A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Triathlon……

Okay, so it wasn’t really funny. It was not funny at all.  A week before the New York City triathlon, my son had an accident- not life threatening, thank heavens, but devastating. He broke his leg in two places and was in sheer agony.  His surgery was scheduled for the day before the race. I didn’t defer the race right away because I thought he would have surgery and everything would be fine.  I figured he would leave the hospital and I would see him at home, after the race.  However, in the days preceding his surgery, when I saw the kind of pain he was in, I just knew that I would not be in the proper frame of mind to compete in the race.

This triathlon was supposed to be fun, a challenge, a goal. While I had done several sprint triathlons, I had never competed in an Olympic triathlon. I was all ready- I had bought a new racing bike and a wet suit. I biked early in the mornings and swam laps in the bay. Yet none of those things would matter to me knowing that my son was suffering.

There would be other races. In fact, several weeks later, when my son was firmly in rehab and working on walking again, I competed in a sprint triathlon.  It was exciting and fun and definitely challenging as the water was as choppy as an ocean swim. Yet, in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of a let down since I had done these distances before- 15 years before.

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After the race, I immediately thought that I would do an Olympic distance triathlon in a few weeks, before the season ended. However, when I really thought about how much I had taken on in my life in the past few months, I reassessed my priorities. My new job has been taking up an enormous amount of time- and rightfully so. Let’s just say that 10 hour work days are the norm. With the start of the new job, I had packed a house, moved to a condo,  and my son had the accident. To top it off, for many reasons, we are still living in boxes without any furniture. All the while I am still trying to keep up with the blog, workout, volunteer and be a member of the Social Committee at my new residence.

So I made the decision to not train for the Olympic triathlon. I packed my wetsuit away where it will remain for a few months. My race season is over for now. As I contemplated my decision, I realized that everything had become too much. I had taken on more responsibilities than I could conceivably handle in a short amount of time.

Why do we do these things to ourselves? Why do we overcommit ourselves to things that we know are over our heads? Why is it that sometimes when the words, “No problem, I can do it” come flying out of our mouths, do we wish we could retract them? Is it the innate competitiveness in us? Is it FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)? Must we keep doing- day in and day out- keep pushing- always? I can’t be the only one who does this.

I think I know why I sometimes take on too many responsibilities or commitments at one time. It’s because I am always striving to be the best person that I can be- and for me that means taking on a full plate of work, activities and commitments. I foolishly believe that I can handle anything- keep piling it on- if it is important- I can do it. “Yes, I can help out at the soup kitchen”- even though I am involved in many other volunteer commitments; “Yes, I will get up and run with you at 6am”- even though I will be out super late the previous night; “Yes, I will volunteer for the Social Committee”- even though I have zero free time.

As I get older, I am re-evaluating exactly what projects I have time for and yes- I have learned to say “No.” It is difficult for me because I always want to help or lend a hand when I can and I sometimes do not realize until after I have said “Yes” that I really should have said,”No.”

However, I’m still learning and as I wrote in one of my previous blogs, “You can teach an old dog new tricks.”

 

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Is CrossFit Really Dangerous??

ABSOLUTELY NOT! CrossFit is defined as “constantly varied, functional movements performed at relatively high intensity .”CrossFit is one of the fastest growing strength and conditioning programs around today. CrossFitters are trained in explosive plyometrics, speed training and gymnastics movements while maximizing strength to weight ratio and flexibility. A heavy emphasis is also placed on Olympic and power-style weightlifting.

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Training the CrossFit way encourages you to work out 3 to 5 days a week. The workouts are highly intense and short, taking about 5 to 15 minutes to complete. In total, each workout lasts about an hour- including stretching, warm-up and the WOD (workout of the day). People joke that the CrossFit warm-up exercises are tougher than the workouts at a “regular” gym- that’s not a joke. With regard to healthy eating, CrossFit recommends a daily eating plan of meat, fish, vegetables, nuts, seeds and some fruit. little starch and no sugar. This diet is similar to the popular Paleo and Zone nutrition plans.

CrossFit may be one of the most extreme exercise workouts around these days but in my opinion and from the research I have done, I do not believe that CrossFit is inherently dangerous. The CrossFit I belong to, CrossFit Central LI located in Syosset, NY was established in 2007 and was the first CrossFit certified gym on Long Island. It’s owner, Chris Isernio is also the hands-on manager and a certified trainer of the CrossFit gym. We spoke about all the negative publicity and criticism that has plagued CrossFit recently. According to Chris, “the negative feedback stems from people training with inexperienced coaches. Maybe there is a great athlete who gets his Level 1 coaches’ certification and then without much other training opens a CrossFit gym.” In addition to the inexperienced CrossFit coaches, Chris said that another problem is overzealous coaches. According to Chris, he has heard of incidents where certain coaches just want to work the CrossFitters to the bone, “they keep pushing and pushing- it’s unhealthy.” According to Chris, “overstraining is a real problem and experienced coaches know this. Experienced coaches advise their athletes to work out hard (if they want to and are able to) 3-4 times per week not 7 days per week.”

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So why has CrossFit’s safety been and continues to be a hotly debated topic? Here are some points to consider:

1) Rhabdomylosis- In a recent HuffPost article, Eric Robertson, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Regis University in Denver, Colorado, wrote about the dangers of Rhabdomylolysis (Rhabdo), a potentially fatal condition that can be caused by severe exertion, among other things. Rhabdo occurs when skeletal muscle is damaged causing proteins to be rapidly released into the blood. This results in harm to the kidneys and can ultimately lead to kidney failure. Rhabdo is not a common condition and not unique to CrossFit. There have been cases of Rhabdo in football players, triathletes, marathon runners and body builders. In the same article, to prevent Rhabdo, Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical editor for ABC News, recommends staying hydrated both before and during exercise, taking breaks during workouts and listening to your body.

2) The possibility of injury is increased with participation in ANY high-intense fitness regimen. This is especially true if you are new to Olympic-style weightlifting and plyometric workouts or if you have a previous injury. Performing exercises when you are in a fatigued state increases the risk of injury. Listen to your body. In other words- if you are tired- REST!

3) Not all CrossFit coaches are created equal. Before you join a CrossFit gym, make sure that the coaches have the appropriate certified CrossFit training. Make sure you ask about credentials for any coach who is responsible for teaching you proper lifting technique. CrossFit is dangerous when done improperly or without a well-trained coach.

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4) CrossFit is mostly geared towards healthy people who enjoy vigorous exercise. If you have an injury or weakness, tell your CrossFit coach. They will work with you to tailor the specific exercise to your needs and limitations. A year after my hernia surgery, I was skittish about the GHD machine ( Glute-Ham developer torture contraption, seriously- google it). I felt the machine was straining my abdominal muscles at the hernia scar site. My coach immediately told me to stop what I was doing and to lay off abdominal workouts for a few days or until I felt comfortable. He then showed me other abdominal exercises to do instead of the GHD machine if I thought that it may bother me again.

5) Know your body. This cannot be emphasized enough. Injuries usually occur when someone is making poor decisions about their body or doing too much too soon. Athletes get caught up in the competition of the classes and push themselves too far. No pain, no gain should NOT be your mantra.

6) CrossFit is challenging. The workouts are fast-paced, constantly varied and grueling. Crossfit is hard. It`s always hard! Crossfit never gets easier, you just get faster. I have done half-marathons, triathlons, kayaking, rollerblading, Spin, hot yoga, rock-climbing, yet nothing challenges me on a daily basis as CrossFit does. Working hard at CrossFit this past year has given me the confidence to enter an Olympic length triathlon this summer. My husband is the one who got me interested in CrossFit and we constantly challenge each other. I hope to always push myself to do more, to be more and to achieve more.

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People joke that CrossFit embodies a cult-like mentality. I think this is because CrossFitters feel a sense of camaraderie with others who CrossFit. Why? Because after a particularly grueling workout when your body is drenched in sweat, your breathing is labored, your heart is racing, when you collapse on the floor, only the person laying next to you can appreciate the effort it takes to lift your arm for a congratulatory fist-pump.

A special thank you to Jay Hoffman for the awesome pictures in this post and for all the terrific photographs in all my posts.

What Is Cross Training And Why Is It Necessary?

A few years ago, I was running 4-5 miles a day, four times a week, and I thought I was in pretty good shape. Then I started training for a triathlon and started swimming laps in a pool. After just one lap, I was shocked to find myself out of breath, huffing and puffing as if I never worked out a day in my life. I was wrong to think that fitness means mastering a single sport. According to Todd Schlifstein, DO, a sports medicine rehabilitation doctor at New York University Medical Center’s Rusk Institute, “When you only do one fitness activity- like running or weight lifting, for example- and you only work on the muscles involved in that sport, you may discover that you are far less fit than you think.”

Cross-training refers to combining exercises of other disciplines, different than how the athlete regularly trains. For instance, if a runner wants to cross-train, they may bike, swim, strength train or take a fitness class. Cross-training builds strength and flexibility that is not being utilized when the athlete always does that one sport or discipline. By correcting muscular imbalances, it prevents injury and the variety can prevent burnout. Schlifstein warns that “using one set of muscles repeatedly can also increase your risk of repetitive injury.”

So how do you incorporate cross-training into your fitness routine? If you do not usually swim- try it out. Swimming helps build strength, flexibility and fitness, all without risking injury.  Runners looking to cross-train should strengthen their pelvis, hips and upper body- try elliptical machines, stationary bikes or swimming. If you have been only weight lifting- you should add a cardio workout- like running outside or on a treadmill, rowing.

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You can incorporate cross-training by alternating between activities; one day lift weights, next day bike, next day run, then elliptical machine, rowing machine. Or you can alternate activities in a single workout; run on treadmill for 10 minutes, bike for 10 minutes, pushups for 10 minutes, elliptical machine for 10 minutes.

My 19 year old daughter had become a slave to the elliptical machine, crossing the fine line between loving and hating it at the same time. When the elliptical machine in our home gym broke and was awaiting repair, she was forced to use the exercise bike and she started running on the treadmill. It was the best thing for her, because although I had been stressing the benefits of cross-training, she refused to try another activity until she had no choice. My daughter had not realized how bored she had become with the elliptical machine and now incorporates all three machines into her workout.

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Cross-training stresses the importance of varying activities between aerobic conditioning, strength training, endurance and balance. For fun and a bit of variety- try cycling, yoga, hiking, jogging, rock climbing, skiing, pilates. To spice up my own fitness routine, I started the 100 burpee challenge on January 1st. Day 1 I did 1 burpee, day 2- I did 2 burpees, etc. until day 100. If I skip a day, I have to add the burpees from the day I skipped. If I do 9 burpees and I skip the next day, then the following day I have to do 10 burpees plus 11 burpees. If you do not know what a burpee is- google it- it is easier to watch than for me to explain.

I want to share an inspiring new project started by Gwyneth Paltrow and fitness guru, Tracy Anderson called, “The Restart Project.”  It consists of approximately six minute video segments focused on women who have overcome hardship, injury and setbacks and have triumphed in the face of adversity. The first few videos I’ve seen depicted women who have transformed their lives and bodies through diet and exercise. These uplifting and motivating stories are definitely worth watching at http://on.aol.com/show/the-restart-project-518018512/episode/51804516#sthash.P2yzR4U.dpuf

Warming Up vs. Stretching- Is There A Difference?

For first time readers, I have been publishing posts twice a week, usually on Thursdays and Sundays. One post usually relates to a healthy body (generally fitness related) and/or a healthy mind. The other post discusses healthy eating and I try to find easy, healthy recipes that real people, with real jobs, real families and real lives, will want to make. I hope that my posts are interesting and informative, such that you will come away with a new idea, a new fact learned or perhaps a question. Comments are always welcome. Please join the email list to ensure that all new posts will be automatically sent to you.

Warm up exercises and stretching are often lumped together when discussing pre-workout routines, however they are two distinct principles. For an optimal workout, both are important. When performing warm up exercises, you are increasing your body temperature and slowly preparing your body for the workout. According to the Boston Herald, “If one stretches the muscles without proper warm-up, the muscles are cold and are more prone to injury, such as a muscle tear or strain.” Warming up can be achieved through a period of running in place, jumping rope or easy pedaling on a bike. Skipping the warmup and going straight to stretching can lead to injury as your muscles need warmth to achieve optimal stretch.

When stretching, you are specifically focusing on stretching your muscles. Research has shown that range of motion can be increased by a thirty second stretch for each muscle group per day. However, this may vary for each individual and some people may need to stretch each muscle group for a longer period of time. The Mayo Clinic advises that when you are stretching, “focus on your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Also stretch muscles and joints that you routinely use at work or play. And make sure that you stretch both sides.”

An optimal workout consists of a solid warmup, a period of stretching, a strenuous workout which increases the heart rate and a cool down period which may include stretching. If you make time for each of these workout portions, you will experience fewer injuries and increase your workout potential. We are all pressed for time, trying to squeeze a workout into a busy schedule.  However, keep in mind that the warmup and stretching is as important as the main part of your workout.

Inevitably, we all are faced with an injury at some point in our lives. Hopefully, it is not too severe and with proper rest and possibly rehab we slowly work ourselves back to where we were in our pre-injury workout routine. It is the slow period of trying to get back to where were were that is the most frustrating. My husband is still dealing with his lower back injury and working with a physical therapist.  It may be another month before he will be able to slowly work his way back to his pre-injury workouts. So this weekend we went on a hike!

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We drove to Montauk Point State Park and went on a 3-mile, 2- hour guided Seal Hike. Our guide, biologist Tish, peppered the hike with interesting information about the seal population on Long Island and fun facts about the local marine life.  We hiked one and a half miles to the seal observation area and one and a half miles back, wearing hiking boots, heavy coats and backpacks. It was terrific exercise briskly hiking through the woods and on the beach in the dry sand. We were rewarded by the sight of five Harbor Seals sunning themselves on a giant rock close to the shore.  On a bluff above the beach, through binoculars, we watched the seals wiggle, arch their backs and playfully slide into the water. The cost is $4.00 per person, reservations are required and you can find out more information at 631-668-5000.

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Change Is Good

photo-8I am not one of those people who loathes change. I embrace it. To me, change can be a new beginning, a new adventure. Except when it comes to an unwelcome change in my workout routine. In the past, I stretched 5- 10 minutes before a workout and I was good to go. Due to a recent calf injury, I now have to warm up my calves for about 20 minutes before each work out. I use a roller on my calves and a rubber band to maximize my stretching exercises. Since I joined my current  gym, I have watched people stretching anywhere from 20-40 minutes, pre-workout. Now, I also incorporate yoga moves into my pre-workout stretches. It’s depressing because this extra warm-up time makes me feel like I’m getting old.

A few months ago, I would have spent 10 minutes stretching before a 5-mile run. I know, I know- it was a terrible practice. That is not the proper way to warm-up. Luckily, I have always gotten by with doing my workouts without much of a warm-up. At Crossfit, the trainers emphasize a 10-15 minute full body warm-up before every workout. The joke at the gym is, “My Crossfit warm-up is more rigorous than your entire workout.” It’s true- some of the warm-ups are that intense. It’s all part of the master plan to ensure that those body parts that are being used for the workout are properly warmed up to avoid injury.

I am generally a proponent of change in any aspect of my life. I changed up my entire workout regime almost a year ago. My workouts became stagnant and uninspired until I made some major changes to kick start my body and my brain. Change is good for your brain. According to a recent study discussed in the Harvard Gazette of Science and Health, with regard to Alzheimer’s disease prevention, prolonged exposure to a richer, more novel environment beginning even in middle age might help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Simply by changing up your routine, you can build new pathways to the brain to ward off the effects of Alzheimer’s. When I was 40 years old, I started a new job that required me to travel by train to downtown Brooklyn several times a week. I had to travel to a train station that I had never been to before. Needless to say, I was a little nervous about taking the new train and then finding the connecting subway train. I was worried about deviating from the path that I knew and was familiar with. But I did what I had to do ( latching on to friendly commuters the first few times) and I still take that route several times a week. I felt a sense of pride in my small accomplishment which reinforced the notion that you are never too old to learn something new.

Studies have shown that people who continue learning new things throughout life and challenging their brains are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Activities requiring multiple tasks, requiring communication or organization are all forms of mental stimulation that can be key in warding off Alzheimer’s.  There are many things you can do to stimulate your brain. Learn something new: study a foreign language or a musical instrument, read a newspaper, a book or take up a new hobby. Brain teasers and strategy games provide a great mental workout: crossword puzzles, word games, Scrabble or Sudoku. To create new brain pathways, vary your habits regularly: take a new route home, to the office, from the market, eat with your non-dominant hand. Change is good.