Fill Your Toolbox! The Right Tools for the Job Part 5: Body Weight


Fill Your Toolbox! The Right Tools for the Job Part 5: Body Weight


While not strictly considered an “apparatus” that most people consider, body weight adds several interesting dynamics to your training that previous apparatus discussions lack.  It takes a different type of skill and fitness to throw your body weight around safely and there are many ways to use just your body weight to be fit.  Some of the trendiest workouts take advantage of body weight—think Calisthenics, Parkour, Capoeira—actually any martial arts discipline, etc.  

The biggest advantages of body weight training are pretty simple—you always have it with you and it’s always free.  It can be as basic as squats, lunges, push-ups and pull-ups or as complicated as Parkour, using the surrounding environment to intensify the workout and push the body to its limits of endurance, strength, balance, core function, developing quick reflexes to adapt to the unexpected.

By and large, in its most common applications, body weight training is safe, functional and productive.  Most trainers will use body weight exercises for at least a portion of any given workout—push-ups and squats are staples in any fitness toolbox and there are numerous variations and exercises that rely on these two positions as starting points.  Good form is, for me, essential with these exercises and my clients all know that I will continue to correct and perfect their form until I’m happy.  

Most trainers I know employ a variety of body weight exercises on a regular basis in addition to the above mentioned basics—plyometrics like box jumps, star jumps, split jumps, plyo-pushups are only a few trainer favorites and fall into body weight exercises as do most core and total body exercises such as bear crawls, burpees, mountain climbers, planks, and sit-ups.


While the most basic examples of body weight exercises tend to be quite safe, there are always risks with any type of workout, particularly when done incorrectly or when over trained and repetitive injuries take hold.  Any good fitness program will make use of a large variety of exercises and, the deeper the trainer’s toolbox the more variety he/she will build into their workouts.

Arguably, competitive gymnasts perform the most extreme body weight training.  After spending numerous years watching my daughter train and compete gymnastics, I one day held my head in my hands in utter anguish wondering what I had been thinking by giving in to her only activity interest when she was seven.  Once she made pre-team, each and every workout pushed her little body to its limit.  There were tears.  There was frustration.  There were angry coaches goading and pushing and driving exhausted little girls, forcing them to repeat conditioning exercises when their bodies were too tired to do it correctly.  And, then there was the sweet, sweet taste of accomplishment when a new skill was mastered.  There was the sparkle of joy and pride when a routine was competed in near flawless execution.  There were excited salutes from the top of numerous podiums.  This was a year round way of life that required full commitment, not only on her part but on mine as well.  And, nowhere will you find an athlete as strong or fit as you will when looking at a gymnast.  


Pound for pound, an Olympic gymnast is stronger than any pro-football player.  In all the years I sat in the bleachers watching my daughter train, I never once saw her touch a dumbbell, barbell, or strength machine.  Stationary bikes were used for rehabbing injured gymnasts and 2 pound ankle weights were employed to increase resistance.  The lean, hard little girls—some of whom sported more manly physiques than I’ve ever actually seen on men—developed washboard abs and shredded muscle definition by simply using their body weight and practically living in the gym.  It was an adventure to say the least and one that I don’t know that I would repeat.  That said, my daughter and I still have a love for the sport of gymnastics and a much deeper appreciation for the select few who make it to the top of the gymnastics world.  However, the repetitive stress of the extremes this sort of body weight training coupled with simply training all of the “ooooh & aaaah” skills left her with multiple injuries to both ankles, one knee, one shoulder, an elbow, a clavicle, the tailbone and finally a spinal stress fracture.  After her shoulder surgery, my daughter retired from her sport of choice at the ripe old age of 15.  She later went on to compete in “club” gymnastics in college at a much lower level than she had previously competed BUT she had fun with her sport again and was able to rekindle the joy she had felt at 7 when she quickly began perfecting skill after skill after skill.

My love of my own fitness experience led me to become a trainer more 10 years ago.  I’ve learned to appreciate most modalities and techniques and to take what I like the best of each to piece them into challenging and fun workouts for my clients.  There are so many ways to workout and be fit that I simply can’t omit valid and interesting elements because they don’t fit neatly into this method or that.  My training has become a hybrid of many different styles and it works to help my clients get fit, stay fit, lose and maintain weight, and to improve their health!!  I hope that you too will find enjoyment in your workouts and learn to incorporate variety!!



Fill Your Toolbox!  The Right Tools for the Job Part 4: Dumbbells


Fill Your Toolbox! The Right Tools for the Job Part 4: Dumbbells


In our last three fitness installments, we’ve covered the pros and cons about Cardio Machines, Strength Machines, and Barbells.  Today, I would like to discuss dumbbells, aka the other of my two favorite apparatuses!!

Why do I like dumbbells?  Dumbbells challenge your strength, train your complementary stabilizer muscles, provide flexibility, allow for creativity, are relatively portable and, among many other things, become a total body workout when used in safe but less than traditional ways.  Ranging in size from 1 pound to 100 pounds (perhaps more but this is a fairly standard range), dumbbells can meet the needs of the freshest beginner or the most seasoned athlete.  They force both sides of the body to do its own work thereby eliminating the crutch of the dominant (stronger) side assisting the non-dominant (weaker) side.  They are the least stable of the apparatus we’ve discussed thus far and require the complementary muscles to do their job of stabilizing the joints and setting the correct form.  Therefore, it is important to be smart about weight selection—maintaining proper form and stability can become impossible if the weight is too significantly over your limits.  This is why I like to alternate between dumbbells and barbells.  The stability edge that barbells offer allows me to go heavier while the dumbbells challenge my stability.  Another fun thing with dumbbells is they provide flexibility in so many ways.  They can be turned in numerous angles.  One side can work while the other holds.  They can go from floor to overhead in a blink.  They can go on a lunge-about the gym.  They move with you and fit in small, tight spaces where other apparatus can’t…and yes, they can usually squeeze into a corner near your treadmill or elliptical machine.  Basically, the only true limit is that of your imagination with the caveat that your brain should be engaged on safety issues.  I tend to ask myself, “Do the benefits outweigh the risks?” or put another way, “Are the risks higher than the potential benefits?”  “Can I achieve similar or comparable results in a safer way?”


Much as I would like to take credit for these thoughts and while I naturally think this way unconsciously, I have to give credit where it is due.  The amazing trainers from the National Academy of Sports Medicine managed to ingrain this thought into my conscious brain years ago at one of their two-day CPT workshops.  I approach training with this thought in the front of my mind at all times.  So, when analyzing even my favorite two apparatuses, I ask myself, “what are the risks?” and “what are the benefits?”

With dumbbells, the biggest risk is also one of the biggest benefits—the lack of stability, which, as mentioned above, is mediated by using a smidge of caution in selecting the amount of weight to use.  One of the lessor considered dangers of dumbbells, especially in a tight gym environment, is the hazard of being struck by a dumbbell.  One of the reasons women tend to avoid The Weight Room is because of the mentality of some of the guys who gravitate to this venue.  Not only do some drop their dumbbells after each and every set, I’ve seen many who actually throw them when finishing a set.  Dumbbells bounce quite nicely on their own but add to it the rubber flooring of your typical gym and they can often get a very good bounce and roll going!  This creates a hazard for those working nearby but is also very bad for the dumbbells.  Perhaps you’ve used a set where one or both are bent or spent considerable time looking for the mate to the set you really wanted to use only to discover it doesn’t exist anymore as it’s been broken from one too many hard landings. 

On one of my early forays into The Weight Room, I had set myself up in a quiet 3’ X 4’ corner where I could do my typical strength/cardio circuit in peace while not interfering with anyone else’s workout.  Shortly after I had really gotten into my workout, some guys came in and began using the incline bench next to me.  It didn’t bother me to have them there despite the fact that these were the “drop the giant dumbbells after each set” kind of guys.  Within a few minutes, one of the guys began a conversation with me that went like this,

“Can you move over there to do your little jumps?” he said flicking his fingers vaguely in order to impress upon me that I needed to move.  

I glanced in the mirror and saw that moving would cause me to interfere with other people’s workouts. “Well, I was kinda here first,” I murmured.

“We just don’t want you to get hurt by the weights when they bounce.”

“Then stop dropping them.”

“But they’re heavy!!”

Wisely, I bit down very hard on my tongue and did NOT tell him that perhaps his weights were too heavy if he couldn’t handle them with a bit of respect. 

By comparison to barbells, dumbbells are pretty expensive, both on your budget as well as on your real estate.  While an adequate set of Olympic weights and barbell can run under $500 and a lightweight cardio barbell set is only about $125, you are looking at thousands of dollars for a decent full set of dumbbells.  Starting at over $1 per pound, putting together even a small complement of dumbbells can add up very quickly.  For a commercial gym set, the racks to store these dumbbells pretty much fill an entire wall of The Weight Room while a standard set of Olympic plates can be stored on a small weight tree that occupies maybe 1-2 square feet and the barbell can be stored in a corner or a larger selection for a commercial gym can easily be stored in just a bit more space—and/or on the pegs normally built into the lifting racks that fill the rest of the room.  Though few will need a full set of dumbbells, it is quite limiting to purchase only 2 or 3 sets.  This is possibly the biggest limitation of dumbbells for the average person’s needs.


All said, though, when I return to my risk analysis, the benefit of dumbbells definitely outweigh the risks.  They do their job and, with a bit of practice and imagination, the sky is the limit on what you can do to take your workouts to the next level…and the next.


Fill your Toolbox!  The Right Tools for the Job Part 3: Barbells


Fill your Toolbox! The Right Tools for the Job Part 3: Barbells


As we’ve been discussing, there are a number of ways to workout and loads of equipment to help you accomplish your goals.  So far, we’ve discussed the easiest devices to use—cardio and strength machines.  Now, however, I would like to venture into the areas of your local gym that makes most women extremely uncomfortable and most men’s eyes gleam…The Weight Room.

Once upon a time, I was too timid to enter the sweaty, testosterone-laden atmosphere of the farthest reaches of my local gym known as The Weight Room.  I am embarrassed to admit that I had actually been a trainer for quite some time before I became comfortable entering what is arguably the original man-cave.  The few times I poked my head inside were enough to confirm that this was not the place for me.  Rarely was a woman to be found within its darkened, hallowed walls and more often than not several heads would turn my way if it appeared I might enter within.  It was a long time before I discovered the comfort level to overcome the intimidation factor I felt in contemplating using The Weight Room.


Naturally, as is often the case with overcoming our fears, necessity drove me to break out of my fear of The Weight Room.  As my fitness levels increased and my desire to learn more, do more and be more developed, a real NEED for The Weight Room also developed.  I simply could not get the workout I needed with the standard assortment of weights to be found in strategic locales throughout the rest of the gym.  Basically, the bottom line is, The Weight Room served as the residence of all weights over 12 pounds.  I had far outstripped the need of anything under 20 pounds long before I felt at home in The Weight Room.

To compensate, I turned to the “cardio barbell” set housed in the group exercise room.  These I could load up as heavy as I needed at that time, and, for barbell work, these will still get the job done most of the time.  When it comes to strength training with weights, barbells are one of my two favorite apparatus.  They require a bit more work as they lack the near complete stability provided by standard machines.  This results in the utilization of your stabilizing muscles to complement the primary muscles.  Because they provide a bit more stability than dumbbells, barbells can allow you to go quite a bit heavier to work the muscles more intensely. 


Being highly portable, barbells can go pretty much anywhere you can go in the gym.  I love this for the creativity it allows.  This means, if space allows in your gym, you can drag one out by a treadmill or elliptical, slap a Bosu on the floor, pump out a chest press series laying on the Bosu, flip the Bosu over to add in push-ups, then hop on the treadmill for a 3 minute interval set.  Repeat 3 times and you’ve got an interesting little circuit working chest, core and cardio in a blink.  Once you upgrade from a cardio barbell to an Olympic barbell the dynamics change up again.  Working with a barbell longer than I am tall requires an increased ability to balance and stabilize the bar, which, by the way, now weighs on average 45 pounds by itself.  Add plates and the balance and stability factor becomes even more significant.  An overhead press challenges your core as well as back, shoulders, legs and arms.  The two most significant limitations that I can think of are space and the bilateral nature of the bar itself.  Maneuvering with a 4 or 7 foot long bar in the tight quarters of most gyms can present problems—though my original gym didn’t really offer the option of an Olympic barbell leaving chest or squat racks in The Weight Room—even a 48” cardio barbell is too long to safely use in tight quarters.  The second limitation would be the bilateral nature seen in most strength machines—it almost always requires both hands on the bar working in tandem which allows the dominant side to take the edge off the non-dominant side.

These limitations notwithstanding, as a trainer I really like using barbells with my clients for the same reasons I like using them for my own workouts.  There is, however, one other advantage when training my clients.  Barbells can help clean up form for certain exercises and/or they can help train new clients who are having difficulty maintaining stability with dumbbells. In the studio I previously managed, we specialized in group training as my own studio does now.  We relied heavily on dumbbells for strength training.  While extremely flexible (and my other favorite apparatus), dumbbells often led to incorrect form that was easy to miss in a group where you have only a few seconds to cue the client into better form.  Chest press form was notoriously a bit off even with my strongest clients.  With their more rigid nature, barbells eliminate form breaks at the elbows fairly easily and allow much quicker adjustment of shoulder position.  With that little bit more stability the barbell offers, new clients are better able to learn correct form cleaner and faster, setting in good muscle memory early on.  With my more seasoned clients, breaking incorrect form is accomplished easier with a barbell.  Once they’ve felt how it should feel enough times, most people are able to make the transition to dumbbells while maintaining their improved form.


Honestly, I can’t imagine a well-rounded fitness program that doesn’t use barbells as a consistent element in its workout design.  They are highly flexible, offer a good amount of safety, and, let’s be real, who doesn’t get a bit of a thrill when their trainer sends them over to add another plate to their bar? 


Fill Your Toolbox!  The Right Tools for the Job Part 2: Strength Machines


Fill Your Toolbox! The Right Tools for the Job Part 2: Strength Machines

As we discussed in our previous installment, any big box gym is going to draw the majority of interest with its assortment of cardio machines.  For the more initiated, the next thing that catches the eye is the assortment of strength machines.

Strength machines offer what cardio machines lack; the ability to tighten and tone and increase the strength of your muscles.  Strength training offers several benefits and I have become a bigger and bigger fan of strengthening my body over the years.  This is not to say that I have foregone my preference for a light, lean, feminine physique.  Quite the contrary is true.  With the rapid increase in fitness devotees, Facebook has born witness to the multitude of women who have discovered the joy of being strong and in strength training.  Most of us have at least one FB friend who is constantly posting videos of themselves beating their previous power lifting PRs.  And anyone who’s on Facebook is inundated with a whole gallery of clichés to dispel the myths and embrace the “new” movement of fitness.  Simple expressions like: Strong is the new Sexy; Nothing tastes as good as fit feels.; Train like a beast; look like a beauty; and dozens of others express the joy of being physically strong and the discovery that weights don’t necessarily create bulk.


The reality is that cardio burns calories but so do muscles.  For that matter, any activity burns calories.  Strong muscles burn more calories than weak muscles while fat burns no calories.  Strong muscles define and give a flattering shape to both the male and the female physique.  And, true for both men and women but perhaps more important for women, strong muscles create tension on the bones.  Tension on the bones helps to create and retain bone density.  Bone density equates to bone strength.  One of the biggest fears of my older clients is of falling and fracturing a bone.  Hips are the biggest concern but any broken bone is frightening when we reach a certain age.  Several years ago, my stepmom fell while gardening.  The resulting wrist fracture healed eventually but she has permanently lost significant range of motion in that wrist.  Had she been stronger and more fit, she might not have fallen in the first place but she almost certainly would have recovered and healed faster and easier.

The vast number of available options can make strength training confusing and overwhelming.

The vast number of available options can make strength training confusing and overwhelming.

Strength machines obviously play into the equation of strength training.  There is a plethora to choose from which can get confusing for many people.  There are numerous machines for your legs and nearly as many for your arms.  Back row machines hit various angles of your back as the numerous chest press machines attack the chest.  There are machines to work your abs and machines to work your shoulders.  The benefits of machines are simple and remarkably similar to cardio machines.  If positioned properly in most machines, it is relatively easy to do the exercises correctly.  For those who take direction well, it is easy to learn how to use the machines and, if you have decent body awareness, most have a sticker affixed which shows the proper position as well as which muscles are being worked making them a self-help guru’s best friend.

Strength machines were my first foray into strength training.  I didn’t really understand what I was doing with them.  A friend showed me how to use three or four machines and I did them faithfully for several weeks.  I got a bit stronger.  It was nice.  It was also boring as I slogged first through 30 minutes on the treadmill and then repeated the exact same sequence on the exact same selectorized machines three times.  I also found the machines to often be too large for my petite frame as the adjustable features didn’t always meet my needs.  Which machines do I prefer…well, honestly, today, only a relative few strike my fancy.  Why?  As a trainer, I find them limiting on many levels.  You can only work one, maybe two muscle groups on the average machine.  And, often, they can hold up the flow of a group when training multiple clients.  My own creativity feels stunted with machines as they lock us into a set pattern and location.  As a business owner, I find them hugely expensive.  They are large and bulky, taking up way too much valuable square footage.  Once placed, you don’t even want to consider moving them.  Most importantly, I find there are other ways to strengthen my muscles.

Selectorized or “weight stacked” machines are the easiest to use and learn.

Selectorized or “weight stacked” machines are the easiest to use and learn.

The best part of most strength machines is their relative safety.  Strength machines tend to lock you into a certain form and only work the muscles shown on the little sticker affixed to the machine making them semi-foolproof.  That said, I have seen some scary injuries on machines.  They tend to neglect the stabilizing muscles.  With a few exceptions, they neglect the core.  Most often, they are also bilateral, meaning both sides of the body work together as one, not allowing each side to work independently.  This means your dominant side will almost always bear the largest portion of the load.  The second big problem is that the weight on traditional selectorized machines, the ones most people are familiar with, is limited to the stack on the machine.  For the beginner and most women, this isn’t a concern, but, for the very strong, this can be limiting.

The assortment of weight machines has increase dramatically in recent years with developers seeking to overcome some of the downsides inherent in most traditional strength machines.  Old school body building machines found most often in the the heavy weight rooms of most gyms feature the ability to add a lot more weight as the resistance comes from plates loaded onto the machine.  Many also offer independent unilateral function—for example, each arm is independent in an isolateral chest press machine and must do its own work.  There is no forced or locked in connection of right and left.

New-ish to the scene are the FreeMotion style machines.  Once found primarily in more upscale gyms, they are cropping up more and more frequently in the big chain gyms.  These are cable machines that offer a wide range of motion, requiring the user to rely on and work the stabilizing muscles as well as the dominant ones which I find these preferable for my clients with good awareness and control.  However, they still have all of the other limitations of traditional machines with a bit more risk involved when used by beginners.

I realize that it may sound like I’m hating on strength machines, but I actually do like many of the available options enough that I would and do give up that valuable square footage in my gym for them.  I like that they are pretty safe for my newer clients.  I like that, for certain exercises, they facilitate using a heavier load.  Squats on a smith machine can be used for safety as well as rehabbing an injury, building and/or rebuilding foundational strength, or perfecting form.  An isolateral row helped me break past my strength limitations while eliminating an annoying, weight limiting nerve ping in my elbow.  So, yes, while not the end all, be all, to strength training, strength machines serve an important role in anyone’s training routine when used appropriately and purposefully. 



Low Calorie Sample Vegetarian Meal Plan


Low Calorie Sample Vegetarian Meal Plan

Farmers Market Haul.jpg
1 2egg whites + 1 whole egg (110 cal) scrambled w/bell pepper, onion, mushroom & spinach (30 cal) 1 apple (80 cal) 1 tbs peanut or almond butter (100 cal) 1/2 c cooked quinoa (114 cal) w/2-3 c stir-fry veggies (30-90 cal) & 1/2 oz almonds (85 cal) + 1 tsp canola oil (40 cal) 1-2 C fresh raw veggies 30-60 cal) w/2 tbs hummus (50-70 cal) 3 c Mixed Veggie stir-fry w/1/3 c edamame (60 cal), 1 tbs pumpkin seeds (63 cal), 1/2 oz pecans (98 cal), broccoli (30 cal per cup), cauliflower (25 cal per cup), mushrooms (15 cal per cup), etc. + 1 tsp olive or canola oil (40 cal)
2 1 c cooked Steel cut or rolled oats (170 cal) w/cinnamon, chopped almonds (5=35 cal) or walnuts (.25oz=46 cal) and 1/4 c fresh seasonal fruit (13-35 cal) 1 c strawberries (45 cal) 1 black bean burger (290 cal) w/sweet potato "fries" (75 cal) 10-12 raw almonds (170 cal per oz--85 cal) 1 C Stir-fried tofu (176 cal) w/2-3 C fresh veggies (spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, etc.) (30-90 cal) 1/2 oz raw almonds (85 cal) + 1 tsp olive or canola oil (40 cal)
3 1 Apple w/1 tbs Peanut or Almond Butter (185 cal) 1 oz walnuts (185 cal) 1/2 pear (70 cal) 1/2 C cooked brown rice (115 cal), 1/2 c cooked lentils (115 cal) & 2 c fresh veggies (30-70 cal) 1 banana (120 cal) 1/2 C cooked Quinoa (114 cal), 2-3 c stir-fried fresh veggies (30-90 cal) with 1 tbs pine nuts (58 cal) + 1 tsp olive or canola oil (40 cal)
4 2 egg white + 1 whole egg omelet (110 cal), fresh veggies like tomatoe, onion, bell pepper, etc. (30 cal) topped with 1/4 avocado and fresh salsa (70 cal) 1 orange (80 cal) Lentil-Quinoa Pilaf w/Arugula (481 cal) 1 peach (70-80 cal) 3 C fresh spinach or spring mix (20 cal) w/fresh veggies, ie. bell pepper, cucumber, tomato, mushrooms, grn onion, broccoli, etc. (30-50 cal), 1/2 oz chopped walnuts (88 cal) Can add 1 hard boiled egg (75 cal) & 1 - 2 tbs balsalmic vinaigrette (45-90 cal)
5 1 Banana (120 cal) with 10-12 raw almonds (85 cal) 1 c grapes (100 cal) 1/2 c Brown rice (115 cal) w/2-3 c veggies (30-90 cal) & toasted 1/2 oz almonds or peanuts (85 cal) and 1 tsp canola oil (40 cal) 2 C Kale Chips(117 cal) 1.5 c Vegetable and Tofu (294 cal)

The basics:

1.  Have no more than 1-2 servings of grain per day and have them for breakfast &/or lunch not at dinner time.  One slice of bread is a serving.  1/2 cup cooked brown rice is a serving.

2.  Have no more than 1-2 servings of fruit also during the day not at dinner or later.  One piece of fruit or 1 cup of cut fruit is a serving.  

3.  A serving of beef, chicken or fish would be 3-4 ounces.  A serving of beans or lentils (protein) would be 1 cup cooked OR LESS.

4.  Avoid "white" foods like potatoes, white rice, breads and pastas with enriched flour or other white flours, sugars and other sweeteners [or foods with sugars like marshmallows :o)].

5.  Avoid all dairy including milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc.

6.  Eat vegetables abundantly!!  You can have as much as you want of most vegetables 6-7 cups or more per day is fine.  However, be careful with things like peas, corn, beans, and other high calorie veggies as it is easy to overeat on those and take in too many calories.

7.  Obviously, for now, you need to avoid sweets :o)

8.  Snacks should be light--a fruit with 10-12 raw almonds or fresh raw veggies with 1-2 tbs hummus.

9.  Please try to eat dinner early if possible.  The best is to try to be finished eating by 6 or 7pm.  After dinner, you should be done eating for the day.


I also recommend avoiding processed foods of all types as the quality of the food is diminished in the processing.


Fill Your Toolbox: The Right Tools for the Job! Part 1: Cardio Machines


Fill Your Toolbox: The Right Tools for the Job! Part 1: Cardio Machines


It seems like everyone has a favorite apparatus or type of apparatus when trying to get into shape.  For many gym goers, the cardio machines beckon to them from the door.  They are easy and mostly foolproof.  Basically, you get on and go.  Barring the odd misplaced step, they also tend to be pretty safe.  This appeals to most people because, well, see above for foolproof.  The problem is that cardio machines, whether you are talking treadmills, ellipticals, Stairmasters or stationary bikes, are repetitive and boring. Our bodies acclimate to them quickly and begin to show little to no return on investment.  Sure you can take a spin around the various programs available on most cardio machines.  And, yes, you can play with elevation and resistance.  But there is no escaping the cold, hard facts.  These bad boys only go in one direction and only repeat the same motion and, sadly, the motion is suspiciously similar across all of these machines.  


In training terms, they utilize the sagittal plane (forward/backward movement), mostly forward, and that’s it.  Yes, you can get creative and go backwards on some which is good but still it’s the same basic motion.  For the avid fitness fan, cardio machines serve a couple of acceptable purposes.  They are okay to warm up on.  They are good for an active recovery period between sets. And, they are good for your easy days when you don’t want to think and just want to feel your heart rate go up, get a good sweat on, hopefully triggering a few endorphins for the day.  However, for the average gym goer, cardio machines equate to what they think is a lot of work with diminishing results.  I can’t tell you how many steadfast people I’ve seen show up day after day, hop on their favorite machine, and take it for a 2 hour cruise only to shed very little by way of pounds or muscle gain.  Disappointed, they eventually give up, concluding they are physically incapable of losing the weight they so desperately want or need to lose.


Two interesting variations on cardio machines are rowing machines and spin bikes.  Spin bikes have been hugely popular for a number of years and with good cause.  They offer  high intensity cardio set to music with energetic teachers.  With no impact, they can be good for people with a variety of injuries and the nearly infinite resistance is completely within the control of the rider.  While still highly repetitive (sit, stand, turn knob up, turn knob down, go forward, now go backward), spin bikes offer most a very good sweat as well as a great endorphin rush, accomplishing good stress relief for those who really throw themselves into their rides.  In the few years, I’ve also seen some very creative approaches being taken with the spin bike generation that definitely peak my curiosity in a positive way.  Some forward thinking souls have found ways to implement a lot more core into their spin bike classes and that I find very interesting.  I would say my biggest note of caution is for those who build leg muscles easily and for those with certain knee issues as too much resistance can exacerbate your knee problems (for some, any resistance may create issues).

Rowing machines are conversely an awesome upper body cardio workout in a field littered with forward motion leg machines seeking to simulate running or biking.  They are very popular with CrossFit boxes that have brought the rowing machine out of relative obscurity.  When I first began training, the club I worked in offered one rowing machine that was rarely in use.  Today, I can peek into any CrossFit box to find numerous rowing machines lined up against a wall either in use or waiting patiently for someone to hop on to perform the 2 or 3 minute stint in the day’s WOD.

With any cardio machine, I offer the following guidance to my clients—once maybe twice per week and change it up if possible.  However, my normal recommendation is to err on the side of caution and send my clients to an elliptical machine to plug in an interval training program with instructions to push as hard as they can for 30-45 minutes.  Why?  With no impact and no assistance from a motorized belt, the elliptical machine keeps their joints the safest while not under my watchful eye but still forces them to do the work they need.




Yummy Egg Muffins

·      9 Eggs, beaten

·      ¼ C Unsweetened almond milk or water

·      ¾ Tsp Salt

·      1 Tsp Fresh or ½ tsp dry Oregano

·      Dash Pepper

·      8 oz Ground turkey, browned with onion (OPTIONAL)

·      1 C Finely chopped fresh cauliflower

·      ½ Finely chopped fresh bell pepper (any color)

·      10-15 Grape tomatoes, quartered


1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2.     Beat eggs, almond milk or water by hand in large bowl.

3.     Add salt, pepper and oregano, beating lightly to mix

4.     Add ground turkey, if using, and vegetables

5.     Using either a standard muffin pan or jumbo muffin pan, spray pan with coconut or other oil lightly to prevent sticking and divide egg mixture into muffins cups (¼ C for standard or ½ C for jumbo usually works)

6.     Cook in 350 oven for 25 minutes

7.     Cool and remove from muffin pan


1 Jumbo Muffin or 2 Standard Muffins = 1 serving



Basic Pasta Sauce

4lbs Fresh Roma Tomatoes
1 can Tomato paste

1 tbs olive oil
1 Onion
1 Bell pepper
3 Cloves garlic
1 tbs Oregano
1 tbs Thyme
2 tsp Basil
2 Bay leaves

Place tomatoes in boiling water until skin splits open. Remove from water and allow to cool. Peel and dice tomatoes. In a large skillet, heat oil, add onion and bell pepper and cook until onion is translucent. Add garlic and saute briefly. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, thyme, basil and bay leaves. Cook to desired consistency.

Add ins as desired:

Zucchini cut into 1 inch quarters or 1/2 inch halves

Green beans

Browned ground turkey

Cooked chicken breast

Serve over brown rice or pasta



Kale Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

Makes 1 serving


1 cup steamed kale

¼ cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 cup thinly shaved fennel 

½ cup cooked quinoa

2 tablespoons Orange Vinaigrette (see below)

5-6 mint leaves, finely chopped

freshly ground pepper

Combine kale, chickpeas, fennel, and quinoa in a medium mixing bowl and toss with the orange vinaigrette; be sure to coat everything evenly. Add mint and parmesan, saving just a little bit of both for garnish, and toss gently, just to combine. Transfer to a plate or bowl, and garnish with the remaining parmesan and mint, plus freshly ground pepper, to taste.

Orange Vinaigrette

Juice of ½ large orange (about 2 tablespoons), strained

1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

⅛ teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 garlic clove, crushed

In a small mixing bowl, combine orange juice, apple cider vinegar, and kosher salt. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while vigorously whisking the mixture with a small whisk. Whisk for an additional 30 seconds after all of the oil has been added. Add crushed garlic.

Vinaigrette will keep for up to 3 days, refrigerated in an airtight container.



Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (13.5g fat, 0 Carb, 0 protein; 119 cal)

2 large onions, chopped (.4g fat, 28g carb, 3.2g protein; 120 cal)

1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

2 cups dried split green peas, picked over and rinsed (4g fat, 248g carb, 104g fat; 1360 calories)

5 cups water or vegetable stock

Juice of 1/2 lemon (reserve the zest) (0g fat, 2g carb, .1g protein; 8 cal)

A few pinches of smoked paprika

Add olive oil to a big pot over med-high heat. Stir in onions and salt and cook until the onions soften, just a minute or two. Add the split peas and water. Bring to a boil, dial down the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the peas are cooked through (but still a touch al dente). Using a large cup or mug ladle half of the soup into a bowl and set aside. Using a hand blender (or regular blender) puree the soup that is still remaining in the pot. Stir the reserved (still chunky) soup back into the puree - you should have a soup that is nicely textured. If you need to thin the soup out with more water (or stock) do so a bit at a time. Stir in the lemon juice and taste. If the soup needs more salt, add more a bit at a time until the flavor of the soup really pops.

Ladle into bowls or cups, and serve each with a good pinch of smoked paprika and a touch of lemon zest.

Serves 4 to 6: 4 servings = 4.5g Fat, 69.5g carb, 26.83g protein; 402 calories OR for 6 servings = 3g fat, 46.3g carb, 17.9g protein; 267.84 calories



Dina's Vegetarian Chili

1 C Dry Black Beans, soaked or preferably sprouted

1/2 C Dry Small Red Beans, soaked or preferably sprouted

1/2 C Dry Small White Beans, soaked or preferably sprouted

1 Onion, diced

1 Bell pepper, diced

2-3 Cloves Garlic

1 tbs coconut or olive oil

1 Can diced tomatoes

Paprika, cumin, chili powder, salt to taste

Soak/sprout beans separately. Cook beans separately. This will avoid dying all the beans to one color and make a more attractive meal. This should take 1-2 hours at most.

Sauté onion, bell pepper and garlic in oil until onion is barely translucent.

Once beans are tender but not soft, drain excess water and combine all ingredients including spices and salt in a stock pot or crock pot and cook, stirring frequently, until chili is ready. If using a crock pot, high heat is fine. If using the stove top, cook on medium and stir frequently.




Any Day Black Beans

1 lb. dry black beans 

1 lg onion

1 lg bell pepper

3-4 stalks celery

2-4 cloves garlic

1-2 tbs Liquid Smoke

Water to cover beans + 1-2”

Soak or preferably sprout beans. This improves their digestibility and, when sprouted, converts the protein into complete protein. When beans are ready to cook, mince or puree vegetables. Add water, Liquid Smoke and salt to taste. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer for several hours until beans are tender.  Stir frequently to prevent beans from sticking to the bottom of the pan. When beans are nearly finished, uncover and continue simmering until liquid is at your desired consistency.

I often double the onion and bell pepper, chopping the second half and adding them to the cooking process for more flavor and texture.




Dina's Vegetarian Stuffed Bell Peppers

3 C Basic Pasta Sauce

1 C Cooked Quinoa

1 lb Cooked Lentils 

6 Bell Peppers, tops, seeds & membranes removed 

1/2 large onion

1/4 C chopped bell pepper (I use the tops from the above bell peppers)

4 cloves garlic minced

1 tbs olive oil

Using same recipe at “Basic Black Beans” or bulk version of Cooked Lentil recipe above, cook sprouted lentils. Drain any remaining liquid once lentils are cooked. Cook onion, bell pepper, and garlic in olive oil. Add vegetables and cooked quinoa to the lentils and mix well. Add 3 C basic pasta sauce (or enough to blend well with lentil mixture). Divide even and spoon into bell peppers*. Place peppers upright in a 9X12 baking pan. Bake in 350 oven for 15-20 minutes until hot through and peppers are cooked.

*You may need to cut bottoms of peppers level so they will stand up, ensuring not to cut open the bottoms.

Per stuffed bell pepper

329 calories; 3.12g fat; 54.9g carb; 18.8g protein; 8.5% calcium; 27.5% iron




Black Bean Burgers


2 cans (14.5 Each) Seasoned Black Beans (or use equivalent amount of Basic Black Bean recipe for better health and flavor!)

1 cup roughly ground, rolled oats (F-7, C-64, P-14)

1/4 cup Grated White Onion

1 whole Egg (F-5, C-0, P-6)

1/2 teaspoon Chili Powder

Salt And Pepper

Drain, but do not rinse, the black beans. Place them in a bowl and use a fork to mash them. Keep mashing until they're mostly broken up, but still have some whole beans visible. Add the ground oats, onion, egg, chili powder, salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Stir until everything is combined, then let the mixture sit for 5 minutes. 

Heat a tablespoon or two of olive or coconut oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Form the bean mixture into patties slightly larger than the buns you're using (the patties will not shrink when they cook.) Place the patties in the skillet and cook them about 5 minutes on the first side. Flip them to the other side and continue cooking them for another 5 minutes, or until the burgers are heated through. Top with lettuce and tomato, then serve hot!

Prep Time: 10 Minutes