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Elevated Fitness is proud to present Clovis with a variety of services to suit your wellness. Elevated Fitness offers High Plains Boot Camp at three locations in Clovis, NM.

EF Blog

Changing Lanes

Amy Ward

In one short year of motherhood, I feel like my fitness pedestal has been kicked out from under me.

I'm sure all the moms I trained in the past are saying, "Finally! See! It's not so easy! Ha ha!"

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2016 Gift Guide

Amy Ward

If you're like us, you probably are just now considering what gifts to purchase for your loved ones. Meryl and I took the time to jot down a few of our must-haves. You're sure to find something for even the most discerning of tastes...and probably something for yourself, too! 

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Electric Kettle, Silicone Earplugs, & Roasted Cauliflower

Amy Ward

These are a few of my fav-o-rite things...

Our replacement kettle arrived this week and I couldn't be happier. I am not much of a tea drinker, but with colder weather and the super-fast water heating powers of

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Squirrel Attack, Toilet Texts, & Giving Season

Amy Ward

New category for the new blog (still looking for a name, people!): Learned / Remembered / Wondered....or some similar combo. Good for short posts that pack a proverbial punch.

This week, I learned swimming really helps decrease my foot discomfort. Wahoo! No walls and lighter kicking, but it felt great to get back in the water after an unintended hiatus. I also learned that this break from the pool/gym meant that G has to, once again, get used to going to the Kids Klub. That may take awhile. 

I also learned pumpkins are probably not the best choice for outdoor fall decorating. I first saw pumpkins like this around the neighborhood on a few different porches.

 Squirrel snacks. Too big to bury?

Squirrel snacks. Too big to bury?

I just thought it was some sort of stupid jack-o-lantern carving trend, like the vomiting pumpkin. Then I saw a couple of squirrels going to town on my own pumpkins. I guess even squirrels are keeping on-trend with their love of pumpkin.

This week, I remembered I need to reach out to old friends more often. With work, family, and other commitments, it is easy to let things slide. Luckily, we no longer have to send hand-written notes with wax seals via courier to our loved ones. I guarantee you can carve 30 seconds out of your day to shoot a text or email. The recipient of doesn't need to know you were in the bathroom when you said "hello"... 

Autumn is my absolute favorite time of year, and it always seems to put me in a giving mood. I wonder if it is the season or my happiness that spurs my generosity. That led me to think about Thanksgiving, and how a lot of folks find themselves volunteering/voluntold during the holidays. It's easy to give during these two holiday months, but what about the rest of the year? 

This post is starting to sound a lot like a New Years' Resolution...


Have a great week and soak up some autumn goodness! If you have ideas for what we should call the new blog, let us know! You'll be gifted with some EF swag if we use your suggestion.

Monster Ride 2016

Amy Ward

The sun gets to sleep in these days, but not you! Hop on the trainer, crank the tunes and crush your climbs with this year's Halloween ride. Is it a run day? Search for the songs that have 80/160 - 90/180 bpm to keep you on pace. You can find the playlist here on Spotify . Membership is free, unless you would like to use their music offline.

Here's the Monster Ride profile. It's a long one, hence the "monster", so if you need to trim it down, skip tracks 6, 7, 8, & 15. This saves you about 16 minutes, putting the running time (without cool-down) at about 50 minutes. Remove another hill set if necessary.

Now go burn that fun size Snickers!

Happy Halloween

To get a better view of the profile, zoom in with your browser. iPhone users can zoom by spreading your two fingers.

Help? Of course I don't need it.

Amy Ward

Damn. I am on a roll. 

You may remember reading in last week's post that I managed to break my foot on an already emotional day. I wish I could say it was during an adventure race or trail run. Nope...just walking down our new back steps. A roll of the ankle and I was down. I guess that loud "pop" I heard must have been in celebration of the 6 years since my last good sprain.

Although I was certain it was just a bad sprain, something just felt different. I visited my doctor and a fracture was confirmed. I wasn't happy about having a broken bone, but I was pleased to know that my gut feeling was spot-on. 

That was last week. 

This week started off with a bang, too. Literally. To my face. 

I was converting G's exersaucer into the next "phase", fighting with one of the legs which was supposed to easily pop off. When it did pop off, it nailed me just shy of my left eye. Great. Let's add a shiner to my list of impairments.   

I was quite a sight: hobbling woman with a black eye. Later that day, my husband told me, "Mommy is a hot mess." Agreed. My friend, Leslie, told me that I was becoming a danger to myself, and should she report me? After all, I would get a 72h vacation and free food... 

Sometimes it seems like I can't get a break. No pun intended. Call me Sisyphus. But how much of this do I bring on myself? The ankle thing: obviously an accident, but I could have easily set aside G's toy and asked my husband for help when he got home. In fact, that was the thought that zipped through my mind in the split-second before a neon green table leg flew into my face.

The past week and a half reminds me that although difficult, I need to ask for help more often. This has always been a challenge for me. Even when offered, I often say "no, thanks" or "I got it". 

There is sort of a running joke between my husband and I. When I come across a jar with a tight lid or something of the like, he watches me struggle; he knows that I will say "I got it" if offered assistance. When I finally do ask for help, he says, "Sure! You need a big, strong, man to do it for you?" I roll my eyes and we laugh. 

Although the Rosie the Riveter mentality has come in handy most of my married life (multiple deployments and TDYs, starting a business from scratch), accepting help has its benefits, too. After becoming a mom, accepting help in certain situations has been very easy. For example, G and I have taken three trips together involving air travel. Initially, I was nervous that he would be a fussy traveler and I would be the cliché mom with two bags too many. But even while other passengers are in a hurry to get from A to B, I have been pleasantly surprised that most other folks. The guy sitting next to me on the way to Denver happily offered to mix up G's bottle as the kiddo played with the stranger's ball cap. Even TSA agents are quick to offer an extra hand.

 Snoozing at 35,000'.

Snoozing at 35,000'.

A few years ago, there may have been a teeny portion of me that would take offense for someone thinking *gasp* I needed assistance. As far as the mom-world is concerned, that part of me could care less. I can only assume that a friendly stranger was once in my shoes, and was probably too proud to ask for help back then, too. 

A friend of mine recently revealed that she had been struggling with postpartum depression. Luckily she consulted with her doctor and I am happy to say she is now working through it. It wasn't until she went on a low-dose antidepressant that she realized how much her PPD was affecting her. I think most of us don't see how much we need a helping hand until after it is extended. 

So whether it is wrestling with the leg of your kid's exersaucer, your body telling you something is not quite right, accidentally whacking your son's head on a TSA metal detector...twice (#parentfail), or just trying to navigate life, ask for help when you need it. And graciously offer help to others who may not know they need it.


PS - I need ideas for the name and domain of the new blog! Things are looking great, but we need a new home on the web. Comment here, or let us know on the FB page. If we choose your suggestion, you'll get some sweet swag.

Make a Memory

Amy Ward

Yesterday marks the anniversary of my sister’s death.

The sixteenth of October has passed 16 times before. Some years are easier than others; some years cause more emotion and reflection. Lyn was just one month shy of her 30th birthday. It was her second bout with cancer, first time with leukemia; the first was in 1996 when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease. 

Lyn was 12 years my senior, and definitely the “cool sister”. Sorry, Aly, you were always the responsible, yet fun, “second mom”. One of my most cherished childhood memories is of Lyn driving me to a friend’s house. She always took the fun backroads in our parents’ Ford Bronco - and insisted on driving just fast enough so my little 6-year old body would lift off the passenger seat as we crested the numerous hills and bumps. She was all about having fun with her little sis.

Staying active was a mainstay of Lyn’s adult life. Her boyfriend, John (they later married), introduced her to running in the early 90s. Lyn and John introduced me to running when I was just 11 years old. I remember running my first 5K with John. I suited up in some sweet new Saucony Jazzes - real running shoes! You can imagine how defeated I felt when a kid wearing cowboy boots passed me in the last mile. I crossed the finish line in tears…and was hooked. 24 years and over a hundred races later, running is still one of my most favorite escapes.

I am writing about Lyn on the EF blog because she is the reason - or at least catalyst - why I made fitness my love and career. Seeing how Lyn and John balanced a lifestyle that included long (and late) work schedules, college courses as "non-traditional students", fun times, and exercise showed me that you don’t have to be the stereotypical fitness fanatic to benefit from setting and reaching goals. Heading to the gym or squeezing in a couple of miles were great stress reliefs. Even in Lyn’s final weeks, with little energy for the most basic of daily activities, she appreciated both the physical therapists who manipulated her joints, and her husband who encouraged her to walk just a few steps each day. Even for the ailing, movement does so much good for your state of mind. 

So today, as I sit nursing a broken foot, and reflect on my sister and family, I think about the phrase that John has been known to command countless times over the past 17 years - on my wedding day, family vacations, and while spreading my sister’s ashes: “Make memories.”

Over the past 20 years, many of my favorite memories revolve around breaking a sweat, or involve friends made through sports. VineMan 140.6, Ragnar Del Sol, Blue Ridge Adventure Race, high school and college cross country and track, snowboarding in the Alps, Valentine’s ski trip with my husband, shooting with my dad, long dog walks with Mom, riding with new friends in NM, running up on a black bear in Asheville, getting tanked with the Tri Club in Taos, riding to Old Faithful on my last day of a summer job in West Yellowstone, and recently, hiking with G in tow in his fancy new pack.

 Momma and G on the trail near Diamond Creek Falls, Crescent Lake, Oregon.

Momma and G on the trail near Diamond Creek Falls, Crescent Lake, Oregon.

The past 10 months have been filled with many new memories…most of them, admittedly, forgotten in the 6 months of perpetual fugue state that I experienced until G slept consistently through the night. Prior to having G, my workout was such an integral part of each day. Every morning, I would know when or how I was going to fit in my workout: between which clients or how many minutes I could milk to make the most of “me-time”. It was automatic. Not working out really wasn’t an option, unless my training plan required it.  Regardless, my focus shifted from work work work, workout workout workout, to baby baby baby. And until my body tells me it is ready to work towards it’s previous level of fitness, I am not pushing it. I have had my fair share of speed bumps since delivering G, and I openly accept that this is not my time to set unrealistic goals. 

My sister knew that getting sick was not her time. Although she was not a mother, she assumed a maternal role and focused all her energies on making sure family and friends were happy and living their own lives instead of worrying about her. I was living overseas while Lyn was going through chemo and she put on such a good face that I would have to call my other sister, Aly, to get a real handle on the situation. But that’s what we do. Sometimes we switch gears and focus on our loved ones.

Thinking about my sister today reminds me that yes, doting on my infant son is important, but making memories with friends, with family, and doing the things that I really love, are nearly equally important. And although I face another speed bump with a broken foot, I will do what I can to make memories with the people I love, doing the things we love. I will recommit to a business which I worked so long and hard to build.

There are so many things that Meryl and I want to do with Elevated Fitness. We know so many other talented and experienced fitness and healthcare professionals that need to be included in our business. I hope to unveil our evolution in 2017, to include many exciting ways to reach all of you that have moved from our genesis location of Clovis, New Mexico.

But with all of this personal talk, I would be remiss not to announce the Elevated Fitness blog will soon transform into a lifestyle blog. You’ll find more personal notes such as this blog post, posts about living a balanced lifestyle, cooking and training tools, tips and recipes, and posts from other skilled professionals. We want to hear from average joes like you, too. If you have something you would like to see or to share with us, submit it here or talk to myself or Meryl. 

We want to support our clients not only in reaching their goals, but in living a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Let's make some memories.

 Summer fun with Lyn and Amy. Duluth, GA, 1997

Summer fun with Lyn and Amy. Duluth, GA, 1997



Our Fitness Family - Client Spotlight: Denise Christian

Amy Ward

 Farewell to Aneta! Fall 2014

Farewell to Aneta! Fall 2014

After chatting with a friend about how much she loves the non-physical benefits of her gym membership (see the post here), it got me thinking about the type of relationships we strive to cultivate at Elevated Fitness.

Like Amber, some of you are lucky enough to have found a fitness family. At Elevated Fitness, and especially our High Plains Boot Camp, the bonds we form could mean the difference between going through the motions and achieving goals you might not have considered possible. We recognize that hard work, a good sweat, balancing life, and sharing a few laughs keeps our group together. EF's stellar clients are the nucleus of our awesome fitness family. And although we certainly don't play favorites, one woman stands out as a driving force behind our family: Denise Christian.

You could say I sort of "inherited" Denise. When I was in the early stages of getting boot camp rolling, I befriended a local fit pro who was moving. She wanted to leave her own gang in good hands, and I was happy to fill her shoes. Denise was one of her regular participants. Over the years, Denise morphed into a kind of third instructor at HPBC. Sure, her history as an athlete and avid sports fan were evident, but her ability to reach out to others is her greatest strength. She may not call the shots like Meryl or myself, but she really helps others follow through! As Meryl put it to me recently, Denise is like the OG.

 Denise's first 5K! Smoke on the Water, July 4th, 2012

Denise's first 5K! Smoke on the Water, July 4th, 2012

Denise is her classmates' biggest champion. She encourages others to push for another rep or to pick up the pace. It is what she does best. I have personally seen her drag her sweaty self off the floor and head out into the brutal heat and wind for an extra lap "just because"; and doing the same when she finishes her work before others. Her willingness to push is contagious, and the rest of the gang typically follows suit. Her fitness has improved in so many ways, and she continues to give others a run for their money.

 Denise hard at work at HPBC. 

Denise hard at work at HPBC. 

I know I will get some flack for saying this, but Denise is our unequivocal den mother. Her support extends far outside of the hour we spend together as sweat sisters and brothers. She loves to give and is always sharing healthy recipes, funny stories, and little gifts with her fellow boot campers. And although I know her classmates benefit from Denise's camaraderie, they should know that they mean so much more to her. 

You see, to Denise, the other HPBC participants are not mere clients. She knows the regulars by name, and is always the first to welcome a new face; she gathers groups to run 5Ks and mud runs, and cheers on those doing marathons and triathlons; she organizes healthy potlucks (and readily accepts any recommendations on new wine...sorry, D, I had to.). Her classmates share date nights; their kids gather for afternoon play dates. Denise and the gang see one another nearly every day, and check in with the missing crew members when they don't show for a session. And in scarier situations, Denise has let Meryl or myself know about an unhealthy situation a fellow client may be in. We love each other and want the best, healthiest outcomes for our little family.

Sometimes members of our family decide to check out the competition, or need reliable childcare during their workouts (the latter is the biggest hurdle for Meryl and I). Since we are so close, these situations sting a bit, but that's life. And all former clients are always a part of the gang. We welcome them back at any time, and still say hello when we bump carts at Albertsons. We also see our fair share of clients move away, thanks to the large military presence in the local area. Denise, as well as others, has hosted going-aways and fare-thee-wells. Leaving family is never easy, but it helps to have a formal get-together to let everyone say goodbye.

 Farewell, Tomoko and Mike! 

Farewell, Tomoko and Mike! 

Everyone knows that exercising in a group or training with a team increases adherence to a prescribed program. But the personal connections that form when distributing the load, that's the glue that keeps our group together. When members of our family (or their own families) fall ill, we rally and pick each other up. It's not uncommon to find a small group gathering after class to pray for an ill friend or for guidance through a daughter's rocky pregnancy. And when we need a little comic relief, we can count on a funny story from Denise. What was that one about a bouncy med ball and a bruised chin?  

We rejoice in each other's achievements, too, encouraging each other to reach for a PR or to pick up the pace. When Meryl, our new-at-the-time HPBC instructor, went back to New England to get married, the crew sent her off with snacks, music, gifts, and cards to keep her occupied. We support each other. We are a family. And when I moved to Kentucky, I had the best send-off a girl could ask for. Lots of tears, laughs, and reflection on a wonderful community of not only clients, but friends.

 Buffalo Battle Mud Run, August 2015. #TeamEF

Buffalo Battle Mud Run, August 2015. #TeamEF

Before I left Clovis in 2014, I created EF Legacy t-shirts for clients that met certain criteria. Time spent with the company was the biggest factor, but dedication to a healthy, fit lifestyle ran a close second. Truthfully, Denise deserves so much more than a silly t-shirt. A sceptor or something flashy would be far more appropriate. But really, what do folks like Denise get from their dedication and commitment? They get a second family. They get a group of people that understands the demands of living a balanced life while incorporating coach-led, rigorous training sessions. They get friends to compete not only against, but with.

Thanks, Denise, for all you do!

Do you want to show Denise some love? Share a story or some kind words below.




Your gym gives you strength, but what about support?

Amy Ward

My best friend, Amber, found a community through her local gym that has helped get her through some difficult times. She recently wrote about the benefits of exercising there during pregnancy and it got me thinking about our own community at Elevated Fitness. This is her story. Continue onto the following post to learn about our own EF family's power player.

*I took the liberty of removing the name of the gym and style of workout so as not to encourage any of you crazies out there to assume what Amber has will automatically (or should) work for you.

I found my gym in November 2012 and haven’t looked for another gym since.  It’s such an integral part of my daily routine, and I find fulfillment not only from the physical conditioning that takes place, but also from the family of instructors and fellow clients.

In November of 2015, my husband and I found out I was pregnant after three miscarriages and a failed IVF attempt.  We were overjoyed, but also took every precaution possible to ensure I didn’t do anything that might induce another miscarriage.  Needless to say, I was very apprehensive if continuing to exercise would be safe during my pregnancy since I was classified high risk.  My doctor gave me the OK to continue my current workout regimen and encouraged me to modify my routine by listening to my body, and by taking the advice of instructors at the studio I attend.  The owner and instructors were pivotal in offering me suggestions regarding modifications when taking class, and as I progressed in my pregnancy, some even slightly modified their classes. 

I have had such a wonderfully uneventful pregnancy, and I know exercise is to thank for that. I average four to five sessions per week and I am coming up on my 33rd week of pregnancy.  I have had a couple days when I woke up with round ligament pain and thought I couldn’t do class. The first time it happened, I decided to attend class to see if it would help. I’m so glad I did!  By the end of class, the pain was completely gone!  The attention to core that I have experienced at my studio has given me the much needed strength to support my lower back as well. Although I’m unable to do everything I did before I was pregnant, I still do most exercises and I feel as well, if not better, than I did before pregnancy.  I believe exercise has tremendously helped prepare my body for birth and prevented a lot of aches and pains most women suffer from during pregnancy.  It’s also fun to see how much my baby likes class!  He really starts kicking in the last few minutes; I think he is partial to the bounce and music!  

My gym has given me the opportunity to develop friendships and gain support throughout my pregnancy in ways that I can’t get anywhere else.  The family of clients and instructors are so incredibly supportive, and I feel rejuvenated both physically and emotionally when I leave. What a wonderful way to start my day!


Amber’s story is not unique. Pregnant or not, we all strive for a supportive network. For an active person like Amber it was her fitness family. Fitness families keep us sane; they provide a sense of stability when everything else in our lives seems to be out of control. Amber really needed a sense of normalcy in what was understandably an incredibly stressful time - one that could have resulted in yet another miscarriage. ***Please remember that Amber had full clearance from her OB/GYN before continuing her exercise regimen!

We might not know it, especially as we crank up the tunes on our iPod and retract into our private world, but we wish to be more than mere members at a local gym. Want to know how we do it at Elevated Fitness? Read the following post and client spotlight.

Amber Hum is a mom-to-be, military spouse, and all-around amazing woman. She is a whiz at whipping up healthy dishes and loves to spend time outside. Amber and her husband live in Colorado Springs, where they enjoy hiking, hunting, and after-dinner neighborhood strolls. Their son is due this summer.

Has there been a particularly terrifying or terrific time in your life when you were happy to have the support of your fitness family? Share below in the comments, or email Amy at We might even publish it on the blog!

Why Can't Normal People Eat Kale?

Amy Ward

Last week my husband was able to join me for my third childbirth class. He had been traveling for work and I had kept him filled in on the content. The class is deeply rooted in the importance of treating birth as a natural process (not a medical procedure) and they preach the importance of maintaining a positive attitude not only during labor but in the weeks leading up to the big day as well. Big plusses in our book. Most of the information and videos are very empowering, and remove a lot of fear that surrounds childbirth.

But then there’s the filler. Up until a certain point, I sort of ignored it because I was there to get the benefits of this course’s tenets, not to drink the kool-aid. I absorbed the things I considered to be beneficial, and the rest I threw out with the bath water. But having my husband present as we watched portions of a 90s scare-tactic documentary (complete with appropriate celebrity narrator, alarming background music, and intense sound bites) heightened my awareness. I could feel his eyes rolling as he mentally stored talking points for later. In my mind, I hit “delete” and the class continued.

It goes without saying that courses in nearly every discipline come with at least a bit of propaganda. This is nothing new. Even subject matters that really hold my interest (specific college classes, professional seminars, continuing education lectures, etc.) do it. Have you ever been in a class where everyone buys into what the instructor is selling? It’s contagious. Cult-like. Everyone feels energized, they are happy to discuss and share during the lecture, and you leave feeling pumped and ready to implement what you just learned. It’s sort of a little high, knowing that you and a couple hundred other people are all on the same page. 

On the drive home, I reminded my husband to keep the commentary to a minimum. We completed a bunch of great exercises at the close of class and I was feeling calm and positive. I didn’t want a few critical comments to ruin my “buzz”. Fortunately, we were able to have a light-hearted discussion and I confirmed that I was glad to have him there for support. He may not have been into all the techniques discussed during class, but he was a trooper and was supportive of my reasoning for wanting to attend. As we discussed some of the extreme commentary from class, he said, “Why can’t normal people eat kale?”

I didn’t understand what he was talking about until he repeated himself later in the week. The point he was trying to make was along the lines of, ‘Why can’t I just eat healthy without having to drive a hybrid and name my kid Pheather?’ Or in the case of my birthing class, ‘Why can’t we strive for a natural childbirth without someone trying to instill a fear of western medicine (aka 'the man')?’    

These types of situations exist everywhere, most notably for me in the fitness realm. Our lives are filled with a sort-of “beat ‘em or join ‘em” attitude. You run 5Ks from time to time? I don't care if you run a sub-6:00 mile, you’re not a real runner until you do a marathon. How about triathlon? Iron-distance is where it's at. You’ve been lifting weights for a few months? What do you bench? CrossFitters. They do everything…as long as it's CrossFit. Functional fitness fanatics. Of course they wouldn’t be caught dead doing bicep curls. You try to eat clean? Watch out for bashing from the macro folks. You track your macros? Watch out for the clean eaters telling you about all the sh*t you’ve been ingesting. And your neighbor, the natural food nazi? How many times has she told you that everything she eats is so much healthier because it is organic? Even that double cheese and sausage Amy's Pizza. I could go on and on. And we would all get a good laugh at the countless stereotypes.

My point is, there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground in fitness for a lot of folks today. That makes me unhappy. Many people feel the need to identify with a group, sport, or style of gym in order to experience "fitness". But the truth is, the average American just wants to be a little bit better, a little bit healthier, and become a little bit fitter. They want to be “normal”.

Consider a co-worker whose unspoken goal is to walk his dog a couple of times a week. Or your cousin that is trying to cut her soda intake to two a day. The gal you see at the gym who does more socializing that exercising. The neighborhood runner that does the same route on MWF, then double the distance on Saturday. Or the retiree who has been doing the 8:30 cardio step class for years. They are all just trying to make something happen. And honestly, aren’t we all? Most of us are not podium-takers, award-winners, or overly inspiring. We just need to move a little more and eat a little better.

Do these folks need some help and direction? Probably. And they would benefit from a little structure, for sure. But don’t mistake “normal” for weak, overweight, or unregimented. “Normal” doesn’t mean tying one on every Friday and Saturday night, or hitting the burger bar every day for lunch. “Normal” people don’t cut every workout in half, or skip out on their corrective drills. You don’t need to be a pro to understand that if your afternoon errands run long, you can still reap the benefits of squeezing in 15 minutes of ABC…even when it really should have been 30 minutes of XYZ.

Through countless interactions I have had with clients over the years, I discovered the happiest and often healthiest adults are those that meet one important trait: moderation. I know it’s cliché, but so true. Folks that live moderately understand that life happens, and they find a balance between living for others and living for themselves. Lastly, they don’t freak out if they miss a workout or indulge in an adult beverage (or two) or rich dessert. You’ll never see them shoving a ziplock of raw veggies into their purse before heading out on date night.

So, I return to the question, “Why can’t normal people eat kale?” The answer is simply, “They can. No tree-hugger-hipster ID required.” People who train/exercise and eat moderately understand that you don’t have to be committed to a particular label in order to succeed. You don’t have to compete every weekend, or be an ironman, or eat paleo, or lift five times a week. You do what you can to maintain balance and reduce stress. 

People who live moderately incorporate a variety of healthy foods into their diet but still enjoy a boozy or creamy indulgence on occasion. They don’t feel guilty about eating dessert at a friend’s wedding, and they don’t feel crazy for squeezing in an intense circuit before lunch. They may only be able to squat 25 pounds, but that’s more than 6 months ago; they’re happy about that. They don’t feel “granola” for making a meatless meal that includes grains and vegetables that most people cannot pronounce. They enjoy healthy competition, but don’t win any awards. No matter how slow they move, they are still lapping the folks at home on the couch. They are “normal”. 

Don't take for granted the importance of moderation. Some people struggle to make a single improvement in their health and fitness habits, hoping to one day reach moderation...their new normal

How normal are you? Share your version below.

Fitness and Pregnancy, Part 3: Specific Activity Recommendations

Amy Ward

Here's the good stuff you've been waiting for. Don't forget to reference the contraindications listed in Part 2 of our Fitness and Pregnancy series.

Regarding specific activities or sports, ACOG recommends avoiding high contact sports and activities that require heavy, repetitive lifting. It is also recommended that activities with an inherently high risk of falling be avoided.

Although I have been cycling outdoors (road and mountain) regularly for 16 years, I resigned myself to the indoor trainer around 20 weeks. Until that point, I was confident in my balance and restricted my routes to a paved trail that was closed to car traffic. But facts are facts: at a certain point, the baby outgrows the bony protection of the pelvis and only soft tissue separates the kiddo from the pavement. Considering all the clumsy fine motor accidents (thanks, wonky proprioceptors) I was making with both feet on the ground, switching to the trainer was an easy choice. As for comfort on the bike, mom will likely need to install a riser to the bike stem to elevate the handlebars. If you have switched to a Spin bike, simply raise the handlebars to a more comfortable height. This decreases lumbar pressure and allows more space for the lungs to expand. Mom's changing pelvis and hips will influence when, or if, she needs a wider saddle. Another option is the recumbent bicycle. If you are looking for some back support and a more comfortable seat, this is a great choice. Piriformis syndrome sufferers may discover a time limit on the recumbent or the need for a recovery day between recumbent sessions.

Skiing, water sports, and contact sports (i.e. football, martial arts, basketball, soccer) should be avoided because they exhibit "an inherently high risk for trauma in pregnant and non-pregnant women." ACOG is also quick to point out scuba diving as contraindicated, due to "risk of decompression sickness secondary to the inability of the fetal pulmonary circulation to filter bubble formation."

Speaking of bubbles, swimming is great exercise for anyone, pregnant or not. Moms-to-be find the water to be an especially soothing form of exercise. Pregnant swimmers should avoid hypoxic or breath-holding situations. As pregnancy progresses, mom may find flip-turns to be uncomfortable, whether due to reduced range of motion in the trunk and hips or extra compression of the lungs. Personally, I discovered the need to alternate flip-turns with the old one-hand-on-the-wall technique. Balling up in a flip turn squeezes that extra bit of air out of my lungs and it takes longer to recover. This also means mom may have to opt out of the typical bilateral breathing patterns for something more comfortable. Yes, muscle memory is hard to fight after years of flip-turning and right/left breathing, but it is only temporary. Regarding strokes, the swimmer is welcome to perform any stroke, as tolerated. This is all assuming that mom swam regularly prior to and throughout pregnancy. It should also be noted that water temperature and outdoor conditions when swimming outside should be taken into account due to ease of overheating. There isn't a magic number here, but athletes know their comfort level, especially if they were competitive swimmers.

Although I would have loved to continue running throughout my pregnancy, it wasn't in the cards.  Pregnant runners, like any other pregnant athlete, learn to be comfortable with accepting slower paces, shorter distances and the possibility of run-walk intervals or switching to speed-walking. Some moms can run comfortably while others note their changing bodies make running uncomfortable on a multitude of levels. If the latter is the case, try donning a maternity support belt or switch to a lower-impact activity. Don't worry, mom will get back to her "fix" in a few months. Aqua jogging, with or without a floatation belt, is a great replacement for those seeking some reprieve from gravity. And water aerobics, or "aqua" for those in the know, isn't just for granny's social hour. I have found that aqua is certainly one of those activities that you reap what you sow. Picking up the pace or moving quickly with larger float weights ups the ante.

Walking, especially on an incline, is a wonderful form of exercise during pregnancy, and no modifications are necessary. Maintaining good posture and focusing on a deep, rhythmic breath will help prepare you for focused breathing during labor. The only consideration is the possibility of sore shins from speed walking. Thanks to those pesky proprioceptors, paved and even surfaces are preferred. Steep downhills may have to be approached with a zig-zag pattern as opposed to straight down. This avoids direct forces on the knees and may reduce risk of tripping or falling. Walking on trails, a.k.a. hiking, is also well-tolerated. From personal experience, I encourage the use of trekking poles. I love trekking poles for their dual purpose. They help stabilize your lower half as well as give the back and core muscles a great postural workout. And yes, you can use them on paved surfaces, too. Just purchase rubber tips to slide onto the metal tips. Check Leki's website for pole sizing recommendations. Click on Nordic Walking.

The popularity of CrossFit and countless strength and conditioning facilities has increased our nation's interest in indoor rowing (aka ERGing) for fitness. Although I have not found professional publications on the subject, I read that lowering the feet (toe strap across toes instead of the ball of the foot) and spreading the knees a bit are the two biggest changes most pregnant women make for comfort. Some women are able to row throughout pregnancy while others say the third trimester is difficult. Play it by ear and remember that your stroke's finish may also be altered by your changing body and maintenance of posture is more important as the pregnancy progresses. As for CrossFit and S&C, mom is likely working with a coach of her own. Please reference the coaches' personal recommendations as well as their ability to scale workouts for mom. Thanks to sheer physics, many olympic lifts should be avoided as the pregnant belly grows. Keeping all that loaded bar weight close to midline is very important. But again, this goes back to individualized recommendations from a personal coach in conjunction with mom's ability to safely execute particular movements.

The benefits of maintaining a weight-lifting regimen during pregnancy are numerous. Of course, many of the same benefits exist in non-pregnant clients, most notably, positive body image. And just as in the general population, risks exist. As published in 2012 by ACSM, risks to pregnant women who lift weights include: use of the Valsalva Maneuver, straining, dropping free weights or plates on the abdomen, and performing exercises in the supine (lying on your back) position. Three of these are risks for any exerciser, pregnant or not. 

NSCA recommends reducing the lifter's load to 70% or less of her 1RM. This means choosing the appropriate weight to lift 12 reps or more in good form. Please reference NSCA's training load chart for a better association of reps and % load.  All professional organizations discourage "lifting heavy" (80% of 1RM or greater), and avoiding movements that can no longer be performed in good form. Since sessions should be energizing and not exhausting, mom should consider performing straight sets if she feels out of breath or overly fatigued. Straight sets include a period of rest in between sets of the same exercise as opposed to performing supersets or circuits. Method of weight or resistance training is not generally limited, however, increased lumbar curve may necessitate the back support found in traditional weight machines or isolateral Hammer Strength equipment. My professional recommendation is that a variety of weight and resistance training should be pursued throughout pregnancy, especially those that encourage great core stabilization.

Core training is of the utmost importance throughout the pregnancy. Maintenance of the pelvic floor can be achieved through kegel exercises as well as planks, oblique planks and bird dog. Traditional core exercises such as sit-ups or crunches, performed while lying on the back (floor or other apparatus) should be avoided after the first trimester. I also recommend staying away from the twisty abdominal machine at the gym that everyone seems to love. I say stay away whether you're pregnant or not. But remember, if you have a well-rounded weight-lifting regimen, you're getting lots of core work.

Yoga is also a great way to keep up your mobility, focused breathing, and core strength. All wonderful things that mom will need to call upon at the end of her pregnancy. Necessary modifications include the use of props to assist in balance and avoidance on hyperextension. Inversions, back bends, front-lying postures, breath holds, and hot yoga are to be avoided. Knees should be spread wide while in child's pose, and twisted positions will likely need modification. Consult with a certified instructor for further personal recommendations. 

Listing every single sport or activity would be nearly impossible. Just remember to have mom consult with her care provider as well as a qualified fitness professional to ensure that she is at low risk to proceed with a particular activity or level of intensity. And keep an eye out for the following signs that mom may be overdoing it:

  • Vaginal bleeding 
  • Dyspnea prior to exertion 
  • Dizziness 
  • Headache 
  • Chest pain 
  • Muscle weakness 
  • Calf pain or swelling (need to rule out thrombophlebitis) 
  • Preterm labor 
  • Decreased fetal movement 
  • Amniotic fluid leakage

Be smart, be safe, and remember to constantly reassess mom's changing body and level of fitness. Enjoy the journey!

Fitness and Pregnancy, Part 2: Is Exercise Worth the Risk?

Amy Ward

There's a lot of conflicting information out there regarding risky pre-natal training practices. Most of it is emotionally-driven and perpetuated by previous generations that were encouraged to rest and relax during pregnancy. As my friend Leslie pointed out during her own pregnancy, there's no quicker way to clear a weight room than putting a couple of dumbbells in the hands of an 8-month pregnant mom. It makes me recall the heated back-and-forth spawned by this photo on social media back in 2013. 

 These photos spawned heated internet chatter about which exercises are "safe" for mom and baby.

These photos spawned heated internet chatter about which exercises are "safe" for mom and baby.

"A healthy woman with a normal pregnancy may continue her regular exercise regimen or begin an exercise program during pregnancy." Simple as it is, this comment by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has succeeded in confusing many moms and fitness professionals. So no changes for women who have been regularly exercising? How often and what type of exercises should be prescribed for moms who are new to exercise? Should they be treated as a regular "beginner"?  Exercise limitations really come down to the individual and her health-care team. This includes a fit pro whenever possible. 

Years ago, I attended a lecture on current guidelines for training pregnant and postpartum clients. The presenter did a fantastic job of communicating the contraindications and current recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG; now renamed the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists). The following lists were updated at the posting of this blog:


  • Hemodynamically significant heart disease 
  • Restrictive lung disease 
  • Incompetent cervix/cerclage 
  • Multiple gestation at risk for premature labor 
  • Persistent second- or third-trimester bleeding 
  • Placenta previa after 26 weeks of gestation 
  • Premature labor during the current pregnancy 
  • Ruptured membranes 
  • Preeclampsia/pregnancy-induced hypertension

RELATIVE CONTRAINDICATIONS TO AEROBIC EXERCISE (discuss mom's risk with doctor; benefit of exercise may outweigh the risk)

  • Severe anemia
  • Unevaluated maternal cardiac arrhythmia
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Poorly controlled type 1 diabetes
  • Extreme morbid obesity
  • Extreme underweight (BMI <12)
  • History of extremely sedentary lifestyle
  • Intrauterine growth restriction in current pregnancy
  • Poorly controlled hypertension
  • Orthopedic limitations
  • Poorly controlled seizure disorder
  • Poorly controlled hyperthyroidism
  • Heavy smoker

You likely noticed these lists are contraindications to aerobic exercise. This could be any traditional forms of "cardio" that you are familiar with: walking, running, swimming, cycling, arctrainer, rowing, stairmaster, etc. It could also mean higher intensity or dynamic weight-lifting performed with minimal or no recovery time between sets. This means free weights, machines, bands, TRX, you name it.

But back to the conference. Reading all of these medical terms can be intimidating. And reading the signs of overtraining can be scary. But the practical recommendations presented at our conference were simple. They were all centered around common sense: know your client's limitations prior to pregnancy, take each session/workout as it comes, you may have to scale the intensity of workouts while listening to the pregnant body, if mom needs rest - that's okay, be aware of any signals indicating mommy is overdoing it. According to ACOG's latest report (circa 2011), the signs that mom is overdoing it are as follows:

  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Increased shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Uterine contractions
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Fluid leaking from the vagina

Manifestation of any of these symptoms should be reported to the fit pro as well as mom's care provider immediately. This is not a situation where one should push through and finish her workout. Be smart.

Many conference attendees shared their own experiences and commiserated about the doctor-trainer information gap. Some of the commonly-heard recommendations passed from doctor to mom were often outdated. Or recommendations changed since mom's last pregnancy. Although the ACOG's recommendations are updated every 3-4 years, I hypothesize that the age of an OB, his/her exposure to active moms, and his/her own level of activity influences the general rules that he/she enforces with patients. It also doesn't help that the practical guidelines published by organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) are rarely referenced by the average general practitioner or specialist. Remember that "team" I was talking about? Having open and direct dialogue between mom, fitness trainer/coach, and health care provider is paramount. 

Let me share a couple of poignant examples of the information gap. From my military spouse or active duty clients, I often hear, "don't let mommy's heart rate exceed 140bpm" or "don't lift anything over 40 pounds". I won't go into the details regarding the source that perpetuates these rules. First of all, the 140 bpm HR recommendation is made more for uterine temperature*. Assuming a well ventilated and cooled space, and mom's level of comfort, this recommendation is moot. Research on uterine temperature was performed only on animals. The studies also didn't take into account moms' increased blood volume during pregnancy, a factor resulting in faster temperature dissipation. Plus, have you ever walked up a single flight of stairs while pregnant? Your heart rate skyrockets thanks to the added physical toll of growing that wee babe.

The second suggestion of limiting absolute weight really gets to me. 40 pounds...hmmm. It doesn't take a set of credentials to figure out that goblet squatting 40 pounds is totally different than pressing 40 pounds, or curling 40 pounds for that matter. Not to mention that this number does not take into account the level of fitness that mom was in prior to pregnancy, nor the method of executing a lift (pulley system, straight bar, dumbbells, body weight, bands, etc). A more appropriate general weight-lifting recommendation, as described by NSCA, is to reduce the weight lifted to 70% of 1 Repetition Maximum (1RM) or less. Number of repetitions can then be adjusted to meet the desired intensity.

With 5 weeks remaining before my own little guy arrives, there are movements I should not be performing and weights that I should not be moving. I can safely say this because I am now highly lordotic (excessively curved lumbar/lower back). My ability to brace is out the window. For practical recommendations, this means that overhead movements are out of the picture, too. NSCA recommends no overhead movement after the first trimester. Movements that require extreme hip flexion** (i.e.: squats, deadlifts) may need to be eliminated, too. NSCA sets a threshold of the first trimester for these exercises, too, but I consider there may be some wiggle room in both situations. This critique goes back to my comment regarding listening to your body, understanding your limitations, and having a competent level of fitness prior to pregnancy. Does mom know what bracing her core and maintaining good posture feels like? Can she feel a difference in these areas as her pregnancy progresses?  

I may be overreaching here, but I sincerely believe having a solid understanding of what bracing the core feels like as well as what straining feels like qualifies mom to make to make the call on whether or not it is smart for her to perform certain actions. This is tricky territory because it is totally subjective, and many factors are at play when qualifying the ability to brace. Having a qualified professional or training partner can be helpful in determining when mom has hit her threshold with certain movements, weights or repetitions. 

If mom couldn't safely deadlift prior to pregnancy, chances are she won't be able to (and shouldn't) when she is in her fourth month. The same goes for push-presses, etc. Katie F., you are the outlier ;-). As the ACSM comment suggests, a healthy woman may certainly begin an exercise program during pregnancy, but only after cautious assessment and understanding that she should begin at a very basic level. The goal should be to acquire or maintain a reasonable level of fitness, not to reach peak fitness.

For example, I have been a runner for over 20 years, but plantar fasciitis has rendered my running shoes inoperable for over a year. Right around my 5th month, my feet started to feel much better. Professional experience and common sense told me that halfway through pregnancy is not the time to re-introduce high-impact activity. The same thing happened with my kettlebell practice. Prior to pregnancy, I had been religious about it. But a drawn-out move and stored equipment left me kettlebell-less until month 6. Not the time to start swinging again. With that much time off and the numerous changes to my body, I was basically a beginner.

But being fit and knowing your limitations can only help you so much. Relaxin is also at play. This hormone is responsible for increasing joint laxity. It softens and spreads all the parts necessary to ease the birthing process. It is also the reason moms run into door frames, knock over water glasses, and trip over imaginary cracks in the sidewalk. All that klutziness comes from wonky proprioception. Proprioceptors in your muscles, joints, and tendons tell your brain where your body is in space. The effects of relaxin, as well as your growing belly and bosom, make it difficult for proprioceptors to do their job. FYI, rapidly growing teens experience their own klutziness due to proprioceptors that just can't keep up. 

Yes, being familiar with your body, how it prepares for movement and movement itself is terribly important. But as is the case with relaxin, we see that body chemistry plays a big role in choosing the exercises mom should be practicing. All of this is considering a healthy mom with no chronic medical conditions. That being said, there are some definite contraindications. If mom has any of the aforementioned contraindicated conditions, please consult with her physician regarding a specific plan or limitations for exercise. 

No matter what mode of exercise mom chooses, experience with pregnant clients has told me that constant assessment and communication with mom is paramount. If mom is working out without a fitness professional, self-assessment is just as important. I suggest that mom ask herself the following questions every other week through the first trimester, and weekly after that.

  • Do I feel energized or exhausted after a workout?
  • At any point do I feel lightheaded or dizzy?
  • Is the current recovery time between sets (weights or cardio intervals, for example) sufficient? Am I fully recovered before I begin the next set?
  • Am I performing an adequate warm up and cool down?
  • Is the current duration of my sessions affecting my energy level throughout the day? Should I shave a few minutes off?
  • Am I concerned with maintaining a reasonable level of fitness, or am I looking for optimal fitness? The response to this question should always be "reasonable and realistic".
  •  Do I feel the effects of joint laxity? Especially in the lower back, abdomen, or pelvic region? If feeling it in the lower back, you may have to switch to more supportive equipment such as a recumbent bike or traditional weight machines. If the pelvic floor feels compromised, the depth of your lower-body work may have to be modified or eliminated all together.
  • Can I safely continue to perform planks, bird dogs, and side bridges? If no, would reducing the duration help?
  • Are there particular movements that cause or increase pelvic girdle pain? Specifically the sacroiliac joints (lower back, right and/or left) or pubis symphysis (crotch bone)?

With some clear, honest answers, mom or her coach can help make any necessary changes to her routine to minimize risk as the pregnancy progresses.

So, yes, I did some baiting with the title of this blog post. We all know that exercise is great, and is highly encouraged throughout pregnancy. Moms who exercise have a smoother labor and recover more quickly from childbirth. But quantifying the level of risk comes down to the care provider's medical assessment as well as the fit pro's confidence with mom's level of fitness. Constant reassessment of mom's risk is paramount, as is remembering the goal of exercise while pregnancy is not to optimize fitness but to achieve and maintain a reasonable level of fitness. Enjoy your journey!


For specific activity recommendations, press on to Part 3 of our Fitness and Pregnancy series.

*It should be noted that these recommendations are made assuming no other factors such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular issues, etc.

**Extreme hip flexion may compromise blood flow to the fetus, and should be avoided. At last check, leg presses are to be avoided past the first trimester, and squats and deadlifts should be avoided if form is compromised by mom's belly. In any case, remove ANY movement that causes dizziness or lightheadedness. Moving to a lighter weight may not be the answer.

NATURAL-ly Deceiving Food Labels

Amy Ward

What do you really understand about the catchy food labels that scream "I'm healthy!" 

I grew up with "natural" peanut butter as a staple in my family's kitchen; mostly Adam's and Smucker's. As I grew up and moved out, this didn't change. EF Blog readers know that my husband and I like to exercise moderation in our eating and drinking habits, but Jif and Skippy have always been 4-letter words in our house. Needless to say, I was surprised to see that my husband recently purchased a jar of Natural Jif. When I asked him about his purchase, he said that our new grocery store didn't carry any Smucker's (standard fare at most grocery franchises). No big deal. One jar in a lifetime of peanut butter will not be the death of us.

Before I continue, I should say I am confident that what you are about to read is nothing new, crazy, or earth-shattering. After all, the peanut butter thing has been beat into the ground by most health nuts (pardon the pun). But that doesn't change the importance of the issue. Let's be reminded to think about the seemingly insignificant factors that drive our food purchases. At the very least we should think about them every once in awhile.

I last read the Natural Jif product label years ago, when it first entered the market. Considering I now had this product in my pantry, I decided to take another look. Let's start with the front of the jar. After all, an attractive label does most of the selling.

As with most products attempting to convey a "healthy feel", Jif switched it's color palette to something more earth-toned. Rather than a bold primary color for the label's background (can we say kindergarteners?), they reduced the red, blue, green footprint and went with a neutral tan print meant to imitate the look of burlap. I mean, you can't get much more granola than burlap!

The brand logo is topped by the word "natural" in capital letters. The font looks as though an artisan in the backwoods of Tennessee carved it years ago.  Ooooh - this peanut butter must be handcrafted, too! There's also an image of a few peanuts; in the shell, shelled, and with a few colorful green leaves. This image is surrounded by something resembling a seal, reading, "Fresh roasted peanut taste." Are they actually fresh roasted, or do they just taste like it?

This last part is perhaps the most telling signal that what you're holding in your hand may not be an appropriate item for purchase. At the very bottom of the label, just beneath the logo, and in smaller, finer print, it reads, "Peanut Butter Spread; contains 90% peanuts". This isn't a nut butter, it's a spread. And if this spread contains 90% peanuts, what's the other 10%? Admittedly, even traditional natural nut butters may contain salt, which of course would drop the amount of peanuts below 100%. But 10% seems like a lot. The ingredients listed on the back read as follows: peanuts, sugar, palm oil, contains 2% or less of: salt, molasses. Remember that ingredients are listed in order of most prevalent to least (by weight).

Nut butter spreads such as Jif have a big selling point: No stirring! If you've ever purchased a true "natural" nut butter (just nuts or nuts + salt), you have likely labored with the annoying layers of oil and rock-hard butter that must be mixed thoroughly before you can really enjoy. And if you refrigerate the product as you should, making a simple snack can turn into a nightmare of squished bagels and torn toast. 

So how do companies make nut butters so spreadable? Remember that mystery 10%? In traditional nut butter spreads, hydrogenated oils are added as emulsifiers. An emulsifier is a "binder" of sort that, in this case, discourages the separation of ground peanuts and their naturally occurring peanut oil. Hydrogenated oils are manufactured by taking a healthy-ish oil, heating said oil to a very hot temperature, and introducing a catalyst. The resultant product is no longer liquid at room temperature and solid when cooled, but semi-solid at all times. So what do they add to the Natural Jif? Palm oil. Because of its high saturated fat content (comparable to butter), palm oil is one of the few oils that can be found in a semi-solid state at room temperature. So, to translate, you are adding more fat (oil) to your fat (nuts) to make it spreadable.

Sugar is added to make the spread taste more appealing, not to mention increase your appetite for the product. But to be honest, I'm not quite sure why molasses is added on top of the sugar. I can only assume that it is added for color and perhaps the  high viscosity contributes to the easy of spreadability and a minor amount of emulsification. 

All this natural talk really got me thinking about what controls, if any, are in place with the term "natural". Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating another FDA guideline. I feel like an organization that regulates everything from ophthalmic devices to ionizing radiation emitting equipment to lipstick to dog food has already bitten off more than it can chew. But I would put money down that with all of the other regulated information on food packaging, most Americans would assume that "natural" meant something, too. Here's what the FDA has this to say regarding use of the term "natural":

From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.

In short, if it's not artificial, it's therefore natural...?... And what about the term "natural flavor"? My extended search on revealed a real page-turner: Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 21, Volume 2, Subpart B

The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional. Natural flavors include the natural essence or extractives obtained from plants listed in 182.10, 182.20, 182.40, and 182.50 and part 184 of this chapter, and the substances listed in 172.510 of this chapter.

Nothing like a legal document to really get the juices flowing, right? This definition reminds me of the Mr. Sketch commercial where the blueberry breaks wind and the fragrance is sucked into a marker. Despite the FDA's wordy explanation, it makes sense. If "A" was once a part of "B", "A" is a natural flavor. What I am not so excited about is when "A" is extracted from some animal gland or organ. How do we know the source of a natural flavor when the label simply says "natural flavor"? I guess it's a little different when you're extracting oil from a simple organism like an herb as opposed to extracting protein from any one of hundreds of parts from, say, a woodland creature.

Always question those ingredients, but don't drive yourself nuts. 

As I mentioned before, I'm sure today's post didn't shine any new light on the "natural" subject or all the hoops companies go through to make their products more appealing. But I do hope that it reminds you to be a bit more skeptical about nutritional and product labeling. And you can rest assured your knowledge will help steer you in the right direction next time you're at the grocery store. Shop smart!

Fitness and Pregnancy, Part 1: Body Image & the Devil on Your Shoulder

Amy Ward

When it comes to body-image, I have never been particularly self-conscious. Sure, as I have gotten older, I chose not to run shirtless, and the itty bitty bikini bottoms became just "bottoms". To quote Marc Shepard, a great biathlon coach and competitor, my confidence has always stemmed more from the fact that my body has been "shaped by the activities that I love" as opposed to choosing particular activities in order to shape my body. I was proud of how I looked because I was proud of what my body could do. 

Then I got pregnant.

I have had the pleasure of befriending many fantastic, fit moms. Runners, triathletes, figure competitors, and crazy-strong lifters. From our time together and my professional education, I knew a bit of what to expect: I would feel chubby, slow, and tired. I would need to give myself more recovery time between sets and workouts, and at one point or another, some movements and body positions would be off the table. But experiencing these "minor" changes is a little different. I certainly felt my body changing; oddly enough, almost immediately. But I wasn't prepared for the mental changes. Enter: devil on my shoulder. 

At about 8 weeks, "D" as I will refer to him, made me look at slender women differently. It didn't matter if it was a lingerie commercial or a spritely 20-something at the gym. Immediately I was jealous of her trim physique and I felt the proverbial waistband tighten against my growing belly (and backside). Don't get me wrong - I know these thoughts are wacko. Two months prior, I would have thought about the lingerie model starving herself and the 20-something needing major help with her form. But the D is a dangerous thing!

D convinced me that sleeping past 8am was no big deal, that lounging around all day was a-ok, and that having 2 plates of french fries for dinner was not a problem (it only happened once). That I could take more time and care with my pre-workout foam rolling than the actual workout itself. 

Then the self-image devil on my shoulder would return and all I could think about was my growing body - if I feel this fat now, how am I going to feel in a few weeks? at 35 weeks? Why do I keep eating this crap? It's not helping anything. Well, I might as well sleep another 11 hours. Is it too early for your hips to start widening? Or is that just the brick of cream cheese I plowed through in 2 days? 

Luckily, my appetite for healthier foods slowly returned, as did the energy for some respectable workouts. I hopped on my road bike and did some exploring and had no problem with chilling on 2h of rolling hills. I got back in the pool, started daydreaming about new spinning playlists, and decided that it was still too early to give up on some of the lifts that I was unsure about continuing during pregnancy. It was exhilarating.

Surprisingly, with a few good lifts, rides, and swims (even while wearing a suit with unforgiving neon chevrons), made all the difference in the world. Sure, I am swimming slower, lifting less, and my core shakes like a newbie during planks, but I am back to doing the things I enjoy.  And it gives me hope that maybe I'm not done quite yet with my athletic accomplishments. I just need to temper those benchmarks with a dose of pregnancy reality. And my shoulder feels a bit lighter because of it. 


Amy knew that when the time came, she wanted to be a healthy and fit mom-to-be, with plenty of energy and a positive glow. Along with other moms' contributions, she writes about the reality of it all in her multi-part blog series: Fitness and Pregnancy. Read up as she shares the joys and frustrations of staying fit during pregnancy.


Do you have a topic that you'd like to see covered in the Fitness & Pregnancy series? Do you have a story of your own that you'd like to share? We would love to hear it! We might even post it in the EFBlog!


Drive-thru Workouts

Amy Ward

As a Spinning® instructor with over a decade of experience, I can recognize just about every type of student. There's the off-season outdoor cyclist, the Spinning® addict, the cardio junkie, the lifter trying to lean out, and the older adult who likes the low-impact nature of the class, just to name a few. There's also the student that is new to you, but a regular in another instructor's class. It's from this last group that I have most often received the unsolicited comment, "Your class is more like riding outside." 

Initially, I was offended by this comment. Not because I didn't want to emulate an outdoor ride; quite the contrary. It bothered me because it seemed like the comment was somewhat backhanded. 

It is safe to say that even within the Spinning® community, many instructors have a different style. Some are more vocal than others, some use more visualization, and some like to stick to one genre of music. And some have lapsed from the fundamentals...insisting on using hand weights, extremes of high and no resistance, and excessive movement on the bikes.

If a student's only experience on an indoor bike relies on an instructor who rides without a profile, transitioning to a more organized format will understandably be different. And if they find benefit in a style of class that includes quick jumps while performing bicep curls with a 2 pound hand weight, I am likely not the instructor for them.

I feel like this format of class has spawned from the overstimulated public's desire to cram more "work" into less time. I say "work" because when you perform two actions simultaneously, both movements will inevitably produce not only less output, but less quality work. We all know that doing 30 bicep curls with a weight comparable to your toothbrush isn't going to do a darn thing**. But you're moving more muscles, trying to balance, and the instructor is getting you fired up. That must  be good, right? I mean, seriously. When was the last time you saw a cyclist out on the road, attacking a hill while concurrently shoulder pressing? 

Do I think that the folks who labeled my style as more "outdoor" meant it as a little jab? Probably not. But it saddens me to think that participants have such a short attention span these days that they have to overload their senses in an attempt to "get a good workout".

I recently read a quote from ultra marathoner Eric Orton. "Athleticism is awareness." For many gym-goers today, the days of intention, focus, purpose, and coachability are long gone. Today's exercisers toss awareness aside, choosing to embrace the fast-food approach to fitness. They drive up, order something that catches their eye, and simultaneously stuff their face, apply makeup, and discipline little Johnny. 30 seconds later, they are hungry for something new. Mindfulness not only applies to eating, but movement, as well.

To truly tune into each action, in all of its simplicity, is a challenge that even lifelong athletes face. I once heard a co-worker describe getting into the zone as "losing yourself". On the contrary, one should be fully invested and mindful of numerous little things: posture, balance, cadence, resistance/load, breathing rhythm, heart rate/intensity, as well as the cues coming from the instructor.

A good instructor use cues and examples to help guide the ride and encourage participants to master particular skills (see above). If you are unsure of a ride's purpose, feel free to ask your instructor to talk about that day's goal. 

Before I lose those of you who think that this article is only for the "pros", the superfit, the athletes, the folks who live to train - WAIT! Is it wrong to let loose and have fun while squeezing in a workout? No way, Jose (insert your name here). Do I think that you should be dancing on the bike while your instructor twerks around the studio? Sorry, Charlie. I have to draw the line somewhere. I simply want to dispel the idea that focus = boring. 

Our daily lives are inundated with screens, music, alerts, and action. Peeling away these unnecessary layers of distraction during a workout helps us get back to the power of simplicity. Setting and achieving small goals during a ride, such as finding a breathing rhythm that allows you to maintain a particular heart rate, demonstrates the satisfaction in having control. YOU have the power...not your boss, your kids, or your electronics. And let's face it. Successes, no matter how small, feel great. And feeling great is definitely fun!


**It is this professional's opinion that extremely light weights certainly have a place, such as with rehab or deconditioned clients.

 For the general public, the rewards of light weights are minimal, at best. Using hand weights while Spinning® increases your risk of injury.