Exercise Tutorials Flexibility/Recovery Strength Training

This is How I Roll

I like to treat myself to a massage three times a week, and not just an absent-minded shoulder rub. I’m talking about a deep tissue, muscle relaxing, performance-enhancing massage. Sounds heavenly, right? Where do I find the time and resources to indulgence myself like that? I’ll share my secret with you…This is self-massage and it’s free with a foam roller. This is such an easy way to treat our bodies right, not only with extra TLC but potentially by promoting healing and recovery.

What is foam rolling and how does it help?

Using a foam roller, or for more precise targeting, a lacrosse ball, apply low pressure by rolling in a long smooth motion across different muscle groups. This action massages the fibrous layer of connective tissue (the myofascial tissue) that surrounds the muscles. By massaging this tissue and smoothing out any knots and binding, we increase blood flow which helps with recovery and increases range of motion.

When should I foam roll?

In a perfect world, foam roll before and after each work out. I like to hit the tight spots coming into a workout. My top three restricted areas are my calves, quads, and upper back. Even with a standing desk, I find my ankles could use a little more mobility after a day at the office. I’ll get a fine looking squat with a little more movement in my joints. So many movements in my daily life are quad dominant so they get knotted up easily and affect my hip flexor mobility and lower back. Sometimes I use the heel of my hand or a lacrosse ball on my legs before a workout if I don’t have time for a full foam roll session. The upper back, or thoracic spine, likes a little attention after hours of phone calls, meetings, and desk fatigue. Even with good posture awareness, this area gets stuck from the occasional slouch or hunch. If I have the roller handy, a nice long roll over my upper back with my neck cradled safely in my hands, I feel all the day’s tension fall away- like water off a duck’s back.

After a workout hit all these spots again and add a nice long roll on the IT band down the side of your leg. For me, with a tricky knee, so much tension builds there and the massage of that tissue makes me a better person. Complete the roll out with the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.

How long should it take?

For a pre-workout roll, take about 5 minutes, and spend up to 15 minutes as part of a cool down. Roll at a pace of about 1 inch per second, or slower. If you hit a very tender spot, try rolling the area around that first to avoid doing any damage. A little discomfort is normal, but severe pain is not what we are going for here.

Beginner tips:

If you are new to rolling, start slowly. Ask your trainer for instructions and to check that you are hitting the sweet spots. Be sure not to aggravate anything that is already inflamed. Find a way to incorporate this into your training during a dynamic warm-up or a cooldown, or both. Take your time with it, and breathe.


Remember this is your indulgence. Your deep tissue massage. Digging deeper into a painful area can cause tissue or nerve damage, so steer clear of the “no pain, no gain” mentality. If you listen to your muscles and the myofascial tissue surrounding them, you want to hear them take a little breath and then sigh out a sweet, “Thank you for taking care of me.”

Motivational Personal Development Strength Training

Building Muscle, Building Confidence

I’ve been weaning myself off of the barbell for a few months. I decided to change up my training and depart from the go-big or go-home approach. I’ve gone from high weight/ low repetitions to high reps/ lower weight. I cap my weight increases and change my tempo for a greater challenge. I’m exploring how this feels and listening to my body. Sometimes in a large class I feel a little bit on the outside because my goals might be different, not going for a personal record. But then I remember that everyone’s goals are different all the time. So I just do my thing. One reason I’m backing off the big weight is it does a number on my central nervous system. I’d like to minimize fatigue and brain fog. It’s been a stressful few months, and while I have lots of strategies and mechanisms for copying with stress, my reserves are low. A good strategy for me is to minimize extra fatigue from compound exercises like deadlifts. However, the personal records are important too, and I’m happy I have them. I’ve been reflecting on the value of the p.r. One of the greatest take-aways from the deadlift and rack pulls specifically is the byproduct of self-belief. Yes, fat loss, gaining strength, and feeling good are also amazing byproducts, but the unexpected result is self-belief. The surprise of this discovered confidence makes it even more of a gem.

I’m a pretty confident person about most things, but most things I do, I do all the time. When it comes to the weight room, for the first year especially, most of it was new and most of it came with the thought, “I can’t do that.” I think many of us would agree that so quickly for all of us this initial thought becomes, “I can do that.” How exciting and empowering to have this new narrative. Honestly, sometimes we wonder if we will ever be able to get through the warm up without stopping, or do a one minute plank, wall sits, or bear crawls, let alone any weight lifting. But we do and we believe in ourselves a little more with each success.

When we start thinking about our own #s, setting goals and accomplishing them, in some way we are rewiring our brains for self-belief. By setting our sights on something that seems out of reach and then achieving that, we boost our confidence and this carries over into other parts of our lives. What else in my life would I like to achieve? What goals can I set? How do I prioritize my routine to get there? What are the steps I need to take? Once you apply the structure, the discipline, and the process to get there- Boom! You reach new p.r.s in your life. For me the barbell is a reminder of all the things I never thought I could do, but actually can. Coincidentally, barbells are not in our routine this month. I’m glad I didn’t have to quit cold turkey, and had self directed through the weaning process, but I look at them fondly with memories of my personal records. Fortunately for me on my last rack pull p.r. of 300#, my workout buddy, Michelle asked if she could take my picture. I’m glad she did, and like Bogart to Bergman in Casablanca , I can say, “We’ll always have Paris.”

Cultivating your self-belief is a wonderful byproduct of attending a gym. What would you like to accomplish that you never thought you could, because you know what? I bet you can!

Exercise Tutorials

The Cossack Squat

Looking for exercise movements that are hidden in our everyday lives is like a treasure hunt. We train at the gym to prepare us for the other 23 hours in our day, but we don’t always recognize those exact movements. It’s fun to spot them when we can. Ever compare when you are walking up your front steps with your groceries hanging at your side to walking lunges or farmer carries?—similar movements. Or how about that awkward hover you employ so you never have to touch a public toilet and a traditional squat? –yes, same movements. One of my recent finds in my daily treasure hunt is the Cossack Squat. Not only was it fun to discover, but I am also excited to share it with you here. This exercise was in our programming over a year ago, and might not be something you have done in a long time, if ever. I highly recommend it, and have a link below for instructions on form and technique.

This particular variation of squat prepares us to be ready and strong no matter what direction life comes at us. I love a good exercise metaphor! The Cossack Squat is a lateral squat movement where our weight is shifted to one side, keeping the knee over the toes while the other leg is straight out and with its toes pointing straight up to the sky. What’s happening here? Increased range of motion, opening of the hip flexors, ankle flexibility, while also engaging hamstrings, quads, glutes, and core. It’s a powerhouse movement. Being ready for anything, flexible, and strong are exactly why I work out- and I also aim to have that same mental readiness, flexibility, and strength. In my mind those characteristics are parts of the best version of myself. Ta-da! My perfect metaphor exercise all rolled into one.

Much to my delight I realized I spend hours doing Cossack Squats when I sail. I often find myself in this position on the leeward side of the boat when trimming the jib. I hold this position for as long as I need to get the sail properly trimmed. On the next tack I pivot to the other side. Throughout the season I have gained stability in this position and increased my range of motion exponentially. I have seen this movement in lots of sports and I understand the value of training in 3d, as opposed to just front and back, or up and down.

As a student athlete my son was a soccer goalie and a first-baseman in baseball. The Cossack Squat was a staple in his dynamic warm-up. Every game I saw him employ this lateral movement, a reach for a play at the plate, or a stretch for a save in the net. Its always been apparent that the ball, and of course life, doesn’t just come straight at you in a soft lob down the middle. I encourage you to work the Cossack Squat into your warm up too.

What movements that you do at the gym can you find in the treasure hunt of your everyday life?

For a tutorial on how to do a proper Cossack, click here:


Flexibility/Recovery Motivational Personal Development Strength Training

Brick Foundation for Strength Training

Last night we got to do barbell bench presses and I remembered my first time doing them- again an intimidating exercise when it’s new. Historically these have a very masculine appeal and are not very ladylike. So the first time I did them I looked at the bar over my head and had a little chat with it making a deal that I would guide it down nice and steady to my sternum and that its job was to return safely back to the rack on my exhale. Just using the bar seemed like a big deal, almost suffocating in a certain way. Well here I am into my 2nd year of bench pressing and without hesitation I load up the bar and do some reps. (I still have my little chat with each set, just so we know we are on the same page.) It’s fun; it’s challenging; I’m sweating, and maybe even a little grunt escapes from my chest on the final rep. But I still remember when it was just the bar and how heavy that was at the time. It wasn’t just that it was heavy- it was that it was new and unfamiliar- my body didn’t really have a script for that movement. The closest thing might have been tossing my son up into the air with a giggle and catching him on the way down when he was a toddler, but I probably stopped doing that long before he was 45 pounds, and that was nearly 20 years ago. So the foundation was weak or nonexistent, but now, over time, brick by brick, I’ve built a solid foundation and can set the barbell moving without delay.

It’s good to remember this progression when it comes to exercise and strength training. Each movement no matter how small is another brick in the foundation of our strength. I often hear people lamenting their modifications during a new exercise or while recovering from an injury, a break, or illness. “I hate that I can’t do a full lunge, squat, jump, curl, press, etc.” I remind them how important this time is for their bodies and for learning or relearning a movement, to get programmed and to create proper form for safety and longevity. Each modified curl is still a curl. The smaller or more basic the move, the better we are creating proper form, and training our bodies so we can add complexity, increase range of motion, and add weight to our lifts as we progress.

It’s important to do what we can and recognize our own biomechanics. This might change from day to day- our hip flexors might be tight one day and another we are able to drop into a deep squat. When we modify a movement to adjust for these changes we leave judgement at the door and celebrate our self-knowledge, exercise safely and get a more effective workout.

When modifying, use the cues from the instructors and think about the purpose of the exercise and what movement patterns are included. Choose a modification that addresses the same muscle group and works toward this same purpose. When you are ready to add a challenge you can choose to increase your efforts when it feels right.

My challenge to you this week is not to see a modified exercise as “less than” but rather as its own valuable movement. We are layering our foundation of strength- brick by brick.

Motivational Personal Development Strength Training

Summertime Secrets of Success

School’s out for summer! I think those very words are a throwback for all of us reminiscent of the freedom we had as kids with no homework, no schedule, no alarm clock, and no structure. As adults there is a mixture of both chaos and feeling carefree when the calendar page flips to late June. Some of us have changes in our work schedule in the summer too, and if we have kids at home there’s no doubt our routines are upended. Even with those variables aside, summertime seems to get filled with lots of activities and visitors and our schedules blow out the window as soon as we open them up for that summer breeze.

So how do we handle the chaos of camp carpool, spontaneous trips to the lake, and the joy of just being outside while maintaining our gym regimen? How do we make time for the gym when there are so many other activities in our lives? And the big question, does the gym need to be a priority if we are getting exercise lots of other ways outside this time of year?

I’m pretty sure you know my answer to the last question. I’m so grateful for the workouts at the gym that have given me the strength and endurance to do all these other activities I enjoy. Since I attribute my level of fitness to the work at the gym, I’m going to continue to make that a priority. So the real question is what is my strategy for summer success?

This week’s big reveal is that nothing changes about the combination for success: Have a goal, create your habits and routine, be accountable, and have fun.

Top 4 Secrets to Summertime Success

1~ Set a seasonal goal ~ We already know our long term goals, but when summer comes, we can think about short term goals to mix it up and keep us focused. My long term goal is to stay fit and strong, but specifically for summer I want to increase my speed on the winch handle while sailing to be a better racer. I’m tackling those battle ropes and those biceps curls with sights for a podium finish on the racecourse. Maybe you want to train for a Tough Mudder or hike Mt. Battie, or maybe this is the summer that getting up out of the sand at the beach will be a little easier. Having a short term goal will make it easier to stay motivated and stick to your schedule.

2 ~ Keep the rhythm going ~ There are lots of ways to add exercise to your life when the weather is nice and the water is warm: paddling, swimming, walking, or biking. I like to see those as activities of a healthy lifestyle, and not necessarily a replacement for a workout routine. There are so many variables that can sidetrack us from those best laid plans. Continuing classes provides the routine we need as the foundation for our wellness. Plus training at the gym offers specific benefits, development, and toning. I also don’t want to risk losing the gains of strength training by taking a few months off. Maybe I’ll drop one day at the gym and commit to adding a vigorous walk as a substitute, but more than one or two subs can become a slippery slope. I make sure to have my scheduled days at the gym and prioritize my fitness routine. It might be different times or less frequent, but I’m still committed in a way that works with my schedule.

3 ~ Accountability ~ Having a fitness buddy is important. Try to find a walking partner or a neighbor at the lake house who likes to paddle and would like to commit to getting together once a week. This way if you’ve replaced a gym day, you will be more likely to stay committed to your alternative exercise with a friend. And that slippery slope I just mentioned is especially possible if the weather turns. Have a bad weather back up plan. Check the gym schedule on Zen Planner to add a drop in if we hit a rainy spell. Trying new class times is a great way to meet new people too and increase your accountability network.

4 ~ Fun ~ Last but not least, whatever you are doing have fun with it. A few times this week I’ve run into people in town and they have immediately launched into their apologies about not being at the gym. Summer schedules should be absolutely guilt free. Never apologize for being fulfilled and doing what you love. No doubt those are the best summer memories, the ones filled with freedom, fun, and laughter. Mix it up, embrace the chaos, created some calm, and enjoy the carefree feeling. It’s summertime and the living is easy…


Motivational Personal Development Strength Training Uncategorized

Healthy Fear and the Seduction of Deadlifts

Growing up, our neighborhood sentinel stood watch from his front porch, alert and ready to seize upon any passerby. His bark echoed between the houses, and we were dutifully warned by all the adults to give him a wide berth. He was a troubled dog, with a mysterious past. I imagined his face behind the screen door, an angry pairing of daggered teeth, slimy, dripping gnarled lip, and dark, menacing eyes. On our side of the door his swift canine canter would break into a full-speed sprint across the lawn, a black blur with a single glistening highlight at his flapping jowl. In our young minds it became a survival art to navigate to each other’s houses and back without waking the beast. Palms sweaty, on tiptoes, we’d walk in pairs with one suspended breath from the edge of his property to the next, one eye on the door, and one eye on the safety zone. From paper boy terror, to cyclist wounds, the dog’s ferociousness became legendary and walking by his house was no longer an option. Fear’s invisible hand guided us like marionettes; first one house away, then eventually two, and finally, we never walked within three houses of our local, furry vigilante. Our neighborhood boundaries of safety were prescribed, our path and playground dictated by a healthy fear.

Practical fear serves us well when it keeps us safe; it is a self-defense mechanism. With that in mind, I listen to my fear, but I try not to be a marionette in its hand. The dog is long gone and I have since left my neighborhood, but my boundaries of safety are always being established, informed by the combination of my experiences.

About 8 years ago I sprained my hip lifting a crate of artwork that weighed 220 pounds. I was immobile, and needed help to do even so little as tie my shoe. I was in agony not just from the pain, but because of my dependency on other people. As a “strong, independent woman,” being stripped of my capability, stripped part of my identity, and it was unnerving. After weeks, even months of recovery I operated in a newly defined safety zone. My boundaries included lighter lifting, even baskets of laundry were questionable, and I NEVER approached 220 pounds. The number itself invoked a visceral response, sweaty palms, stilled breath, as if 220 was my new ferocious beast just around the corner, whose bark echoed between the houses.

There has been a lot of growth in the last eight years, including learning how to be comfortable relying on other people, welcoming new definitions of my identity, and being more fluid with my ideas about safety, comfort, and risk. Despite the growth and awareness, strength and (a reasonable degree of) independence continue to be a priority for me, as made obvious by my work at Hybrid Fitness. These last few weeks with deadlifts in our workouts, I’ve been staring down the dog of 220. It has been waiting for me around the corner. I’m perfectly comfortable and safe “2 or 3 houses down” in the 190-200 range, working on my form. I can stay here quietly, but honestly, there is something seductive about the deadlift. And for all my convincing of myself that I am fine to steer clear of 220, there is a powerful part of me that wants to tame the beast, to walk right up to it and have it eat out of my hand.

I think a lot of us share a love of the deadlift. It is a movement that is new to many of us since joining Hybrid and at first may have seemed inaccessible or intimidating. But many of us convert after walking up to that bar with those big weights, squeezing our glutes, driving our weight through our heels, popping our hips out and our chests up, and BOOM! We’re deadlifting and going back for more. We use this movement to measure and express our comprehensive strength and power, and we celebrate this success.  In strength training, we learn to trust the process of progression. We learn technique; we get better; and we get stronger. While I have been milling around in my safety zone these weeks, I have reinforced my technique and gained strength. This progression led me to my next step.

I’m standing in the front yard of 220, its gnarled lip and frothy mouth inches from my own. I know I can choose to go home, but I chalk up and let my body do what it knows how to do. I walk right past my own imaginary boundary and dance my way to 225. Fear is not even in the room, not a single shadow of an echoing bark.

In order to progress I had to think about what message my fear was sending. Was I the marionette of fear directed by arbitrary boundaries, or was the fear protecting me from doing something harmful? As soon as I knew I could handle what I was doing, I did it. I made sure there was no ego, no bravado, and it wasn’t about anything other than my own strength in that moment. The arbitrary boundary dissolved as I allowed my knowledge to surface. Listening to fear in a practical sense protects us from certain dangers, while trusting our experience frees ourselves from other types of fear. What are your growling dogs and 220s? Is your fear good self-defense, or is it something to face and move past? Explore the difference, and dance yourself safely to the best version of you!