Sometimes, I wish I were French

How great would it be to be French? You could have a meal comprised of bread, cheese, wine, and a touch of delicately dressed salad and not worry about your waistline. Or be Italian and enjoy a serving of fresh al dente pasta with tomatoes and basil, tossed lightly with newly pressed olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. No fretting about gluten or pasta affecting your glycemic index.

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Granted these are generalizations and I know there are many French and Italians who have diabetes and worry about their figures. But there’s one thing for certain, the French and Italians understand food better than we do.

Take a vacation in those two countries (or anywhere in Europe, save for maybe the UK) and you will see an entirely different approach to food than we follow in the US. I’m talking specifically about how they approach meals in the home. There are three major differences:

  1. Portion size
  2. Refrigerator size
  3. How, when, and what they cook

The average European household ingests far less preservatives and additives. With their refrigerators being classically small little boxes designed for limited items, food is bought often on a daily basis, made fresh from local vendors and cooked immediately. Meals are simple, uncluttered by manufacturer-inserted-sodium, nitrates, high fructose corn syrup and even GMO foods. Portions are smaller, while frequency of meals/snacks are higher.

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I long for the freedom to eat bread and cheese. Why do I avoid these items? I do not have a gluten or dairy allergy. I eat in moderation and exercise regular so I really don’t have to worry about my fat content. I avoid them because in America these items are not good for us.

The Untied States’ approach to food creation, treatment, preparation and preservation focuses more on the dollar value of making food grow quickly, cheaply, and having it last (shelf-life). Europe has thankfully not embraced this concept.

While we may live in the “greatest nation on earth” we are not necessarily the smartest. It is up to each individual to band together with more like-minded individuals and fight the long up-hill battle to regain control over our food. When having our food not genetically modified matters to all of us – then perhaps we can make billion dollar companies like Monsanto will feel the pinch. Until more parents really care about the food they put in their childrens’ bodies (even those on a limited budget), then McDonalds will still be able to serve substandard food.

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But forgive my soapbox today. I guess I’m just really missing warm sourdough bread with fresh brie cheese paired with a lovely french wine!

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Communication Breakdown Part 2

In March 2013 I wrote an entry entitled Communication Breakdown in which I addressed problems with communicating intentions and improving listening skills. Today I want to tackle another aspect of our communication breakdown, that of rapid fire communication.

Did you know that hihowareyou is not all one word? I find myself increasingly irritated at how many people ramble that phrase at me, whether on the phone or person, all the while not really listening or even caring about my answer. Hi How Are You has become a staple greeting for so many people that it has lost its meaning.

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Many of my friends know that I almost never answer that question when they call me and lead with it. I in turn never ask them that question when I call. I prefer more specific questions – ones that hopefully indicate I truly care about what I’m inquiring over. “How are you feeling today,” or “what’s new in your world?”

Raise your hand if you have answered How Are You with a “good” even when you’re not. Now I ask you, what is the point of this greeting if the result is meaningless and the answer isn’t true. I also cringe every time someone on the phone says “good, thanks” when not only haven’t I responded to their howareya query, but specifically have NOT asked them how they are in return. They simply answer out of robotic routine moving obliviously into the reason for their call.

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The bottom line here is that we are not truly communicating (speaking with intent and listening). Another problem in current communication skills is the intrusion of technology. I continually marvel (disappointedly) at how many couples, families, teenagers sit oblivious to each other, engaged almost exclusively with their phones. Questions are asked and answered with little eye contact. Meals are conducted with televisions on, car rides have the radios blaring, everyone lost in their own private worlds.

Despite the evidence that texting, Instagraming and Facebook check-ins is keeping us in touch with our friends and family in a more consistent manner than ever before, this lack of personal one-on-one communication is decreasing our ability to conduct meaningful or intimate connections.

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Society has decided that it’s less intrusive, and therefore more considerate to text someone rather than call them. I disagree. A quick I’m on my way text is fine, but entire conversations or negotiating complicated plans – what’s wrong with actually talking? We’ve also turned phrases that were formerly used as proper social greeting manners into throw-away comments –like hihowyadoin, and straight-forward conversations seem to be more dialogues of double-talk these days.

So what does this teach our current and future generations? I fear more for what it does not teach. The ability to conduct oneself articulately and tactfully. To get your feelings or desires across quickly, succinctly and compassionately. More importantly, that a person can be comfortable with personal and meaningful interactions with family, friends, and co-workers alike.

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Likely many of you, especially those in generations below mine (I’m a baby-boomer afer all) disagree with my assessment of current communication and that’s okay. But before you scoff, see how many times you or those around you say hihowareyou and more importantly, how much you or they even listen to or acknowledge the response. If you find my perspective to hold a little more weight, then perhaps you will find room for improvement in your communication skills. Then pay it forward and perhaps our communication breakdowns will lessen.

You’re Missing IT.

I have come to the recent conclusion that we all suffer from a touch of ADD (attention deficit disorder). With society trending towards a life that runs fast and shallow it’s hard not to become quickly distracted from what you’re doing, what you intended to be doing, or the goals that started you current actions. In other words, we are not enjoying the moment. Any moments. We’re not getting deep enough into the rewards and lessons life gives and our relationships and personal growth are suffering.

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I find myself racing through my workouts as my brain has already left the gym and is trekking onward into my day’s chores and events. I try to multitask household chores while my 8-year old wants to chat, not giving her my full attention. Though I watch little television, I record the shows I do enjoy then blissfully fast-forward through the commercials. When I have to watch a show live, I’m very annoyed at the interruption of commercials and channel flip – again my attention needs continual stimulation.

I knew things were bad when I was listing to NPR on the radio in the car the other day and spaced out during an interesting segment. Suddenly I realized I was missing important information and automatically sought to rewind the program. Oops, no Tivo on the car radio!

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I am one of the few who struggle daily to stay in the moment as I am aware strongly of the importance of the now. But I know many of us aren’t even aware of how little we are paying attention, and sadly we are missing much of our lives.

So what can we do to slow down and not miss so much? If there were a one-size fits all answer to that I’d have written a book about it by now, and hopefully made lots of money. Others have tried, Eckhart Tolle for one, “The Power of Now”, which I read and praise highly. However, even after reading his book, my ability to stay in the moment is inconsistent at best. Life just pushes into your brain and all good intentions scatter like ants in the rain.

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But I believe that my repeated attempts to keep my focus on the now are not in vain. If I can cherish and savor even one hour a day I am ahead of the curve. Way ahead! Perhaps the next day or week I can succeed in “moment sipping” (a term I’ve coined) an entire afternoon. Then it’s just another boulder hop away to sipping an entire day! Optimism will, if nothing else, keep me encouraged by my little successes and I will continue my endeavors.

What advice can I leave you with on this esoteric subject? Whenever you can, stop and acknowledge where you are, who you are with, what they mean to you, and what is the purpose of your current actions, etc. Use your senses to see (really see), smell, taste, touch. Remind yourself that the past cannot be changed and the future will happen regardless, so just be content NOW or take action NOW to change what you are not happy with. But even then, stay present as you steer your life towards a different goal. As John Lennon said: “life is what happens while you’re busy making plans.”

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The Confusion Continues

I was at a party last weekend and as usual, once the word is out that I’m a certified personal trainer, I got bombarded with questions about diet and exercise. As always, I am only slightly surprised by how little the average person understands about nutrition and exercise.

Clearly not everyone is reading my blog yet (wink) as the concepts that carbs are bad and cardio is enough seems to be the predominant idea behind most people’s attempts to “lose weight” (another of my pet peeves as you all know that it’s about fat loss not weight).

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I find people are still caught in the vicious circle of attempting a quick fix to become smaller in their bodies, then being disappointed that the results do not happen or do not stick. Soon emotional eating kicks in as the workouts fade to once a week or none at all. Then it starts all over again. Lather, rinse, repeat!

Let me preach to everyone one more time the keys to failure: counting calories, abstaining from carbs or certain foods just because you think that is the trick, repetitive uneffective cardio and casual resistance training. These approaches will NOT work – or at least will not last.

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Clearly I shouldn’t complain, for as long as the confusion continues I will continue to have a full slate of clients. But I really do want to help educate the masses about exercise and nutrition and how to affect a real and permanent change to your body. I continue in my quest to teach moderation where nutrition is concerned combined with ever-changing and always challenging exercise performed in a moderately small chunk of time.

Your experience of life (and more importantly your enjoyment of same) should not be consumed with worries over what and when you eat, how to squeeze in time to work out, and if you’ve done enough to your body that you can rest easy. My goal is to have exercise and nutrition fit seamlessly into my days/weeks so that all aspects of my life have meaning and balance.

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There’s a reason I named by business Dane Life Fitness. I firmly believe fitness is essential to all aspects of one’s life. If you spend a predominant amount of your life focused on only your body, there’s no question that other areas of your life will suffer. So stop stabbing in the dark – acting (reacting) in a haphazard way, and create a specific targeted plan of action that fits your body type and goals, and your lifestyle. There’s plenty of resources out here in the internet that can help you, and of course, working with me (or any other personal trainer you like and trust) is the quickest and more sure-fire way to get on the right track.

Want A Balanced Life? Chart It!

Today I wanted to share with everyone a very simple tool I offer my life coaching clients to help them keep on track with achieving balance in all aspects of their life. It’s an easy assignment, quick, affordable, yet effective: I call it a “Life In Balance Chart.”

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Get a large dry-erase board, magnet board, or poster board and draw seven vertical columns and seven horizontal rows (creating 49 boxes of equal sizes – with enough room to write that week’s “achievements”).

    The headings for the rows are:                        The headings for the columns are:

Monday                                                                                          Physical

Tuesday                                                                                          Emotional

Wednesday                                                                                   Intellectual

Thursday                                                                                       Creative/Spiritual

Friday                                                                                             Social (Friends)

Saturday                                                                                        Family & Home Life

Sunday                                                                                           Career

The idea is to do something in each life column daily or weekly that enhances that area of your life. The rows (one for each day of the week) do not need to have all seven columns filled in, but to successfully achieve life balance you need to tend to each column at least twice a week. Columns like Intellectual and career might only have two achievements for the week, while emotional, physical, and family could (and should) have four to five.

Here’s a sample board to further illustrate the concept.

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So next time you find yourself feeling imbalanced, unhappy, unmotivated – make a Life In Balance Chart and you’ll soon be on your way to better life fitness!

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Eat for Your Body, Not for a Fad.

There have always been food fads that large masses of people subscribe to for short periods of time until they find it too difficult to maintain a strict “diet” especially when the reasons for following that diet do not apply to them. First there was the Zone and South Beach diets – where carbs became taboo. Speaking for most trainers, we hated these fads as our clients would be passed out on the floor from hypoglycemia during our workouts because they didn’t have enough carbs. Making matters worse was that most of these people were not even close to obese and therefore, the idea of cutting out carbs wasn’t as necessary as someone who needs to jump start their metabolism after years of eating massive quantities of processed carbs.

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Currently the big rage in nutritional avoidance food is GLUTEN. Nine out of ten restaurants now include a Gluten-Free Menu. Even more interesting is all the products in the grocery store that put the words “gluten free” on foods that you normally would not worry about, like tater tots. Come on people, the potato is by nature gluten free!

Gluten is the proteins found in all wheat products, rye, barley, etc. Anything you make bread or pasta from, and any time you use flours as a binding base. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. While foods like potatoes do not inherently have gluten in them, depending upon how they’re processed and if there is gluten contamination from other items in the kitchen they can have gluten in their presentation. But does that mean you have to avoid them?

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The reason gluten-intolerance is on the rise is because of a few factors. First, our wheat and other gluten substances have changed over the years due to the genetic modification of seeds, said forced changes leaving our bodies less able to process the final product. Second, our portion quantities have dramatically increased while our food quality has decreased. Give those factors a couple of generations and the result is more people having digestive and autoimmune issues.

Here’s what really bothers me – a large majority of us do NOT have food allergies, autoimmune disorders, or digestive issues so we do not need to avoid gluten (same applies if you have no lactose issues, then you can keep eating non-fat organic dairy products). If there is no reason for you to avoid eating something you enjoy, then why do it? Moderation, as always is the key.

Before you yell at the computer screen that gluten is bad for every body, understand this. Too much of anything is bad for you, so if you eat pounds of pasta daily then okay maybe you should lighten your gluten and glycemic index load. But if you follow a reasonably healthy nutrition plan, and are not obese or diagnosed gluten-intolerant by a doctor, then you can eat just about anything, again in moderation.

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The real problem is that if you stop eating any one thing altogether (in this instance gluten foods) just because everyone thinks it’s the key to health and fat loss, when you finally succumb to that great smelling fresh baked sourdough bread with a touch of butter on it (my weakness), your gut will reject it and you’ll be in pain hours! All because you followed a trend that didn’t apply to you.

Why Are You Still Unhappy?

I created Dane Life Fitness because I feel all aspects of life need to be fit for one to find true contentment. You need balance and health in all aspects of life: your body, emotions, job/career, home life, relationships, and passions, and all areas need to work compliment each other (not be in juxtaposition).

Take stock for a moment, how many aspects of your life from the above-list are you happy with and feel there is balance. Keep in mind balance means that there’s an equality to all areas of your life – i.e., you’re not neglecting your fitness needs or allowing work to overshadow any and all play time (passions, hobbies, joys).

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If you have any aspects that you are unhappy with, my next question is how long have you felt this way? If you’ve been unhappy for more than a month or two, I must ask why!? I suspect your answer is what all my clients have answered with: no time, no energy, no money, no way to make a change. To which I respond: bullshit.

The only thing that keeps anyone from making a positive change is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of pain. But fear is not a viable and tangible obstacle, it is simply an emotion that keeps you stuck. Trite as it sounds “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Once you stop fear from hiding the truth of what you need to do and how you need to do it, change becomes easier.

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Change happens when you choose movement over wallowing. Any step is better than stagnation. Movement begins body transformations. Taking action instead of talking changes relationships and home life. Deciding where/who you want to be in your career/job puts you on a path which begets movement which translates into change.

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Change of perspective is key. Imagine it was your child or sibling in your situation. How would you advise them? Could you see a step-by-step path to help them change, or a better emotional perspective? You likely could because when you view a situation hypothetically (or outside of yourself) vision and understanding are always clearer.

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So why are you still unhappy? Are you trying to change everything all at once. All or nothing? A successful life is one where you keep growing, changing, and learning. Pick one thing – one little baby step if you’re really scared – and just jump. The next little step will easier. Soon you’ll be moving with larger steps and more confident purpose. It really is this simple. But don’t stop with a few successes. Never stop until you have the life you want in all arenas.

Life coaches such as I are trained to help clients out of their fear and funk and into proactivity and positive results. But I know each and every one of you can get yourself into a better place on your own if you are truly motivated enough. Stop being unhappy. Life is short!

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Just Roll With It.

Raise your hand if you have tight ham strings, low back pain, constantly sore shoulders and traps, chronic headaches, sciatic pain radiating down your legs or all of the above. You are not alone. With more of our lives spent at a desk, hunkered over a computer, or long commutes stuck in the same curved spinal posture it’s prevalent that most adults suffer from one or more of these painful muscular issues. Postural distortions are rampant (see my article “What About Posture“) and those of us that make fitness a priority, often unintentionally add to the tension in those muscle groups.

So what can you do to easily, quickly, and affordably get relief. Just roll with it!

When passing through your gym or local sporting goods store (or even Target) you may have seen an innocuous looking white round foam roll – this is known as a foam roller, or it’s official name, SMR Roller. SMR stands for Self-Myofascial Release. May sound kinky, but it’s a $25 massage and chiropractic appointment all bundled into a space saving 36″ chunk of foam.

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In simple terms, foam rolling is a stretching technique that increases flexibility by decreasing muscle tightness. It’s positive effects can be felt within minutes, and almost everyone regardless of their physical condition can use a foam roller. Benefits range from relief of muscle soreness, improvement of joint range of motion and posture, and a significant decrease in tension and pain from neck, shoulders, back, butt, and legs.

So how do you Roll?

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Start by lying on your back on top of the roller vertically (above photo), or placing it under your glutes or shoulders horizontally (below photo), then slowly roll back and forth over the targeted area until the most tender spot is found. Then hold gentle but firm and consistent pressure on that spot for about 30-90 seconds. Now resume slowly rolling back and forth or progressing down from that tender spot until no more muscle tenderness is felt.

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For the glutes and legs sit on the roller, then supporting yourself with your hands on the floor behind you, lean back, and begin a slow roll from the top of your hips/glutes all the way through your hamstrings. You can separately roll out your calf muscles if they are tight too.

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It might sound cumbersome, but it’s really very easy and almost natural once you give it a try. I am happy to conduct a skype conference call if you would like a demonstration, and clearly there are many photos and videos on the internet that demonstrate as well.

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I cannot recommend this affordable essential tool in helping you have a happy, health, fit body. So get rolling!

Getting Back To Work

If you find that after a prolonged absence from working out (whether at the gym or your home) you have a really difficult time getting back into the groove of things – you are not alone. Whether because of illness, vacation, or hectic times sometimes we are unable to stay diligent and keep fitness a priority. Then when you’re finally ready to get back to it, your motivation, interest, energy and stamina are simply not there.

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I recently had a very nasty cold that kept me from working out for 14 days – a torturous eternity to a fitness buff and trainer! My first day back I felt weak and easily winded. My mind screamed “stop resting Dane, you’re a professional, you can do this.” But then I reminded myself of what I know with certainty about the body and exercise: (1) muscle memory and stamina return faster than you might think; and (2) patience and pacing yourself, especially after an illness, is important to avoid relapse or injury.

So, if you find yourself in this position here are few tips that can help you push past the mound of reasons (both real and self-imposed) that keep you from resuming your fitness regiment, and once again heading towards your fitness goals (or maintaining them so you do not slip backwards).

Take it Slow – But Not Too Slow.

Believe me when I say the first week is the hardest. You’ll need to take it slow, but keep your eye on the goal and don’t let yourself wimp out. Within a week, your muscles will be less sore, and your strength and stamina will rapidly approach the levels they were before you stopped. Listen to your body, but don’t come up with excuses. If you need to do one less set the first few days, that’s ok, as long as you commit to completing all sets by the second week.

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Start With A Fresh Routine.

Unless you had just started a new routine within a week of your absence, a new routine will help you refocus and the “freshness” will inspire and challenge you.

Stay Hydrated AND Eat Healthy Carbs.

When the body is recovering from an illness such as respiratory cold, you burn a lot of extra calories with all that nose blowing and coughing. You will also be much drier internally with all the mucus removal. So drink lots of water and I recommend even mixing protein powder in your gym bottle so that there’s a little more oomph to keep you going those first days back. (I actually bring a mix of OJ, water, and sugar-free protein powder to help me power through.) Make certain to eat a few extra healthy carbs (not processed foods) about an hour prior to your workout to keep you fueled up.

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Warm Up and Cool Down.

After any extended absence you will likely experience significant muscle soreness in the days that follow your return to exercise. This is caused by inflammation, swelling and tenderness as the muscles heal. Therefore each day you should warm up your body with a bit of low-impact cardio (walking at an incline, biking, elliptical), then start your routine with lighter weights increasing as your sets go. At the end of your workout, spend a few minutes stretching any and all muscles worked.

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Rome Was Not Built In a Day.

Lastly, remind yourself that there are no quick fixes, but as I’ve stated herein, you will return to your previous fitness condition very quickly if you follow the advise listed above. Revisit whatever motivation started you on this journey to begin with, i.e., swimsuit season, a wedding, lowering of your blood pressure, reduction of dangerous levels of body fat, etc. Then, as always, be patient and loving with yourself.

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The Dangerous Plateau

I would say about 50% of my clients come to me because they have reached a certain level of fitness and then for some reason unbeknownst to them, they cannot achieve the rest of their ultimate goal of fat loss and muscle toning. It’s always the same thing “I can’t lose these final pounds” or “I have worked really hard and still have belly, butt or thigh fat.” My answer is always the same too – “you have plateaued, plain and simple.”

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The body (in particular, the muscles and cardiovascular system) achieves benefit during the first few weeks of any new exercise routine, but those benefits (fat loss, muscle tone) quickly level off after 4-6 weeks of performing the same exact regiment. Without constant changing up of what, how, and even when you work out, at some point you will no longer see any changes.

Obviously for those of you who do not want to or can’t work out with a trainer, you may not know what to do that effectively resumes your body’s progress. Without giving away all my tricks of the trade, I will give you a few suggestions:

Revamp your entire routine.

Chose different exercises than you’ve been doing, do them in a different order, and on different days. I.e., if you were doing standing dumbbell biceps curls, now incorporate preacher curls or hammers instead. If you were running on a treadmill, try walking at an incline or using the elliptical instead.

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Change your quantity & quality.

If your previous routine consisted of chest presses with 15 lbs, 10 reps, 3 sets – try 12 lbs, 15 reps, 4 sets. Or try a few weeks of all exercises performed very very slowly. Then switch it up and perform them faster (still with good form) and very little rest in between – more of a cardio pump concept.

Divide your workouts.

Try an upper body workout one day and a lower body the next, followed by a day of rest, followed by two total-body workout days, etc. Make sure you change up your workout and rest days as well. If you always workout Monday through Friday, try Saturday through Thursday.

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Don’t forget to rest.

Often when clients get desperate to see quicker results they really rev up their routines and hit the gym 7 days a week. Lack of proper rest for the muscles to recover is a key contributor to plateauing. Conversely, resting too much negates faster gains. Never workout for more than 5-6 days without 1-2 days rest. Best yet, intersperse your rest days throughout the week (i.e., Mon-Wed workouts, Thurs rest, Fri-Sat workouts, Sun rest).

When all else fails.

When all else fails, call upon a seasoned professional (me, hint hint) to create a customized workout routine for you and/or kick your butt in person. Also, remember why started this fitness journey.  What is your motivation?  Remind yourself of what’s important and it may renew your enthusiasm.  Boredom too is a strong factor behind non-achievement, so following these suggestions will help keep your routines fresh and challenging.

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Happy exercising!