep.

Jumping Lunges (30 seconds)

Jumping lunge lower body workout

Start in a lunge, then swing your arms to help propel yourself off the ground as you switch legs midair, landing on the opposite leg.

Ice Skaters (30 seconds)

Ice skater 1 lower body workout  Ice skater 2 lower body workout  Ice skater 3 lower body workout

Leap to your right and tap your left foot behind you, then leap to the left. For added difficulty during this lower body workout, tap your hand to the ground or keep your back leg elevated for a count before leaping to the other side.

Related: try this workout, then

Lateral Squats (10 reps per leg)

Lateral squats lower body workout

Perform a squat, step your left leg in so your feet are together, then step your right leg out to perform another squat. Repeat side to side. Make it more difficult by holding a weight in front of you.

 

Try the best gym in Chicago for free!

 

Single-leg Romanian Deadlifts with Knee Raise (15 reps)

Romanian deadlift 3  Romainian deadlift 2 lower body workout

Romanian deadlift 1 lower body workout  Romanian deadlift 4 lower body workout

Hinge at your hips, keeping your body in as straight a line as you can (grab a body bar if you need help balancing).

Jumping Squats (30 seconds)

Jumping squats lower body workout

Perform a squat, then leap straight into the air, landing softly back into a squat.

Lunge Hops (30 seconds)

Lunge hops lower body workout

Perform a lunge, then leap straight into the air without switching legs, landing softly back into your lunge. Switch legs after 15 seconds.

Cool Down

Cool down with one round of the following:

Standing Quad Stretches (30 seconds per leg)

Standing quad stretch lower body workout

Grab your body bar or the wall for balance, gently pull your knee into your backside until you feel a stretch in the front part of your leg.

Low Lunges (30 seconds per leg)

Low lunges lower body workout

You can use your dumbbells if you can’t reach the ground.

Downward Facing Dog (30 seconds)

Downward dog lower body workout

Try to keep your back and legs straight as you lean your chest down for this hamstring and shoulder stretch.

Post written by an FFC contributor.

 

I’m sure you’ve seen it all over the web: “unbalanced cortisol levels lead to weight gain.” This can be incredibly frustrating if you are in a deficit-related program trying to lose weight for a healthier lifestyle, or even if you have another goal (like an upcoming weight lifting competition). What is a deficit? A caloric deficit is burning more calories than your body requires. Knowing how to manage, maintain and avoid your triggers will go a long way in helping you achieve your goals through nutrition and hormone maintenance. And prevent a cortisol crash.

So How Does Cortisol Tie Into All Of This?

Simply put, cortisol is a hormone released in the body via the adrenal gland. The adrenal glands are small glands located on the top of each kidney. They produce hormones that we cannot live without – one being cortisol.

Cortisol helps you respond to stress and has many other important functions. Your body’s cortisol levels increase when adrenocorticotropic hormones are released from your pituitary gland. Without getting into a lot of science, essentially, when a person is put under excess amounts of stress (whether it be physical or mental), the body produces more cortisol, attempting to calm you down.

How does this relate to nutrition? Another key purpose of cortisol is to help the body metabolize and use sugar and fat for energy. Having an excess amount of cortisol in the bloodstream and body can lead to weight gain, immune system issues, blood sugar imbalance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, low testosterone in men and fertility problems.

Related: want to set up a free 30-minute nutrition consultation with one of FFC’s on-site registered dietitians? Click here!

How to Balance Your Cortisol Levels

It’s safe to say that we want to keep this hormone as level as possible and prevent a cortisol crash! If you believe that you have chronically elevated cortisol levels, there are a few tips and tricks you can implement to help overcome this unwanted hormone excess. Lowering your cortisol can be accomplished relatively quickly.

Here are 4 tips that you can implement today to prevent cortisol crashing quickly and easily:

Up your magnesium intake.

Whether you get this through food or an Epsom salt bath, upping your magnesium intake will go a long way to improve your cortisol levels.

Get more sleep.

The obvious one – getting enough sleep helps your body restore and ensure you’re ready for another day of hard work.

Related: food can help you regulate your mood! Avoid mood swings with these nutrition tips.

Limit your blue light exposure.

Try to avoid blue light 1-2 hours before bed. Blue light comes from cell phones and televisions. Being exposed to blue light inhibits your body from creating melatonin, a naturally produced sleep aid, and can lead to getting less sleep, which is important for balancing your cortisol levels.

Eat regularly.

Eating frequent meals will help to keep your blood sugar level even throughout the day. Make sure to grab a bite/healthy snack every 2 – 4 hours.

Post written by FFC Lincoln Park registered dietitian Sarah Sobotka.

About Sarah

Sarah is a registered dietitian at FFC Lincoln Park. She is a credentialed professional who is inspired by the science of nutrition, passionate about advancing her knowledge in the field, and committed to promoting the RDN credentials.

She believes in the power of food, fitness, and having a good lifestyle balance. She aspires to serve as a guide to her clients & make positive differences in their lives. She loves to work out and be active, whether playing sports, rollerblading in the sun, or riding her bike to enjoy new delicious restaurants around the neighborhood.

 

So you’ve made the decision to track your nutrition. Congratulations! Meal tracking can improve one’s diet, promote more mindful eating behaviors, provide lots of new information for your benefit as well as for your doctor or dietitian and ultimately, lose more weight! MyFitnessPal (a popular app available for both iPhone and Android) is an easy and effective way to track what you eat.

Getting Started

After downloading the app and signing up using your email or Facebook, you are encouraged to provide basic information such as your age, weight and activity level.

This will help you establish a goal (such as losing, maintaining, or gaining weight) as well as the rate at which the weight change will occur. These factors will determine the app’s recommendation for your daily caloric intake.

 

Related: want some other apps or resources for tracking nutrition? Check out this post!

Track Your Diet

Now you can start tracking! Using the diary page, you can input new information by pressing the blue + button on the bottom of the screen or the “add food” button under specific meals. The + button allows for you to input food as well as other information like status with progress photos, water, exercise, and weight.

One of the most useful aspects of MyFitnessPal is their enormous database containing most food items that can be bought from stores. Your phone’s camera can also scan the barcode of almost any packaged food item and the database will usually have it stored! However, be careful to specify the number of servings you eat, as many packaged food items contain multiple servings.

As you track your meal through the day, the equation on your diary page will update to keep you informed on your progress. The more exercise you get in a given day, the more you will have to eat to compensate for those burned calories. Exercise can be factored into the equation automatically using your phone’s ability to count steps or compatible devices such as Apple Watch or Fitbit.

To see your breakdown of caloric intake per meal, nutrients and macros (carbs, fat, protein) click “Nutrition” while in the diary tab. Track your weight over time to further motivate yourself! You can also input other information like BMI and body fat %.

Related: want to supplement your meal tracking with a plan? Click here to register for a free 30-minute nutrition consultation with an FFC on-site registered dietitian!

5 Tips for Maximum Results

Use the “recent” food tab.

When inputting food in your MyFitnessPal diary, use the “recent” tab for foods you eat regularly. You can also group ingredients as a custom meal to use in the future. Over time, time spent tracking your meals should decrease significantly!

Say no to diets, just eat mindfully.

Studies show that people who subscribe to “fad diets” often do not succeed with their weight loss goals. At the end of the day, companies care most about making money by selling you products. Doing your research, tracking your diet, and eating more mindfully can be done without paying anyone (and is much cheaper, especially given that MyFitnessPal is free!)

Remember that everyone’s macros will be different.

Keep in mind that everyone is different –  different people will function best with different ratios of carbs and protein. Carefully monitor the way you feel and function after different meals – these experiences and results are uniquely yours!

Use the barcode scanner.

The barcode scanner is your friend! When I began to track my meals I was excited about the bar code scanner and the potential to track exactly what I ate. So for one day, I only ate food that came in packages I could scan. I cooked once that day but was sure to scan every ingredient using exact measurements. These rules dictated that I could not mindlessly eat a handful of chips or chug orange juice from the carton because everything had to be measured out precisely. I immediately learned about how to eat more mindfully.

Share the data!

The nutrition data you collect over time should be immensely helpful for your doctor, registered dietitian (did you know we have a full staff of RDs at FFC?), or other healthcare professional. Nutrition is one of the biggest indicators of overall health and it is currently very rare that patients have complete logs of their diets. If you are experiencing health problems potentially related to nutrition and your current health care professional is not knowledgeable about nutrition and primary prevention, find another who is.

The more you track, the more motivated you will be!

Post written by FFC contributor Andy Devries.

 

Winter weather gets a bad rap for also wreaking havoc on your health. Common questions we hear all the time include those such as “what’s the best way to boost your immune system before cold season?”, “what should you take to help prevent getting that icky bug that’s been hitting everyone?”, “what’s the best germ fighter around?” and “how do you fight colds faster?”

The answer is easy, simple, and my personal favorite: a healthy diet!

A healthy diet chock-full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, lean protein, healthy fats, and fiber is your best dietary weapon against the common cold. How to fight colds faster? Never get one in the first place!

How to Fight Colds Faster

Giving your immune system everything it needs to operate at full capacity on a daily basis is far more effective at preventing illness than nursing reactionary fizzy vitamin C drinks or popping zinc lozenges during cold and flu season.

Far more goes into making a healthy, fully-functional immune system than just vitamin C and zinc (which are two of the most commonly supplemented over-the-counter cold home remedies for immediate or after-the-fact treatment.)

Related: don’t forget to hydrate! Here are some tips on how to stay hydrated.

We need a whole host of vitamins and minerals just to have functional enzymes in our immune system, let alone all the other dietary components that go into making all facets of the immune system. So, the first and most important thing is to maintain a healthy and very well-balanced diet.

Vitamin C & Zinc Can Still Help

That being said, vitamin C and zinc supplementation may yet have their merits. While no definitive research exists to support the use of these supplements to reduce the incidence of the common cold in otherwise healthy individuals (in fact, it’s supposedly just the opposite: a quick perusal of current literature reveals that study after study has found neither vitamin C nor zinc to significantly reduce the number of times a person gets a cold), researchers are now looking into the efficacy of these products once you have already contracted a cold.

The data is mixed, but some studies have found an association between zinc and/or vitamin C supplementation and a reduction in the either the severity of symptoms or the duration of illness. More conclusive research is certainly needed, especially to clarify timing and dosage, which are both still very unclear.

Even though the jury is still out on some facets of cold remedies, one thing is for sure: a healthy diet sure is a tastier and simpler method for staying healthy all year long. Check out some of these delicious recipes for a fast nutrient fix when you’re feeling especially run down and need to fight colds faster or just when you’re in need of a health-kick.

Related: click here to sign up for a free 30-minute nutrition consultation at FFC!

30-Minute Recipe: 3 Quick Cold-Busting Picks

Open-Faced Veggie-ful Breakfast Bagel

½ whole grain bagel topped with 2 tbsp cream cheese, sliced tomatoes, sliced bell peppers, sliced cucumbers, and spinach with several slices of chicken or turkey.

Healthful Lunch Bowl

Top ½ cup black beans + ½ cup corn kernels with 1 serving fajita seasoned chicken, chopped tomatoes and sautéed bell pepper + onions (sliced and sautéed in 1 tsp olive oil). Additional toppings can include 1-2 tbsp light sour cream, a sprinkle of shredded cheese, and/or ¼ cup pico de gallo.

Bonus: this meal is easily made ahead of time in batch for a whole week’s worth of lunches that will keep you health and help you fight colds faster!

Lean Mean Mediterranean Dinner Salad

Toss 2-3 cups spinach with ½ cup chickpeas, 4 oz shredded chicken, and as much sliced cucumber, diced tomatoes, and diced red bell pepper as you like then top with 1 oz crumbled feta cheese; make a dressing from ¼ cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt, 1 tbsp olive oil, as much lemon juice and spices (try dill and a little garlic!) as you like.

Post written by FFC contributor Carla Schmitz.