Barre-Hopping

If your loved one went to the bar three days a week, would you hold an intervention? What if she only went in skin-tight clothes? What if she bar-hopped before work? What if she rolled out afterwards with a crippling case of the sweats, the shakes, and an always-broken vow to never return?

It’s time I come clean, everyone: I’ve developed a bar problem. Oh shoot, I think I misspelled that. I mean a *barre* problem. As in I’ve been taking so many barre classes recently, it’s bananas — especially for this runner whose usual idea of flexibility is ordering a California red when there’s nothing French on the wine list.

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Or Swiss!

Now I’ve dabbled in barre before, including about a dozen sessions in the weeks leading up to Ben & my wedding day. (The right to bear Michelle Obama arms will never go out of style.) But never before have I taken so many classes in the span of a single week. (Spoiler alert: I’ve been getting some REALLY good deals. Come on, now: you know I’d never pay full price for a workout.)

For those of you new to the concept, the ballet-inspired fitness class involves high reps of small range-of-motion movements, like squat pulses while in relevé or slow, controlled bird-dog planks, plus some light weight work and stretching. For someone as stiff as me, the graceful-appearing workout can be downright brutal, but I know it’s a great counterbalance to all the hours I usually spend in forward motion.

After visiting three different studios in nearly as many days this week, it’s become clear that not all barre classes are the same. Physique 57, for example, is hell on earth in my opinion, while others are more tolerable, or even — dare I say — semi enjoyable. Here’s a rundown of the three distinct classes I took this week, with my own subjective opinion of each:

  • Workout: Barre3
  • Location: Long Island City pop-up class at the Foundry
  • Cost: Free!
  • Signature phrase: “Move small, then move big.”
  • Review: Barre3 usually takes place in a studio, I’ve been told, but since the Queens location is still under construction, they’ve been holding pop-up classes at different locations around the neighborhood, from apartment buildings to hotel conference rooms. This class was in a restored factory turned wedding venue, and HOLY HELL it was gorgeous. I understand a normal Barre3 class uses props like balls and bars, but since this is a pop-up, we just use our mats and bodyweight, which I prefer since it means you can choose the challenge level. This class incorporated more cardio than other barre classes I’ve taken, meaning I left feeling extra sweaty — a sign of a worthwhile workout in my book.
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  • Workout: Pop Physique
  • Location: Pop Chateau, the new Upper East Side location
  • Cost: $13.50 a class as part of a 10-pack Gilt promotion
  • Signature phrase: “Curl in. Curl hold. Curl squeeze. Curl stay.”
  • Review: I love the vibe of this studio — it’s cool but not pretentious, friendly but not cloying, cool but not unwelcoming. Pop’s signature workout flows through several stages — mat work, arm work, glute work, quad work, etc. — and the moves change so frequently that the class flies by. This class involves a little more stretching, which is probably good for this stiff runner’s body. I’d worried a 7 a.m. class would be a jarring wake-up call, but instead I left feeling limber and energized, and not too sweaty to go straight to work with just a wet-wipe shower.
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  • Workout: Hottilattes Barre
  • Location: M Dance & Fitness on 8th Ave.
  • Cost: Free, for me at least, since this was a bridal shower activity gifted by the mother of the bride (thanks, Mama Ngai!)
  • Signature phrase: I was too busy listening to the excellent early 2000s playlist to remember anything specific. 
  • Review: This private barre class to celebrate a friend’s upcoming wedding was fun for its own reason — a room full of friendly faces and no one taking it too seriously. We used resistance bands, which are new to my barre routine, and they definitely toned my arms more than I’m used to. At the same time, working in a dance practice room without a physical bar meant we did WAY more floor exercises, aka significantly more core work than I prefer. I can only hold a V-shape for so long (i.e. 6 seconds), and ooh my abs are feeling it tonight.
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Of course, these three are just a drop in the bucket of possible barre classes in the city. Some of my friends are Fly Barre advocates and others Bar Method fans, with my best girl Sarah practically a Pure Barre spokeswoman. 🙂 I’m down to try any of them with you, as long as they offer the first class free, of course.

Or if barre isn’t your thing but you still want to hang, I’m always down for the three-letter bar instead. Cheers.

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All Downhill From Here

I exhibit a lot of quintessentially millennial traits:

  • I remember life before the internet, cell phones and area codes
  • I don’t have cable but my phone’s never out of reach
  • I’ll add avocado to anything, can use a library card catalog and have very strong feelings about Topanga’s decision to enroll at Pennbrook University over Yale

But it’s not my love for the Scholastic Book Fair or my collection of photo albums that I think most identify me as Generation Y. It’s the fact that I really, really dislike doing things I’m bad at.

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(I also dislike having to choose between petting my dog-bear and holding my wine.)

I know, I know, it’s important to try new things and push your limits. But I’ve never much liked flailing or failing, and apparently I’m not alone among my cohort: studies show the generation raised on praise really doesn’t like to crash and burn.

So to avoid the anxiety of trying new things we might be bad at, we tend to do the same safe things over and over, from taking the same gym classes to cooking the same meals. Of course, many of my peers are better at risk-taking than me, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who gave up yoga for four years after a first terrifying class where I felt like a failure because I couldn’t pull off a shoulder stand.

(Other things I’ve only done once due to a single defeat: making homemade mayonnaise, taking a Physique 57 class, biking to work.)

So it’s no wonder that after busting my chin open on a high school ski trip, I waited FIFTEEN more years before approaching the bunny slopes again. And you know what? I’ve been seriously missing out.

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Ski bums.

I’m certainly no Lindsey Vonn — heck I’m no Elizabeth Swaney either! — but I spent five hours at Hunter Mountain this weekend and didn’t fall even ONCE. I was so scared to strap on skis again after failing in 2003 that I hadn’t realized all these years of running had improved my leg strength and coordination and balance, making me a better alpine athlete. I mostly stayed in the training area, but those few runs I did down an actual hillside were downright exhilarating. To think I might never have felt that had my fear of failure kept me sidelined.

Now I don’t expect skiing will work its way into my workout regime with any frequency — it’s expensive and time consuming and not that great of an aerobic workout since gravity does most of the work — but it’s still a great cross-training exercise for runners stuck in a rut.

“Runners as a group tend to be much too one-dimensional,” says John Lumley, a skier, runner and owner of the Running Hub in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “Any time a runner can work on strength, flexibility, balance, and/or use different muscle groups, it’s a good thing.”

And any time she can leave her comfort zone, that’s a good thing, too.

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Facing my fears from the safety of a helmet.

How are you pushing yourself today?

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Hair of the Dog

Super Bowl Sunday is one of the biggest beer-drinking nights of the year, and whether you threw back too many because your team won or because your team lost or because watching Steven Tyler reverse-age Benjamin Button-style while racing a Kia Stinger made you painfully aware of your own fleeting mortality, you may be feeling the effects today.

Now I personally didn’t drink too much last night — I was sipping on an appropriate-sized glass of heart-healthy red wine a la Gisele — but there’ve been plenty of previous mornings when I didn’t escape an alcohol-fueled night unscathed.

Unless you’re a teetotaler or some kind of B-vitamin-filled superhero, you know the feeling: headache, chills, rumbly tummy and an uncontrollable urge to order a bacon-egg-and-cheese delivery straight to your bedroom. That’s right, folks: Today we’re talking about hangovers.

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My hangover spirit animal.

It’s pretty well understood what causes a hangover (dehydration, not eating the night before, loss of electrolytes, a poor night’s sleep), but there seems to be little consensus on what cures them.

Sure, most doctors (which — let the record show — I am not) agree chugging a lot of water and keeping down some food is a good start. But supplemental remedies are a dime a dozen: prairie oysters, pickle brine or maybe a little hair of the dog. And who knows which actually work?

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I got your hair of the dog right here, pal.

Now I’m no doctor (yes, I know we already established that but my lawyers were adamant I repeat it), but the thing I find helps more than any of those is something a bit more controversial: a workout. I realize working up a sweat may sound like the worst possible cure when all you want to do is lie in bed and rewatch The Truman Show, but I swear to you: 8 out of 10 times, I feel modestly better after a night of boozing if I make it to the gym the next morning (fine, or afternoon.)

The crunchy granola websites will say that’s because working out makes you “sweat out toxins,” which sounds kiiind of unscientific to me, like drinking bulletproof coffee or eating celery. But exercising does have some proven benefits that could potentially relieve the pain of the morning after. Here are a few to keep in mind:

Exercise makes you thirsty. Your hungover body needs to hydrate, and 30 minutes on the elliptical certainly makes me want to drink. Be careful not to get more dehydrated while you move, but if you’re throwing back a giant water bottle or two during your routine, I bet you’ll get more water in your system than you would have laying on the couch watching Paul Hollywood shatter bakers’ dreams.

Exercise distracts you from your other ailments. If you’re sitting in bed moaning about your symptoms, your headache will be looming large on your mind. But go to a barre class semi-hungover instead, like I did last Sunday, and you’ll soon forget about your aching temples when your glutes start quivering instead. Don’t try something dangerous like rock climbing when you’re feeling rocky, but 100 squats and lunges sure kept my mind off my other problems.

Exercise releases endorphins. Hangover systems aren’t all physical, and some mornings I wake up with what my husband calls the metaphysical hangover. As British writer Kingsley Amis so poignantly put it:

“When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover. … You have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is.”

And while he’s surely right, it never hurts to release some extra good-mood hormones to help drive that fact home. Work up a sweat and you’ll help relieve even the most self-deprecating of symptoms. It’s science.

Of course, some hangovers are crueler than others, so you be the judge of just how far you can push it when fighting the brown-bottle flu. Hang in there folks and remember: you have a full month+ of recovery before St. Patrick’s Day.

How do YOU survive a hangover?

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On the Road Again

Eating healthy is easy, some smug soul will tell you without reading out loud the fine print.

Eating healthy is easy — when you’re at your own house, have no temptations in the fridge, have no plans to see friends and have all the time in the world to whip up a nutrient-packed home-cooked meal.

But when you aren’t in control of your own schedule, your access to food or even your meal times, eating well becomes exponentially more challenging. It’s hard when you’re staying overnight with family. It’s hard when you’re working late. It’s hard when you’re snowed in.

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I need a hot cocoa and I need it stat.

And it’s extra hard when you’re traveling for work, staying at a conference hotel, working 16 hour days and subsiding on vending machines, coffee carts, freebies and (ugh) press food.

That’s right, folks: I’ve just returned from an industry conference and oooh I have the too-tight work pants to prove it!

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(also all these pictures of cars)

But even though my week in Detroit wasn’t exactly the pinnacle of health, I did find some small ways to undo the damage living out of a suitcase was doing my waist line. These are manageable tips you, too, may want to adopt before your next business trip. (But not your next vacation. Live a little!)

#1. Check out the whole buffet before filling your plate.
Work conferences are famous for their abundant but bland lunch offerings, in which attendees keep going back for more and more because nothing’s satisfying. To make better choices, instead of going straight down the line like the sucker in front of you, scan the heating trays first to decide what two or three items would go well together. Then fill your plate with the salad at the start, add some roasted chicken or grilled steak from the hot food bar, throw on some veggies, and you end up having a pretty decent lunch. And skip the conference room brownies — they’re never good.

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Unless you’re eating at Slow’s BBQ, in which case the “salad” was ribs.

#2. Stock up on produce wherever you can find it.
If you were smart and prepared, you may have packed some dried fruit or carrot sticks in your carry-on — but I wasn’t. And after spending the first 24 hours in Detroit without so much as seeing a vegetable, I knew I had to get serious. So for the rest of the trip, every time I was offered something green, I took it. Banana at breakfast? Check. Side salad at lunch? Check. Individually wrapped apple at checkout? Check. It wasn’t the super-food kale I was craving after several days of sugar rushes, but you take what you can get when you can’t shop for yourself.

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Cause that’s a normal way to serve apples.

#3. Squeeze in a workout however you can.
On long work days, it’s a constant struggle — sleep an extra 45 minutes or work up a sweat in the hotel gym? I did manage to make it to the elliptical once or twice, but the rest of the time, I had to get creative. I did squats in the hotel room while I checked my email. I took the stairs at least a handful of times. I skipped the airport shuttle and hightailed it gate to gate. Pro-tip: if you pack your oldest running shoes that were already slated for retirement, you can leave them behind in the hotel room and make more room for the swag you’re inevitably bringing home.

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Goodbye, beautiful NYC 2015 Marathon shoes.

Don’t get me wrong — for as tough as work travel is, it’s fun to get out of the office for a few days.

But it’s even more fun to come back home again.

Especially when this face is waiting for you. ❤

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Welcome home, I suppose.

How do you keep healthy-ish on the road?

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20/18 Vision

Alright folks, it’s time to talk about New Year’s Resolutions!

But wait — you may be asking yourself — isn’t it a little late to be setting 2018 goals? I mean, the presents have been opened, the tree’s been untrimmed and the bearded man in red came and went.

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(and he brought belly rubs for all bears on the nice list.)

True statements, all of them, but formally setting my intentions for the new year after January’s already in full swing brings one key benefit: I already know after two weeks of testing if they’ve stuck.

That’s right: I actually set my resolutions on Jan. 1 like the rest of the world, somewhere between waking up semi-hungover and binge-watching the entire season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — which, let’s be honest, everyone should stream this three day weekend. (Except people working MLK Day at the inconveniently timed Detroit auto show, but I digress.)

People set absurdly unattainable goals all the time and then are disappointed when they don’t work out, so I opted instead to give mine a trial run during January’s first half before sharing them with the world. And since these survived all the way to Epiphany and then some, I now have more faith in my ability to keep them.

So what am I doing in 2018? Nothing as dramatic as my past resolution successes, like losing 30 pounds or running my first marathon or starting this blog. Instead, I’m targeting incremental tweaks that I’m hoping can have an outsized impact with fairly little legwork.

1. Strength training just enough not to get injured. I’ve set muscle-building resolutions before, and they’re hard to stick with 1. without a personal trainer to hold me accountable and 2. because strength training stinks. So this year, I’m trying something lower key — I resolve to do one set of each one of these Bart Yasso-recommended runner-strengthening moves every week. I’ve subbed out a few of them for more me-appropriate exercises (i.e. swapping in hip-strengthening clamshells for totally-impossible pull ups), but so far, so good. By squeezing in squats in empty elevators and doing bridges during Jeopardy, I’m finding little ways to fit in the moves that should make me a more well-rounded runner.

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From Runner’s World magazine aka the bible.

2. Eating cleaner, sometimes. Full disclosure: I just ate three slices of pizza dipped in Hidden Valley ranch for lunch, so I think we can all agree moderation has its limits. But for the most part, I’m trying to double down on last year’s good habits with even more smart choices this year, from more fruits and vegetables to less processed meat and white grains. I’m not planning on cutting out anything completely, like alcohol or chocolate, but hopefully by targeting more healthy choices, I’ll be able to keep my weight in check and my running well-fueled in the new year.

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Taste the rainbow.

3. Brushing my teeth for the entire two-minute electric toothbrush cycle even though it’s so long and boring I could die. This resolution is reminiscent of my 2011 goal to start flossing (and also to run a marathon.) This resolution is the hardest one on my list by far, and I’ve already thrown in the towel several times mid-clean. To try to get through the full cycle, I resolve to do more tree-poses and calf raises and other things from resolution #1 while trudging through resolution #3.

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“My teeths is so cleanz and you’s can, too!”

There are several other things I want to do this year — visit my brother in Hawaii, throw an epic bachelorette weekend in LA, maaaaaybe revisit the marathon distance — but I think three goals is plenty sufficient. Well, maybe just one more:

4. Get an excellent haircut.

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And here you thought Keira had been replaced as RiledUpRunner ambassador!

What are you resolving for the new(ish) year?

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Excuse Me: I’m Streaking Here

I’ve googled A WHOLE LOT of things this year, from presidential lines of succession to alpha-dog behaviors to whether a human and bear can ever truly be friends (spoiler alert: they can’t.)

But the thing I’ve surely asked the internet most often this year is a telling sign of my often-wavering commitment to fitness: “Should I go for a run today?”

If you saw my internet browsing history, you’d think I’m always looking for an excuse to get out of my morning workout. (You’d also think I have an unhealthy level of curiosity about Bernedoodles, and you’d be right.)

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This is the world’s most adorable equation.

Seriously though. When I wake up with a sore throat, I immediately consult the internet for validation it’s OK to stay in bed. When the temperature falls below 15 degrees, I always ask Jeeves if it’s safer to just take the morning off. When I feel the beginning of shin splints, I confirm online it’s cool to lay low for as many days as needed. I’m always asking if I should go for a run today, and I can usually find a credible excuse to bag it.

That is, until I started my holiday running streak. (Read more about that here.) By committing to run every single day between Thanksgiving and Christmas — no excuses — I suddenly transformed my constant refrain from the wavering “Should I go for a run today?” to a new, happier mantra: “When should I go for a run today?

Amazing how just a single word can transform a sentence.

[Kind of like: “My childhood bedroom featured an original Michelangelo” is just a tad different than “My childhood bedroom featured an original Michelangelo … turtle.” No less valuable though, I assure you. But I digress.]

Changing my mindset from “will I run” to “when will I run” these last few weeks has been an eye opener. When I know skipping isn’t on the table, working out suddenly feels more like a gift and less like a chore. It also means I’ve had to get creative: logging treadmill miles when it’s freezing or doing hill sprints in the light of my husband’s headlights at night or jogging in place in the living room during a snow storm while watching the hands-down very-best episode of Boy Meets World ever.

More of my runs during this streak have been 1-milers instead of the 3-5 milers I’d been hoping for, but I haven’t thrown in the towel — even with shin splits, holiday hangovers and a Bernese who’d rather snuggle than go for a jog.

Funny how finding time to run isn’t so hard when not finding it isn’t an option. Funny, too, how our dog thinks she weighs 12 pounds.

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I’m a lap dog, seriously.

Here’s to my final streak week! Who’s also still going strong?

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Streaking in a Winter Wonderland

As the excruciatingly painful Frozen “short” being forced upon innocent movie-goers before Pixar’s lovely feature film Coco tells us, it’s the time of year for traditions.

Whether your family’s traditions involve eating fruitcake or baking cookies or pounding tallboys at the Hanson brothers’ Christmas concert, this season unfortunately goes hand-in-hand with another holiday tradition I just can’t shake: holiday weight gain.

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(Also, loving Taylor Hanson. I’ll wait for you. Don’t tell Ben.)

The New York Times said it best in this poignant October 2016 article entitled “This Is Probably the Least You’ll Weigh All Year. Sorry.” The gist: U.S. adults’ weights tend to bottom out in in mid-autumn before peaking around New Years. It takes until April for most Americans to erase their extra holiday pounds.

“Instead of trying to come up with a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, it’s a whole lot better to maybe have an Oct. 1 resolution to gain less in the first place,” said one expert quoted in the story who clearly majored in obvious but difficult-to-pull-off observations in grad school.

I’ll be the first to admit it: keeping slim during the holidays is extremely difficult. From candy canes and spritz cookies to buttered rum and eggnog, the temptations are everywhere. Just look at the massively delicious pies served (and quickly polished off) at my Thanksgiving dinner of seven!

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My sister-in-law makes better dessert that your sister-in-law.

Some healthy eating blogs will tell you the only way to avoid December weight creep is to avoid holiday temptations altogether. “Don’t drink liquid calories at holiday parties,” they say. “Bring your own crudité plate to ensure there’s something healthy you can eat.” “Fill up on protein before walking by the dessert table.”

That’s probably good advice, and if you have the willpower to follow it, by all means, proceed. But if you’re like me and you actually WANT to indulge in some holiday treats without feeling guilty about it (and without needing maternity pants), might I propose another solution.

Instead of eating less this holiday season, why not just commit to exercising more? Weight = calories in – calories out, and while science shows it’s a little more complex than that, moving more to counteract eating more is a pretty good rule of thumb.

There are plenty of ways to pull it off. Maybe you park at the far end of the parking lot when Christmas shopping. Maybe you start a game up pick-up football with your fam. Maybe you go ice-skating, snow-shoeing, tobogganing or take your winter-loving friend for a cold-weather hike.

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Follow the leader.

Or if you’re a runner like me, maybe you commit to a holiday running streak. That’s what I’m doing this year — running every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas, no excuses. I’ve streaked before, and while it can be tough to lace up on dark winter mornings, knowing backing out isn’t an option is a strangely strong motivator.

Now everyone’s personal streaking rules are different, and in my case, even a mile-a-day cuts it — and I’ve already done the bare minimum a third of the days. But even then, I’m averaging almost 5K a day, which is enough exercise to counteract about 2.4 pounds a month of holiday weight gain.

Of course, it’s very likely I’ll put on more than that, but luckily the New York Times said I have ’til April to burn it off.

How are you keeping your pants fitting this holiday season?

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