Creating a Sustainable Exercise Program, Part 1

Starting an exercise program can be exciting, terrifying, exhilarating, and daunting – all in the same minute. I’ve seen many people, excited to start, get so wrapped up in trying to do everything that they quickly end up doing nothing, shut down by trying to change too many things at once.

There are also success stories that we see every day: people who go from sedentary to regularly active, and even become avid exercisers. There’s no real “secret” to making this change – it’s all about figuring out how exercise can work for you, and having the patience to let yourself adapt to the changes and see the results. Different people transition from their holding patterns to sustainable, healthy activity levels in different ways. The trick is using the right strategy.

Start small:

People often think that to have a healthy lifestyle and exercise routine, wholesale changes need to be made – exercise an hour a day, do something for every muscle, eat only salad, things like that. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Instead, pick one thing to work on. The science behind habit formation is pretty well established, and tells us that we need three to four weeks to make a new action or activity part of our routine. Set yourself up for success by working on one thing at a time.

Don’t: Think you have to exercise for an hour a day and eat only salad and grapefruit.

Do: Start small with some challenging-but-do-able exercise for 10-20 minutes, three to four times a week. You’ll quickly be able to progress from there.

Choose something you enjoy:

It’s so much easier to exercise regularly when it’s something you’re looking forward to. Personally, I hate running, but I love lifting weights. I grin like the Cheshire Cat when I get to lift heavy things. But I know that sometimes I need to work on my cardio, and I know that to do so successfully, I need to do it with some distraction involved. My solution was to play recreational rugby and soccer – plenty of running, but plenty of distraction. It did take me a few tries to figure out exactly what sports I really enjoyed playing, but it was worth the process.

Don’t: Choose something you don’t enjoy, just because you think it’s good for you.

Do: Find something you look forward to!

Remember why you want to change:

It can be easy to get lost in the day-to-day effort of creating a new, long-term exercise program (or creating any new habit). The work required for a lasting change is a little easier when you keep your “big picture” goal in mind, whether it be a health goal, improved ability to keep up with the kids, or wanting to wow old classmates at a high school reunion.

Don’t: Focus on the hard stuff without thinking about the benefits of doing it.

Do: Create reminders of your “big picture” goal to keep it on your mind. Vision boards or reminder notes on the refrigerator, in the car, or on the bathroom mirror can all keep you focused on why you’re working hard – which can make the hard work easier.

Each strategy presented here and in Part 2 of this series can be useful when you’re working on creating a sustainable and hopefully lifelong exercise habit. I say habit – it’s important to note that your interests and reasons for exercising might change throughout life, and so might your routine. Maybe you’ll have to re-strategize, but that’s ok. It gets easier with practice, and the really important thing is to keep moving!

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of this series.


This article is has also been published at our sister site, Fix Fitness & Bodywork – Alexandria’s premier in-home personal training and massage providers. Visit us there if you want to exercise the sustainable way!

Exercise of the Week: The Split Squat

No matter what your goal is, single leg exercises may be your best friend.

Look better? Check. Single leg exercises help build the muscle that provides definition, and will definitely get your heart rate up too, so there are more calories burned.

Feel better? Check. These exercises are way more back-friendly than your traditional loaded squats and deadlifts, since much less weight is required to get the same sort of challenge. Anything that is automatically less of an injury risk is a good choice! The greater muscle mass and the cardio effect mentioned above also have positive effects on your metabolism and other health markers like blood pressure and blood sugar control.

Perform better? Check. Performance can mean a successful 100-yard punt return, or the ability to get through daily life more easily and efficiently. Single leg training boosts leg strength, core control, balance, and stamina if done correctly. These exercises are also about a functional as you can get – every time you take a step, you’re doing single leg work.

There are a slew of single leg exercises out there, some more challenging than others. I LOVE the split squat – it’s a great single leg starter, but can be made as challenging as you like with the addition of extra weight. The exercise effect is similar to a lunge, but because there is no step involved with the split squat, balance is somewhat easier and you can focus more on your technique. Which you definitely want to do – always and no matter what.

Exercise type: Strength building

What it does: Creates strength in the glutes (butt) and quads (front of thigh) while building/maintaining a core training effect.

How to:

Split Squat

– From standing, take a big step behind you (enough that you have room to move when you squat, but aren’t feeling too stretched out – you may need to adjust a few times).
– Feel should be hip width, toes pointed forward.
– Keep your body weight balanced between your feet or slightly towards your front heel, and your torso upright. Drop the back knee down towards the ground.
– Stop the back knee a few inches from the ground. Don’t slam your knee down. Your front and back knee should both be bent to about 90 degrees (as pictured).
– Push through your front heel (and a little through your back leg) to return to start position
– Your torso should remain upright through the whole movement, and your front knee should stay about in line with your ankle.
– Keep tummy and pelvic floor tight as you move.

You should feel: Work through your front leg (especially quad and glute) and a tight core throughout the movement. You should not feel any knee pain – if you do, stop the exercise, and get a coach or trainer to check your technique.


Disclaimer: This does not constitute medical advice, and not all exercises may be suitable for all people. Please consult your health care professional if you are unsure whether these exercises are right for you. If these exercises increase pain or any other symptoms, please stop immediately and consult your health care professional. For best results, get your doctor, physical therapist, and personal trainer/exercise coach talking for a united approach – as well as your chiropractor and massage therapist if you see these. To find out who I refer to in the Alexandria area or the rest of Northern Virginia, please get in touch.

Food Friday: Chocolate Chippers

I’m pretty sure these little balls of yum are why my husband married me.

Even the most dedicated personal trainer, coach, nutritionist, and health-and-fitness nut will want a treat from time to time. The chocolate chipper – another from the files of the fabulous Georgie Fear – is one of the most delicious chocolate-muffin-cookie combinations to ever come out of my kitchen, and definitely one of our go-tos when we want to indulge with minimum guilt . It’s about as healthy as a chocolate morsel gets, and lives happily in your freezer, so you can have them on hand without being tempted to eat the whole batch. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?

Ask Georgie chocolate chippersYou can find the recipe here. Just a note, too: you can use-all purpose flour instead of pastry flour (also called cake flour), but you’ll run the risk of ending up with tough chippers, especially if you overmix the batter when you add wet to dry. Georgie points out that this should be mixed until dry ingredients are just moistened. Take this to heart, or you might end up eating chocolate-flavored cardboard.

Anatomy Basics: Your Deltoids

Let’s talk deltoids! Your deltoids – or delts, in more common gym-speak – are the muscles that make the rounded ‘cap’ of the shoulder. They are named for the Greek letter delta, which is shaped like a triangle, and play a role in every movement of the shoulder. Though one muscle, the delt has three parts, called heads, based on where the muscle fibers originate: the anterior, the middle or lateral, and the posterior. Each of the heads has a movement specialty, so to speak, based on it’s starting point.

Location: The shoulder, right at the top of the arm.

  • The anterior head starts at the front outer third of the collar bone.
  • The lateral head starts on a bony projection on the top of the shoulder blade.
  • The posterior head starts on the bony spine along the outer back surface of the shoulder blade.

All the heads converge to attach to the bone in the upper arm – the humerus – at a point about a third of the way down the bone, on the side.


What it does: Working together, the three heads of the delt will raise the arm to the side and up – a movement known as abduction. Working on their own, the anterior and posterior heads are active in other movements. The anterior head helps to flex the arm , lifting it in front of the body, and in internal rotation, rotating the arm inwards towards the torso, while the posterior head does the opposite. It helps to extend the arm, taking it straight back behind the body, and to externally rotate it – rotating the arm outward away from the torso.

If you want to study up on the Latin names, scientific terms, and all the other nerdy stuff, I suggest taking a look at my favorite anatomy website here.

What that means for you: As well as being active in all possible shoulder movements, the deltoid helps protect the glenohumeral joint, which is the ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder. When you pick up and carry something heavy, the fibers contract to keep the ball in the socket, so no dislocations for you. Plus, nice delts look good!

A good exercise for your delts: Any movement where you are lifting your arms to the front or sides, or straight up overhead. Dumbbell lateral raise or Kneeling band shoulder press are two of my favorites.




Picture credit: “Deltoid muscle top9” by Anatomography. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.1-jp via Wikimedia Commons –

What Is It: The Foam Roller

Who would have ever though a six-inch log of high density foam could be so helpful to your general health and fitness?

Blue and Black Foam RollerThat’s all a foam roller is – six inches of densely packed foam, designed for your use in relieving those pesky tight muscles and knots. The rollers pictured above are probably the most common, but these days there’s a range of rollers to choose from. The best roller for you depends on how tight your muscles are – the greater the density, the greater the intensity.

  • White rollers: The least dense of your foam roller options, white rollers are most often found in physical therapy settings. These rollers are used to promote improved muscle tone and circulation to areas that are healing, as well as to work out undue tension and knots (just like any other roller). My least favorite thing about the white rollers? With even a few months of consistent use, you’ll start to break down the foam – soon you’ll end up with a flattened spot in the middle. This makes it A) less therapeutic and B) impossible to actually roll.
  • Blue rollers: With most brands, this is the next step up in density. More density means more pressure when you add your body weight into the equation – that is, when you are sitting or lying on it. More pressure can be helpful in breaking up adhesions, but make sure it’s not so painful that your body ends up fighting itself and tensing up. Think no more than a 7 out of 10 on the 1-10 pain scale.
  • Black rollers: The most dense of the normal, round, all-foam rollers. Of the all-foam rollers, these have the most resiliency – they are the least likely to flatten out. This is my go-to, unless I’m working with a very new client, a very sore client, or sometimes even with recovery from injury.

As your tissue quality improves, you might want to take the next step in foam roller intensity. Two of the “advanced” foam rollers you might see are the RumbleRoller (below, right) and the GRID Foam Roller (below, middle). Each of these rollers has a unique feature or two which (somewhat) separate them from the rest of the pack. As a foam roller enthusiast, I enjoy both of these (sometimes maybe I just tolerate them) for their differences.

  • The RumbleRoller: Like the standard round rollers, the RumbleRoller is made from high-density foam. The obvious difference here: the numerous “bumps” all over the surface of the roller, which allow a different rolling experience entirely. The bumps press deeper into the muscle tissue compared to standard rollers, allowing for a more “deep tissue” release. This can be quite intense, and if you are new to rolling (or any soft tissue work), it might be a little much. The bumps can also work around the nooks and crannies of your body – like around the shoulder blade.
  • The GRID roller: The description of the GRID roller tells us that the three dimensional surface is designed to replicate the feeling of a massage therapists hands, based on the different “zone” widths. Personally, I don’t think that the different grid widths are at all noticeable (it just feels like a smooth foam surface to me), but I like the GRID anyway – it’s all about what’s on the inside. And on the inside is a hard, hollow core – much more firm than the standard black roller. Sometimes I need that extra pressure, and while I could go to Home Depot for some PVC pipe, I’ll admit the foam outer is a nice touch.

White, Hollow Core, and Rumbleroller oam Rollers

There you have it: the five most common foam rollers around. Each of these tools is valuable, but just like any other tool in your “fitness and recovery” toolbox, it’s best to pick the right one for the right job. One last note – each of these comes in a long length – about one yard/one metre long – and a short length, just under half of that. I love the long rollers for at home (or gym, or wherever) because there’s much less “repositioning” on it, but the short ones are suitcase sized and great for travel. You can take your recovery wherever you go!


This article is has also been published at our sister site, Fix Fitness & Bodywork – Alexandria’s premier in-home personal training and massage providers. Visit us there if you want to exercise the sustainable way!

Exercise of the Week: Band Bent Over Row

Resistance bands or superbands are a really great tool for any home gym or travel exercise program. Obviously not an exact replacement for traditional barbells or dumbbells, but pretty close in terms of the work that your body will do. The biggest difference in working with bands is that the resistance actually varies based on how much the band is stretched. If your resistance band is loose, your exercise will be easy, and if it’s stretched tight, it will be really difficult to complete the exercise – you may not even be able to get through the full movement. You’ll also find that the exercise difficultly changes as you move through it. In this case, I have less resistance from the band at the starting point than I do when I have pulled the band up towards my hips.

1/2 inch orange superbandMuch of the challenge of an exercise will have a lot to do with the width of this giant rubber band as well. Most bands are just under 1/4 inch thick and about 40 inches long – the resistance usually changes based on how wide they are. The band used here is a 1/2 inch band, which is about as narrow as you see them, and they can range as wide as 3-4 inches. It’s important to remember that the band makes or breaks the exercise – if you can’t get through the movement, you’re better off with a more narrow choice, just as you’d be better off with a smaller dumbbell.

Exercise type: Strength building

What it does: Strengthens the muscles of the upper back, especially the rhomboids and middle and lower trapezius. You’ll also work your latissimus dorsi, your erector spinae muscle group, and part of your rotator cuff as well.

How to:

Band Bent Over Row
– Stand on band (both sides) and hold loops in hands
– From standing, reach hips behind (pretend you are trying to touch your butt to a wall), and bow forward
– Keep back neutral w/ a small arch or flat in lower back and shoulders lifting
– Pull ends of band towards hips and squeeze shoulder blades together
– Keep tummy and pelvic floor tight through the whole movement

You should feel: A squeeze, and work, in the area between your shoulder blades and just below. (If you’re feeling this above your shoulder blades, pull your shoulders down away from your ears and the ends of the band towards your hips.)


Disclaimer: This does not constitute medical advice, and not all exercises may be suitable for all people. Please consult your health care professional if you are unsure whether these exercises are right for you. If these exercises increase pain or any other symptoms, please stop immediately and consult your health care professional. For best results, get your doctor, physical therapist, and personal trainer/exercise coach talking for a united approach – as well as your chiropractor and massage therapist if you see these. To find out who I refer to in the Alexandria area or the rest of Northern Virginia, please get in touch.

Food Fridays: Eat The Rainbow

How many colors did you eat today?

I love the way Precision Nutrition (PN) advocates simple, straightforward food habits. Keep them in mind when you are filling up, and you’ll look better, feel better… and be better (literally – your health will improve).

Fruits and veggies play a huge role in this. They come in every color of the rainbow, and to get the most out of a fruit and veggie filled diet, aim for a variety. They provide the phytonutrients in our diet: chemical compounds that can that help fight disease. Often these work as antioxidants, or have anti-viral or anti-bacterial properties. The guys over at PN have come up with this awesome infographic that provides a ton of info on all the benefits of fruit and veggie benefits.

Fruit and Vegetable Infographic

Check out the original infographic over at Precision Nutrition here. They include a handy printable Phytonutritent Cheat Sheet, which lets you track  how much of what you get in your diet each day. Aim for a cup of each color and you’ll be well on your way to looking good and feeling great.

Anatomy Basics: Your IT Band

People love to hate the IT Band.

This remarkable length of connective tissue  (also called fascia) is best known for the problems it can cause, primarily with runners and cyclists. With high volumes of exercise, it can be prone to overuse injury leading to pain on the outside of the knee.

The IT band – officially the iliotibial band or tract, or ITB if you want to go even shorter – actually does us a lot of good. Thick and broad, it provides a lot of support to the outer side of the hip, thigh, and knee. Problems associated with the IT band usually stem from the muscles around it not functioning well; as connective tissue, the band itself cannot contract, and is somewhat at the whim of the surrounding structures.

Fun fact about your IT band: Humans are the only species that have it! Scientists assume this is due to the adaptations made as our ancestors began walking upright and on two legs. Kinda cool, huh?

IT BandLocation: The connective tissue fibers making up your IT band come from the top of the ilium (the fan shaped bone in your pelvis), pick up other fibers from your gluteus maximus and your tensor fasciae latae, and continues down the outside of the thigh. The band blends with other connective tissues at the outside of the knee.

What it does: Helps create a stable pelvis and efficient, smooth movement at the knee joint. 

What that means for you: Pain-free movement, hopefully! Your IT band will play nice if you treat the muscles surrounding it right.

A good exercise for your IT band: As mentioned, your IT band is connective tissue, not muscle. It doesn’t contract, and you can’t “exercise” it. Instead, focus on keeping your glute complex (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus) strong, and building and maintaining strength through your quads and hamstrings.

One final thought: Soft tissue treatment like foam rolling on the IT band is not an uncommon sight, and often encouraged by trainers and your runner and cyclist friends. However, there is some question as to whether this does any good, and the argument will probably go on for some time. My two cents: Foam rolling as an injury-prevention measure doesn’t seem to be highly effective, and can even be counter productive. It hurts like the dickens, doesn’t create much (if any) change to the tissue, and preparing for a workout by putting yourself through the wringer is not the best and smartest idea. Soft tissue work (foam rolling or massage) on the IT band can be helpful when dealing with an injury flare up, though, and should be done at the instruction of your physical therapist. (I think that this is likely where people get the idea that the “cure” can also be the “prevention”, and continue to roll the IT band well after the problem is resolved. More is not always better!).

Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts!

Hot or Cold: Recovering Quickly The Right Way

The use of heat and cold therapies like ice packs or hot water bottles is a common thing when you are active or starting a new exercise routine. Between the two, you can aid your recovery from exercise, help decrease muscle and connective tissue tension, and speed injury healing. But which one should you use, and when?

Cold Therapies

Polar bear ice bath

Not everyone minds…

Cold therapy comes in numerous forms, from ice pack to the dreaded ice bath to a bag of frozen peas. Cold not only has a pain relieving effect; when used immediately after exercise it can decrease any post-exercise soreness you might experience over the following day or two. It’s also extremely useful immediately after injury of any kind – definitely use ice, not heat, to help decrease swelling and pain as it can allow for faster healing times (though I’m sure your doc will have told you that already). The benefits of cold therapies are likely due to decreased blood flow, tissue temperature, and nervous system response:

  • Decreased blood flow decreases swelling, which can also lead to pain reduction.
  • Decreased tissue temperature can decrease the amount and rate of damage at a cellular level (caused by either exercise or injury).
  • Decreased nervous system response blunts the transmission of pain sensations from nerves to the brain, so it just doesn’t hurt as much.

Because the effects are primarily restrictive, cold is better used early in recovery and the healing process.

How to: 

General recommendations tell us to use ice in 15 minute durations, using a towel or cloth between the cold source and your skin. For post-exercise recovery, one application is usually enough to mitigate post-exercise soreness, but if you are dealing with an acute injury, re-applying once an hour for up to three days will provide the best results.

Caution: Cold therapies are not appropriate for everyone or every situation. Don’t use cold if:

  • You are hypersensitive to cold.
  • On an open wound.
  • Directly to the skin, unless using ice massage. You don’t want an ice burn (yes, that’s a real thing).
  • When taking pain killers, as they can prevent awareness of any problems that might arise.
  • If you have circulatory problems.

Heat Therapies hot-pack-back

As it turns out, heat therapies have the exact opposite effects of cold therapies, and also can be used in a number of ways, including heat packs (filled with wheat or therabeads, or chemically activated), creams and ointments, or just a warm bath. Using heat leads to relaxation – often both mental and physical – and has pain relieving effects of its own. Remember though, just because it feels good doesn’t always mean it’s the right thing to use! Because heat leads to increased blood flow and tissue metabolism, and decreased stress hormone levels and thickness of joint fluids, it’s a great treatment for later after your exercise session or for use on healed or old injury sites:

  • Increased blood flow and tissue metabolism can help eliminate cellular waste products, which is especially useful during massage treatments.
  • Decreased stress hormones help with mental and physical relaxation. Tissue relaxation can relieve pain, when it’s caused by muscle or connective tissue tension.
  • Decreased joint fluid thickness can ease stiff joints. This can be helpful pre-exercise.

How to: 

General recommendations tell us to apply heat for 20-30 minutes, and to ensure that your heat source is not applied directly to the skin. One might think this is common sense, but it’s worth a mention. 🙂

Caution: Heat therapies are not appropriate for everyone or every situation. Never use heat:

  • Immediately after an injury.
  • If you are hypersensitive to heat, or where there is any numbess of the skin or loss of sensation.
  • If you have circulatory problems.
  • Directly to the eyes, genitals, or to the abdomen during pregnancy.
  • If you have a fever.
  • On open wounds or skin infections.
  • When taking pain killers, as they can prevent awareness of any problems that might arise.
  • If you have cardiac disease, cancer, or high blood pressure – unless you get a specific ok from your doctor first.

If there is any take away message, it’s this: Pick the right one!

Exercise of the Week: Kneeling Adductor Mobilizations

Hip Adduction

Hip Adduction

It seems that we hardly ever spare a thought for the muscles of our inner thighs. In our general defense, these muscles can be easy to overlook. Visually, our adductors blend right in with our quadriceps at the front of the thigh, and our hamstrings at the back (unless we have 4% body fat – not a large percentage of the population). We naturally look at the front and back of our body, and never really think much about the side views – so not only are we not looking in the right areas, on the off chance that you do see them, they are often mistaken for other muscles entirely.

Let’s change that!

The group of muscles on your inner thigh is called your adductor group, named for the type of movement they produce when they contract: adduction is movement towards the mid-line of the body.

Hip Adductor group

The adductor muscle group

Five muscles make up your adductor group:

  • Adductor brevis
  • Adductor longus
  • Adductor magnus
  • Pectineus
  • Gracilis

They stack in multiple layers back to front, and range in shape from long-and-thin to short-and-wide, so when we think about stretching or mobilizing our adductors, we need to find something that works the inner thigh from top to bottom. The kneeling adductor mobilization (or mob, for short) does just that – as you move through your range of motion, you should feel the stretch at different points on the inner thigh.

Exercise type: Dynamic mobility

What it does: Improves adductor length and mobility – meaning they are less likely to get “stuck” together and form knots.

How to:

Kneeling Adductor Mobilizations

– Start on all fours and reach one leg out straight to the side.

– Foot should rest on the side/edge of the sole.

– Reach backward with the hips to stretch through the inner thigh on the straight leg.

– Return to start.

You should feel: A stretch through the inner thigh on the straight leg.


Awesome skeleton picture credit and special thanks to for a great pic and great website!

Disclaimer: This does not constitute medical advice, and not all exercises may be suitable for all people. Please consult your health care professional if you are unsure whether these exercises are right for you. If these exercises increase pain or any other symptoms, please stop immediately and consult your health care professional. For best results, get your doctor, physical therapist, and personal trainer/exercise coach talking for a united approach – as well as your chiropractor and massage therapist if you see these. To find out who I refer to in the Alexandria area or the rest of Northern Virginia, please get in touch.