5 Squat Variations You've Never Tried Before

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!

5 Squat Variations You've Never Tried Before

My Favorite Spring Things

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!

MY NEW FOOT FETISH: BOKOS

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.

This spring, I found my muse: NOKTURNALIST on SoundCloud.

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!

FEELING GOOD BY DOING GOOD: CHARITY MILES

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!

HAPPY SPRING!

Xoxoxo - Lara

DJ Merc, Makin' You Werk

I’ve always been a sucker for the Beat. My parents had a prodigious record collection and a great love of music, so whether it was the Beatles, Bowie or the Bee Gees, our turntable was always spinning. I loved the ebony mystery of our wall-to-wall vinyl, stacked alphabetically left to right like 2-D dominos tilting along our living room floor. And although I could appreciate the rawness and rock of Creedence Clearwater Revival, my fingers would linger two letters further until I found Earth, Wind and Fire. Aw, yeah, that got my toddler booty shaking.

In the early Eighties, I was a die-hard competitive gymnast and my coaches called me the “musical one”, the gymnast who could also dance well – a nice enough compliment, but that also meant I was uncontrollably lanky and couldn’t power over the vault to save my life (damn you, horse!). But with a natural understanding of basic gymnastic requirements and a grasp of rhythm, space, structure, and timing, I began assisting my coaches in choreographing floor routines for the other gymnasts on my team. I was eleven.

I’ve gone through many self-iterations: skinny gymnast, stormy Goth club kid, San Francisco Raver, undergraduate theatre major, professional dancer, Pilates instructor, DVD workout choreographer, business owner. And through it all, music has been a constant presence, making life richer, deeper, more rhythmic, more visceral.

Here are my top picks for places where you can discover the best music being made today:

KCRW is a listener-supported radio station run out of a basement studio at Santa Monica City College. It is also SoCal’s NPR station, so a good portion of the day is devoted to news. But their music program is insane, with never-before heard tracks from artists from all over the world. My favorite programs are The Drop with Liza Richardson and Metropolis with Jason Bentley. Start by listening to their streaming music channel, or download KCRW’s app. You'll never again miss out on the magical discoveries at the edge of the musical frontier.

 

SomaFm is a listener-supported, underground/alternative radio broadcasting station, with music hand-picked by award-winning DJs and music directors, and it has something for every musical taste. If you’ve got a paper to write, a kitchen to clean or a magazine to read, put on one of their 20 unique channels and go to work. Some of my favorites: Space Station, Underground Eighties, Suburbs of Goa.

 

If you’re a fan of our Mercury Method playlists, you’re in luck! I’ve created my own Spotify account called ListentoLara and have downloaded all our workout soundtracks for your enjoyment. Each soundtrack is approximately 60 minutes, perfect for a hard muscle conditioning session or a beat-fueled run through the streets of your town. Guaranteed you’ll feel stronger, tougher, cooler, faster with these soundtracks at your back - just look for the moniker MERCURY METHOD. Here’s a new track I discovered (while to listening to KCRW, of course), coming soon to a ListentoLara playlist near you:

Isn’t life more fun set to a soundtrack? I invite you to explore the most human of artistic expressions – music from the voice, from the hands, from the heart. As it always has for me, finding the right music for who you are today gives you the gift of context, memory, emotion, inspiration. There is a beat out there that will help best express the vast and malleable roles we play, a sonic throughline of rhythm.

I’ll be adding playlists to Spotify, so be sure to follow me, I promise to keep it real…

REAL GOOD, that is!

Survival of Your Winter Workouts

This is my second winter in Chicago, and this year, the season is taking its toll on my workout regimen. Last winter was long but relatively snow-free, so I was able to get outside (with myriad layers of proper gear) and run through the streets of the city during the deepest months, feeling cold but highly accomplished due to my get-out-there grit where others chose to stay indoors to drink beer and lament winter's heavy hand.

But this year? SNOW, SNOW, SNOW. The white world outside my window is beautiful for like maybe 5 minutes, but then it dawns on me that in order to continue life as usual, I have to trudge through the drifts with my Paul Bunyan snow boots, my hat, gloves, scarf, my puffy Michelin-Man coat - you get the picture. With each falling snowflake, the idea of staying at home with a nice buzz and self-righteous complaints about the weather sounds better and better.

I get it, Chicago! I get the temptation to hibernate, to gain a few pounds and blame it on the scene outside, to make excuses for your inactivity by scapegoating the snow.

But I'm a California girl and I will not succumb! Instead, I've developed some strategies that are helpful when the weather is bad and you REALLY want to stay under the covers.

1. FIND A HOT WORKOUT STUDIO: Okay, so maybe I'm biased because I own a studio that offers heated core-based strength training classes (Mercury Method, anyone?), but I can't tell you how good it feels to warm your bones in a heated room when the elements have put the city in deep freeze. Like a lizard on a hot rock, you can feel the heat seeping deep into your inner layers so you get warm from the inside out. And the fact that you are moving your body, lubricating your joints, circulating your blood, breathing deeply and breaking a sweat means that you're strengthening your own internal heat engine. Hot yoga is the most popular heated practice by far, but more and more group fitness studios are offering warm workouts, so check the current programming at your local fitness centers.

2. LACK MOTIVATION TO LEAVE THE HOUSE? - BUILD A BATHROOM GYM BASKET: It sounds simple enough, but this tactic has gotten me to keep my workout commitments more than anything else. Before you go to bed, pull all your workout gear together - pants, top, tennis shoes, water bottle, ear buds, etc. - put them in a basket in your bathroom so the next morning all you have to do is either: a) put it on!, or b) throw it in a gym bag and take it to work with you. If you wake up in the morning and in the semi-darkness try to hunt around for all that stuff, you'll blow it off altogether. A little preparation goes a long way, so take 5 minutes before bed and get your gear in order!

3. AT-HOME WORKOUT DVD'S ARE WHERE IT'S AT: Okay, I admit that on the coldest, darkest days, you are best served by surrendering to the power of Mother Nature. Stay home, hang out, catch up on domestic duties and watch an extra episode of Real Housewives. But be sure to carve out some time for an at-home workout. Roll out a mat, pop in your favorite workout DVD (many available on NetFlix and streaming) and combat seasonal fatigue with at least 30 minutes of rigorous exercise!

Remember, working out doesn't make you tired; exercise energizes you through deep breathing, circulation and muscle strengthening. Burn off those glucose reserves so you feel more like a red-hot phoenix and less like the icy sludge piled up outside your front door.

Winter tests your fitness fortitude, but don't allow yourself to fall victim to its hypothermic charms! Use any and all means to keep moving - stretch, curl, twist, arch, breathe and keep generating your inner sunshine when there is none outside. This too shall pass, and with it comes the beauty and re-birth of Springtime, when you can show some skin and show off that svelte physique you created during the worst of winter. Put your head down, put your Lululemons on, and get to it!

Christmas in Chicago

This year was technically our first Christmas in Chicago; last year we were poised to host our Pittsburgh relatives at our new Chi-Town condo, but a family illness prevented them from traveling. So we piled all our presents into the FJ Cruiser and hightailed it to the 'Burgh. Our cousins were so grateful that they made my kids this amazing construction paper Christmas tree (my husband's family is Jewish but gracefully tolerate my hysterical obsession with all things Kris Kringle)...

Fast forward a year and here's the Real Thing, decorated with the help of my children. What an incredibly fun and wondrous tradition - I skipped the tree thing for almost 10 years, and now that I have 2 little rug rats, I've recommenced all those special and dearly missed Christmas rituals. 

We got a white Christmas this year, or should I say a White December - it snowed all month long and I can't tell you how inconvenient it made my workout schedule! I didn't run outside for 3 weeks, and lots of time was spent indoors making Santa-shaped cookies with sprinkles.

And eating them. 

But instead of feeling Scrooge-y about consuming more sugar / burning less calories, I allowed myself to indulge just a little. I snuggled with the kids, watched nostalgic holiday movies, stayed up late with the husband drinking apple cider gin cocktails, and wrapped presents, humming with the buzz of Christmas spirit (the gin helped).

On Christmas Day, I spent the morning watching my kids open their presents, reminiscing about my magical Christmas mornings as a child. Every year my brother and I would sneak upstairs to open our stockings and overload on chocolates before the sun was up. My mom and dad would put on Christmas choral music and we'd spend the day together opening presents, eating a salty-sweet breakfast, and deciding on which movie we should go see in the late afternoon. My parents really knew how to do Christmas, and I aspire every year to recreate that same sense of delight for my children.

The weather opened up on the 26th and the temperature climbed into the 30's. So I put on my running shoes and got outside, looping 6 miles to my favorite park and back. It was a difficult distance after such a long break, but I feel a sense of accomplishment for getting out there and getting it done.

All in all, our Christmas was perfect. I allowed myself to take a break and enjoy this most precious time of year, I felt a deeper appreciation for my family and for those traditions we carry through the generations, and I offered up gratitude for the childhood memories my family so lovingly helped to create during Christmases past. I hope you, too, enjoyed your holiday season. Now time to turn your thoughts toward 2014! - Xoxoxo Lara