Archive for January, 2012

Make that change.

“Take a look at yourself and then make a change.”–Michael Jackson

Yes, I have begun my note with a fabulously cheesy quote from a fabulously cheesy Michael Jackson ballad.  No, I am not ashamed.  It’s a great song, not only because Michael is my friend, but because it has a wonderful message.  I’m not talking about the “Make the world a better place” message (although that is a wonderful one); I’m talking about the “Starting with yourself” message.

To create change and to be responsible for change, you must start with…?  You guessed it!  The man (or woman) in the mirror.

It’s been a month since the annual resolution making, and now is the time when people start getting discouraged because they are not seeing the drastic changes they had in mind when making those resolutions.

But resolutions to change are simply that — resolutions to change.  Resolutions are just words; change takes action.   And to make changes in health and fitness, you must take several decisive actions.  OK, you have made your 2012 resolution, so consider it a challenge, a positive first step — Phase I.  Voicing your resolution to others can also be part of that first step.  It often shows a greater commitment to really get it done.  But remember, it is ultimately your responsibility to get it done.  Now, in order to really set things in motion, take that positive first action.  Depending on the health-and-fitness goal you have set for yourself, this first action can be attending a group exercise class, or setting up a session (and attending it) with a personal trainer or dietitian or nutritionist.  Or your first action can be to design a simple workout routine for yourself (10 Jumping Jacks; 10 Sit Ups; 10 Push Ups; 10 Squats), and carve out a sliver of time to do it.  Once again, YOU have to want to do it.  And when you’re ready to take a positive action, you will know it.

There is no sense in joining a gym, or buying 8 sessions with a trainer unless you are ready to follow through with your challenge.  When you are ready, go to your mirror and say “I’m starting with the man in the mirror, oh yeah” and make that change!  (You could actually play the entire song and get yourself really pumped up for change, but that might only work with obsessive MJ fans…)

Once you have taken this positive action towards change, you will need to put your patient pants on.  It has been less than 30 days since the New Year, and change, especially positive, long-lasting change, takes time.  So I offer you the following advice to keep you going through your second phase of change:

1. Stop obsessing.  Obsessing over your weight day in and day out can lead to more problems and can take a toll on your mental health and your personal life.  Obsessing doesn’t change your body, exercise and a balanced diet do.

2.  Throw away your scale (or cut down on scale usage).  I know many people (women especially) who weigh themselves when they wake up and then before they go to bed.  Your weight fluctuates throughout the day, and night, so you are not benefiting anyone with the two-a-day weigh in.  If you are exercising and have begun to incorporate resistance training into your program, it is possible that you are replacing fat with muscle.  A pound of fat weighs just as much as a pound of muscle (remember that old riddle “what weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of bricks?”…a pound is a pound is a pound), but, of course, we’re aiming to replace some of the fat pounds with muscle pounds.  If you have a scale that breaks down body composition (fat mass, muscle mass, water weight, etc) you can hold onto that, but read the instructions!

3.  Get off your arse!  I know we should be in the second phase here, but sometimes there is a tendency to lie to oneself about the amount of activity being done on the quest for a fitter body.  Hoping and praying that you’re going to lose weight has not been proven effective by scientific studies so stop using it as a method for a healthier you.  Rather than saying “I’m going to go to the gym tomorrow” or “I’m going to go food shopping tomorrow” do something now.  Get up and do 10 jumping jacks, or go for a walk, or eat a piece of fruit…NOW! Take it from a procrastinator, procrastinating now only leads to procrastination later.

Finally, let me leave you with some more words of infinite wisdom from Michael Jackson to keep you going through your change phase:

 Yes, I believe in me

So you believe in you

Help me sing it, ma ma se,

ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa

ma ma se, ma ma sa

ma ma coo sa


Channeling MJ at Fitness Dixie 2009


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Abs…easily one of the most obsessed about body parts.  But what exactly are abs?  The name seems to be thrown around without even a general understanding of what they consist.  Believe it or not abs, or more exactly, abdominal muscles, consist of more than just that six pack (or rather 8 pack) that you see on the likes of NFL star Adrian Peterson, entertainer Mario Lopez, and U.S Women’s soccer star Hope Solo.  The abdominal muscles include the external obliques (closest to the surface); rectus abdominus; internal oblique; and transverses abdominus (farthest from the surface).

OK, I know that may sound like a lot of gibberish, but I am trying to illustrate a point – the abs are more than just those 6-8 bumps you see on Calvin Klein underwear models.  Abs make up an entire girdle around your midsection.  This means, just doing crunches everyday ain’t gonna give you that flat tummy you’ve been working towards.

So how DO you get a tight, flat stomach?  Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as popping a magic pill, or strapping on a vibrating belly belt; fortunately, there is a combination of very doable things you can do to get a flatter, more toned tummy:

First, stop doing 5000 crunches everyday, and start doing exercises that will strengthen all the abdominal muscles previously mentioned.  Doing 5000 crunches a day is merely increasing your endurance to do more crunches, it isn’t necessarily strengthening or toning your abdominal muscles.  You can get a great midsection doing ab exercises just three or four times a week.  You want to focus on quality over quantity.  And when it comes to abs, a quality exercise that you can perform a few times a week to really strengthen all the abdominal muscles from the superficial to the deep is….drum roll please…the plank!

The plank

I used to hate doing planks, but after seeing and feeling what it has done for my mid section, you can’t keep me from doing them now!  Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but now that I’m stronger, planks are much more pleasant and, dare I say, slightly enjoyable.  If you’ve attempted a plank before but were not able to hold it for an extended period of time, don’t give up on it, try modifying it.  Try starting out on your knees and elbows rather than your toes and elbows.  Keep your hips down so that your torso is in a straight line from the crown of your head to your knees.  Try holding it for 10 seconds (or whatever duration you can handle), and then work your way up over the next few days, weeks, months, etc.  If doing the plank on your knees is too easy, but a plank on your toes is still too difficult, try placing your feet farther apart.  Remember, everyone is different, so go at your own pace and do what you can do.

Modified plank

Second, you must exercise your entire body!    Spot training, the theory that you can lose fat in just one area, does not work.  You must incorporate total body strength training (using weights, resistance bands, or even your own body weight) and cardio throughout the week.  I’m not talking about ‘walking on a treadmill while texting your friends and reading the latest tabloid, while occasionally glancing up at your favorite reality show on TV’ cardio.  I’m talking about ‘increased-heart rate’ cardio.  This doesn’t mean you need to run 10 miles a day, but you do need to do something that will, as I stated before, increase your heart rate and make you breathe heavily.  You must tax your respiratory system.  The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise for 5-7 days per week and 3-5 days per week of strength training (ACSM’s strength training guidelines are listed at the end of this blog post*).  What counts as cardio?  Check out a step, spin, dance, or kickboxing class at your local gym; do jumping jacks, run in place, jump rope, or follow a fitness video at home; go Florida style and grab a pair of 2 lb hand weights and go for a power walk, or, if you’re in Atlanta, come to Dance 101 and try my Dance Fitness or Cardio Jazz classes or even my Body Shock class if you want to get in your cardio and resistance training!  (A little self promotion never hurt anyone.)

Third, you MUST, MUST, MUST eat a balanced diet!  You can plank until the cows come home, but a six pack with a layer of fat over it does not look like a six pack.  And that layer of fat is not going away unless you combine the previously mentioned points with a balanced, well-timed diet.  Well-balanced, meaning lots of veggies and fruits, complex carbohydrates (e.g. oatmeal, quinoa, farro, whole grains, brown rice, etc), lean meats, legumes (beans, they have a ton of fiber), and low fat dairy products.  Well-timed, meaning eating small meals every 2 1/2 – 3 hours throughout the day (and a small extra value meal does not count as a small meal).  Here’s a sample of a one day balanced diet (calorie needs will vary based on gender, age, weight, activity level, etc):

Breakfast: 1 cup shredded wheat (Publix brand is great, no additives), 1 cup skim milk, 1 banana sliced, coffee if you need it! (try to use skim milk and go easy on the sweeteners)

Snack 1 (about 3 hours after b-fast): 1 pear, 1/4 cup unsalted almonds

Lunch: Turkey sandwich (whole wheat bread or pita, 3 oz low sodium Boar’s Head turkey, 1 oz fat free cheese, tomato slices, onion slices, lettuce, mustard), 1 Orange

Snack 2: 1 sliced bell pepper, 1/2 cup hummus

Dinner: Grilled, baked, or broiled chicken breast, 1/2 cup brown rice, Spinach salad (1 cup fresh spinach leaves, 1/4 cup chopped onions, 1/4 cup sliced mushrooms, 1/4 cup cucumber slices, 1 Tbsp fresh grated parmesan cheese, 1 Tbsp lemon juice or a fat free vinaigrette dressing)

Snack 3: 1 cup Greek yogurt

My final thoughts on obtaining a flat stomach:

Do not obsess over your diet or exercise regimen, you will have cravings and those should be honored; honor them with small portions rather than a binge.

Be patient, washboard abs are not going to happen over night, it takes time and work.

Don’t lie to yourself, when it comes to both working out and eating.  Walking into a gym does not mean you worked out, you must put time in to achieving your dream body.   Recognize the amount and type of food that you are eating; it’s Girl Scout cookie season, eating a whole box of Thin Mints but convincing yourself they’re small cookies, so 4 of them count as one cookie, is going to set you back.  Acknowledge what you have really eaten and give your second box of those evil (but fantastically, delicious) cookies to a friend.

Work with what you have.  Accept that the toned tummy lurking in your future may not necessarily be what you imagined, and know that awesome abs come in all different shapes.  Ciara, Shakira, Gwen Stefani, Madonna, and Jada Pinkett-Smith all have rockin abs, but in different packages.  Aren’t you excited to see what kind of strong abdominal muscles you’re hiding?!

*ACSM’s Strength Training Guidelines:

  • 8 to 10 exercises for the major muscles
  • 1 set of each exercise
  • 8 to 12 repetitions per set of exercise
  • 2 or 3 nonconsecutive training days per week
  • Full-range movements (pain free)
  • Moderate speed movements (appx. 6 sec/ rep)


As seen on tv…

I’m a night owl.  Always have been, always will be.  This means I’m often up during those hours of the night, when regular TV shows give way to the flood of infomercials.  That time of the night when you’re flipping channels and suddenly you realize you’re in the middle of a hardcore marketing blitz.  And nothing is vended more at that hour than products to improve your appearance.  There are special bras that push you up, special underwear that slim you down, special machines that hang you upside down, and, of course, special fitness programs to blast it off.

Last night when the info-hours rolled around, I hit the mother load.  So, while watching the advertisements for all these exciting, “fat-blasting” systems, I decided to pay particular attention not so much to their differences, but to the similarities.  And after viewing each of these products for only a few minutes, I noticed three common factors I would like you to be aware of the next time you are tempted to succumb to some late-night shopping:

  1. The exaggerated weight-loss tally.  Safe weight loss is 1-2 pounds per week.  I repeat, SAFE WEIGHT LOSS IS 1-2 POUNDS PER WEEK.  Any credentialed, reputable, healthcare professional won’t tell you anything different.  It is possible for someone to lose more in a week, but the general recommendation is 1-2 pounds per week.  (I’ve heard that repetition gets your point across.)  That being said, if you’re going to purchase one of these infomercial products, do not be romanced by the idea of losing “11 pounds in 3 days” (I heard that on one of the infomercials).  Rapid, unhealthy weight loss is often gained back later…or sooner.  Remember the tortoise and the hare?  Slow and steady wins the race.
  2. The well-conditioned, already-in-shape models, posing as satisfied customers.  I’ll let you in on a little secret — the models with the fantastically ripped bodies in the infomercials train like beasts.  You know those women with the flat abs and the tight round glutes?  Their training regimens involve more than sexy dancing, shaking phallic-shaped objects, and using light balls for resistance training (notice a theme here?).  In fact, two of the models in one of the infomercials that I saw last night have competed in the same shows as me.  These women dedicate some serious sweat, time, and hard work to looking the way they do.  Don’t beat yourself up if you purchase one of these infomercial products and you’re not doing your laundry on your abs by the weekend.
  3. The barely-visible, nearly-transparent, ‘Typical results may vary’ disclaimers.  It’s like the fine, fine, fine, fine, fine, print, on your cell phone bill.  After you cut through the barrage of superlatives inserted into the cleverly worded script, and the enticing visual fireworks, you’re left with the disclaimer, which drills down to the core — “Typical results may vary.  Results are achieved by following a regular fitness program and a balanced diet.”  So you’re telling me regular exercise and a balanced diet will get me in shape?!  No way!  I know you are so sick of hearing it, but one does not work without the other.  Exercise and a balanced diet need each other to tango; after all, it does take two, right?  Next time one of these infomercials comes on, step a little closer to the TV and read the fine print (don’t worry, it isn’t bad for your eyes).

I am not discouraging you from buying any infomercial fitness systems.  In fact, some of the products provide a fantastic way to exercise at home.  (I, myself, have purchased some exercise DVDs late at night, Winsor Pilates rocks!)  I just want you to keep a realistic mindset upon beginning any of these systems, and set realistic goals so you can achieve them and keep going.  It’s easy to give up on exercising if you think everyone else is getting extraordinary results, but you’re only getting modest (i.e. typical) results.  One last point, always consult a physician before beginning any exercise program (especially the hard core ones)!

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Body envy.

Even as an NBA dancer, I struggled with body envy. Look at my former teammates!

Check out my website!

As I stood in line at CVS recently, I browsed the headlines on some popular entertainment/lifestyle magazines covers.  I know I shouldn’t have been, but I was shocked at the amount of headlines claiming that they had workout and diet tips for readers to get “Abs like Rihanna,” “Legs like JLo,” “Kim’s new, slimmer, still curvy body,” etc.  It shocked me for a couple of reasons: 1) As women we are constantly battling with self esteem issues, thinking we’re too fat, too skinny, our hair isn’t good enough, we have a wrinkle, yada yada, yet, we are the ones who keep these magazines in print, and 2) these are the same magazines that routinely publish the ‘fat edition’ where they zoom in on these same celebrities’ body parts to show their cellulite, wrinkles, and blemishes.

It’s bad enough that we, as women, compare ourselves to our friends (trust me, being on an NBA dance team makes it impossible to NOT compare yourself to your gorgeous teammates), but to voluntarily subject ourselves to the unrealistic suggestions of gossip magazines is even worse!  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate being able to read the celebrity training regimens and nutrition plans, but I am also realistic when reading these articles (waiting in line, because I don’t buy them) and I want you to be as well.  Keep the following things in mind when perusing these stories:

  • These women have trainers, nutritionists, chefs, life coaches, assistants, etc., to keep them on track and focused.  They also tend to have a larger bank account with which to hire these people.
  • Magazines airbrush their pictures unless they’re pointing out someone’s cellulite.  Celebrities are humans too, they look just like us when they wake up in the morning without their makeup and hair perfectly done.
  • Every body is different.  Genetics have a lot to do with your anatomical makeup.  The most surefire way to get discouraged in your workouts, is to assume you can have someone else’s body, when you have a completely different genetic makeup.  If you have a flat bottom, no amount of squats is going to get you an ample, JLo booty.  You can increase the size of your glutes, like any other muscle in your body, but going from flat to ‘baby got back’ is not likely.  Let’s take a quick trip back in time: in the 70s and 80s, maybe even earlier, there was a lovely ‘exercise’ that women would perform by clasping their hands together in front of their face and squeezing their pecs while saying, “I must, I must, I must increase my bust.”  This exercise, and many other bust-increasing exercise routines were sold as facts  Come to find out, they were anything but.  They didn’t increase anyone’s bust; surgery did (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).  I give this example not to discourage you from working out your booty, but to think about toning and/or lifting whatever shaped rear you do have.

With these things in mind, I want you to go about your goal setting in a different way.    Instead of setting goals to achieve someone else’s arms or legs, set goals to improve what you have.  Workout and eat right to achieve a healthier and more fit you.  You can have a fabulous body without having Kim Kardashian’s kurves (I had to do that extra k) or Ciara’s flat stomach, or Nicole Scherzinger’s legs, or Sofia Vergara’s, umm…top (that’s definitely genetics!).   This goes for people in your life as well.  Don’t set goals to look like your friends.  Appreciate their hot bodies then put your blinders on and focus on bettering you.

I encourage you to look to other’s for inspiration, and admire them for their hard work, but wishing, hoping, and praying for their body parts is not going to affect you positively.  The grass is just as green on your side of the fence, sometimes it just requires some landscaping (regular exercise and a balanced diet) to see it!  There’s a better body in you, you just have to coax it out.

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Your first time. A guide for gym virgins.

Your first time at a gym can be a scary experience.  Especially if you have never set foot in one before.  Since it’s that time of year when gym memberships are flying off the shelves, I thought I would take the fear out of your first trip by giving you a few helpful tips to make it run a little more smoothly.

Tip #1: What to bring.

Everybody’s different, but I bring the following items to the gym:

  • Lock-Most gyms don’t allow you to carry a bag around with you so you’ll want to bring a lock for the lockers if your gym provides them.  If your gym doesn’t provide lockers, just bring in the following items.
  • Towel-No one wants to sit in your sweat and I’m sure you don’t want to sit in someone else’s sweat so bring a towel with you to dab your forehead or lay down on any machines you may use.
  • WATER BOTTLE-An essential item for any physical activity.  If you need a reason, read my thesis (don’t worry, there’s a summary)
  • ipod/walkman (if they still make them)/etc-I, personally, don’t like using one, but I know many people like listening to their own music during a workout.  Make sure your music listening device is one that doesn’t hinder your workout.  Many people use arm bands or waist bands to put their devices in, and I know a lot of workout clothing has built in electronic pockets now.

Tip #2: What to do upon your arrival.

The first thing I do when I go to the gym is head for the locker room.  This way, you have a purpose as you walk through the gym.  On your way to the locker room, you can do a quick scan to see where everything is located: cardio machines, nautilus machines, free weights, aerobics room, basketball court, pool, etc.

Once you’ve done what you need to do in the locker room and you’re ready to brave the gym, I recommend heading for the cardio machines (i.e. elliptical, treadmill, bikes, stepmill, etc).  This way you can warmup and do a more complete scan of the gym.  Spend as much time as you need to on the cardio machines.  (Side note: Before you get on a cardio machine, make sure that there is no waiting list or waiting line for the machines.  There’s nothing worse than getting on a treadmill and being asked to get off.    Also, cardio machines are very popular, so check to see if there is a time limit.)  This may be as far as you get on your first trip, but at least you’ve done something and gotten a little more comfortable with the gym environment.

If you are familiar with other gym equipment, you can reacquaint yourself with the nautilus machines or free weights at this time.  If you have never used any type of fitness equipment before, I highly, strongly, and vehemently recommend scheduling a session with a personal trainer.  It is very easy to hurt yourself on gym equipment if you are not familiar with how to use it.

Tip #3: Be familiar with gym etiquette.

These are some basic gym etiquette rules that can keep you from looking and feeling like a jerk on your first trip to the gym:

  • If you don’t know how to do something, ask!  Ask a gym employee how to use a particular piece of equipment that you are not familiar with.  If you want a more extensive tutorial on machines, or on working out in general, you can schedule a session with a personal trainer.  Most gyms offer inexpensive personal training sessions and even free first time sessions.
  • Use a towel!  Be sure to wipe off any equipment that you sweat on.  If you don’t have a towel, most gyms have paper towel and sanitation stations to wipe off machines when you are done.  You might not think your sweat is gross, but more often than not, other gym-goers don’t want to lay down in a pool of your sweat.
  • Ask to “work in.”  If you think someone is done with a machine, but they are still standing next to it, you should ask if they are done.  If someone is not done, proper gym etiquette is to let you “work in.”  This simply means that you would take turns doing sets on that particular machine.  About 99% of the time, they will let you work in.
  • Wear proper attire.  Of course, you want to wear comfortable clothing that you can easily move in, but please be mindful of everyone else’s view while you’re doing calisthenics.  Ladies, this means supportive sports bras, and if you’re wearing shorts, make sure they are tight or, if they are loose running shorts, wear bike shorts under them; and if you’re wearing itsy bitsy shorts, avoid doing any bending activities unless your rear is towards a wall. Another thing to be mindful of, those wonderful black cotton leggings that we all love so much tend to be see through so wrap a shirt around your waist (my preferred method) or go 80s and wear a leotard or briefs over them (my preferred method when teaching desir80s).  Men, same goes for you with shorts; basketball shorts, while long, can ride up if you are stretching or doing the leg press machine, so please wear bike shorts underneath.  Now, if you’re comfortable wearing any of the aforementioned clothing, more power to you, but don’t be surprised if you catch a few stares!  Also, keep in mind that many gyms have dress codes, so check them out before you go.
  • Re-rack your weights.  This is one of my biggest gym pet peeves.  Remember how your parents used to tell you to put your toys away when you were done playing with them?  They were preparing you for the gym!  If the weights are too heavy for you to put back, ask for help or use a lighter weight the next time you work out.

Tip #4 Go with a friend!

What better way to tackle the unknown than with a friend!  This way you’ll have someone to try new things with.  You can take a class, or schedule a personal training session together, and, if you make it a regular date, you can hold each other accountable.

I hope that my first time gym tips have made you feel a little less apprehensive about conquering the gym.  I know it can be scary, but you have to remember, unless you have just joined a small, specialty gym, it’s going to be filled with other people just like you, other first-time gym goers; and, keep in mind, most people at the gym are so concerned with themselves, they are not the least bit concerned with what you’re doing!


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