5 Lower Body Low Impact Exercises (That Won’t Hurt Your Knees)

Hello, my most dedicated readers! Oh, how I’ve missed you all. Last time I checked in, both our girls were sick. And last week I was sick! NOT COOL. Everyone knows, moms don’t have time to be sick. Yet, I was. So sick that I didn’t even workout. I did try a couple times, but I was super drained. Like for real. Ugh.

I’ll probably sound like a weeny when I say I just had a case of laryngitis, but I didn’t realize how crummy you can feel from an illness that generally just gets a lot of attention for taking someone’s voice away. While my throat still hurts a lot this week and I still have a dry, hacky cough, my voice is finally coming back (and I’m starting to exercise again), so hallelujah! I must be on the mend. Now back to real life and the important stuff.

A few weeks back, a friend and reader asked me to share some low impact lower body exercises and today, I’m excited to bring them to you. This friend has found her knees to be particularly temperamental after having her first baby a few months back. This is totally normal since the hormone relaxin can loosen our ligaments and joints leading up to labor and can take up to a year after stopping breastfeeding to return to “normal.” Who knew? Now you do ūüôā

While I love jumping around like a total maniac and I don’t have a problem doing so, that isn’t the case for everyone and the good news is there are TONS of exercises you can still do to strengthen your lower body AND be kind to your knees.

Today I’m sharing my top 5 lower body exercises that are low impact and can help you strengthen your lower body, without hurting your knees because yes, it’s possible!

Most of these exercises will use the glutes as a primary mover, and all the other muscles in the legs will be secondary or tertiary movers/helpers.

The largest and what should be–strongest–muscle group in the body is the glutes (aka your butt muscles). I often tell my clients that your butt isn’t just about vanity or something sexy. Though it can be both of those things, your butt is also totally functional too. Meaning, your glutes–when engaged, strengthened, and used properly–can help support your hips and take work away from your smaller knee joints all while simultaneously strengthening all the muscles surrounding your knees too.

Every single person should be able to do a squat. It’s arguably the most functional movement you can ever do. Many think squats are just for your quads, that big muscle group on the top, front of the leg. However, squats are actually a glute exercise that your quads can help with.

We all sit down and get up from chairs and the toilet–that’s a squat.¬† We all pick things up from the ground–that should be a squat. So yes, one of the exercises I share will be a squat, but I’ll show you how to modify it to take some work away from your knees if a traditional body weight squat hurts for now.

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When doing these exercises, aim for anywhere between 8-15 reps, (per side where applicable) and 3-5 sets.

  1. Squats – Keep your weight in full foot and push up out of your heels. By keeping the work in the heels vs. the forefoot, you help your glutes do the work, not your knees. Modify on a wall or using a ball on the wall if needed.MNYE9697XZZS2597
  2. Hip Bridge РStrengthen your glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Lying on your back, place your heels on a chair, bench, stool, or any elevated and level surface. Push up from the floor by driving into your heels. Squeeze your glutes at the top and then slowly return to the ground.  NMAP9020
  3. Deadlifts – Single leg or double, it doesn’t matter–deadlifts are great for you (and your glutes and hamstrings)! Slightly bend your knees then while keeping your back flat, hinge from the hips towards the ground. Return to the top, squeezing your glutes when you get there.¬†CGBK3879
  4. Side Lunges РStrengthen your glutes, adductors and abductors (those muscles on the insides and outsides of the legs). Start with both feet pointing straight ahead. Sinking into the heel on one foot, lift up the other foot and reach it to your side while sinking into the opposite heel. Return the foot to the center and keep your toes pointed straight ahead for the entire movementDILI3446
  5. Step Ups – These are awesome for the whole leg! Place one foot on a step, chair, or stool. Keeping your weight in the heel on the bench, “pull” your other leg up and onto the step. Slowly return your foot to the ground, putting as little weight into the bottom foot and repeat.

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What are your favorite lower body exercises? Share in the comments below! 

I am 1 in 8: National Infertility Awareness Week

The last two weeks have been pretty quiet here on the blog because we’ve been stuck in what I’ll not-so-creatively call, “Sick-ville.” For the last 10+ days, our girls have been on a roller coaster of sick including a virus that spiked their temps to 102+, ear infections, lots of crankiness and not so much sleep. Josie had a double ear infection coupled with a virus last week. And this week was Isla’s turn. The same virus and an ear infection so bad mucus was coming out of her eyes.¬†Sometimes parenthood is gross.

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Yet, as I’ve been tending to my sick babies, trying to muster as much patience I can (not always successfully), getting by on less workouts yet plenty of carbs (hello cupcakes, ice cream, way too many handfuls of animal crackers, and a glass of wine here and there too), I keep reminding myself I literally cried and hoped for these challenging days, for years.

Despite the chaos in our home during this National Infertility Awareness Week, I couldn’t let the week end without paying homage to a chapter of life that shaped who I have become, and who my husband and I are as parents. 1 in 8 couples are affected by infertility. I’ll admit, sometimes the memories of our infertility journey feel buried underneath the beauty and fatigue of parenthood, and other times the memories still feel fresh enough to bring back some of the same anxiety and pain. Like when I drive by a local clinic where I had blood drawn to confirm yet another miscarriage. Or when I discover the ovulation test kits I still can’t bear to toss out next to a box of pads in my closet. Or when I see or talk to another woman hurting and yearning for a baby as hard as I always did.

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To read more about our infertility struggles, here are a few posts I shared previously, relating our own story:

But as I am present in this week of awareness, I’ll briefly share a fact I’m connecting most with this year: A baby’s cells stay in a mother’s blood, organs, and even have the ability to manipulate her DNA long after a mother gives birth, and is even changed after a miscarriage.

Despite having “two under two” this year, this fact reminds me it’s okay to feel connected and to sometimes still struggle with to our darkest years of unexplained infertility and multiple losses. Because at least three more little people have changed me forever, even if I never got to meet them. And truthfully, as we consider maybe adding to our family again someday, I know some of the same experiences or others could await us again perhaps in the form of secondary infertility or more losses.

So yes, as my current life is emptying yet another box of tissues wiping tiny noses (I should seriously be buying stock in Kleenex…) and missing a few more hours of sleep to soothe another cry, I’m a mixture of thoughts and emotions, but most of all–I am grateful. If this is my calm after one of the most tumultuous storms I never saw forecasted, I wouldn’t trade these times–gross AND beautiful–for anything.

Wherever you are physically, mentally, or emotionally during this infertility week–may we all feel a little more connected and less alone. And for those weathering your own storm, may this mom’s crazy life be a beacon of hope. Because you never know what (or who) will be at the end of your own rainbow.

If anyone ever has any questions or is seeking support, please always feel able to reach out–either in the comments below or privately.¬†

Motivation Monday

This week’s motivation comes whipping in with a nasty and cold rainstorm. Definitely a day that may go more smoothly with some extra help!

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But, on this Marathon Monday, despite the nasty weather in Boston, lots of people are astounding themselves by one of their greatest accomplishments despite freezing rain, wind, and one of the longest runs of their lives. And that is wildly motivating to me today.

A few years ago I finished my first (and so far, only) marathon. I didn’t run fast, but I crossed the finish line and it helped me feel like I was capable of so much more than I thought just a few hours before when I first toed the start. It helped propel a lot of my accomplishments to come in the following years and often still inspires me to keep pushing myself. It’s amazing what our spirits and bodies are capable of!

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So, whatever weather or mood you’re experiencing today, feel inspired. Start your week working toward accomplishing all the goals you set your heart and mind to. On the days my to-do list seems its longest or hardest, when I get everything done (or at least most things), I feel proud and fulfilled. No marathon for me today, just a HIIT workout and more laundry, but I’ll be trying to make every moment count. Get out there and astound yourself.

Happy Monday!

Healthy Asian Ramen with Asparagus

Does anyone else love Asian food, but not love all the calories and salt that often come with it? Today, I’m bringing you a quick, easy, versatile Asian dish (it’s even vegan friendly!) that will make good use of a spring vegetable currently on sale at seemingly every grocery store–asparagus!

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Asparagus is a super veggie in my book. It’s full of vitamins and minerals like A, C, E, and K, plus chromium. It contains glutathione, a powerful compound which helps eliminate free radicals in the body and break down carcinogens. Among other pros, asparagus is a natural diuretic, so instead of storing water after eating this dish (sorry General Tso chicken!), you should find yourself losing excess water weight. Score!

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This dish is packed with protein from not only ground meat or seitan, but from millet and brown rice ramen noodles. These noodles are an awesome Costco find and now a regular staple in our pantry as long as Costco carries them. They’re ready in less than 10 minutes and one serving contains 4 grams of protein and just 130 calories. Even if you leave the meat or seitan out of this recipe, you can create a meal of complete protein by combining these noodles with the veggies. I used ground beef when I made the recipe this time, but however you prepare your meal, I’m sure you’ll love the gingery, saucy flavor of this healthy spring dish.

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Healthy Asian Ramen with Asparagus

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground beef, pork, turkey, or seitan 
  • 1/2 cup diced yellow onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced and divided
  • 1 bunch asparagus, chopped
  • 1.5 tbsp coconut aminos
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 3 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp Sambal oelek (ground fresh chili paste) or siracha sauce–someimes I add more for more heat
  • 3 pads (6 servings) of millet and brown rice ramen
  • sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat a skillet to medium and brown your protein of choice. Remove from pan and set aside when done.
  2. Leaving a small amount of fat in the pan (or adding 1 tsp of cooking oil of your choice) add the diced onion, half the garlic, chopped asparagus and cook until tender, or about 6-8 minutes.
  3. While the veggies are cooking, bring a pot of 6 cups of water to a boil. Cook the ramen according to the instructions on the package.
  4. When the vegetables are cooked, add your protein back to the skillet plus the remaining garlic, along with the rest of your ingredients (coconut aminos through the chili paste/siracha). Stir to combine and let cook for about 2 minutes.
  5. Drain your noodles and combine all the ingredients in a bowl or layer on your plate. Garnish with sesame seeds and enjoy!

If you try this recipe, let me know what you think in the comments below. Additionally, what’s your favorite way to eat asparagus, or do you have another favorite spring vegetable?¬†

 

 

Random Ramblings: Respectful Parenting, Healthy Eating, & Podcasts

Today I’m checking in with a whole bunch of randomness to help clear my mind AND share more about honest and raw truth about myself, my life, and my habits with you– my awesome readers!

The forecast is finally tempting us with temps above 50 later this week, but as we’re waking up so another day where snow is falling from the sky (it’s April 10, right?!), I’m trying to keep my attitude and outlook positive today. Aaaaand I’m living in struggle city. Or after experiencing a not-so-pretty grown up temper tantrum when my toddler refused to stay still while I got her dressed this morning (she often does this as my husband so nicely reminded me), I’m living in failure city.

Clearly I’m harboring some mom guilt today. I know I’m far from a failure, but my high strung and short-tempered self is jealous of those who are a lot more patient than me. And honestly, I’m just in this funk, AGAIN. Mother nature, please stop knocking me down with your cold and snow! Hopefully this is the real, real end of winter.

Thinking about parenting and how I can avoid more mommy meltdowns when the weather can’t be my excuse anymore, I’ll share that we’re trying to practice respectful parenting using a lot of Magda Gerber’s principles. Gerber really emphasizes respect for and trust in our growing babies. The big picture of our goals mean we trust that our children are capable growing little people. We try not to yell when there are meltdowns or defiant moments, instead opting to stay calm, gently redirect while being firm, but fair. When conditions are ideal (ie. when everyone is happy and sweet) it works awesome. And when a meltdown happens and I use the tools I’ve been learning, I find I stay more calm and the hard moments end sooner and more productively. Alas, when parenting children who are trying to make sense of these huge emotions they’re feeling every day sometimes it’s hard, for everyone! This morning’s mommy eruption was not in line with my parenting goals. Grace. Being a mom keeps me seriously humble and thank goodness I know I’ll have lots more opportunities to do better.

Other things on my mind today: healthy eating. As I mentioned last week, I’ve been motivated to really get my diet back on track. I’m reducing my chocolate chip intake by handfuls (no, seriously…) and replacing my cravings for sugar with more veggies and natural sugars like fruits.

I’m currently chomping on carrot sticks and hummus.

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I can’t say cutting out the junk food is easy right now (cravings are real and you don’t have to be pregnant to have them), but I’ve done this before and know it will be worth it.

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Breastfeeding can’t continue to be an excuse to keep eating junk (at least not for me) and I’d like to rely less on high rise yoga pants and flexing my muscles to mask my postpartum pouch (which of course, I’m super proud of and grateful for, but hello–I’m human and fitness focused!).

We’ve restocked the freezer and pantry at Costco and Aldi a few times in the last couple weeks and I’m excited to feel prepared to keep working at self improvement.

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With two kids, my dinners have been so simple over the last six+ months and thankfully these even healthier meal options are still super easy. I know I haven’t been doing the “What I Ate Wednesday” posts anymore (because they were time consuming and not as popular), but I am still meal planning and some of the menu offering in our home over the next couple weeks will include:

  1. Salmon with Veggies
  2. Pesto Chicken and Veggies
  3. Chicken with Avocado Salad
  4. Ham, Apple, and Sweet Potato Egg Scramble
  5. Spaghetti Squash and Meatballs
  6. Sweet Potatoes Stuffed with Shredded Chicken (BBQ or Buffalo Chicken)
  7. Healthy Ramen with Asian Beef and Asparagus (this last one is an original from my kitchen! Watch for a recipe later this week)
  8. Turkey Quinoa Taco Casserole
  9. Burrito Bowls with Cauliflower Rice

If the actual meal isn’t popular, these are all dishes with at least toddler and baby-friendly ingredients (yes, Josie is eating now too–she looooves food), like avocado, sweet potato, salmon, meatballs, and loads of veggies (most of which both girls will actually eat if they’re not too tired). Sweet!

Something else I’ve been doing that makes me feel good is listening to podcasts. It’s a fun way to listen and learn while I’m driving, with the kids, or getting some work done. Some of my favorites lately have been:

  1. Well-Fed Women – I love the honest advice these two women give on health nutrition, and fitness related topics. Their podcast description says, “Expect real talk, moderately amusing banter, and empowering advice for women, from women” and I think this sums up their show great. I’ve really enjoyed episodes #162-#165 in the last few weeks.
  2. The mindbodygreen – This podcast is full of awesome info on a whole host of health related topics and all from pioneers in the health industry.
  3. Unruffled – This is a parenting podcast by Janet Lansbury, a parenting expert focused on the respectful parenting practices we’re trying to use. Listening to this podcast helps me stay mindful and focused on my efforts and reminds me I’m an imperfect human capable of trying again when I slip up.

If you’re interested in more of the ramblings from my brain these days, follow my IG account where I’ve been trying to post more regularly. Things I’m thinking about sharing in the upcoming weeks include healthier dessert options, ways you can cleanse your diet and jump start weight loss, what we’re planting in our garden this year, exercises you can do at the office, and a workout you can do on your next hike, my Costco and Aldi grocery lists, the benefits of fermented foods, and more.

Tell me, what are some topics you’d like to hear more about? Share on social media, or in the comments below!¬†

 

3 Ab Exercises, 3 Ways

This past weekend we enjoyed a fun Easter holiday with our girls and our extended family. Isla woke up on Sunday so excited for her “treats” and eggs from the Easter bunny.

I’m not one of those moms who bans candy from the Easter baskets, but there are lots of non-food items included too. Some of my favorite items in the girls’ baskets this year included coloring books, Easter themed books, watercolor paints, construction paper, puffs and teething toys for Josie, some chocolate bunnies and chicks and some tasty Easter-themed Belgian chocolate bars for Isla. Sure, the chocolate may sound fancy, but I like to keep artificial colors and ingredients out of our food in-home where we can. This chocolate was from the Netherlands and Belgium, so there weren’t any artificial colors or ingredients. The bunny got the goods at Marshall’s. Last, but not least, we can’t forget the Annie’s Organics themed items! Does anyone else feel like Annie’s is the best Easter themed line of food? We are 100% an Annie’s Organics family all year long, but their bunny theme clearly translates particularly well to Easter. So naturally, the Easter Bunny left lots of Annie’s brand snacks in Isla’s basket, and in her eggs this year!

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Sugared up and moving through the festivities all weekend, by Sunday night, both girls (and mom and dad) were pooped and ready for bed! Easter success!

Looking ahead I’m a little excited there aren’t any big holidays to mess with my healthy eating goals for awhile. I’ve been a little off the rails the last few weeks. No upcoming festivities means I can really try to be on track. Truthfully, I will probably eat something sweet almost every day, per usual. And I’ll be enjoying some beer and wine a few days a week too. But looking ahead, I know I’ll be doing better than I have over the last couple weeks by cutting out the Easter treats.

They says abs are made in the kitchen and I have to agree. I don’t think I’ll ever have a bodybuilder’s stomach because 1. I don’t want to right now, and 2. I don’t want to eat 100% clean, but I know I feel so much better (ie. way less bloated!) when I’m not loading my body with all the high sugar treats associated with big candy holidays like Easter. So with that idea plus the goal of at least seeing muscle definition when I flex, I’m truly looking forward to this time to get refocused and get back into a more normal “healthy” groove.

Thinking about abs, I’ve put together a quick ab workout. The exercises in this workout target all layers of your abs, plus you have to rely on strength from your arms, shoulders, chest, and back. These three ab exercises can be completed using three different modalities.

The three moves are:

  1. Plank knee tucks
  2. Plank elbow knee tucks
  3. Pikes

And the three modalities are:

  1. Bodyweight
  2. Stability ball
  3. TRX

Check out the video below for a quick visual of what these look like in action. Then, bust out your own equipment at home or at the gym (or not) and give these a try!

 

How was your Easter? And what were you busy indulging in? Share your favorite traditions and treats below. 

10 Small Changes To Live a Healthier Life

The countdown to Easter has started around our house. This weekend we enjoyed some Easter parties and egg hunts and while I haven’t loved Easter in years, I’m really enjoying celebrating with our girls. This is the first year Isla can really participate in and enjoy some of the traditions associated with Easter and with so little time between St. Patrick’s Day and Easter this year, we’re really cramming in the festivities around our house right now.

Along with the parties and egg hunts, we dared to dye Easter eggs with two under two. And surprisingly, Josie was the first to spill a cup of dye. It’s fun starting traditions with our girls. With this fun activity we ate a simple and toddler friendly dinner of baked chicken tenders, tomato salad, and carrot sticks.

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In my last post, I talked about how it’s all of these small changes that help create the larger and more amazing accomplishments and transformations. So, today I thought it would be helpful to talk about some of the small changes you can make today to live a healthier life.

A lot of the time, when someone is trying to get healthy they give up because it feels too hard and unrealistic. People think they have to do everything right to be healthy and when that seems overwhelming, they give up. And I think if I thought I needed to exercise for an hour every day and eat nothing but salads that I would give up too.

Thinking about the results I’ve seen firsthand over the last several years, I often think my clients who experience the best success (ie. the long term results), are successful because they were making smaller and consistent changes. Making changes in this way means you can be thoughtful about your current diet and exercise routine, and you’re truly able to make thoughtful changes that build up to a lifestyle change and most importantly–something maintainable.

So, what changes can you make today?

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  1. Swap your favorite indulgence with a healthier alternative 3 times per week.¬† What food are you eating regularly and too much of? What food are you not eating enough of? I ask my clients these two questions almost every week. And over time, by reducing your intake of your favorite indulgences, either by cutting down on portion size or not eating it at all 3 times per week, and replacing them with a healthier alternative you’ll see and feel a difference. And hopefully these kinds of changes will become permanent. Some good examples include cutting down on a portion of nuts and subbing that extra serving with an apple. Swap ice cream after dinner with a bowl of your favorite cereal. Eat scrambled eggs with spinach three times per week instead of a bagel. By committing to a change just three times per week, the change isn’t overwhelming and you can still feel like you’re enjoying some of your favorite things.
  2. Reduce the number of alcoholic beverages you’re consuming. Except when I’m pregnant, I do not eliminate alcohol from my diet. However, I do limit myself to a few drinks per week. One of the ways I hold myself accountable is limiting my drinking to weekends¬†with special exceptions. After spending almost 2 years without drinking (because I was preggers), I don’t want to give up alcohol, but I choose to drink a few days per week so I can really enjoy the drinks I’m having.
  3. Swap soda for seltzer. Men shouldn’t be consuming more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day, and women shouldn’t be consuming more than 5. A can of Coke has more than 9 teaspoons alone, plus a whole bunch of other ingredients your body doesn’t need.
  4. Stop consuming artificial sweeteners. One of the biggest reasons I can’t stand artificial sugar is because it “tricks” the body and your metabolism. Consuming artificial sugar sends a message to the brain and body that you’re about to get a sugar rush soon, but it never comes. Confused, your insulin levels may rise even higher than if you had actual sugar, and then you’re triggering the fat storage system. Without getting too into things, it’s a messy and dirty cycle! Stop messing with your your body and just cut these chemicals out of your diet for the biggest benefit.
  5. Consume ginger, lemon, apple cider vinegar and/or other naturally detoxing ingredients. One of my favorite, natural detoxing regimens includes a regular cup of lemon ginger herbal tea. This is especially great after I’ve eaten some particularly salty food or am experiencing some water retention.
  6. Add fermented foods/beverages to your diet. I am always touting the positive effects of fermented foods to family, friends, and strangers (sorry, not sorry). I love fermented foods and drinks for so many reasons that I will eventually write a whole post about them, but in short: fermented food improves your immune system, can help improve your mood, and yes–it can help aid in weight loss. Some of my favorites include kombucha, sauerkraut (not the mushy stuff your grandma used to serve on top of hot dogs), and kim chi. Just a little bit goes a long way.
  7. Flavor your coffee with an alternative to your favorite processed “dessert” creamer. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup creamer may taste good in your coffee, but it’s not good for you. Instead, consider flavoring your coffee with a slurry of a tablespoon of whole milk, a pinch of cinnamon, and a few drops of your favorite extract (vanilla, hazelnut, almond, coconut, or pumpkin spice).
  8. Go for a quick 5 minute stroll once per hour. If you have a desk job (and even if you don’t), go for a walk once per hour! You don’t have to log a mile, but keep moving to keep blood flowing, feel energized, improve your mood, improve your focus, and more. Hopefully this small movement will help you want to move more than you have more time at another point in your day too!
  9. Drink more water. Aim to drink about half your body weight in ounces in a day. If it feels like a lot more than you’ve been doing, you can count one cup of coffee into your ounce count. Staying hydrated also keeps your body functioning optimally. If you’re drinking enough water you should hopefully be moving enough through the day as you need to keep visiting a restroom.
  10. Exercise for 20-30 minutes, 3 times per week. If that seems overwhelming, be creative when you plan your exercise. Do 10 minutes of exercise a few times a day. Fit in a set of ab exercises while your breakfast is cooking. Go for a walk with the family a few evenings per week. Do some jump squats before you get in the shower and push ups before you go to bed. Fitting in regular movement will help you start exercising more regularly and maybe eventually for longer chunks.

All of these changes might not be easy, or sexy, or even fun. However, I do find that over time, they really help you be a healthier version of yourself for the long term.

When you’re fighting to make these kinds of commitments, the number one way I help myself stay on track is education. Educate yourself! Educate yourself about WHY these changes help you achieve your goals. Get on Google and remind yourself why you’re making these changes in the first place. Unsubscribe from the junk food videos popping up on your social media news feeds and surround yourself with information that supports the healthy changes you’re making instead. When getting healthy, education is your best tool.

Think about what you’re putting in your body regularly and about how various choices you’re making are affecting your waistline, immunity, inflammation, wallet, and more. Consider how eliminating, reducing, or adding something to your life can help you feel better and achieve your goals. Then the likelihood of your sticking to things is a lot more likely!

What are some changes you’ve made to start living healthier? Which one of these changes will you make first? Share in the comments below.