Self Monitoring Tips for Weight Loss Success

Before and after weight loss by man.

The more effective you become at regulating your own behaviors, the more likely you will be to stick with your health and fitness program and have long term weight loss success. As a Personal Trainer and Health Coach, I cannot control the choices that you make on a given day. I try to teach my clients self-monitoring skills so that they learn to make behavior changes that will optimize their chances for success.

What is Self Monitoring

Self monitoring refers to the practice of keeping track of information regarding your own physical activity, eating habits, sleep habits, or how you choose to respond to stressful situations. Before you can effectively change a behavior, you need to know what you’re doing currently. This information should include successes as well as barriers to adhering to your lifestyle modification program. Once you begin to realize that you have control over your choices and gain confidence, you will be more able to deal with challenges that come up.

Self monitoring can provide a wealth of information about what events, people, or situations trigger unhealthy eating or actions. Paying attention to your own nutrition, daily physical activity, and sleep can be one of the most useful methods for identifying areas of your life that may need modification. Once you have that information, it becomes easier to set realistic goals as well as improve fitness and eating behaviors that are controllable.

Self Monitoring Tools

Self monitoring requires significant attentiveness and ongoing motivation to make it work; therefore, it helps to have tools and apps to keep you on track. You don’t have to use all of these tools, but do take some time to experiment and see which ones you like best.

  • Smart Phone Apps such as MyFitnessPal
  • iPad Apps such as Nudge, YouAte, MealLogger
  • Computer Based Programs such as Fitday
  • Websites such as Fitday, Weight Watchers
  • Fitness Trackers such as FitBit or Garmin
  • Excel Spreadsheets, such as logging the number of steps or miles walked each day, hours of sleep
  • Paper & Pencil

Some of these methods also allow you to easily share your information with your coach, which can be helpful to see what’s working well and what needs further attention. Many of the online sites also allow you to share your activity data with friends or community, which can help with motivation and provide support. Some may also have weekly challenges that are optional to join, such as getting a certain number of steps or miles for a given period of time.

If you’re trying to lose weight, self monitoring is one of the most powerful methods for achieving success, though it doesn’t always work as a “stand alone” option (that’s where I come in)! Have you tried any self monitoring tools? Do you have a favorite?

If you’d like more help getting a self monitoring system set up to help with weight loss, contact me today and we can discuss options for helping you get the results that you want!


‘Tis the Season to Get Moving!

mother and daughters doing yoga

©Konstantin Yuganov | Dollar Photo Club

Every year from Thanksgiving to the New Year, the average American gains weight; anywhere from one to five pounds depending on the study. This is largely because of overeating, overindulging in alcoholic beverages, and less physical activity. Add in the stress of planning or attending several holiday parties, gift shopping, and traveling out of town or hosting guests in your home and it’s a recipe for fat gain. Exercise has been proven to help relieve stress and encourage fat loss, so get moving!

Get Moving During the Holidays

Don’t wait until January 1. Start now. Here’s how:

  • Go for a walk. Even a short walk will help clear your head and give you an energy boost. Outside is better than indoors and out in nature is best, but anything is better than nothing.
  • Bonus points for adding in stairs or hills.
  • Body weight exercise circuit. Here are a few to choose from if you aren’t sure what to do.
  • The best bang for your buck if you’re already fit is a short HIIT workout. High intesity intervals for 15-20 minutes and you’re done.
  • Play an active game or do yoga with your kids.
  • Sneak in a few exercises at work (and get paid to work out). Here are some ideas based on the type of work you do.
  • Try a new outdoor sport or activity with your family. Skiing, skating, sledding, snow shoeing, hiking are just a few options.
  • Dance. By yourself or with a partner. Right in your living room. Now.
  • Bonus points for singing while you dance.
  • Build a snowman.
  • Bonus points for making snow angels.
  • Jump rope. If you don’t have a rope, do jumping jacks instead.
  • Lift weights. Bands and tubing can serve as effective resistance training tools, too!

Don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t have time. You’ll make time if you want to be fit and healthy.

So Get Moving now and get a jump on the New Year!

As always, feel free to contact me if you need help getting started on a healthier lifestyle through physical fitness 🙂

3 Pillars of a Healthy Lifestyle

As a professional Personal Trainer who takes a holistic approach to health and fitness, I believe that there’s more to a healthy lifestyle than just working out. If a client wants to truly achieve their health goals, physical fitness is obviously an important piece of the puzzle and it’s what most people come to me for. But for most clients, other factors need to be addressed if we’re really going to get them where they want to go.

how to lose weight, weight loss, fat loss

Here are what I consider to be 3 major pillars of a

Healthy Lifestyle:

Physical Fitness

This is what most people come to me for and we obviously spend a great deal of time and energy devoted to physical fitness. Goals can vary significantly depending on the client. For some, it’s being able to perform activities of daily living without pain or discomfort so that they can remain living independently. Others may be just beginning an exercise program after a health scare and encouragement from their Doctor to lose weight. Others may be training to run their first marathon or improve in another sport. Components of physical fitness include muscle strength and endurance, cardiorespiratory fitness, agility, power, reaction time, coordination, flexibility, speed, etc. So, we’ll be doing some aerobic activity, strength training, stretching, etc.

Healthy Nutrition

Nutrition involves ingesting the appropriate amounts of macro and micro nutrients for our bodies to be able to function. We need the right type and amount of fat, protein, carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, and water on a regular schedule to live a healthy lifestyle. This is true not only for athletes, but for everyone! Good nutrition is necessary to help prevent obesity or other disease, recover from illness or injury, and live life in good health. If your primary goal is fat loss, THIS is where you should start!! And healthy nutrition does NOT mean starving yourself!

Psychological / Emotional Fitness

We live in a stress filled world these days. To live a healthy lifestyle, you need to have enough energy and motivation to meet the demands of everyday life on an ongoing basis. This may include looking at how you feel about yourself or your life, the people you interact with on a daily basis, or how you respond to thoughts and emotions. You need to be able to deal with daily stressors so that you can  function well in society. Practicing self-centering skills such as meditation, spirituality, or expressions of self-awareness may come into play.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start for most people. My scope of practice is primarily fitness, though I can give general nutrition guidelines and ideas for behavior change. I don’t hesitate to refer clients to other allied professionals such as licensed Nutritionists or Clinical Psychologists if the need arises.

If you’d like help getting started on living a healthy lifestyle, call me today and we can chat about your specific situation. In the mean time, choose one small thing that you can do TODAY to improve your health! Hint – call 612-804-9496 🙂


Prolonged Sitting and Back Pain

Statistics show that approximately 80% of Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives. One of the most common contributing factors to back pain in this day and age is prolonged sitting, whether because of an office job that requires sitting at a desk, long distance driving, or sedentary lifestyle choices. How does prolonged sitting contribute to back pain?

Prolonged Sitting and Back Pain

Human bodies are not designed to be still or in a static position for long periods of time. We are designed to move often, whether walking, running, squatting, lifting or carrying just to do activities of daily living. Our bodies adapt to our habits, so just like starting a new exercise results in adaptations such as improved muscle strength, bone density, or cardiovascular fitness, prolonged sitting has it’s own list of adaptations. Here are some of the most significant:

Muscle Imbalances

Sitting in a hip and knee flexed position for hours at a time can cause certain muscles to become shortened (aka “tight”). These include the hip flexors, hamstrings, pecs, and upper trapezius, to name a few.

Stress on Ligaments

Poor posture is very common among desk jockeys, resulting in the typical slouched or forward head posture. This places stress on ligaments that help to support the spine and sacroiliac joints.

Stress on Inter-vertebral Disks

Spinal flexion places stress on the disks between each vertebrae, which over time can lead to a bulging or ruptured disk. This can then place pressure on the corresponding nerve root resulting in numbness, tingling, or sharp shooting pain going down an arm or leg.

What Can You Do To Avoid Back Pain?

Get out of your chair and get moving! Try for at least 5 minutes out of every 30 (you can spend those 5 minutes walking or stretching the muscles that tend to tighten as mentioned earlier). Even a few squats in front of your desk is better than nothing.

Perhaps check with your employer about having an adjustable desk where you can switch between standing and sitting.

You can also try the Workplace Workout for Seated Workers that gives pictures and descriptions of several different flexibility exercises for only $1.97.

If you are overweight, address improving your nutrition and activity habits to lose some of the extra pounds. Even 10 lb weight loss can help!

Variations of the Pallof Press


As you probably already know if you follow my blog, the Pallof Press is one of my favorite exercises for improving core stability. It’s basically an anti-rotation exercise can be modified to suit any ability from frail elder to elite athlete. Since the spine remains stationary throughout the exercise, I’ve used it successfully with elders who have spinal stenosis and as a muscle activation technique for some who have weak obliques. It’s also suitable for athletes who play contact sports and must be able to stabilize their bodies as they’re getting shoved around during competition. Variations of the Pallof Press are as many as you can imagine! You can alter the exercise by changing foot placement, how you move your hands, standing on a single leg, the angle of resistance, how long you hold the long arm lever, or even lying supine in some remedial cases.

Pallof Press

Variations of the Pallof Press

Standing on two feet is much more stable than standing on one. But you can still stand on both feet and make the exercise significantly more challenging by adopting a narrow stance, or even harder still, a tandem stance. Try switching which foot is in front and you’ll notice a difference there, too!

Pallof Press Tandem Stance

Pallof Press Tandem Stance

You can also press your hands above your head to challenge side bending rather than rotation.

Dr. Erson Religioso, DPT has an excellent video that shows 5 different variations of the Pallof Press:

If you’d like to learn more about which variations of the Pallof Press are best for you or you’d like advice on how to progress, feel free to contact me and we’ll get you started!

Strength Training for Seniors

Many of the physiological changes we once thought were an inevitable part of aging are now known to be the result of de-conditioning rather than age. There are certainly some age related changes that occur to our bodies, such as hormonal changes in middle age that can affect muscle mass and body composition. But strength training programs for seniors can help to maintain muscle mass, bone density, cardiovascular function, and balance with age appropriate modifications. It’s easier to maintain strength than it is to try to get it back once you’ve lost it, so start a strength training program early to improve your chance of maintaining independence and function as you get older.

Senior woman lifting free weights, osteoporosis exercise

©bst2012 | Dollar Photo Club

Benefits of Strength Training

Strength training has many benefits, including:

  • improved muscle strength
  • improved muscle endurance
  • improved joint stabilization
  • increased metabolism
  • increased mitochondrial density
  • improved bone density
  • improved balance
  • increased capillary density
  • improved cardiovascular function

Strength Training for Seniors

So what should a strength training program for seniors look like? That depends on where you’re starting from, which is determined by getting an objective fitness assessment rather than chronological age. Many older adults are relatively active and healthy, but have orthopedic issues to consider. Most elder adults are on multiple medications that can affect balance, cognitive function, heart rate response, and blood pressure. Several of my older clients have chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiopulmonary disease, and/or progressive neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.

In general, stalling the aging process begins with a strong and stable core. A strong trunk allows for stable posture, efficient energy transfer during gait or lifting tasks, and reduced risk of falls. Specific exercises depend on the health and ability of the individual, but the goal is to progress to functional integrated activities that mimic activities of daily living. Many older adults live very active lifestyles and may still participate in recreational sports, so those goals are taken into consideration as well. Whether you’re a “grand master” athlete, just want to travel or play with your grandkids, or confined to a wheel chair, strength training exercises can help you maintain or even improve function!

Strength Training Equipment

Seniors can use the same types of strength training equipment as anyone else! Free weights, selectorized machines at a fitness club, elastic bands or tubing, suspension trainers like a TRX, body weight exercises, etc. Again, it depends on your current ability and what you have access to. Most health clubs have all the bells and whistles, but bands, tubing, stability balls, medicine balls, etc are relatively inexpensive and can be used at home. Body weight exercises such as squats, lunges and push-ups don’t require any equipment and can be very safe and effective if modified as needed. For my in-home clients that don’t have any equipment, I typically bring a bunch of “toys” to their sessions and we’ll make a fun game out of it 🙂

Where to Buy Inexpensive Fitness Equipment

How to Start Strength Training

First things first; check with your Doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough to start a strength training program. Ask if there are any specific exercise restrictions (things that you shouldn’t do) or any specific recommendations. If you’re in the Minneapolis area, feel free to give me a call and we’ll schedule a fitness assessment to see what you’re current strengths and weaknesses are. From there, I can design a program that will help you achieve your goals in a safe and efficient manner. You’ll get a custom program with expert instruction to make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly, which we’ll progress over time as you improve.

Call me today to get started!


8 Tips For Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

Many people gain 10 pounds or more over the weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year, not only because they eat more but because they also tend to be more sedentary. Here are a few tips for avoiding Holiday Weight Gain. Keep in mind, these tips are for maintaining your current weight and fitness rather than weight loss.

Fat Woman

© whitestorm | Dollar Photo Club

How to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Don’t Go To A Party Hungry

Many people’s strategy is to starve themselves during the day because they know they’re going to overindulge later. Don’t. That one back fires every time, because you show up to the party starving and then end up binge eating (usually on sugary, unhealthy food). A better plan would be to eat a balanced meal or snack before going so that you have more control over your choices. By “balanced” I mean having something that includes lean protein, healthy fats, and veggie based carbs. This will keep your blood sugar more stable and reduce cravings or the urge to binge. Will power is no match for biochemistry!

Eat Balanced Meals and Snacks

As mentioned earlier, balanced meals that contain lean protein, healthy fats, and veggie based carbs help keep blood sugar stable and reduce cravings. It’s how you should be eating all of the time, not just November and December. You also want to eat enough that you don’t starve yourself and shut down your metabolism. Eating too few calories results in your body breaking down muscle for needed energy, which lowers metabolism even further and causes a “rebound” effect where you end up gaining more fat later. Avoiding holiday weight gain is about eating right, not eating less.

Celebrate the Day, Not the Season

It’s Thanksgiving Day, not Thanksgiving week – which then morphs into theThanksgiving left-overs, then pre-winter solstice shopping and celebration season, then the actual holiday, then finally the New Year. That five week stretch represents approximately 10 percent of the year. So enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with your friends and family, then get back to your normal balanced routine.

Give Yourself Permission to Abstain From Unhealthy Foods

Just because everyone brought their favorite sugary dessert to the party doesn’t mean you are obligated to eat it. If you get pressured to eat something that you know you’re going to regret later, gently but firmly explain that you are making choices that support your health, thank you very much. You’ll feel much better later when you aren’t suffering from a sugar coma and watching the scale nudge up each week.

Watch the Alcohol

Your liver is a very busy organ at all times no matter how clean your diet is, especially when you’re trying to lose fat. When beer, wine, or spirits are ingested, your liver drops everything to process the alcohol, meaning that an increase in blood sugar and the corresponding increase in insulin result in an increase in body fat being stored. Beer in particular has a very high glycemic index, so that “beer belly” thing is for real. If you’re going to indulge, keep it to a minimum.

Manage Stress

Stress can lead not only to emotional eating, but also hormonal responses that work against your best intentions. Cortisol is a stress hormone that affects appetite, blood sugar, insulin resistance, and thyroid function just to name a few. Holidays can be stressful times for many people with family obligations, work parties, travel, house guests, etc. This year in particular, Thanksgiving is coming soon after a very contentious political election and emotions on all sides may be running a bit hot. Try to find ways to manage stress, even if it’s just meditating for a few minutes. Soaking in a hot epsom salt bath with lavender essential oil is another suggestion 🙂

Get Some Exercise

As a professional Personal Trainer, I recognize that many of my clients are time strapped during the holidays. Taking time off from regular workouts WILL result in de-training, so please don’t unless you’re prepared to quickly lose a lot of the gains you’ve worked so hard to achieve. A better strategy is to aim for “maintaining fitness” as much as possible, similar to maintaining weight.

The STRRIDE study (Slentz, Houmard and Kraus, 2007) found that walking 8 miles per week is a minimum standard for maintaining moderate aerobic fitness. That’s a little more than a mile per day, or about 20 minutes for a moderately brisk pace. A better option would be a strength training circuit, even if it’s just body weight exercises. Include a few pulling, pushing, total body exercises to get all of the major muscle groups and you can be done in 15-20 minutes per workout. There are a few different inexpensive body weight circuits available for purchase in the pre-designed program catalog. I’ve also posted some travel workouts on my Twitter feed. At the very least, try to be less sedentary. Even an abbreviated workout or other exercise is better than nothing 🙂

Have a Plan and Follow It

You’ll have a greater chance of avoiding holiday weight gain if you plan ahead. This is true for both maintaining your fitness as well as healthy eating during the stressful time crunched end-of-year celebration season! A slow cooker is a wonderful tool for making easy healthy meals ahead of time (freeze some for ultra busy days when all you have to do is reheat). Schedule workouts in your day planner just like any other appointment. Practice gratitude. Enjoy spending time with friends and family rather than obsessing about the food at the party.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Slentz, C.A., Houmard, J.A. and Kraus, W.E. (2007). Modest exercise prevents the progressive disease associated with physical inactivity. Exercise & Sport Sciences Reviews, 35, 18-23.

Superior: 100 Mile Endurance Run – Book About Minnesota Trail Race!

Superior: 100 Mile Endurance Run, One of America’s Oldest, Toughest, and Gnarliest Ultramarathons is a brand new paperback book just released by Kevin Langton, a Minnesota runner who has completed the race himself on more than one occasion.

“The Superior 100 is one of the most rugged, remote, and relentless 100 mile footraces out there. It’s beautiful and challenging. This multi-genre book is part nonfiction novel, part history, part memoir, among other things. It follows eight runners through the race. It follows crew members, volunteers, course markers, sweepers, and the race director. It dives into race history. With lyric and memorable narrative, it captures the physical, mental, and spiritual journeys of the competitors as they run through the night, through the forests, rivers, and ridgetops of the Sawtooth Mountains of northern Minnesota.”

I’ve run part of that course myself several years back and I was there as a race photographer the year this was written. I know Kevin as well as many of the other real life characters in the book and am proud to call them friends. They are some of the toughest, selfless, amazing and humble people I’ve ever known.

Running under the Milky Way at Superior 100

Running under the Milky Way at Superior 100

The landscape is drop dead gorgeous! The course covers more than 100 miles of the rugged single track Superior Hiking Trail with relentless ups and downs that are littered with roots and rocks for more than 41,000 vertical feet of elevation change (that’s not a typo). Anyone who tells you Minnesota is flat hasn’t seen this part of it. There are more waterfalls than you can count and you occasionally catch of glimpse of Lake Superior or other inland lakes during the course of the race. The runners go from 8 am Friday morning until they finish (there is a 38 hour cut-off), running with headlamps during the night. Aid stations are typically 8-10 miles apart, so each athlete must be fairly self sufficient while out on the course.

Upper Temperance River

Upper Temperance River

I highly recommend reading this book about the Superior 100 Mile Endurance Run! And then I highly recommend getting yourself out on the Superior Hiking Trail to see for yourself what the terrain is like. You definitely don’t need to go to a gym to get a good workout! Better yet, sign up to run or volunteer at the race and witness this epic event first hand 🙂

How To Optimize Your Squat Technique

Optimizing your squat technique! Whether you’re an elite athlete training for a sport or an elderly adult who wants to maintain an independent lifestyle, being able to squat with correct technique is imperative! With proper squat technique, you’ll maximize the benefits of the exercise while minimizing your chance of injury.

full squat, weightlifting, strength training, muscle, fitness

©Tyler Olson | Dollar Photo Club

Benefits of Squats

Squatting is a functional movement that people do several times each day whether they are aware of it or not. It’s how you get in and out of a chair, in and out of a car, on and off a toilet, etc. It’s a weight bearing movement that improves muscle strength in the hips and legs, core stability, bone density, and motor control. For an athlete, adding external load to squats does all of that to a much larger degree so that sport specific performance can be improved by increased muscle strength, endurance and power.

Optimal Squat Technique

Squats are only beneficial if you’re doing them correctly, otherwise you risk injury – especially to the knees or spine. Here are a few tips for optimizing your squat technique:

  • Place feet approximately shoulder width apart or slightly wider.
  • Feet should be pointing straight ahead or turned out slightly (up to 45 degrees) in a natural stance.
  • Knees should track directly over toes.
  • Heels should remain flat on the floor.
  • Torso should remain fairly erect – don’t bend forward at the waist!
  • Back should maintain it’s natural lordotic curve.
  • Athletes should strive to reach full depth; otherwise stay within pain free range of motion.

Remedial Exercises If You Can’t Squat Properly

If you aren’t able to do all of the points listed above to squat with good form, you’ll need to take some remedial steps to address the specific issues that are preventing you from squatting properly. This may or may not be possible depending on the issue. For example, I’ve had a few clients over the years with fused ankle joints – doing a full squat is simply not an option because the ankle cannot dorsiflex. No amount of stretching will change that – you simply have to respect the restriction and find other alternatives to the traditional squat.

For the rest of you, the first step is to figure out why you’re having trouble. Poor mobility at the ankle or hip and poor core stability are common primary culprits.  Previous injuries to the spine, hips, knees or ankles may affect mobility, strength, and motor control. Many older folks are dealing with arthritis or joint replacements in addition to poor strength or endurance. Since the reasons are many and varied, so will be the remedial exercises needed to get you up to snuff. Instead of just guessing, have an assessment done by a qualified professional and figure it out 🙂


Comfort, P. & Kasim, P. (2007). Optimizing Squat Technique. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 29(6), 10-13.

Best Cardio Exercise For Beginners

A common question among those who are just starting a fitness program is, “What is the best cardio exercise?”

Senior Couple Running Along Winter Beach

©Monkey Business | Dollar Photo Club

The short answer: Any aerobic activity that you will do on a regular basis.

At this stage of the game, I’m really more interested in getting people in the habit of incorporating more physical activity into their daily routine rather than worrying about target heart rates or interval training. Keep in mind, we’re talking about beginners here. These are folks that have been sedentary and have finally worked up enough motivation to at least give physical exercise a try. Their big concern  is that a new fitness program may be such a miserable experience that they’ll want to quit (and will be even more reluctant to try again at a later date). My number one goal at this point is to get this person to adapt an exercise program and stick with it rather than see it as a white knuckle ride that they have to endure until they fit into a certain dress size.

What does the research say?

A recent study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise and done at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse compared steady state training to interval training to help identify the best cardio exercise protocol for relatively sedentary individuals who are just starting an exercise program. They compared a steady state group (20 minutes of consistent intensity) vs a Tabata group (very brief, very high intensity intervals) vs a Meyer group (moderate intensity interval training) over eight weeks. All three groups improved power output as well as VO2 Max, with virtually no differences between groups. In other words, beginning exercisers don’t need to subject themselves to higher intensity exercise that they are less likely to enjoy in order to achieve significant improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness.

How to get started:

  • Consult with your Physician to make sure you are healthy enough to begin an exercise program.
  • Find an activity that you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be in a gym; it could be dancing or walking outside in nature.
  • Do it.
  • Do it again.
  • Keep doing it.

Start at your preferred pace and don’t worry about target heart rates. You can talk, but not sing. Just be consistent and try to work up to 30 minutes of continuous activity most days of the week. Remember, the best cardio exercise program is one that you’ll do on a consistent basis. As your fitness improves, most people tend to naturally gravitate towards an exercise intensity that is within the recommended target heart rate range for moderate activity.

If you want a more structured program:

If you feel like you’d like more instruction or help getting started, give me a call and we’ll schedule an assessment to get some objective data and see exactly where you’re starting from. I can then design a customized program as well as measure your progress so that you get the results you want safely, efficiently and effectively. Start today!!