Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Functional Exercises - Working out for Real Life Functions

Do you live to workout? Unless you are an athlete or a little crazy like me, you probably answered 'no' to that question. Most people would say they exercise to improve their quality and longevity of life.

Functional fitness refers to exercise that simulates real-life activities. They train and develop your muscles to make it easier and safer for you to perform everyday activities. These exercises simulate common movements you might do at home, at work or in sports (pushing, pulling, climbing, walking, jumping, twisting and turning).

Muscles are designed to work together. Compound exercises best emulate “real life”. They use a wide variety of movements through a wide range of motion. Compound/functional exercises include: squat, deadlift, bench press, shoulder/overhead presses, dips and rows See previous blog entry on compound movements.

To make life a little bit easier, we need to work on strength, flexibility and agility that will carry over into our daily activities.

Stay tuned...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Nutrition Labels - Reading/Understanding

The Nutrition Facts label is a panel on most packaged food and beverage products that is required by the Food and Drug Administration . The Nutrition Facts label provides detailed information about the nutrient content of the product. Knowing this information can help you decide what fits into your healthy and balanced diet.

The Nutrition Facts food label contains information about calories, fat content, carbohydrates and the amount of protein in the product. The label shows the amounts in grams (g) and the percentage of the daily value. However, this “daily value” is information is based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. It is a general rule of thumb and very generic. Therefore, it will not be exactly right for everybody. Nevertheless, it will give you an idea of how the food item will fit into your energy nutrient needs.

A section to focus your attention on is the serving size. This area can be very deceiving. There is a big difference between tablespoon serving and teaspoon serving, for example. This impacts calories, fat, carbs and protein per serving. Within the fat content, we need to look at the good fats vs. bad fats. Within carbohydrates, we need to look at sugars and fiber. You can learn more about specifics for these topics in previous blog postings on these two subjects (fat and carbs).

The most critical step to starting or maintaining your healthy eating lifestyle is to know what you are feeding your body. The amount of calories, protein, fats and carbs you are taking are the keys to your nutritional goals.

Stay tuned……

Friday, February 24, 2012

Barbecue Pulled Chicken

This is one of my favorites – it is fast to prepare, healthy and YUMMY.

· 1/4 cup ketchup (I prefer organic with no salt added)
· 1 tablespoon Splenda brown sugar
· 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
· Dash chili powder
· Dash garlic powder
· Dash onion powder
· Dash dry mustard (optional)
· Dash smoked paprika
· Dash ground cumin (I favor roasted ground cumin)
· 8 - 10 oz shredded skinless, boneless chicken breast (already cooked and shredded)
· Low Carb pita pockets or wraps (I recommend Joseph’s Low carb)
· No sugar added bread-and-butter pickle chips or dill pickles
· 2 servings


1. Combine ingredients up to chicken in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook until slightly thick, stirring occasionally. Then add in chicken and cook until chicken is thoroughly heated.

2. Spoon chicken mixture on low carb pita or wrap; top each with pickle chip and ENJOY.

Stay tuned.........

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Overhead Press

The Overhead Press is a compound exercise that is a great functional movement, carrying over into “real life”. This exercise mimics real life. Strength in “real life” usually involves standing, walking and moving around, not sitting or lying on your back.

Performing the overhead press in a standing position requires your “core” muscles (abs, obliques, and lower back and spinal stabilizers) to stabilize your body. Your upper body (shoulders, chest and arms) press the weight while your core muscles and legs form a foundation.

The overhead press works all the shoulder heads (three of them on each side) equally. This promotes a critical muscle balance. Imbalances lead to injuries. For example, most males will rely on the bench press as their key exercise. However, this causes too much front shoulder head development and not enough shoulder formation in the back and sides. Many people in sports end up with a rotator cuff injury, which is often linked to an imbalance in the three shoulder heads.

There are numerous variations of the overhead press. Nearly all seated and standing dumbbell and barbell overhead presses are solid choices. Popular alternatives are the Arnold dumbbell press and behind the neck overhead press.

Here is my recommendation: Press the bar or dumbbells straight overhead. Press upward, stay tight, move your head if barbell (keep looking forward while you quickly tilt your head back out of the way and continue pressing up), lean your upper body forward slightly (do not arch your back and lean backwards). You should have the bar (or dumbbells) locked out overhead. Then stay tight and lower it under control. Touch your shoulders and that is one rep.

Get the form down first and then add weight and strive to add weight every session. However, do not sacrifice form for weight.

Stay tuned………

Monday, February 20, 2012

Protein Bars - Read the Labels

Nutrition bars or a Big Mac -- seems like an obvious choice -- but is it really?

Nutrition bars became popular because they were labeled as such but believe it or not, many of these bars have as many calories, fat and carbs as a Big Mac.

Consider this: A study by found that 18 of 31 nutrition bars sampled did not contain what the labels claimed. Two of the biggest issues are the term “high protein” and the mislabeling of carbohydrates. Those 18 bars failed because they contain far more carbohydrates than indicated on the label.

As you know, dietary supplements are not regulated. Consequently, there may be misleading or even false claims about your favorite bar. For example, many manufacturers do not include glycerin in the total carbohydrate count. Glycerin is a carbohydrate used to keep bars moist, add bulk and provide texture. Some manufacturers argue that glycerin may not be fully metabolized by the body; therefore, it does not need to be included in the total carbohydrate count.

In other situations, a bar is described as being “High Protein” but there are not any standards. To illustrate the variation, some "high protein" bars have as little as 10 proteins while others include up to 35.

Nutrition bars/protein bars come in many varieties: 100 to 500 calories; 6 proteins to 35+; 2 sugars to 40 sugars.

I opt for around 200-300 calories and 20 proteins with less than 8 sugars. The bottom line is read the label closely before purchasing. What might appear as “nutritious” may not be as good as you initially thought!

Stay tuned….....

Friday, February 17, 2012

Double Nut / Date Tarts

Many of you have asked for something sweet AND acceptable. The two-bite pecan tarts satisfy the sweet tooth with far less guilt than pecan pie.


1/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup Splenda brown sugar
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Pinch of sea salt

4 ounces pitted dried dates (about 3/4 cup)
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup Splenda brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons no-fat or reduced-fat cream cheese
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 375°F. Coat 24 mini muffin cups with cooking spray.
To prepare crust: Pulse flour, Splenda brown sugar, walnuts, cornstarch, 2 tablespoons butter and salt in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Divide the crust mixture among the prepared mini muffin cups and press evenly into the bottoms.

To prepare filling: Combine dates, water, Splenda brown sugar and 2 1/2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid has cooked away, 8 to 12 minutes. Let cool slightly, and then process the date mixture in a blender or food processor until processed into a paste. Add cream cheese and vanilla; blend or process to combine. Transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in pecans. Divide the date-nut filling among muffin cups, gently pressing the filling down and smoothing the tops.

Bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is lightly cooked, 15 to 17 minutes. Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Loosen the edges of the crust with a small spatula or butter knife and transfer the tarts to a wire rack to cool.

Adapted from the original source Eating Well : November/December 2009

Stay tuned………..

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Squats - Part II - Box Squats

As you may recall from a previous post (date), squats are one of the best overall exercises, using many muscles simultaneously.

Squatting requires proper form and safety. One version of the squat that is appropriate for any fitness level is the box squat.

Many people cannot squat with good form when they first attempt this exercise. Box squats can teach you proper technique. It is also a good exercise for those of you with bad knees that may not be able to free squat anymore (if ever). Even advanced lifters can benefit from this exercise and gain greater power and flexibility.

Here is why it works: Squatting on a box forces you to pause at the bottom. This will recruit more muscle fibers to get you out of the “hole” and back up to the top. The more muscle fibers recruited the more strength and more growth. Another benefit is that you can sit back farther than you could if a box was not under you. This works those hamstrings and glute muscles. These are key in this exercise. Box squats allow you to set your depth accurately. Many lifters make the mistake of increasing weight on the bar but "sitting" at the bottom of their squat at higher and higher point. That defeats the purpose of squatting.

Box Squatting Technique:

Use flat shoes, not running shoes where the heel is built up. Running shoes put your feet on your toes and ball and not the heels where the pressure belongs in this exercise. If you are starting just by using your body weight (in other words, no bar or weights), you could do the exercise in just your socks.

Squatting is about sitting back, not sitting down. If you are using a barbell, step under the bar, raise your chest and pull the shoulder blades together to place the bar on your back as low as comfortably possible. Do not go so low that you are bending forward at the waist.

Turn your feet slightly outward and widen your stance as much as you can comfortably. A wide stance will recruit more hip power. Push your knees out the entire time. Do not let them buckle inward. By forcing your knees apart, you are shortening the distance between the hip and the knee joint. Push your glutes to the rear. Arch the lower back. Keep the chest and head up. Sit back on the box and keep your body tight. Do not relax. Do not bounce off the box. After breaking parallel, (your hips are now below your knees) by sitting back on the box, then you must push with your heels and keep your back tight. Stand up. Keep your head up. Try to push your trapezoid muscles into the barbell first followed by the hips, glutes and the legs.

Whether squatting for the first time or the 1000th time, the box squat will add power, strength and flexibility, while perfecting your technique.

Stay tuned.....

Monday, February 13, 2012

Proteins - Building Blocks

So why is protein so important? Protein is an essential component of the diet. Proteins help your body repair muscle, grow tissue, regulate hormones, control metabolism, boost your immune system and still more. Your ligaments, tendons, muscles, hair, nails, skin, teeth, tissue, organs and bones are all made from proteins. Your body breaks down proteins to feed and maintain these body components. The more active you are the more protein you need to replenish.

There are many opinions in the “fitness” world of just how much protein an individual needs. This ranges from 1- 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight daily. At a minimum, try to consume 1 gram per pound. As you become more active, try for 1.5 grams per pound. If you are a serious athlete, then 2 grams is appropriate to help prevent the body from eating valuable muscle.

Protein sources are abundant. Fish of any kind (also filled with healthy fats), chicken, turkey, egg whites or Egg Beaters® are all protein packed. Eggs are fine for occasional use but they have as much fat as protein. Lean beef cuts (there are some excellent 94+% lean ground beef available) and low fat diary (cheeses, cottage cheese) are also good choices.

The way you prepare your protein will affect its nutritional value. Stay with broiled, steamed, baked or pan-fried. Stay away from breading and calorie packed sauces. Instead opt for spices (most are calorie free) to enhance flavors.

No matter what your goal is PROTEINS are the building blocks for our bodies.

Stay tuned…....

Friday, February 10, 2012

Baked Crab Rangoon

Crab Rangoon, a favorite of mine whenever I visit Chinese restaurants, can be easy to make and healthy. Baked, in fillo shells, it is a great snack or appetizer.


4 green onions
4 oz crabmeat (drain and pat dry with paper towel)4oz fat free cream cheese - softened
4oz low fat cream cheese - softened1 tsp minced garlic½ tsp Worcestershire Sauce6 drops Tabasco (optional)
15 Mini Fillo Shells (find in freezer section at grocery)

** I often add more crab and less cream cheese for more protein.


In a food processor, coarsely chop green onions (whites and greens). Add the crabmeat and pulse several times to combine. Add cream cheese, garlic, Worcestershire Sauce and Tabasco. Process until well combined and creamy. Place fillo shells on large cookie sheet. Lightly spray the shells with cooking spray. (This prevents them from being too dry). Fill each shell with filling.

Bake 15 minutes @ 350 degrees. Cool 5 minutes, then serve.

Adapted from the original source from

Stay tuned………….

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Squats - King of Exercises- Part I Multi-Purpose

Squats are the single most important exercise to work all muscles and build full body strength. If there is only one exercise you do, it should be deep squats. Squats are referred to as the “hormonal bomb” as they release the most anabolic hormones.

There are many squat variations and any age/gender/experience level can get started (I will go into this in next posting). The goal should be to work your way up to performing them with a barbell. Squats not only build the legs, but also develop most of the upper body. Squats also require and build good balance and flexibility.

"You get greater overall muscle and strength gains from the squat than from any other exercise….Squats create an overall anabolic environment in the body that maximizes gains from other exercises [in your workout]" says Jeff Volek, Ph.D., R.D., C.S.C.S., an exercise researcher at the University of Connecticut, as described in Men’s Health.

Old school trainers try to tell us that squats are bad for the knees. However, most injuries are because of weak stabilizer muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue. A recent article, "The 15 Benefits of Squats" by Josh Vales, discusses some of the studies conducted: Research by Auburn University actually proved that regular squatting improved knee stability and strengthened connective tissue. Physiologists at the Mayo Clinic have found that squats actually place less stress on your knees than do leg extensions. Researchers at Ball State University state that leg strength is critical for maintaining mobility as we age. There is no better exercise at maintain and increasing leg strength than the squat.

Whether your goal is to lean out, build muscle, functional fitness, preserving your body as you age or any combination….. the squat is necessary if you are serious about your goal.

Stay tuned……..

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sea Salt vs Table Salt

Salt gets a lot of negative hype from “health professionals” and media. However, our bodies need a certain amount of salt and there is a significant difference in table salt vs. sea salt and the effects on our health.

Table salt is the most common salt used. It is completely refined. The processing procedure removes the mass majority of its natural minerals (the good stuff). In addition, processing adds chemicals such as Sodium Bicarbonate, Fluoride, and Potassium, Iodide to name a few. Anti-caking chemicals must be added to salt that has been heat treated/processed. Due to what is removed and what chemicals are added, table salt is directly impacts retention in the body which can effect blood pressure, edema, muscle cramps/spasms.

Sea salt is from naturally evaporated seawater. It is not chemically heated (like table salt). The sun dries sea salt so no trace minerals are lost. The health benefits of sea salt are due to these trace minerals, which include Sodium, Magnesium, Calcium, Potassium, and Boron to name a few. These elements are all necessary for the human body to function at its best. Sea salt (and the natural minerals it contains) aids in digestion, reduction of water retention and aids in the bones as well as other internal organs.

So the next time you are buying salt at the grocery, consider sea salt for a “healthier” choice.

Stay tuned…………

Friday, February 3, 2012

Chicken with Pepperoni Sauce

Healthy eating is about feeling great, having more energy, and keeping yourself as healthy as possible. The key to long term success at eating healthy is not feeling like you are being restricted or depriving yourself. You can enjoy some delicious meals without the looming “d” words (diet, deprived). Expand your range of healthy food choices with meals like this one.


Cooking spray
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
16 slices pepperoni, chopped (I use low fat Turkey Pepperoni and I prefer mine chopped in larger pieces)
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 cups low-sodium marinara sauce or pizza sauce (I prefer Amato’s pizza sauce)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons of dried basil
1 1/2 pounds chicken breast
1 cup shredded low fat cheese


1. Heat a saucepan over medium-high heat. Coat the pan with cooking spray. Add garlic and pepperoni then cook 2 minutes or until garlic begins to brown, stirring frequently. Add oregano then cook 30 seconds. Add marinara or pizza sauce. Reduce heat and simmer while you cook the chicken. Stir in basil right before serving

2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the pan with cooking spray. Add chicken to skillet and cook thoroughly.

3. Place chicken on plates and spoon sauce over chicken. Sprinkle evenly with cheese.

Adapted from the original source Maureen Callahan, Cooking Light JANUARY 2012

Stay tuned………….

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Simple Secret - 2 Powerful Hormones

Growth Hormone (GH) and, I am not talking the ILLEGAL kind! NATURAL - the kind we all have in our bodies! Both of these hormones are critical to both building muscle AND fat loss for both males AND females. YES women you have testosterone!!!

Growth Hormone (GH) not only helps build muscle but it also strengthens bones, tendons, ligaments and cartilage. It also helps regulate blood sugars that are critical to reducing body fat.

Testosterone is another key hormone for muscle tone/volume/strength. It has a critical role to increase metabolism. It also improves “mood." These are just a few of the incredible roles that these two hormones play in our body.

Both of these hormones are elevated in our younger years and then taper off in our middle age and later. Therefore, it is even more critical for us to stimulate these hormones as much as possible as we age.

In order to stimulate the production of these two hormones naturally, we must use large muscle group exercises (see the earlier posting on compound moves) and heavy resistance. It is very rare to see this practiced consistently by most weight trainers. It is a hard and exhausting approach but again it has big payoffs. Leg extensions and bicep curls have their place, but nothing will stimulate and shock the whole body like squats and deadlifts (Remember that "heavy" is different for each individual.) The payoff for heavy and challenging training is an unparalleled release in anabolic hormones.

Stay tuned…………