See Jane walk really fast

Jane and me having fun along the Myrtle Beach Diva Half Marathon course in 2014

Jane and me having fun along the Myrtle Beach Diva Half Marathon course in 2014, where she helped me keep a speedy pace

This is my friend Jane (right). Jane is vivacious, engaging, caring and determined. She’s a mom, a wife, a nurse and a dog lover. She is a joy to know and is a great cheerleader to have in your corner.

Jane is also a very fast walker who has completed many marathons and half marathons. I know she’s fast because I have managed to (and, other times, tried and not managed to!) keep up with her on the race course.

She is training for her next race and posted recently on Facebook about some people she encountered along the way.

“Over the last few weeks,” she shared, “I have been taunted by rude remarks from some women…. One said I didn’t look like marathon material…. Another felt I wasn’t ‘skinny enough’ to complete a marathon! Little did they know I completed a lot of them.”

Jane’s reaction: to call for more positivity and kindness rather than the alternative, and I couldn’t agree more.

I’ve been on the scene for many marathons and half marathons, both as a participant and on the sidelines/finish line as a team coach. I’ve seen people of ALL shapes and sizes on race courses and coming across the finish line. (I’ve previously written about my friend Lana, who, yes, was obese but defied judging a book by its cover.) All of that has left me with the knowledge that we do not know someone’s capabilities, their strength, their stamina by simply looking at them.

Why doesn’t Jane look like marathon material to the observer who said so? Because she doesn’t fit a predetermined stereotype about marathoners? Who’s to say what a marathoner should look like? Believe me, they look like any random cross-section of the population.

Many people are surprised to learn that you can walk a marathon instead of run — I’ve mentioned this several times in several posts — and sometimes we walkers find ourselves on the defensive when other racers (read: runners) imply that we don’t belong.

Anyone who trains and prepares is qualified to participate in a race. If you reach that benchmark, more power to you! Why anyone would seek to tear down someone who is working hard to achieve a physical goal is a mystery. I’m not sure why someone would seek to denigrate a stranger based on surface assumptions. Let’s seek to lift each other up and celebrate others’ accomplishments rather than belittle and assume that someone can’t or shouldn’t.

It’s easy to look at someone and think, “How could she possibly run/walk 13.1 miles? She doesn’t look fast/strong/dedicated enough.”

But look deeper.

(And then, for fun — with a warning in advance for some strong language — read this.)

Move to the music

For a very long time, I exercised without the aid of an MP3 player. My reasons were many: I thought it would be distracting … thought it would be unsafe (when walking outdoors) … thought it would be too much hassle to remember to pack one more thing in my gym bag … thought it wouldn’t make any difference to my workouts.

Boy, was I wrong.

Five years ago, some of my best marathon buddies surprised me with the gift of an iPod, plus CDs of their favorite walking music.

So I loaded the CDs onto the iPod and hit the pavement.

Wow! I didn’t pay any attention to how much time I was out walking and instead eagerly awaited the next song and its tempo, enjoying the boost in energy the music gave me.

Then I used my iPod while on the treadmill. Suddenly I noticed how certain songs aligned with certain treadmill speeds. I realized I could make a whole playlist of songs whose tempo matched my usual speed — or my desired speed — and customize my workouts.

For several of my next treadmill sessions, I scribbled down songs and their corresponding speeds. Then I found websites that listed songs’ beats per minute, or BPM. That enabled me to match songs to treadmill/walking speeds and find songs that best worked for me. The next step: putting together a few different playlists of different lengths, including slower warm-up and cool-down time.

(As a fitness instructor, I now have a secret source of prearranged playlists: Several companies put together CDs geared to certain BPMs for certain types of exercise. To conform to copyright law, the CDs do not feature the original artists, but sometimes it’s hard to even tell.)

Much research has been done on whether music has a positive effect on one’s workout. Among the findings are these benefits:

  • Reduced feelings of fatigue
  • Increased feelings of mental motivation
  • Increased endurance
  • Improved motor coordination

The research results are varied in terms of measuring the exact effects — but it’s clear that choosing music that moves you can, well, help you move.

And beyond that, there are no rules! Choose music that you find motivating with no apologies. Guilty pleasures? Why not! Whatever you hear through your earbuds is your little secret. If it gives you a boost, that’s the point. Match the music to your mood — or your desired mood. I have a CD of heavy metal songs (like Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow”) for when I really need a kick in the pants to get going. I like to listen to Billy Idol’s “Greatest Hits” on the stationary bike. Sometimes dance music works best — favorites include C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat” and Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back.”

Here is one of my most-used playlists, which I created for walking. It’s about an hour long, starts and ends at about 3.5 or 3.6 mph, and peaks at about 4.1 or 4.2 mph.

playlist screen grab

It’s a mix of a few songs from those original CDs from my race pals, some songs from instructor CDs, and a few tunes that caught my ear as having a good beat or feeling inspiring.

If you haven’t tried working out to music (separate from a group class, of course), give it a try and see if it works for you. Just press play! (And feel free to share your favorite workout tunes in the comments!)

Thanks to loyal WWJ reader Lauren Z. for this post idea!

Top advice for keeping a resolution

To start, don’t call it a resolution. (More on that in a minute.)

It’s January 4. How’s it going with your resolutions? Have you broken any yet? I don’t ask to be mean — it’s just kind of how resolutions go. According to research in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, about 45 percent of us make New Year’s resolutions — but only 8 percent are successful in accomplishing them. Those aren’t promising odds!

calendar-478033_1920But I’m here to help with some suggestions for setting goals that you’ll have more success keeping.

First, I’d like to share an idea by fitness expert Chris Freytag (an ACE colleague with whom I worked on Team Prevention), who advises: “Don’t make resolutions… Set intentions.”

I like the spin this puts on goal-setting. It adds a mindfulness approach that can be quite inspiring.

Another great idea comes from my friend Melanie A. In 2013, she set monthly resolutions instead of yearly ones. As she noted, “If I can change one necessary thing about my life each month, 12 positive changes will equal big victory!” And who doesn’t like achieving 12 goals instead of just one?

Melanie’s idea ties into the best advice I can give about resolutions. To help ensure that you achieve your goals, they should be SMART. That is:

Specific: The more specific, the better. Break it down. “Get in shape in 2015” is a good goal, sure. But “Go to the gym three days a week” is even better, and more likely to help you achieve the original intent.

Measurable: How will you measure achievement? Keeping a food or exercise journal, for instance? Tracking your spending and saving, if your goal is financial?

Attainable: This is similar to the specificity factor. Again, break it down. Can you visualize yourself achieving your goal? This step is closely related to the next…

Realistic: Shooting for the moon is inspiring but not always easily achieved. Deciding to do a triathlon might sound great, but have you done as much as a 5K? Is your goal something you can achieve with current resources and/or knowledge? If not, can you easily obtain the resources needed?

Timely: The goal should include a time frame in which the goal will/can be achieved.

With all these factors, you also will want to ask the W questions: Who, what, where, when, which, why? Asking yourself those questions about your goal can help you make your goal a SMART one.

Here’s an example. A common resolution is: Get in shape this year.

But how and when will you do so? A SMART version of this goal might be: Join a gym and work out three days a week.

Or perhaps your goal is: I will lose weight this year. The SMART version: I will cut out processed foods and lose 5 pounds by spring. That gives it specificity, makes it measurable, and adds a time frame.

Breaking goals into smaller, specific pieces doesn’t dilute the original goal. It helps make your goal more achievable. Here’s wishing you luck and success in 2015!

There’s an app for that

In the Fitness Gift Guide posted last week (and a much earlier post), I promised to share info about fitness apps that I’d recommend. You might wonder how you give someone an app as a gift. The easiest way is with a gift card to iTunes or their service’s app store.

iphone-410311Without further ado…

There are a multitude of apps that help you track your fitness activity, whether it’s walking, running, biking or something else. Most use GPS to track your distance and, combined with the duration of your activity, calculate your speed. You can often save your route, for reference or repeating. Many apps let you connect with friends, to compare workouts and cheer each other on. And many apps can be linked to your Facebook or Twitter account, too, or your FitBit or similar wearable tracker.

A saved RunKeeper activity shows distance, time and even calories burned (provided the user inputs his/her weight).

A saved RunKeeper activity shows distance, time and even calories burned (provided the user inputs his/her weight).

The app I use most often is RunKeeper. Don’t be fooled by its name — it tracks more than runs. I used it on many bike rides last summer but have also used it for many walks short and long. With RunKeeper, you can set goals, see your best times/results and view your activity history. Settings allow you to hear audio cues on many aspects of your activity while you’re doing it, such as distance, time, average pace, split speed and more. When you complete an activity, you can save it so you can refer back to the details (pace, time spent active, etc.).

Very similar to RunKeeper is an app called MapMyWalk. (There’s also MapMyRun, MapMyRide, MapMyFitness, MapMyHike…) It has many of the same features as RunKeeper. One difference is its Gear Tracker: You can list a pair of shoes and it will track the mileage on them and let you know when you are due for a new pair. It also has a food logging feature.

The options are pretty much limitless with Interval Timer.

The options are pretty much limitless with Interval Timer.

One app I use in my personal workouts and in my class is called Interval Timer. This app lets you set up an interval series with audio cues. Suppose you want to do a 40-minute workout focused on circuit training. You can set your warm-up time, interval length (say, 1-minute “high” sets followed by 20-second “low” sets — a quick rest or opportunity to switch to the next circuit), how many intervals, and a cool-down period. Each change can be signified by a sound of your choosing. (I like the boxing bell!)

The above apps are great if you’re motivated to work out. But what if you need a nudge?

If you’d like to feel that your walk or run serves a bigger purpose than your own fitness, consider CharityMiles. You walk or run, and the app’s sponsors pledge money for each mile to the charity you choose in the app. Charities include The Michael J. Fox Foundation, Alzheimer’s Association, Feeding America, Stand Up to Cancer, Wounded Warrior Project and many many more.

And if you really need a kick in the pants to get to the gym or to work out, consider GymPact. When you sign up for GymPact, you pledge how many days a week you’ll work out and how much you’ll pay if you don’t. Input your credit card info and be sure to engage the app when you work out (it must be a minimum of 30 minutes per session, and you can check in at your gym via the app, use its motion sensor or link it to an app like RunKeeper), and avoid getting hit with a fee. Bonus: Fulfill your weekly pact and the app pays you! Granted, it’s a negligible amount, but I racked up $135 over a year or so, which more than paid for a new pair of sneakers. (The app has a fruits and vegetables version too — pledge how many servings of produce you’ll eat a week, upload pictures of said servings for the app’s community to confirm, and pay or earn accordingly.) I can assuredly say that using this app made me drag my butt out of bed to hit the gym many times when I wouldn’t have otherwise!

And that’s the best thing about fitness apps. They inspire, they motivate and they make working out more engaging and keep you more involved. So, please share: What’s your go-to app?

Fitness gift guide

christmas-box-71758If you need gift ideas for the walker and/or exerciser in your life, you’ve come to the right place. (Or maybe you are the walker and/or exerciser, in which case you might want to send a link to this post as a “hint, hint” to someone.) There’s so much gear out there, it’s hard to know what is really useful and what’s not. Here are some suggestions for items that I’ve found to be useful or even indispensable while out on a long walk or exercising at the gym. (I’ll be highlighting apps in a separate post soon.)

Workout wear

Before you can set out on a brisk walk or hit the gym, the right clothing is important. The good news is that you don’t generally have to go to a specialty store anymore — places like Kohl’s and even Walmart have a decent selection of workout clothing. Look for wicking material as a starting point — it’s preferable to cotton because it helps sweat dry quickly and keeps your workout clothing from getting damp. It’s not much fun to have a sweaty shirt clinging to you while you’re midway through an hour-long walk or run.

One feature that is usually quite welcome is some sort of pocket. Zipper pockets are great for securely tucking away a house key or tissues when out on a neighborhood walk.

Warm ears (but not so much my Rudolph nose!)

Warm ears (but not so much my Rudolph nose!)

Another feature to consider is elastic waist vs. drawstring. Drawstrings can come untied mid-movement, which can be a pain. This time of year, clothing that is wind-resistant yet lightweight is quite welcome, too, if your exercise takes you outside of the gym. Bulky layers are too cumbersome — search for lightweight fleeces and other layers to add warmth without weight. When the weather is cold, hands and ears are often the first things to feel it. An ear-covering headband and a pair of thin but warm gloves are at the top of my list before a winter walk.


  • Pop yurbuds over your earbuds

    Pop yurbuds over your earbuds

    I’m a big fan of yurbuds. Have you ever had a problem with your MP3 player earbuds popping out of your ears when you’re doing something highly active, like jogging, briskly walking or jumping rope? Yurbuds are silicone sleeves that slip over your earbuds, and the silicone helps them stay put in your ear. It makes them less slippery. I don’t know if I just have weirdly shaped or sized ear canals, but my iPod earbuds do not stay put in my ears otherwise!

  • A while back, I switched from using my iPod to my iPhone at the gym so I could take advantage of some fitness apps. I could clip my iPod on my shirt hem but can’t do the same with my iPhone. So one of the items on my wish list last Christmas was an armband smartphone holder. I use it nearly every time I go to the gym. It’s handy and keeps my phone out of my way yet easily accessible.
  • If you don’t have clothing with pockets, or the pockets are a bit too small, a SPIbelt comes in very handy. It’s essentially an elastic band with a small, long zippered expandable pouch or two, and you wear it around your waist. It’s streamlined and lightweight but perfect for holding a phone, an ID, keys, etc. It’s great for a walk, run or bike ride.

Highlighting accomplishments

A big part of the thrill of fulfilling a fitness goal, such as completing a 5K or marathon, is showing off the rewards. Or, as most racers like to call it, race bling.

I've since added a second hanger bar to hold my -- as it says -- race bling.

I’ve since added a second hanger bar to hold my — as it says — race bling.

One can’t really walk around with medals around one’s neck more than a day or so post-race, but there are many styles of medal hangers so you can proudly display them in your home. Find a style for most anyone on your shopping list here. Options that include a race bib plus medals are here. Speaking of race bibs (i.e., the race number one pins to one’s shirt during a race), consider a scrapbook or binder to save them in. Most races provide participants with a free shirt, and there are companies that will turn those shirts into a quilt. You can find one by searching on Google.

Stocking stuffers

Lots of items can fall into this category:

  • Bumper stickers (like the 13.1 or 26.2 ovals that are popular)
  • Socks
  • Hats, whether ball cap style or sleek and stretchy
  • Ear muffs
  • Water bottles
  • RoadID tags (don’t forget safety!)
  • Exercise-related jewelry
  • Gift cards to pay for race registration fees
  • Protein bars
  • Resistance bands
  • A jump rope

In most cases, none of these items are vital to a workout session. But they can make it easier, more comfortable and more motivating. Happy shopping!

P.S. Any suggestions for items I missed? Please feel free to add in the comments!

Pumping iron: Give it a try!

Walking is a terrific form of exercise, but as I note here, any walking program should be complemented by other forms of exercise, including strength training.

The CDC recommends that adults ages 18 to 64 do muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week. (That’s in addition to its advice to do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week.)

strong-310874However, the CDC has found in a new study that only 23.7 percent of us ages 45 or older meet that recommendation. Further, that group is most likely to include women, widows, people 85 or older, people who are obese, Hispanics, and those who didn’t graduate from high school.

I am a 45-year-old woman, and I have to confess that in the past, most weeks I would barely meet that two-day minimum, unless I was taking a class at my gym. I think I tended to feel that strength-training didn’t provide as intense or get-my-blood-pumping a workout, and if I were going to work out, I wanted to feel like I did, sweat rivulets as proof.

But over the past few months I’ve managed to work strength training into my routine more often, and circuit training is the means. Due to a change in my work schedule, my workout time on weekdays became more constrained — 30 minutes, firm.

Some days I do aerobic activity, sure. But on others, I do an interval workout. After warming up for a few minutes, I do one minute of activity, take 20 seconds to change moves, then do another minute of activity, and so on, for 11 or 12 sets, ending with a couple minutes of cool-down.

During those one-minute intervals, I do various strength-training moves. I use dumbbells, machines at my gym and my body weight. Ideally I’ll do combo moves, such as squats standing to a shoulder press, to work both arms and legs. Every few intervals, I throw in a minute of cardio, such as jumping rope or running the stairs at the gym.

To my surprise, this does make me feel like I got a good workout. Knowing that I have just 30 minutes makes me focus and do my best to get the most out of it.

And I can feel assured that I’ll reap the benefits of strength training — among them, higher metabolism, (hopefully) more toned body parts and an improved ability to easily do activities of daily living.

So pick up a dumbbell and give it a try, or use your body weight to do exercises in any setting you like. Your body will thank you!

What about hand weights?

After reading my last entry, Should you wear ankle weights?, several people asked me, “What about wrist or hand weights?”

Limit weights to non-walking workouts. Photo credit: Tiverylucky/

Limit weights to non-walking workouts. Photo credit: Tiverylucky/

I’m happy to address that topic.

Generally, my answer is the same: I would not recommend it. And generally, the reasons are the same.

First, I think it’s best to focus on walking while one is walking — and with the proper form and intensity, walking can be a terrific workout all on its own. (Want to learn how? Contact me.)

Also, carrying equipment while walking can increase the chances for injury. It can put unnecessary stress on the joints and muscles of the arms.

Plus, you don’t get much bang for the buck when carrying weights. Doing so increases your heart rate and calorie burn by only a small amount. You can get a good boost instead by employing techniques that can increase the intensity of your workout, such as doing intervals or increasing your overall speed.

In other words, the possible small benefit is countered by the larger risk for injury.

Should you wear ankle weights?

Several people have asked me whether they should wear ankle weights when walking, in part to gain some extra calorie burn and/or to boost the workout aspect.

The short answer is no — you should not wear ankle weights while walking.


Want to use ankle weights  while working out? Limit it      to something like this: while doing stationary strength training. Photo credit: Ambro/

Here is the long answer:

  • Strapping weights around your ankles tightly enough so they don’t jostle while you move causes compression, which could compromise blood flow to your feet — not advisable.
  • Ankle weights are an unnatural distribution of extra weight. To concentrate added weight in one spot, particularly around a joint, can cause undue exertion and injury.
  • Wearing ankle weights can throw off your gait. That can tax your joints — not only your ankles but also your knees and your hips, causing strain and injury.
  • Having something strapped around your ankles may pose a tripping hazard. As you walk, you might get tangled up in the extra bulk. Or you might subconsciously widen your legs to keep the weights from bumping or rubbing together, which brings us back to the previous bullet point.
  • Concentrating weight at your ankles — even if only a few pounds — creates a muscle imbalance. Your quadriceps (or the muscles on the front of your thighs) suddenly have more work to do, because that is the muscle that lifts your leg to bend your knee. But your hamstrings (the muscles on the back of your thighs) don’t have an equal extra job.

If you want to boost the effects of your walk by wearing ankle weights, I’d suggest you reconsider. Keep weight training to just that — a weight training session. And keep your cardio efforts to an aerobic exercise session. You’ll get better results in both situations. (However, something like a circuit class, in which you alternate cardio bouts with strength training moves, is designed to be safely effective.)

All that said, if you are looking to turn your walk into a more serious, results-bearing workout, let’s talk. I can help you do so, without extra equipment and with lower chances of injury.


Guilty as charged

I have a confession to make: I’m guilty of not following good fitness protocol.

I have been wearing a way-too-old, way-too-many-miles-on-them pair of sneakers for the past several months.

When I did a half marathon in late March, I wore my go-to pair — i.e., my newest pair. It rained for the entire 13.1 miles. After the race, I figured I’d better retire the pair because they probably were stretched out and just plain shot from all those wet miles. Plus, they were high on the mileage count to begin with.

My reliable No. 2 pair, promoted back to the lead position.

My reliable No. 2 pair, promoted back to the lead position.

Because it was still wintry, I bumped up my old pair to the No. 1 spot, knowing I wouldn’t be doing lots of walking until spring had fully sprung.

Well … it’s now mid-July and I’m still in that old pair.

Part of the delay is just due to the busy-ness of everyday life: work, chores, errands, plans.

But most of it is due to simple timing. I do most of my walking in the early morning. Therefore it would be best to shop for sneakers first thing in the day, so the size of my feet is most comparable to when I will most often be wearing the sneakers. In other words, if I shopped after work, my feet would not be the same size as they would be in the morning. And then, when I’d go out for a morning walk, the sneakers would likely feel loose. That could lead to blisters and injury.

At long last, my schedule and my desire to buy new sneakers have aligned, and I plan to be at the sporting goods store tomorrow morning when it opens.

While we’re on the topic: How often should you replace your walking sneakers and what type should you get?

Your shoes might not look outwardly worn out. But the cushioning and shock absorption likely are not doing their job as well as they should anymore.

The general rule of thumb, as advised by experts, is to replace your shoes after 300 to 500 miles of walking.

Here’s another way to calculate it:

If you walk for about an hour, three times a week, replace your sneakers every 5 months. If you walk that amount four times a week, it’s time for new sneakers every 4 months. And if you’re walking about an hour five times a week, you’ll need new ones every 3 months.

And what type of shoes should you get?

It’s all about what feels best for you. New Balance is my brand of choice because it has a roomy toe box and a more narrow heel — which fits me best. I buy running shoes instead of walking shoes because I find the running shoes to be more flexible and light than the walkers. Plus, I do incorporate some jogging interval workouts most weeks.

My best advice: Try on, try on, try on. Try different brands. Try wide and medium widths. Try them with the socks you’ll most often wear while walking. Walk around the store for longer than seems normal. Above all, make sure they feel supportive and comfortable and fit well. And shop at the same time of day when you most often walk. That will help ensure the best fit.

Happy walking!