Thursday, December 23, 2010

5 Habits to Prevent Holiday Weight Gain

Holiday weight gain isn't guaranteed. Just a few simple changes to what you do each day can make all the difference. Get into these habits and you'll keep holiday weight gain at bay!

1. Don't skip meals because of the holiday rush. Eat breakfast every day to keep your energy up and blood sugar stable, which will prevent you from becoming overly hungry. Include complex carbs such as fruit, steel-cut oatmeal or 100% whole-grain bread, and lean protein, such as low-fat yogurt. Adding a little bit of fat will help you feel satisfied longer. (For instance, I add slivered almonds to yogurt to get in a dose of heart-healthy fat and to feel satisfied longer.) Then, eat lunch, a healthy snack and dinner consistently and on schedule -- eating every three to four hours is ideal.

2. Stock up on the freezer aisle. When you get too busy to cook, keeping healthful frozen meals on hand is a great way to ensure you don't stop for takeout on the way home or call for pizza delivery once you get there. Look for varieties that contain fewer than 400 calories and add fruit or veggies to round out the meal.

3. Treat yourself to a little something sweet on a daily basis so cravings won't build up and get out of control, which can lead to a binge. Knowing you can count on having another treat tomorrow (and the day after that!) will help you control your portions today.

4. Don't put off getting back into your regular exercise routine until New Year's; there's nothing magical about that date. If you burn off some of the extra calories you'll inevitably be taking in during the season, it will help keep those few holiday pounds from creeping on. Exercise will also stave off the winter blues and relieve the stress that often crops up during the holiday season, which in turn helps prevent emotional eating.

5. Set realistic expectations for yourself during the season. Try to focus on the things you can do to maintain your weight rather than what you can't do right now to lose weight. Putting too much pressure on yourself can backfire with binges or ultimately giving up on watching your weight at all. Plan on keeping your weight stable and put losing on hold until the season has passed. Preventing weight gain this time of year is an accomplishment in and of itself and if you do lose, it will be like a surprise gift to yourself!

Seven Secrets To a Long Life

Here are the seven secrets to a long life: Stay away from cigarettes. Keep a slender physique. Get some exercise. Eat a healthy diet and keep your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar in check.

Research shows that most 50-year-olds who do that can live another 40 years free of stroke and heart disease, two of the most common killers, says Dr. Clyde Yancy, president of the American Heart Association. The heart association published the advice online Wednesday in the journal Circulation.

The group also is introducing an online quiz to help people gauge how close they are to the ideal. If you fall a bit short, it offers tips for improving.
"These seven factors — if you can keep them ideal or control them — end up being the fountain of youth for your heart," said Dr. Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, a cardiologist who was lead author of the statement. "You live longer, you live healthier longer, you have much better quality of life in older age, require less medication, less medical care."

Specifically, those with ideal cardiovascular health can answer yes to the following seven questions:
• Never smoked or quit more than one year ago.
• Body mass index less than 25.
• Get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.
• Meet at least four of these dietary recommendations: 4 1/2 cups of fruit and vegetables a day; two or more 3.5-ounce servings a week of fish; drink no more than 36 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages a week; three or more 1-ounce servings of fiber-rich whole grains a day; less than 1,500 milligrams a day of salt.
• Total cholesterol of less than 200.
• Blood pressure below 120/80.
• Fasting blood glucose less than 100.

The online quiz calculates a score based on the answers, 10 being the ideal.
Doctors say the quiz is a good way for people to get a handle on how they're doing, especially since people often think they're doing better than they actually are.
The heart association found just that in a recent survey that showed 39 percent of Americans thought they had ideal heart health, yet 54 percent of those had been told they had either a heart disease risk factor or needed to make a lifestyle change to improve heart health, or both.

With America's obesity epidemic, weight especially is a pitfall for patients trying to meet these seven health factors, doctors say.
"Many people are surprised to find out how overweight they may be," said Dr. Randal Thomas, director of the cardiovascular health clinic at the Mayo Clinic.
Lloyd-Jones, also chair of the preventive medicine department at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, said, "People I think are far too accepting of their waistlines."

Thomas praises the online tool for giving people a score so they'll have something to work toward. It offers advice for problem areas: for instance, advising someone who's over weight to set a goal of losing a pound a week by burning up to 3,500 more calories than are taken in.
Yancy, the heart association president and medical director of the Baylor Heart and Vascular Institute in Dallas, said the organization has a goal for 2020 of improving cardiovascular health of Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent.
He said that in the last decade, there's already been a nearly 40 percent reduction in death from heart disease and a nearly 35 percent reduction in death from stroke. He said those goals were achieved with improvements in treatments and prevention.

How do you rate on these points?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Don't Ignore These Muscles (part 2)

Tensor Fasciae Latae

Know it: This muscle (also known as the TFL) starts along the outer edge of your hip and can affect lateral movement (abduction), which is movement away from your body. A tight TFL can mean you're at increased risk for lateral knee pain, because it attaches directly to your ilio-tibial band--tissue that runs vertically along the outsides of your thighs to help stabilize your knees. Weak or tight abductors means you're constantly getting beat off the dribble, or you're late getting to the ball on the tennis court.

Test it: Try old-fashioned leg lifts. Lie on your side with your legs straight, and raise your top leg to about a 40-degree angle. Then lower it. You should be able to lift your leg in a straight line, without your hip or thigh moving forward, says Jeff Plasschaert, C.S.C.S., a strength coach based in Gainesville, Florida. Make sure you're using hip strength, though; many people substitute motion from their core and lower back to finish the movement.

Improve it: Stretching the TFL is the secret to improving your performance, say Robertson. To stretch your left TFL, stand with your left hip adjacent to a wall. Cross your right foot in front of your left foot. From this position, contract your core and left glute, and then push directly into your left hip. Don't let your hips move backward, and instead make sure your left hip pushes to the side. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, and then switch legs so your other side faces the wall. Perform 2 or 3 reps on each leg every day.

Supraspinatus and Subscapularis

Know them: The supraspinatus is one of the small muscles at the top of your shoulder that makes up the rotator cuff; the subscapularis is a large muscle on the front of your shoulder blade. Blame your desk job for weak shoulders: If your upper body is rounded, it's most likely because your chest is tight, which means the opposing muscles in your shoulders are weak. Strengthen the stabilizing muscles, and you'll see improvement on your bench press and in overhead sports like swimming or tennis, as well as in your overall upper-body power.

Test them: Bring your arms straight out in front of you at about a 45-degree angle, your thumbs pointed up—like you're about to hug someone. Have a friend stand in front of you and push your arms downward with moderate pressure. (The friend's hands should be positioned above your wrists on your forearms.) If you feel soreness in your shoulders or can't resist the pressure, you probably need to strengthen your supraspinatus, Plasschaert says.

Improve them: "A lot of people think they need to work the rotator muscles like crazy," says Scott. But a simple move is all you need, says Robertson. Stand holding a light pair of dumbbells in front of your thighs, palms facing each other. Keeping your thumbs pointed up, raise your arms up at a 30-degree angle to your torso until just above shoulder height. Hold for 1 second, and lower to the starting position. Do 2 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions. The exercise will help you add pounds to your bench by improving the stability of your shoulders.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

6 Muscles You Can't Ignore (part 1)

Where would we be without our supporting cast? Peyton Manning wouldn't have time to throw, captains would be swabbing their own decks, and the Dunder Mifflin paper company's brainstorming meetings wouldn't be considered entertainment. Success typically depends on behind-the-scenes help, and your body is no different. While your abs and biceps receive all the glory, here's a secret: It's the little-known muscles that make the big ones stand out. The problem is, working the muscles you can't see—like the ones deep inside your core, hips, and shoulders—can be a difficult process. But target those areas, and your whole body benefits. Not only will you look better, but you'll also have more strength and suffer fewer injuries.

These six muscles may never earn top billing, but they may rejuvenate your workouts and ignite new growth.

Serratus Anterior

Know it: This muscle, located on the side of your chest along your ribs, attaches to and allows you to rotate your shoulder blade (a.k.a. scapula). It plays a vital role when you raise your shoulder to flex your arm and move it away from your body; that's why it's prominent in boxers but not your average guy. The reason? Blame the bench press. Because of the support provided by the bench, the serratus anterior doesn't receive much direct challenge during this popular exercise, says Mike Robertson, C.S.C.S., a strength coach in Indianapolis.

Test it: Do a pushup without wearing a shirt and have someone look at your back during the move. If you have a winged scapula, your shoulder blade will stick out; this means your serratus is weak, says Robertson. A strong one suctions your scapula in during the movement, eliminating the winged look.

Improve it: Standard pushups strengthen the muscle, but doing pushup variations is the quickest way to correct a weakness, says Robertson. Use a power rack to perform incline pushups on a barbell. Start with your body at the lowest incline that doesn't allow your shoulders to wing—which means placing the bar relatively high. Perform 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions. As you become stronger and learn to control your scapular motion, work your way down the rack until you're doing regular pushups with perfect body alignment.


Know it: This muscle near your gluteal (butt) region helps with thigh rotation and tends to suffer from overuse. Why? Because weak hamstrings and glutes force the piriformis to take on some of the work those big muscles should be doing, says Keith Scott, C.S.C.S., a strength coach based in New Jersey. This creates back and hip pain, and weaker lower-body performance.

Test it: Sit on a chair and cross one leg over the other, with the crossing ankle of one leg resting on the bent knee of the other. If you can't get your top leg parallel to the ground, your piriformis is probably tight.

Improve it: Increase your mobility with windshield wipers, says Robertson: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet placed wider than shoulder-width apart on the ground. Press your knees together, and then return to the starting position. Do 2 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions. Now add some soft-tissue work: Sit on a foam roller with your weight shifted to your right butt, and place your right ankle on your left knee. Roll your right glutes from top to bottom, working any painful areas. Continue for 45 to 60 seconds, and switch sides. Do this daily.


Know it: The psoas (so-az) muscle runs through your hips to connect the lower portion of your back to the top of your thigh. It's one of your body's main back stabilizers and hip flexors (the muscles that line your hips and allow you to bring your knees toward your chest). If you sit all day, the psoas becomes rounded like a banana; then, when you stand up, the psoas pulls on your back, making you more prone to pain and lower-back injury. "A weak psoas also means you'll end up with assorted knee issues, because other secondary hip flexors take over and cause pain," Robertson says.

Test it: Lie on your back and pull one knee to your chest. Keep your other leg straight. If the psoas is of normal length, your straight leg will rest on the floor. If your leg sits above the floor, your psoas is either stiff or shortened, says Bill Hartman, C.S.C.S., a strength coach based in Indianapolis.

Improve it: The only way to strengthen a weak psoas is by bringing your knee above 90 degrees. Sit with your knees bent on a low box or bench (6 to 10 inches high) (3). Maintaining good posture and keeping your abs tight, use your hips to raise one bent knee slightly higher than your hips. If you lean forward or backward, you're not performing the exercise correctly. Hold for 5 seconds, and return to the starting position. Complete 3 sets of 5 repetitions per leg. Also, to help release some of the pressure you may feel, use your thumb to press on your hip flexor; it'll be on your side and a little lower than your belly button.

(continued on next blog entry)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hot Weather Training

Ask a Trainer, from Scott Fushi, trainer at Midtown Fitness Center, Putnam CT.

Question: Summer weather can be so hot! I have a hard time working out. Do you have any suggestions or tips on how to beat the heat?

Answer: There are several things you can do to keep your “cool” when exercising during hot weather. These ideas will work well for you whether you are in the gym or active outside, gardening or going for a nice walk.
When outside: keep in shaded areas whenever possible or make your own shade. You can use a hat or an inexpensive portable canopy that you can move while in the garden.

*** This isn’t about staying cool but it is as important! Always use adequate sunscreen protection especially on the children!

An inexpensive spray bottle is a great way to help you cool down when the temperature is up. There are even products in the stores that combine a fan and mister. Whatever you use, you will be glad to have one of these in your hands. You can spray around your whole body and especially your neck and face. This keeps you cool while walking, cycling, or while enjoying the beach. I have used them while jogging and they act as hand weights too.

It is also very important to consider the water inside your body. For every 20 minutes of moderate exercise outside, drink a ½ - full cup more of water than the recommended 6-8 cups per day. After 60 minutes or more of outside activity, electrolyte & mineral replacement is crucial. Sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, or Vitamin Water will help safely hydrate you during endurance type activities. Contact your physician prior to starting any new exercise routine if you have physical or nutritional limitations.

One of your body’s ways of cooling itself is through sweating. Drinking fluids helps keep this cooling system primed and optimizes internal cell functions. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to have a drink! Keep a steady flow of fluids in your system by sipping often during your entire activity/exercise. Big gulps of water can lead to stomach aches or nausea. If you stop sweating, you are at risk of potential dehydration and/or heat exhaustion. Stop your exercise/activity immediately, cool down and hydrate slowly.

Try a cold moist towel draped around your neck and another on your forehead to help in that situation. If a cold wet towel is easily available, this can keep you comfortable in very hot conditions, indoors or outside. The human body is amazing at its adaptability and capabilities, but nothing shuts you down quicker than overheating. If you do not respect this fact, you can find yourself not only uncomfortable, but possibly jeopardizing your health, or the health of children you are responsible for. It is still possible to be active and exercise in hot conditions. A little preparation and awareness will go a long way to insuring a safe and effective workout.

Scott Fushi

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Don't Have The Time

Ask a Trainer, from Scott Fushi, trainer at Midtown Fitness Center, Putnam CT.

Question: I know I need to exercise but my time is stretched as thin as my wallet… any suggestions?
Answer: In today’s tighter economy, time and money are usually the biggest obstacles for most folks when it comes to taking care of yourself through fitness and exercise. Here are a few tips.

You can be efficient and effective with your exercise by using high intensity interval training. This technique is proven to increase your fitness levels while burning more calories throughout not only your workout but the rest of your entire day. You accomplish this by doing short 1 to 2 minute bursts of near maximal effort followed by 1-2 minutes bouts of low intensity activity (no complete rest … don’t lay down…that’s a no-no). These intervals (at first, try 4-5 sets and slowly increase up to 8-9 throughout your workout) can be integrated into any activity or workout you do. It is not limited to weight training or running. You can use it with ellipticals, rowers, indoor or outdoor cycling, walking and even gardening or lawn mowing for that matter. Any activity that requires exertion can fit into this formula for improved fitness.

The benefit of saving time is achieved by working at a higher level of effort; therefore your activity can be completed in 20-40 minutes instead of 60-90, depending on your ability to tolerate the workload. An example would be to walk at moderate pace for 5 minutes (warm-up), then try a 1 minute increase in pace or incline that elevates your heart rate or at least gets you breathing fairly hard. Lower the pace or incline for 2 minutes then repeat the higher load setting and try a little longer duration or higher intensity each successive cycle. The goal is to safely challenge yourself to higher levels of workload, which quickly improves your stamina and strength.

Some people will also monitor heart rate through a simple pulse check to better track performance and improve their results. A range of 70-90 % of training heart rate zone (220 minus your age is you maximum baseline number) attained in the intense intervals is a great starting point for most beginners. The higher your initial fitness level, the higher you can raise this range; some athletes using 100-110% of this training rate. Please consult your physician or therapist if you have any physical limitations prior to starting this or any new exercise/activity. You can also ask your local certified trainer for more information on this very effective technique.

High Intensity Interval Training can increase your metabolism (therefore assist with weight loss) by placing higher energy needs on your body. It is especially essential to adhere to proper nutrition and hydration schedules for this or most any fitness program to be effective. HIIT also requires your body to continually adapt to these ever changing increased workloads or exertion levels and that is why the significant improvements in fitness and strength can take place.

It is difficult at times for people to recognize the long-term benefits of investing their time and money into their own health. The medical field and insurance companies have endless data that without a doubt proves that it is both time and money well spent. You are worth it!

Stop by Midtown Fitness for more information on this or other health related topics and a list of current classes (ask about the free week memberships). Visit or call 860-928-9218. Please submit your ask a trainer question to Scott at

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Subtle Changes – Healthy Lifestyle

Subtle Changes – Healthy Lifestyle

Each January a New Year arrives. With the each New Year, Midtown Fitness hosts its own “Biggest Loser” contest. Midtown’s owners, Mike Bogdanski and Kristin Duethorn, along with our staff of personal trainers and fitness instructors have the privilege of watching the participants work toward their weight loss goals. The contest comes to its 12-week end this week, on Thursday the 18th with the final weigh out and announcement of our 2010 Biggest Loser.

It is our hope, as fitness professionals, these participants will continue their pursuit of a healthier lifestyle by incorporating exercise and healthy eating habits into their routine. How do they accomplish these changes? How do any of us? And why should we? I cannot stress enough the importance of a healthy lifestyle. For any individual, adult or child. It is an investment in your future, your family’s future, your children’s future. As adults we can make the decision to make these healthy changes for ourselves, and set a foundation for our children through example…children learn healthy habits from their parents. Why should they eat properly, play a sport or exercise if you don’t?

What all of us need to remember is this – the weight comes off one pound at a time. A lifetime of neglecting both exercise and healthy eating will not be shed in a month’s time. And, unfortunately, the older we get the more effort we need to put into achieving the end result. That said, the time to start is now. It takes tremendous dedication and commitment, and it is not always going to be easy – or fun for that matter, but looking down the road, meeting challenges, achieving personal goals, seeing and feeling changes are huge rewards.

Small, subtle changes at home are a great start to big improvements in health and weight control. One less can of soda a day, no more sugared cereals, eliminating junk food from your house and placing more emphasis on fruits and vegetables as available snacks, or mainstays at mealtime. Portion control is incredibly important, and will make a noticeable difference in your waistline. Unfortunately, the food companies have made good tasting, low nutrition food easy to store by packing them full of preservatives, and keeping them affordable by using chemicals rather than real food. All the money families “save” by buying these items is lost when poor health factors are plugged into the equation. Poor health is worsened through poor nutrition.

Incorporating activity and exercise also needs to become a habit in order to make this lifestyle change. You don’t need to spend 2 hours a day at the gym – unless you want to! But a gym membership is a great investment in your health. Most people say they don’t have the time to exercise, but what harkens more true is that they fail to make the time for it. If you get in the habit of saving 30 minutes (for beginners) that is all you need to start making long-term improvements in your health and happiness. A fully rounded, healthy lifestyle-including weight loss, is not possible without exercise. Personal trainers and class instructors at the gym are great resources to help with your efforts, and give you the encouragement you need. It is easy to get caught up in the chaos of “life”. Don’t let the cycle of stress, poor diet and sedentary lifestyle be your theme.

Melissa Richards -Certified Personal Trainer

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is Your Exercise Going To The Dogs?

The obesity problem in America is growing faster than we can add notches to our belts. Over 60% of American adults are overweight; over 15% of our children are overweight, and becoming more so at a rapid rate. As a society, we would rather endure almost anything-including a month-long tax audit-than exercise for half an hour. And, now, thanks to the trickle-down effects of our overindulgent, inactive, lifestyles, another weighty crisis is looming. Man’s best friend – the family dog – is battling the bulge too. Not a great way to treat your best friend, in my opinion…

We are given one body to last us for our entire existence here on this planet. Why have the majority of us decided to neglect, even abuse this privilege? Physical fitness is ignored, and replaced with time spent in front of a computer screen or our new 46” flat screen. How has it come to be that we have become a nation transfixed by reality television at the expense of our own health? And in the cases of those of us who choose to achieve a high – or even moderate - level physical fitness, why have we forgotten about our canine companions?

The situation of obese canines has reached epidemic proportions. A report from Veterinary Pet Insurance, Inc. indicates that 25% of dogs are overweight, but most veterinarians believe that the real number is closer to 50%. With over 62 million dogs in the U.S., that is a huge number of overweight four-legged companions. Dogs, by nature, crave attention and affection – rewarding them with food, or “giving love through treats”, is in fact causing more harm than help. By inflicting our sedentary lifestyles on our pets, we are shortening their life spans and limiting their quality of life – which is exactly what we are doing to ourselves!! Your buddy would be much better off, much happier - and well behaved - if you dusted off his leash and spent some quality time on a walk around the block – or, for that matter, a 5-mile run! Even a tennis ball in the back yard for 20 minutes will benefit your dog, and deepen the bond you share. And, unlike their human counterparts, once dogs start a regular exercise routine, they beg for it to be a part of their daily routine. The same remedy that is prescribed for human obesity is also being pushed for pets: regular exercise.

As a fitness advocate, personal trainer, and proud owner of two Labrador Retrievers, I know first hand the importance of incorporating regular exercise into a daily routine – not only for myself, but my dogs. I see the benefits every day. Just as exercise keeps me in shape physically, mentally and spiritually, it does the same for my “best friends.” I shower them with affection through a healthy lifestyle. And by keeping myself healthy and fit – getting to the gym on a regular basis every week – I ensure I am able to provide the same for them. My gym membership is their life insurance policy! So, get to the gym for yourself…get on the trail with your companion! Get fit together!

Melissa C. Richards
Personal Trainer, Midtown Fitness & Martial Arts

Monday, January 11, 2010

Med Ball Tips

Single Leg V-Ups
1. Start position: Lie back onto floor or bench with knees bent, both hands behind head. Keep elbow back and out of sight. Head should be in a neutral position with a space between chin and chest.
2. Leading with the chin and chest towards the ceiling, contract the abdominal and raise shoulders off floor or bench. Extend arms and also raise one leg up toward ceiling.
3. Return to start position.
4. Remember to keep head and back in a neutral position. Hyperextension or flexion may cause injury. To increase resistance, hold medicine ball in hands. To decrease resistance, position hand closer towards body.