Squats are some of the most effective exercises in the pantheon of body conditioning movements. Squats target the large, calorie-hungry muscles of the legs and glutes while providing a secondary core benefit by strengthening the abdominal stabilizers and lower back muscles. The only problem is that squats can become... BORING.
Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. You get the picture.
As a Pilates instructor, I’m always look for ways to make my sessions and classes exciting. Creating dynamic, multi-muscle and multi-plane movements keeps my clients physically and mentally invested in their workouts. Squats and lunges are perfect exercises to use as a foundation for more complex patterns of movement, and I’ve compiled a few of my favorite squat and lunge variations my most recent MINDBODYGREEN article. Click below to read, and use these variations to spice up your next workout!
Summer's almost here, and I'm in a mad scramble to slim down for swimsuit season. Despite my many years as a fitness guru, I'm a real girl who struggles with those last few stubborn pounds, and I understand how frustrating it can be to feel stuck, unable to shed that warm winter weight as the days grow hotter.
So read on to discover 5 of the Top 10 Reasons Why Those Pounds Are Sticking Around. With just a few small changes, it will be so much easier to lose weight, exercise with loads of energy, and feel strong, sleek & sexy, just in time for summer.
# I: YOU’RE DRINKING YOUR CALORIES
The average American consumes up to 500 extra calories per day in SWEETENED BEVERAGES. YIKES! These excess calories come from refined sugar - highly addictive and the primary factor in our current diabetes epidemic. So the first and most important thing to do for weight loss, and your health, is to ditch the soda, juice, alcohol, coffee concoctions, vitamin waters, and other beverages with added sugar. Some alternatives: naturally flavored filtered orsparkling water, herbal or green tea, black coffee, kombucha, and unsweetened coconut water.
# 2: YOUR FOOD COMES FROM A BOX OR BAG
Our greatest obstacle to weight loss is the consumption of shiny colored, cleverly packaged food-like products lining the shelves of our grocery stores. PROCESSED FOODS are steeped in additives, preservatives and chemicals, compounds that pollute our body’s hormonal, metabolic and immune systems. These foreign substances disrupt our body’s ability to properly metabolize energy, resulting in lethargy and weight gain.
CLEAN EATING is the real key to weight loss. Eat whole foods without a package or label, and with just one ingredient - itself! Ditching the junk food will help you shed layers easily without going on a calorie-restricted “diet.”
# 3: YOU’RE STRESSED OUT!!!
Back when we were being chased by saber-toothed tigers, stress was an awesome evolutionary response. A rush of adrenaline and cortisol endowed us with a burst of energy so that we made it to the safest refuge. Our muscles flooded with glucose to provide us the strength to escape danger. MODERN STRESS is a more chronic and insidious bedfellow. The same physiological responses occur, but now we sit at our desks, rub our temples and scrunch our faces. Stress hormones become toxic in our system & disable our ability to burn energy. The body tells the brain to replenish the energy stores it thinks it burned off fleeing from that tiger, so we overeat. Then we grow even more stressed that we’re gaining weight, and the vigorous face scrunching continues!!
So how do we reverse the harmful effects of stress? Meditation, self-care, breathing exercises, vacation - but my favorite stress reducer? EXERCISE. Which brings us to #4...
# 4: EXERCISE IS AN AFTERTHOUGHT
Making time to exercise is HARD. We spend 12 hours a day building our career, 16 hours a day raising our kids, and if we’re lucky we manage to squeeze in a few hours of sleep before we do it all over again. How do we fit in fitness? The only way to stick to a regular routine is to do things you enjoy. Think about what you loved to do as a kid, and look for an adult equivalent. Here are some creative ideas to get your body moving and your blood flowing:
GARDENING . BOOT CAMP . MARTIAL ARTS . SWIMMING . BALLET . SOCCER . BALLROOM DANCING . HIKING . KITE FLYING . ROCK CLIMBING . FOOTBALL . FRISBEE . TWISTER!
Our bodies are designed to move, stretch, leap, play, twist, reach, romp - otherwise we stagnate and suffer. Beyond building strength and promoting weight loss, EXERCISE reduces stress, promotes quality sleep, improves mood, sharpens the mind and boosts self-confidence. WIN, WIN, WIN! So do whatever it takes - get up earlier, store workout gear in your work desk, recruit a friend to help you stay accountable. Embrace exercise not as an afterthought, but as an essential act of love for your body, heart and soul.
# 5: YOU'RE STUCK IN YOUR STORY
The most miraculous - and terrifying - power we have is CHOICE. And it’s not just the choice to embrace a healthy lifestyle. It’s about choosing to the leave behind the STORIES that hold us back. It’s about tearing down the walls of self-doubt, walls we built against the traumas of past experiences, walls that now keep us trapped and unable to unlock the door to a different, better life. It’s scary to lay down the crutches and walk with your own two feet. But those crutches are as much a burden as a bolster. Although you may fall more than once, taking hold of your destiny helps you build the self-trust necessary to get back up and move forward. Then, and only then, will treating yourself with respect be the ONLY choice for you. You’ll instinctively choose nourishing foods, prioritize your exercise regimen, and make time for self-care. You’ll never again need to “diet,” for those pounds will come off naturally, like a blanket you no longer need in the warmth of a new sun.
Acknowledge the stories, good and bad, that have brought you to this moment, and then commit to making a new story, one where the choices are all yours. Break down the wall, see the glimmering possibility of change, and CHOOSE YOU.
Winter is finally over and the landscape is awash with the florid colors of spring. I took my first run in short sleeves last week – hallelujah! – which means bare shoulders, swimsuits and sunscreen are just around the corner. I feel a surge of re-birth, swooning bursts of energy, and the desire to give fat, figurative bear hugs to all my current loves because I’m so damn happy!
So here are a few of my favorite spring things, from sandals to sounds to supporting good causes, to help you to stay healthy as the season blossoms with energy.
À votre santé to you, and a big, personal-space-invading bear hug, too!
I’m a die-hard flip-flopper and rarely stray, but my feet have found nirvana in my new lavender BOKOS, the absolute perfect spring fit for doing almost anything. I wear them to yoga, to the health food store, to preschool pick-up, and soon to the pool. I’m obsessed! They’re comfortable, inexpensive, slip-proof and the BOKOS color palette is sah-weet. The only prerequisite to wearing them? An equally springy pedicure (yes, guys, that means you, too).
Visit BOKOS and use the promo code “LARA” for 20% off your online order! (They run a wee bit big, so order a half size down if in doubt…)
FROM RAVER TO RUNNER: NOKTURNALIST ON SOUNDCLOUD
Dust me off and hand me a glow stick! I spent two years in the underground house scene in early 90’s San Francisco, and the pounding clubs and pebbled beaches of the Bay were pure magic. I was lucky to experience the best dance music being made in the world at that time and, 20 years later, I still search for that beat to quicken my pulse and motivate my runs.
Think of this cat as the King Curator of the most current music in the EDM scene. Through his SoundCloud page, I’ve discovered DJs like Hot Since ’82, Solumun and Maceo Plex, artists making and playing music my crotchety old self would never have been able to find on her own. (i.e., 40-ish mother-of-two still shaking her money maker at the clubs? Uh, no.)
I invite you to follow NOKTURNALIST and keep him in your pocket for a little fire on your runs this spring. My current favorite mix is DJ SOLUMUN IN AMSTERDAM. Tie up your running shoes and turn it up. Guaranteed to improve your splits time, bigtime!
Charity Miles is the Great Idea makes you say, “Now why didn’t I think of that??”
For every mile you walk, run or bike,Charity Miles donates money to a long list of organizations such as Stand Up to Cancer, Habitat for Humanity, Nature Conservancy and more. Bikers earn 10¢ a mile and walkers and runners earn 25¢ a mile for their charity of choice, without ever having to open their wallet.
Simply turn on the app, choose a charity, and press start. As you exercise, the app tracks your distance and the money earned.
So what are you waiting for? Download the app today on your iPhone or Android, get out there in the fresh springtime air, and run, walk or bike for your favorite charity. It feels so good to do good, all while getting healthy. WIN!
I’m not too deep a thinker when it comes to why I exercise. As a Pilates instructor, I can precisely analyze the function of a muscle. But when it comes to deconstructing why I get up at 5am to run, why I go to yoga instead of out to dinner, why I always make time to work out, I don't think about it - I just do it.
Having started gymnastics at 6 years old, fitness was an integral part of my childhood and a practice I carried instinctively into adulthood. But many people are not exposed to fitness as children and grow up without an understanding of how exercise is critical to health, longevity and self-esteem.
So after some analysis, I've identified 10 distinct habits that fit, healthy people practice. I explore these habits in my latest MINDBODYGREEN ARTICLE, practices I invite you to nurture on your journey to becoming the best you can be:
I am so excited to have my first article published on MindBodyGreen, and I wanted to share it with you! Click below to read my story about how Pilates transformed my way of thinking about exercise, and therefore transformed by body, giving me the physique I always wanted but never thought I could have.
Take a moment, right now, and observe your posture. Are you hunched over your laptop, tablet or phone, slumped, a slowly collapsing "C", looking and feeling like a 100-year old Empress Dowager? Time to sit up straight and read about why you need more BOW POSE in your life!
Our socio-cultural environment is centered around the Screen, drawing you forward and down into its hypnotizing blue-iode dream.
This wreaks havoc on the spine, let's count the ways:
- Reverses the natural, stable curve of the lower back, weakening the lumbar muscles and creating an environment for potential disc bulges or herniation
- Requires the hip flexors in the front of the thigh to overwork in its struggle to pull the lower back back into alignment, causing them to grow tight and rigid
- Increases the curvature in the upper back (Kyphosis), weakening the spinal muscles and shortening the front of the shoulder so that proper posture is greatly diminished
- The increased "C" curve in the upper back forces the neck to thrust forward in its effort to align itself properly through gravity, creating tension throughout the neck and shoulders
BOW POSE reverses all of these conditions! Bow is the King of Back Extension exercises and brings the neck, shoulders, spine and hips back into balance. Bow simultaneously lengthens the front of the shoulders, extends the upper back, returns the lumbar back into its natural position, and lengthens the hips flexors. OOOOH, BEAUTIFUL!
When practicing Bow Pose, keep your abdominals drawn in, keep your knees drawing toward one another, and think less of getting up high, but concentrate on GOING LONG, creating a circle from toes to crown of head and back around. Instead of looking up, focus your eyes forward and lift the base of the skull up and back. Practice Bow Pose three times, breathing in and out deeply for five cycles before lowering down in between each rep. Then finish in Child's Pose for a few breaths and let the endorphins flood your body before commencing with your day.
Enjoy the strength, the release, the breath and the Beauty of the Bow...
It’s Lara here, reaching out to my amazing community from coast to coast and beyond. I’m plop in the middle of the country as I write these words, braced against the fierce winds of a bellicose Chicago winter, missing the crisp California sunshine and reflecting on the 2 years since my family and I transplanted ourselves to the Midwest. Here’s a musical expression of how I’m feeling:
In all seriousness and despite what’s turned out to be the worst winter in 30 years, my time in Chicago has been a necessary step in the evolution of both my teaching career and my desire to learn more, understand more, do more. Separating myself from the habits and history of 20 years spent in the easy arms of the West Coast has provided me a solitary period of introspection, a recalibration of who I am as a leader in and lover of All Things Wellness. My passion for the body and its potential has grown even stronger, and with it my means to share this passion has transformed to better suit this new and wondrous process of personal growth.
What I've learned:
• WELLNESS is so much more than just FITNESS (but don’t stop doing sit-ups, I beg).
• YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT, and this message is critically important NOW (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, HELP!).
• CHANGE requires risk-taking, courage and self-trust. So get some grit and JUMP.
• KNOWLEDGE is life’s magic dust. Never stop LEARNING.
Welcome to my new blog, comprised of anecdotes and insights on topics spanning the vast spectrum of Wellness. These posts, sent lovingly to your InBox each week, are dedicated to the journey I’ve embarked upon as I transition away from my role as "Trainer" and toward a deeper role of "Teacher," with the aspiration that these words on the page help you with your own journey through the currents of continuous change.
(my home writing station)
I hope you find a dusting of truth, humor and wind-in-the-hair resonance within this, past and future posts, as well as a sense of identification with me as I take risks, crack jokes, and hold onto the ride of life. After communing with you as a Pilates instructor over these last 15 years, I can’t wait to see what the next 15 have in store for us.