‘Fourth Trimester’ Fitness For Moms Who Are Not Duchesses

This July 23, 2013 file photo shows Britain's Prince William, right, and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge with the Prince of Cambridge as they pose for photographers outside St. Mary's Hospital in London. (AP Photo)

This July 23, 2013 file photo shows Britain’s Prince William, right, and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge with the Prince of Cambridge as they pose for photographers outside St. Mary’s Hospital in London. (AP Photo)

When Kate Middleton stepped out of a London hospital earlier this year, just one day after giving birth to Prince George, her belly was beautifully there. Like many other mothers, I squealed with happiness. (A few days after my twins were born, a visitor had patted my still-quite-enormous belly, asking: “You got another baby in there?”)

But that grace period quickly evaporated and Middleton debuted her newly trim frame just six weeks post-partum, reminding many of us that yes, the race for perfection is still very much on.

For all of the women who shake their heads at that last sentence, let me say this. I hear you. I get it. I shook my head, too.  But then, six weeks after I gave birth to my twins, I tucked my Seven-Sisters-educated brain into my pocket and got my ass in gear.  I needed to shed those 60 pounds.

At that point, it felt like the only thing left in my control.

In between breastfeeding and pumping and supplementing and sleeping (barely), I started researching post-partum exercise programs.  And I’m happy to report that we new mothers may not be as rational and patient as we might be about getting our bodies back, but at least we’re resourceful about inventing ways to do it.

There was Stroller Strides and countless “Baby and Me Yoga” classes, “Mama Ballroom,” and BABYlates. All possibly great ideas for women with singletons, but I had two screaming infants, both needing a breast or a bottle or a pacifier or a diaper change or a…You get it.  No exercising was going to happen with them along for the ride.

So I went online. And found a few personal favorites.

MommaStrong Continue reading

How To Cycle Faster And Injury-Free — Even Up Mountains

The author, at left, with his companions roughly a week after the Cascades climb, at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park, after a 3-4 hour climb.  (Courtesy)

The author, at left, with his companions roughly a week after the Cascades climb, at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park, after a 3-4 hour climb. (Courtesy)

By David C. Holzman
Guest Contributor

Early afternoon found us downshifting into low as the grade abruptly steepened. Soon we were rising high above the coastal plains, towards Stevens Pass, elev. 4061 feet.

Yet the unexpected ease of pedaling my 30-pound, 1972 Peugeot bicycle, with 20 pounds of gear in the panniers up the Cascades made that day, July 16, 1975 (the beginning of a cross-country trek from Seattle to Boston) unusually memorable. Long after the trip was over, I would dream of cycling up mountains, with the same euphoric feeling as when dreaming of flight.

What a contrast to the previous summer’s trip, a 500-mile loop from Watertown to Burlington, VT, and back. On Day One I’d knocked off, exhausted, at midday, after struggling 50 miles over six hours, gaining a mere thousand feet of altitude.

At the end of that 10-day haul, I rode back to the Bicycle Repair Collective on Broadway in Cambridge (now the Broadway Bicycle School), where I’d learned bicycle mechanics, to check out the bike. It’s normal for a bicycle chain to stretch with use. Twelve chain links should measure 12 inches, but an extra eighth of an inch is no big deal. Mine was stretched half an inch.

I was perturbed. I’d bought and installed the chain just before the trip, and I was sure the it must have been defective to have stretched so far. But the mechanic on duty was having none of it. He claimed I’d pedaled too slowly. What???!

How could this mechanic have any idea how fast I’d been pedaling? He hadn’t been riding with me! That, he said, was simple: had I been riding with proper cadence, I wouldn’t have stretched the chain half an inch in a mere 500 miles.

Besides stretching the chain, the slow pedaling apparently was putting my knee joints at greater risk for several maladies: patellar chondro-malacia (or what some doctors call patellofemoral syndrome), which can range from minor inflammation to damage to the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap; patellar tendonitis; bursitis; and even arthritis. Another potential knee injury is ileo-tibial band syndrome. In that case, the pain is on the outside of the knee.

Pedaling slowly and pushing hard increases the sheer stress you put on the bearing surfaces of your knee joint, where the cartilage of your kneecap slides along the cartilage of your femur as the joint flexes. (The femur and tibia also articulate, but for cyclists, the weak point in the joint is generally the cartilage of the kneecap.)

But Vijay Jotwani, MD, of Houston Methodist Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, says that such injuries are unlikely unless there’s a muscle imbalance or biomechanical abnormality. “A muscle imbalance refers to the variation in strength or coordination of one muscle group that opposes another,” says Jotwani. “For example, for patellofemoral syndrome, the outside part of the quadricep muscle (vastus lateralis) may be stronger than the inside part (vastus medialis), which then pulls the kneecap to the outside when the entire quadriceps contracts.”

Biomechanical abnormalities are more likely to be problems for women, says Jotwani. Their wider hips can result in a slight outward angle at the knee in an unbent leg. Pedaling pressure can then pull the kneecap slightly out of its groove. Jotwani says that various leg weight-lifting exercises can mitigate these problems.

An improperly fitting bicycle, and a too-low seat can also raise the risk of knee injury, says Greg Cloutier, MPH, Project Manager for the Human Performance and Exercise Science Lab at Northeastern University.

Frequently I see cyclists grimacing as they bear down upon the pedals, and I wonder if they think the bulkier, stronger muscles they build this way will make them faster cyclists. If so, they are wrong. While a modicum of muscle is necessary, the thing that enables one to climb steadily, or pedal all day, is power. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: ‘Strong Is The New Skinny’?


That’s what I’m feeling about “Strong is the new skinny,” a meme that this CBC news report tells me is “blowing up” on social media this summer. Indeed, a quick check of the Twitter hashtag #strongisthenewskinny yields a bounty of tweets, including:

I ain’t got time for these Victoria Secret tweets! Someone feed the models some carbs and teach em how to squat.

You all want junk in your trunk nobody wants skinny fat flat arses

Train like the beast and you’ll look like beauty!

Skinny girls worry about their weight on the scale—Fit girls worry about the weight lifted in the gym.

(Roberto Berlim/Wikimedia Commons)

(Roberto Berlim/Wikimedia Commons)

The source of my ambivalence: Yes, a shift away from the Twiggy ideal and toward a fit, healthier ideal could turn out to be less anorexogenic. And much of the messaging is wonderful: Try hard. Eat healthy. Work out. But why does any form of body have to be bad? Do you really have to derogate flat bottoms and pressure girls to lift heavier weights? Will young women now end up obsessing about lacking a sixpack instead of about extra pounds?

It’s also worth noting that quite a bit of the impetus for this new slogan — though by no means all — seems to come from personal trainers, who have a vested interest in persuading women that they need to build muscle, and commercial exercise programs. My vote goes with the CBC reporter in the clip above, who ends suggesting “Maybe we shouldn’t say ‘Strong is the new skinny; maybe we should say, ‘healthy is the new skinny.'” Readers, thoughts? Have you heard this slogan and how did you react? Continue reading

School Kids’ Yoga Class Is Not Religion, Judge Rules

Here’s a deep legal query: if school kids are instructed to do “criss-cross applesauce” — the seated, cross-legged position known to pretty much every six-year-old in America — can that possibly be construed as religious teaching?

Apparently not, said a California judge Monday, ruling that yoga instruction for children in an Encinitas public school does not constitute religious instruction. Plaintiffs, who objected to the school-based practice for their two children on religious grounds, had opted out of the program, a kid-friendly class in which some of the most pervasive yoga lingo, like Namaste, had already been excised.



Reuters reports:

[Judge John Meyer] also said the Encinitas Unified School District had developed its own version of yoga that was not religious but distinct and separate from Ashtanga yoga.

“A reasonable student would not objectively perceive that Encinitas School District yoga does advance or promote religion,” he said…

The plaintiffs objected to eight-limbed tree posters with Sanskrit characters that they said were derived from Hindu beliefs, as well as to the use of the Namaste greeting in class and several yoga poses said to represent worship of Hindu deities.

But by the start of the 2012-2013 school year, the Sanskrit and Namaste had been eliminated from the program, and poses had been renamed with “kid-friendly” descriptions, poses now called gorilla, turtle, peacock, big toe, telephone and other terms, according to testimony. The lotus pose, for example, is called criss cross apple sauce in Encinitas schools.

With childhood obesity a nation-wide emergency and with kids bouncing out of their seats due to cuts in recess programs and lack of physical activity during the school day, Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today, Valentine: Not For Perfect Legs

Author Maryjeanne Hunt now (Courtesy)

Author Maryjeanne Hunt now (Courtesy)

You may be feeling a little gooey and edgy from the great media shower of candy, hearts and flowers today, so forgive me for piling on, but today’s reason to exercise is about love.

Not that hyped, romantic love, though, but the sane self-love that prompts us to make healthy choices like working out. Okay, end of Oprah segment. But I just wanted to share my favorite section of a book we recently featured, Eating To Lose: Healing From a Life of Diabulimia.

The author, Maryjeanne Hunt of Millis, MA, has Type 1 diabetes and used to skip the insulin she needed, despite huge risks, in order to lose weight. She also got deeply into fitness, as both participant and instructor, and says she “abused” exercise as well. But at least exercise is generally healthy — and regular exercise remains part of her far saner approach to her weight these days. With her permission, this comes from the section of her book titled “Cookie Power:”

It was a Friday morning at 6:30 a.m., several years later in July. My cardio interval class had just ended.

“Thanks,” one of the participants sighed breathlessly as she toweled off the sweat from her face and neck. “That was a great workout! I really needed that today.”

Yes, you’ll be amazed by the benefits of exercise, and no, you won’t have my legs — ever.

I turned to face the woman, whose voice I didn’t recognize, and smiled. “I think we all did.”

“I’ve been in a slump,” she continued. “This was the first week since New Year’s that I’ve actually made it to the gym all five days?”

“Well, congratulations, then. And by the way, Happy New Year!” We chuckled and continued walking toward the lockers.

“How many days a week do you work out?” she asked.

“Almost every day.”

“So if I do this every day, how long will it take me to have legs like yours?”
Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: Inspiration From World’s Oldest Marathoner

Marathoner Fauja Singh (Wikimedia Commons)

Marathoner Fauja Singh (Wikimedia Commons)

The world’s oldest marathoner has decided at age 101 to stop competing — but not to stop running. He’ll keep logging a mere eight or nine miles a day, ABC news reports. Fauja Singh, an Indian-born Brit, turned marathoner when he was 89, ABC reports, and his yellow turban prompted the nickname “The Turban Tornado.” The last sentence below made me laugh out loud:

In 2011 he earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest marathon runner when he competed in the Toronto Marathon at age 100.
Singh credits his success to a healthy lifestyle that includes no smoking or alcohol and a vegetarian rich diet. After the Toronto race he spoke to the media through his coach Harmander Singh about his accomplishments.
“He said he achieved this through the help of God, but even God must be getting fed up with helping him,” Harmander Singh said.

(Hat-tip to Tom Anthony)

More Americans (20 Million) Are Practicing Yoga, Survey Finds

It’s not your imagination: yoga is everywhere. ( AmandaD_TX/flickr)

You didn’t need a study for this: Just look around at all those toned, mellow women (and a few men) toting rubber mats under their arms, coconut water at the ready. As a friend said to me recently: “I think I’m the only woman in Cambridge NOT doing yoga.” She may be right.

And here are the numbers to prove it. The latest 2012 Yoga in America Market Study (conducted for Yoga Journal by Sports Marketing Surveys USA) found that 20.4 million Americans are practicing yoga, that’s up 29 percent from 2008 when the study reported 15.8 million practicing yogis. And all those down dogs can be pricey. The survey found that “practitioners spend $10.3 billion a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations, and media. The previous estimate from the 2008 study was $5.7 billion.” Beyond the current yoga enthusiasts, there are more waiting in the wings: “Of current non-practitioners, 44.4 percent of Americans call themselves “aspirational yogis”—people who are interested in trying yoga,” the survey found.

Here are some more findings, from the Yoga Journal press release:

Gender: 82.2 percent are women; 17.8 percent are men.

Age: The majority of today’s yoga practitioners (62.8 percent) fall within the age range of 18-44.

Length of practice: 38.4 percent have practiced yoga for one year or less; 28.9 percent have practiced for one to three years; 32.7 percent have practiced for three years or longer. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today But Maybe Not Run A Marathon

crowded marathon runners



Vast mountains of research suggest that exercise is the closest thing we have to a magic pill. But maybe, as with other pills, it’s better to take one than fifty.

In case you missed it, WBUR’s sports expert extraordinaire Bill Littlefield aired a provocative segment this weekend on the apparent ill effects for older athletes of overdoing the exercise. The full post is here; it begins:

Recent medical studies suggest that ambitious exercise after a certain age makes athletes more susceptible to the very ailments they’re trying to avoid. The Wall Street Journal’s Kevin Helliker summarized those studies in his recent article, “One Running Shoe in the Grave.’  Hellicker joined Bill to discuss how older athletes should respond to the latest research.

BL: Your story begins with the assertion that for older athletes “running can take a toll on the heart that essentially eliminates the benefits of exercise.” Define “older athletes.”

KH: Well, I don’t know so much that it is the age itself of the athlete, but how long he or she has been doing it. If you have been running far and fast over a long period of time, this research suggests that you may be wearing your heart out.

BL: How much running did the researchers cited in your article determine that athletes in their 50s and 60s should do?

KH: They tend to say 20-25 miles a week. Which, as you know, for serious marathoners, for some of them, that’s one day’s worth of running. There are many runners out there who do between 20 and 50. And you’re in Boston, I mean, Boston’s ground zero for distance running in America, right?

Two Guys Walk Into A Bar And A Free Fitness ‘Movement’ Is Born

November. Waning light, biting winds. Toasty beds that say, “No, don’t get up. Five more minutes.”

It was just about a year ago that Bojan (pronounced Boyan) Mandaric and Brogan Graham faced the November problem head-on over a couple of beers at a Boston pub.

Back when they were rowing buddies on the Northeastern University crew team, they knew they had to get up to work out or else they’d let down the rest of the boat. But now they were grown-ups, thirtyish, with real jobs and long workdays, and no teammates depending on them. Every fall and winter, their fitness slid.

Bojan Mandovic and Brogan Graham

Bojan Mandaric and Brogan Graham, November Project co-founders (Courtesy of The November Project)

As Bojan recalls it, he asked Brogan something like, “Dude, do you want to help me get my ass out of bed starting November first?’ And Brogan said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”

So they started to meet up at 6:30 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, “running stadiums” — bounding up the concrete seats — or steep hills, throwing in push-ups or burpees. Just the two of them, tracking their progress on a Google doc labeled “November Project.”

Many an idea born in a cozy bar later dies in the cold light of day, but this one worked through the winter, and in May, Bojan said, they decided to “open it up a bit. Throw out a few tweets.” Plus post a blog and a Facebook page.

These days, when Bojan and Brogan work out, a couple-three hundred people do it with them.

They call themselves a “grassroots morning fitness tribe,” only unlike most tribes, anyone can join. You just have to show up. And unlike most fitness programs, the November Project is completely free, and its founders pledge it will remain free forever.

It is not just a tribe but a movement, they say, a demonstration that social connection is an incredibly powerful fitness tool, and if you build it, they will come. When attendance recently hit 300 at a single workout, Brogan and Bojan decided to celebrate with new ink: a November Project arm tattoo, showing a clock at 6:30.

The group creates some striking new Boston sights. On Fridays, its 200-strong members come charging over the steepest hill in suburban Brookline like some save-the-day cavalry in fluorescent running shoes. On Wednesday mornings, they brave the brutal high steps of the Harvard stadium. Mondays, they turn flash mob and meet in variable locations tweeted in advance, from the Museum of Fine Arts to a Charles River canoe dock. All the workouts are “scalable,” doable at varying levels for elite athletes and newbies alike.

So is this the start of another Boston-based revolution? Will it spread?

The model could likely work elsewhere where population is dense, said Prof. Gary Liguori, head of the Health and Human Performance Department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and an on-call expert for the American College of Sports Medicine.

‘This is interesting how it just continues to grow, and people want to be a part of it.’

“I’ve heard of nothing else this size,” he said. “Running clubs have been around forever, and break up into small groups who go and do their things. But this is interesting how it just continues to grow, and people want to be a part of it.”

The November Project fits into a major recent trend, he said, toward ‘outside-the-gym routines,” often using little or no equipment.

Think boot camps and outdoor parcourses. In fact, The American College of Sports Medicine reported this week that for the first time, “body weight training” turned up as an emerging trend in its annual fitness survey. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: Feel Better About Your Life


(Wikimedia Commons)

Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov:

“Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.”

That’s my euphoric mood today and I know why: Not just release from storm-related claustrophobia, but a harder-than-usual workout to release pent-up shpilkes (Origin: Yiddish. Definition: Nervous energy, ants in pants.) Life is good. Good good good. And a recent study out of Penn State confirms that among its many magical effects, exercise can make us feel better about our lives. Science Daily reports here:

Had a bad day? Extending your normal exercise routine by a few minutes may be the solution, according to Penn State researchers, who found that people’s satisfaction with life was higher on days when they exercised more than usual…

By controlling for these variables [mental health, fatigue, stress and more], the researchers were able to determine that the amount of physical activity a person undertakes in a particular day directly influences his or her satisfaction with life. Specifically, the team found that by exercising just a little more than usual a person can significantly improve his or her satisfaction with life.

Readers, how would you describe your exercise high?