Foam Roller: If it doesn’t kill you, you’ll love it.

I heart my foam roller.  I also hate it.  I attended a seminar once where the speaker demonstrated using one.  He made several comments along the lines of “You know you’re in the right spot when it makes you want to cry” and “ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch”.  Having been introduced to the foam roller a few months previous, I could empathize with his pain.

At this point you may be thinking, “What the heck is she talking about?”.  Voila:

foam roller

You can use a foam roller as a tool to help massage sore muscles and fascia.   It uses your own body weight and so, is very effective.  They come in various sizes and diameters.  The one I use is 3 feet long and about 6 inches in diameter.  A foam roller can provide relief for sore muscles and also aid in injury prevention by maintaining mobility and flexibility.

I discovered this little torture device when I had issues with my iliotibial band.  Before I learned about the roller, I tried the stick.  It left me with the same pain plus bruises (in the shape of the beads on the stick – neat!  Not!).  Next, I tried stretching.  I consulted with yoga instructors and tried more stretching.  Then, I tried heat.  I tried ice.  I finally visited my doctor and was sent for physiotherapy.  Physio tried heat.  Physio tried cold.  They also used ultrasound to try to break up the fascia.  The results were barely noticeable.  Then (insert dramatic pause here), I discovered The Foam Roller.  I read about it at a fabulous running forum:  I hunted one down and the rest is history.

You may recall from an earlier post that I had lost my motivation to get my butt off the couch.  In an attempt to get back on track, I plunged right into a new routine and as a result I can’t walk down stairs without looking like I’m broken.  My quads feel slightly shredded.  My butt keeps reminding me it exists with just about every motion.  Partly out of fear of whether or not I will be able to move tomorrow,  I pulled out Big Blue (my roller is blue) tonight and tried to get some kinks out.  Apparently I’m a little more messed up than I thought as nearly every square centimetre brought new levels of pain.

The great thing about using a foam roller is that you use it for as long as you can tolerate it, as many times as you want (or don’t want).  I managed to get to both IT bands, both quads and my butt and then cried “mama!” and called it quits.  Having said that, I must say that this self-induced pain is the best pain I’ve ever experienced.  Not because I like pain.  Afterwords, my muscles feel looser; my flexibility is restored.  Think of it like really deep tissue massage from a massage therapist.  It hurts but it feels good too!

How do you use it?

Place it on the ground.  Choose a body part.  Let’s go with your quads for simplicity’s sake.  Lie on your stomach, with the roller positioned just at the top of your legs.  You should be on your elbows.  Slowly pull yourself forwards with your elbows, causing the roller to move towards your feet.  When you feel a tight spot (ie. pain), hold it.  Hold it for as long as you can or until you feel the spot dissipate.  If you’ve ever had trigger point massage, it’s the same idea as releasing a trigger point.  If you want to increase the pressure, stack on leg on top of the other.  By decreasing the surface area on the roller, more pressure will be exerted on the leg that is in contact with the roller.  A picture is worth 1000 words and to that end, check out the links below for visual demonstrations and some more technical explanations about how they work.  Oh, where can you get one?  Check out or your local fitness store.  If you decide to get one, make sure it’s really firm.  I’ve used soft squishy rollers and they just don’t give you the pressure you need to get results.

Foam Roller Exercises
I don’t necessarily agree with everything the “fitness expert” in this video has to say but her demos are good.  Click here.


How to stop snacking after dinner? Brush Your Teeth.

If you are trying to lose some body fat and get a little healthier, one thing you might do is cut out after-dinner snacking, especially if it’s not healthy snacks that you’re eating.

Maybe you snack inadvertently.  You know, you’re making lunch for tomorrow (either your own or someone else’s) and before you know it, it goes like this “Piece of turkey on the bread, piece of turkey in my mouth, piece of turkey on the bread, piece of turkey in my mouth.  Sandwich complete!”  If you’re making enough lunches, you may end up consuming the equivalent of 2 dinners!

What to do?

Brush your teeth.  Seriously.

Look, inherently, human beings (all creatures?) will take the easy way if they can.  If you have just flossed and brushed and rinsed or whatever your routine is, chances are pretty good you’re not going to want to do it again in a few hours, so you won’t eat.   If that doesn’t work, the fact that you’ve just had toothpaste/mouthwash in your mouth probably will.  Those turkey scraps won’t taste the same.  Try brushing and then drinking a glass of orange juice if you’re not sure what I mean and really want to test out that theory.

What have you got to lose (other than those last 5 pounds)?

Give it a try. Tell me if it works for you or not.

Motivation, smotivation

Even personal trainers have a hard time getting back into routines when they’ve let them go.

I ran a few races this summer.  They were conveniently spaced out so that I never really could take a break from training, without seeing a direct result in my times.  Now that I’m not committed to any races, I’m having a hard time getting my arse out the door and making my feet move in a manner that resembles running.

This morning I gave myself the old “Today is another day!  A new chance to start fresh!” pep talk.  It didn’t work.  I put on my running clothes.  Still no motivation.  I tried reading about running (thanks RunnersWorld!).  That was enough to get me out the door.  And then it happened.  Rain.  Or more accurately, sparse spitting.  The pavement wasn’t even completely wet but it was all I needed to turn me around right back inside my cozy house.   Just one problem…I still had all that running gear on.  I wasn’t quite ready to call it quits.  Luckily, we own an eliptical machine.

I made myself a deal.  If I wasn’t going to run for 35 minutes, I was going to have to gut it out for 60 minutes on the eliptical.  My brain mulled that over for 30 seconds and decided it was a done deal.  I grabbed Transformers (2007), popped it into the dvd player and finally got some muscles moving.  I didn’t work as hard as I would have for the run (you can cheat at almost anything, except running) but at least I got moving again.  It made me realize that if I’m really having this much trouble with motivation, I could benefit from some cross training.  So here’s the plan: Run on Tues/Thurs and Sat, cross-train on Monday, Wednesday, Friday.  Next week, I hope to add strength training back into my routine.  Let’s see if we can turn motivation, smotivation back into a little bit of that You Go Girl! mojo.

Chocolate Milk as a Recovery Drink? Food for Thought.

Chocolate milk has been getting a lot of hype for being a very effective recovery drink after exercise.

Here’s an article about it (from a study conducted at Indiana U): Click here!

I think it’s worth noting 2 things:
1) the study that Karp conducted consisted of a sample group of 9 (yes, 9, not 100, not 1000 but 9…) elite cyclists.
I think that’s a pretty small population upon which to base a conclusion but the dairy board is jumping on this bandwagon and marketing chocolate milk like it’s the best thing since sliced bread;

2) the research was funded by the Dairy and Nutrition Council.

Then, couple #2 with this:
…Industry funding of nutrition-related scientific articles may bias conclusions in favor of sponsors’ products, with potentially significant implications for public health.  That is backed up here.

My point? I have several:
– I’m not against drinking chocolate milk as a recovery drink BUT…make sure you’ve earned it. You better be busting your hump like those cyclists for at least an hour at 80% of your max heart rate before you even think about chugging some of this. 30 mins of activity at 60% of your max heart rate earns you water, not chocolate milk.
– Always (did I say always?) look at the source of a study (who’s funding it? It’s funny how the conclusions favour their product…)
– Always look at the size of the sample population that was tested.  A massive anti-vaccination movement against the MMR vaccine occurred because a study conducted by Dr. Andrew Wakefield tested 12 kids in England (some of which already had pre-existing health conditions) and “found” that autism was caused by the MMR vaccine. 12 kids. Some with pre-existing health conditions. That is not a clean sample group upon which to make these type of conclusions, in my opinion.

If you’re in doubt about food related matters, find a dietitian ( and ask them, or check with a personal trainer to see what kind of information s/he may have on the subject.

Karp study info here.
Wakefield info here.

Book Review: The Gospel of Food

Gospel of FoodThe Gospel of Food: Everything You Think You Know About Food Is Wrong
By Barry Glassner

While I enjoyed parts of this book, I found the flow of the material to lack continuity. The transitions between chapters (sections within the chapters, even) were disjointed, almost as though the author turned off one switch and turned on another triggering unrelated thoughts. If you can get past the lack of organization, the substance is quite intriguing.

Glassner tackles many subjects ranging from healthy foods, organic food, genetically modified food to food as a source of enjoyment (not just nutrition), obesity and the role of human genetics in the current obesity epidemic. I particularly liked how Glassner dissected several studies. He clearly demonstrated how scientific findings can be influenced by funding bodies (no surprise there). He also presented a clear view of how the media contributes to the North American food culture.

Glassner presents reams of research (and keeps it interesting) and if nothing else, the book is worth picking up just to pore over the bibliography and use it as a springboard for further reading.

Fall: Harvest and Holidays

Raisin Challah

Raisin Challah

I really love this time of the year.  I enjoy fall fairs, apple picking and the leaves changing.  Fall is also the time of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and Thanksgiving, and in our house, that means lots of baking.  I’m not Jewish (I married into a family that is) and during this season, I joke often that I’m only in it for the food.

A Jewish holiday wouldn’t be the same without Challah (unless it’s Passover and that’s another blog entry).  The recipe that I use makes 2 loaves.  This  bread freezes nicely and often we keep both loaves.  Rosh Hashanah means I give a lot of bread away.  I can’t make enough bread for everyone who reads this but I can post the recipe here so you can enjoy this for yourself!

New Year’s Sweet Round Raisin Challah
excerpted from A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking by Marcy Goldman

2 tblsp dry yeast
1 3/4 cup warm water
1/3 cup plus a pinch of sugar
1/3 cup light honey
3 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
6 1/2 – 7 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups dark or yellow raisins, plumped [see below]

Egg Wash:
2 tblsp water
2 tsp sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)

A few notes before you begin:
I use 1 egg plus 1 tblsp of water for my egg wash. It works quite nicely and is less fussy than the original.
I have successfully frozen this dough before baking, removed it from the freezer, let it go through the 2nd rise and then baked it. I have also successfully frozen a baked loaf.
When measuring honey, it sticks to your measuring cup. To avoid this, pour the oil from the recipe into the 1/3 cup measure, then pour it into the 1/2 cup measure. Fill your 1/3 cup measure with honey and top off the 1/2 cup measure with oil. The thin layer of oil left behind in the 1/3 cup measure will prevent honey from sticking to the measuring cup.
I use a KitchenAid 5 quart stand mixer with a dough hook for this recipe.

[To plump your raisins, pour boiling water over them and let them sit for a few minutes. I do this first and drain them while the dough is resting.]
Stir together the yeast, water and a pinch of sugar.  Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel/dish cloth.
Allow the mixture to stand for 5 minutes.
Briskly stir in the remaining sugar, honey and salt.
Add oil, eggs, yolks and 5 cups of the flour.
Turn your mixer onto speed 2 or 3 and let it go until the dough starts to come together, approximately 5-10 minutes.
Knead by hand or with a dough hook for about 10 to 12 minutes, adding the remaining flour as required to make a soft and elastic dough. [ Add the flour very slowly to avoid having it splash back at you.]
The dough should leave the sides of the bowl. If it is sticky, add small amounts of flour until it is soft. You may have to divide the dough into 2 portions and work with them separately, if it is too bulky for your mixer.
Once the dough has been mixed and is silky smooth and soft, let the dough rest on a lightly floured board for 10 minutes or longer; you want that gluten to relax so you can easily add the raisins.
Flatten the bread gently and press in the raisins as evenly as possible throughout the dough, folding the dough over the raisins to “tuck” them in.  This takes forever. It’s much faster to divide your dough into 2 batches, toss 1/2 of the dough plus 1/2 the raisins (drained and patted dry) in your mixer on a low speed for a few minutes. If you choose to do this by hand, keep going until all of the raisins are added. It’s worth the effort!
Place the dough in a greased bowl, brush the top with a little oil and cover it with plastic wrap and a tea towel.  Let the dough rise until almost doubled and puffy (45-90 minutes).  I find the time for rising varies, depending on how warm my home is. Sometimes it is up to 2 hours.
Divide the dough in two and shape accordingly – round for Rosh Hashanah, braided for Shabbos or just in a loaf pan. I then use the plastic wrap from the first rise to lightly cover the shaped challahs while they go through a second rise. I put a tea towel over the plastic and set them on the stove to rise for another 30 minutes or so. The original recipe has the egg wash put on the loaves now. I perform that step after the second rise.
Placed the shaped bread on a baking sheet.
Whisk together the egg glaze ingredients. Brush the bread with egg wash and sprinkle on the sesame seeds. Let the dough rise until puffy (20-30 mins).
Preheat your oven to 400°F. Bake the bread for 10 mins, then reduce the heat to 350° and bake for another 20-25 mins or until the bread is evenly browned.
If you find that the loaves are starting to darken more than you would like, cover them lightly with foil and continue baking for the remaining time.

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