Practical tips for a healthier 2013: Get fit by doing less

Originally Featured in the Boston Globe: 12/31/2012


Instead of completely overhauling your diet and exercise plan, or resolving to vaguely work out more to get in better shape this year, I challenge you to do less! Start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself.

The ability to sustain change significantly decreases when you try to develop too many new habits at once. So this year, establish one ultimate long-term goal, and then adopt a new small change each month that will lead you to your goal.

For example, if you want to lose 20 pounds of fat by the end of 2013, in January you might start with a goal of exercising 10 times this month, which comes out to roughly twice a week. Once that behavior becomes a habit, then you layer on something else the next month.

In February you’d still keep up the 10 workouts, but also establish a new action, like having a cup of vegetables with each meal. So as March rolls around, you’ve exercised 20 times over the past two months, and getting those veggies in has become second nature.

Next, you might be ready to walk the several flights of stairs each day to your office instead of taking the elevator.

Before you know it, you’ve developed all these wonderful habits that have become ingrained in your behaviors and will lead you to more meaningful and permanent lifestyle changes. Allowing yourself to really focus on and master one change at a time will help you adhere to your plan and achieve your goal. - RYAN HEALY, TRAINER

Dealing with Post-Workout Soreness

Originally Featured on 5/29/2013

Q. Should I feel sore after every workout?
A. If you've ever tried a new fitness class or workout routine and were left unable to reach the top cabinet, or walk down the stairs the next day without wincing, then you've experienced the wrath of DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness.

DOMS peaks 24-78 hours after exercise. It's hypothesized that this soreness is due to tiny microscopic tears in the muscle that typically result from an unaccustomed change in exercise intensity, duration, type, load, or selection. What does this mean? New challenges are more likely to make you sore. DOMS starts to lessen as your body adapts and becomes familiar with the new demands placed upon it. However, what this doesn't mean is that you need to feel this tenderness after each workout.

Soreness is not an indicator of the quality of your workouts, or the progress your body is making, and continued soreness can even prompt you to workout less frequently. Muscle strength or hypertrophy gains can be made with or without this feeling. Although, soreness can be an indicator of how well you're recovering.

If I had a client who was continually sore after each workout without major changes to their routine, I might start asking questions about the quality of their sleep and diet, or scale back the difficulty of their program.

If you are experiencing DOMS, what can help you feel better is some light activity such as walking, foam rolling, massage, or stretching. 

    Fitness and Nutrition While Traveling

    Originally Featured on 2/12/2013

    Fitting in exercise and eating well while traveling does have its challenges, but it can be done! I recently went away for three nights and want to share with you some tips I used for staying on track while away from home.

    My best advice in this department would be to find a hotel that provides a mini-fridge as an amenity. My boyfriend and I stocked ours with strawberries, broccoli, greens powder, protein shakes, carrots, cucumbers, hard boiled eggs, hummus, chicken sausage, low fat cheese, snack size packets of guacamole, blueberries, string cheese, limes, clementines, and my slightly different version of these lemon poppy protein bars. We packed everything in a cooler for the ride up. If you don't have access to a fridge, you have a few options. You can keep the cooler outside if the temperature is low enough, fill Ziploc bags daily with ice from the hotel to keep your cooler cold, or pack foods that don't require refrigeration. Examples would include almonds, walnuts, nut butters, apples, bananas, oranges, protein and/or greens powder, canned beans, the protein bars mentioned above, or peppers.

    If you're dining out, many restaurants now display their menus online and sometimes even the nutritional content of their items. Taking a look at these will help you make better decisions once you get there. Items that are baked, broiled, steamed, or grilled are usually lower in calories. Descriptions that use the words deep-fried, pan-fried, basted, batter-dipped, breaded, creamy, crispy, scalloped, alfredo, au gratin, or in cream sauce generally indicate meals that are higher in calories. Don't be afraid to ask for extra vegetables, or to swap the rice, potatoes, or pasta for vegetables. Restaurants are usually very accommodating. If you're dining out multiple times throughout your stay, try picking one meal or dessert that you want to indulge in, and choose healthier items the rest of the time.

    Booking a hotel with a fitness center or pool is a huge bonus, and makes fitting in exercise much easier. Even a basic one that has a few dumbbells, a bench, and a treadmill, like the one where we stayed, can provide countless options. For instance, after a dynamic warm-up, I performed 6 sets of the following three exercises back to back: goblet squat, 3-point row, and half kneeling overhead press. The next day I did treadmill hill sprint intervals.


    A great strength training routine can even be done in your room by incorporating exercises such as bodyweight squats, push-ups, lunges, planks, or hip bridges. For more intensity try squat jumps, burpees, plyometric push-ups, lunge jumps, up/down planks, or single leg hip bridges.

    If your hotel has a pool, you can do laps or water running. Try running the stairwells, or walk around the hotel. Sneak exercise into your vacation with activities like walking tours, skiing, biking, hiking, or snow shoeing, depending upon your location. Be creative! There are countless ways to fit in exercise. Just because you don't have your usual gym nearby, don't let that stop you. Doing the best you can in these situations is much better than doing nothing at all.

    Ways to Sneak in More Exercise During the Day

    Originally Featured on

    If you're like one of many Americans that sits a lot during the day at a desk, computer, sofa, or behind the wheel, it can be helpful to sneak in some extra physical activity during the day, even if you're going to the gym regularly. Temporary breaks from sitting can help with blood sugar and blood pressure management. They give you a chance to stretch your muscles and increase blood flow. When we sit all day our body becomes much more prone to muscular imbalances such as tight hip flexors, weak and lengthened glutes, tight chest muscles, and poor posture. Here are some ways that you can help counteract these changes and fit in more activity during the day. 

    • Do morning mobility work upon waking: Start your day off feeling right. 
    • Park further away: Not only will you be able to find a spot easily at the back of the parking lot, but you can add on some serious exercise time to your day. If you parked 3 minutes further away each day, you'd add on an extra 30 minutes each week and about 1,500 minutes for the year! 
    • Take the stairs: It can seem easier to take the elevator, but for small trips up or down a few flights of stairs, use muscle power instead. You'll probably get there in the same amount of time. 
    • Join a gym near work: If you get a lunch break then you can easily squeeze in a 30 minute workout if you have a fitness center near your place of employment. It's a great way to break up the day and can leave you feeling more energetic and focused when you return to your desk. 
    • Go for a walk on your lunch break: Getting some fresh air and sunshine is great for your body and mind! See if a co-worker wants to join so you have some company. 
    • Use the bathroom on a different floor: This can also add several more minutes of walking everyday to your physical activity total.
    • Drink lots of water: Staying hydrated will mean more frequent trips to the restroom and the water cooler, both of which will have you moving around much more!
    • Take a movement break during work: Make sure to target your chest and hip flexors! 
    • Use commercials wisely: Instead of raiding the cabinets at night during commercials, use the time to do a set of squats, push-ups, jumping jacks, lunges, or planks. You can get a full body workout in while watching a 60 minute program! 
    • Exercise with friends: As an alternative to meeting your friends for coffee and sitting down, see if you can catch up over a walk or through playing sports like tennis, basketball, or squash.

    Spartan Sprint at Fenway Park: My first obstacle race

    Originally Featured on 11/19/2012

    It was a cold and frosty morning as we walked towards the gates outside of Fenway Park. I exhaled, watching my icy breath, as I took in the magnitude of the event we were about to begin. It was here that I was about to take part, for the first time ever, in a craze that's been sweeping the country: obstacle racing.

    You may have heard of events like the Tough MudderWarrior Dash, or the race we ran, a Spartan Sprint. Individuals and teams run from one obstacle to the next, completing challenges that test them mentally and physically, often involving fire, mud, water, barbed wire, crawling, climbing, or scaling walls. So when my boyfriend challenged me in June to complete this race with him and a group of his friends and clients, I was hesitant. It was something I'd never done before, I was nervous, but my gut told me that this is my year to try more things that edge me out of my comfort zone and into new and exciting experiences. It would be good for me, or so I hoped.

    The day finally arrived, Sunday November 18th, and we stood as a team among thousands that raced that weekend, huddling and jumping around to stay warm, as we waited to be called to the start line. We finally got the nod, and it was 10 burpees before they even said go, and then we were off and up the ramps lined with rope we had to either crawl under or jump over, to the top of the stands. We raced up, down, and across countless sets of bleachers. We slammed medicine balls, carried cement blocks, and ran up and down stairs with water jugs to the top of Fenway.

    Inside the park we traversed countless walls of varying heights, climbed cargo nets, ropes, and slatted pyramid structures. We pulled cement blocks attached to ropes into the air until they were dangling at the top of the rafters, carried a 60 pound sandbag on our shoulders running up and down the stadium, rowed, hopped, did Spartan push-ups, and ran across the Green Monster.

    Once we got outside, obstacles included a heavy weighted jump rope, baseball toss, javelin throw, and a horizontal rock wall. The last and final stretch of the event was on the field, an incredible feeling in itself, but even more special because it signified the end of an intense and taxing race. We were just a large vertical wall, 30 burpees, a cargo net, 10 box jumps, and a gladiator style pummeling away from the finish line. And just as we started the race, we finished together.

    The day felt monumental for so many reasons. I saw more of Fenway that I'd ever imagined. I competed on the same field as some of the legendary players like Carlton Fisk, Ted Williams, and Jim Rice. I have a new appreciation for all that my body can do and how well it performed challenges I've never asked of it. But the most significant reason this race was so enjoyable for me was because I was part of an incredible team. A team that never left anyone behind, stayed positive, and kicked some serious butt. Each of us had different obstacles that we excelled at and obstacles that we leaned on our teammates to get through. The race tested our endurance, agility, resilience, and strength, but we did it, at our own pace, and we did it together.

    The "Fat Burning Zone"

    Originally Featured on

    Q. If my goal is weight loss, should I be using the fat burning mode on the cardio machines when I workout?

    A. Great question! The fat burning zones that are listed on the cardio machines are a bit misleading. Let me explain why.

    When working in this zone, you're working aerobically, meaning you're not breathless, and you're maintaining an effort level that's sustainable for at least two minutes or more. This is typically a slow or moderate pace for most people. At this intensity, the fuel source that contributes the most to this type of activity is fat, which is why it's named the fat burning zone.

    When you work beyond this intensity, performing activities such as sprints or resistance training, the primary fuel source becomes carbohydrates.

    The problem with only training in the fat burning zone is that you burn fewer total calories, from both of these fuel sources.

    To maximize overall calorie burn, aim for a higher intensity, which is often listed as the cardio zone on machines, or perform high intensity intervals which will have you burning more calories up to 24 hours after your sweat session! 

    Find your Perfect Push-up

    Originally featured on

    Push-ups are one of those great exercises that are rarely done correctly, but when they are; give you big bang for your buck in terms of upper body strength. Not everyone should, or is able to start by doing push-ups from the ground and on the toes. If core or back strength is inadequate, often times the low back starts to resemble a hammock or elbows flare out to the sides.

    To find the best push-up variation for you, pick one that allows you to keep your body in a straight line from toes (or knees if doing a modified push-up) to ears throughout the full range of motion. That means no sagging low backs, high in the air hips, or drooping heads at any point in the movement. For more great tips on technique, check out this informative article. Which one is best for you? Well, here are four great variations, with one to fit almost everyone.

    1. Push-up on an Incline (Best option for beginners when using a high incline)


    • The higher the incline, the easier the push-up 
    • Keep abdominals braced and glutes contracted (with all variations)
    • Move bar further down to increase difficulty

    2. Modified Push-up








    • Knees stay on the ground
    • Feet can stay on the ground or be up and crossed
    • Involves a little less of the core than the other variations

    3. Standard Push-u


    • Elbows should stay at a 45 degree angle
    • Feet set widely apart is easiest
    • Bring feet closer together to make the movement harder

    4. Three Point Push-up (Hardest)







    • Place one foot on top of the other or hold one leg extended in the air
    • Alternate evenly which foot is off the ground 
    • Place feet on an elevated surface to make exercise even harder

    Fitness Fun While on Vacation

    As originally written for

    A few weeks ago I spent seven glorious days on Kezar Lake in Maine with my family. We've been going there for quite a long time, lured by the quiet calm of the clear lake and the imposing mountains surrounding. One of my favorite aspects of this annual vacation is getting away from structured gym workouts and instead pushing myself physically outdoors among the trails, in the lake, and through the fields. I always wonder why I don't do more of these activities at home when I feel so mentally and physically recharged from them. If you're someone who hates the gym or is headed out of town soon, don't worry, there are plenty of alternative workouts and sports to try whether you're on vacation or at home. Here's what I did. 

    After driving the first day, my body was pretty tight and stiff, and interval style swim in the lake was the perfect way to cool off and stretch out.

    Throughout the next several days, my boyfriend, whose had years of extensive training in martial arts, taught me various striking and defensive techniques as the sun rose up over the lake. A fun experience for both of us to share, even despite the strange looks we received. 

    We also fit in an outdoors full body strength workout using exercises like push-ups, planks, heavy bag flips, and yes, we used that birch tree log shown in the picture below for overhead squatting. Equipment? Who needs that?

    The next day we did a partner conditioning workout using super bands. This article from Experience Life magazine has many of the same drills we did. Heart pumping and FUN! If you don't have a partner, you can anchor one of the bands to a sturdy base like a power rack, or in my case, the deck.

    The rest of the week was filled with tubing, paddle boarding, canoeing, and swimming around the lake. It was wonderful. Was the intensity that week probably a little lower than my normal workouts? Yes. But did they leave me feeling more rejuvenated, satisfied, and relaxed after? Absolutely. There's a time and place for everything!

    Helping Children Become More Active

    It seems that kids today are spending less and less time playing outside or running around with their peers, and more time in front of screens.  Televisions, phones, video games, and computers have replaced traditional toys and games, and reap much of their attention and preoccupation.  Combine this with the incessant advertisements for junk foods geared towards children by the media they’re watching and you’ve got a recipe for trouble.  The great news is that as parents or caregivers there are so many ways that we can help our children lead active and healthy lifestyles.  Here are a few ideas.

    • Lead by example:  Growing up my Mom had a few quotes on her organizational white board that really struck her and were worth a daily reminder.  One of them was “Children learn by example.”  As a Mom myself now, I can truly understand how true this statement is.  My son, still a toddler, wants to do everything I do and wants to eat everything I eat.  What a perfect opportunity for me to teach him about things we value as a family, one of them being a healthy and active lifestyle.  By filling my plate up with nutritious wholesome foods and working out at home or the gym, I’m proud to be setting a good example for him.  As he grows up he’ll understand the importance of taking care of himself so that he can be strong, mobile, feel good, and learn how to manage stress in a healthy way.

    • Get them involved:  Younger children not only want to copy their parents’ activities but can feel a sense of importance in the family by doing so.  Let them help you with physical activities such as raking leaves, gardening, shoveling, or picking up their toys.  Make it fun for them by getting them kid sized tools that are appropriate for their age and the task at hand.  Have a competition when it comes time to putting away the toys and see who can put away the most toys in a few minutes time.  They might not end up helping you that much but they’ll be proud that they could contribute and spend some special time with you too.

    • Limit screen time:  Being a parent means making hard decisions that aren’t always popular but have the child’s best interest at heart.  Step in and establish some ground rules on what is an acceptable amount of “screen time” for each child on the weekdays and weekends and post this sheet in a central area of the house so children will be frequently reminded of the rules.  Make sure to have plenty of other games and toys easily accessible during non-screen hours.  The American Academy of Pediatrics advises no screen time for children under two, and children over this age up to one to two hours daily at most.  You can find more tips on screen time limits here.

    • Go outside with a few basic toys:  You don’t need an expensive trampoline or in-ground pool just to get your kids moving.  A few basic, versatile toys will get their imaginations going and their hearts pumping faster as they move around and have fun.  Toys like bouncy balls, various sports balls, jump ropes, skip its, pogo sticks, bubbles, chalk for hopscotch, or a bike (with helmet of course) all encourage active and creative play.  If you don’t have a safe outdoor space by your house, try a local park and bring some of these toys with you.  Don’t let the cold weather stop you either.  Check out my previous post on winter activities here and check out the comments too for more great suggestions.

    • Enroll them in physical activities:  There are so many great enriching after school classes, sports, or activities that you can sign your child up for these days.  Your local Parks and Rec or YMCA most likely offers numerous age appropriate kids classes that range from karate, strength training, bootcamp, rock climbing, swimming, skiing, and many others!  In fact, the youth basketball league at the YMCA is what ignited my passion for the sport in the 4th grade.  I can only hope my son will find a passion of his there too!

    How to Fit in Exercise with your Kids

    As originally written for

    As a society, our occupations and leisure time are becoming increasingly sedentary. This applies to children too, as it seems kids today are spending less time playing outside or running around with their peers, and more time in front of screens. Televisions, phones, video games, and computers have replaced traditional toys and activities, and reap much of their (and our) attention and preoccupation. The great news is that as parents or caregivers, there are so many ways that we can lead active and healthy lifestyles with our children. Here are a few ideas:

    For younger children such as infants and toddlers, try putting them into a stroller or baby carrier and go for a walk, or even a run if you have a jogging stroller. Take them to the park and play, or go visit a pond to feed the ducks. Bringing toys and snacks to keep them happy always helps, as well as playing games like 'I spy' or 'peek-a-boo'. As you stroll through a local park you can even stop briefly to fit in exercises such as lunges, squats, push-ups, and burpees alongside your baby. Here's a great parent and baby workout that requires no exercise equipment. Also, many gyms offer "Mommy and Me" group exercise classes where you can socialize with other mothers of infants and get a workout in too.

    For older children, engage in activities and play with them, don't just be a spectator. Go to the park and run around together, play ball or tag, toss a Frisbee, jump rope, or even use the jungle gym as exercise equipment (try pull-ups, push-ups, or the monkey bars). In the summer, seek out seasonal activities like going to the beach or pool and swimming, walking, digging, boogie boarding, or playing volleyball. Kayaking, paddle boarding, badminton, biking, and hiking are also great options. When the snow starts falling and temperatures drop, you don't have to hibernate until spring. Beat cabin fever and get outside and enjoy the winter through activities such as cross-country or downhill skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, skating, walking, or playing in the snow. If money is a concern, try borrowing the equipment from friends or rent the necessary gear to see if you like the activity first. If you want to stay indoors, many family-focused fitness centers offer open swim or gym time, allowing you to escape the house and have fun together. Another tip for kids of all ages is to set limits on screen time for weekdays and weekends, which opens up more opportunities for physical play.

    No matter which activity you choose, of utmost importance is that as parents we are leading by example with our behaviors. If your children see you embracing physical activity as a fun and necessary part of your life, chances are they will be more inclined to enjoy it as well. Incorporate your kids and their suggestions when planning different activities each month so that they feel involved and excited.

    I'd love to hear from you! How do you stay active with your kids?