Who isn’t ready for spring? The short days and cold weather of winter can cause people to eat more, work out less and then have to compensate double time to look good in time for summer.
We spoke to experts in food, fashion and fitness to show how to prepare for the warm weather ahead.
“Healthy eating is the same eating for weight maintenance or weight loss,” says Krista Yoder Latortue, a registered dietician and the executive director at Family Food, LLC, a Plymouth Meeting-based nutrition counseling service. “Nutrition trends come out all the time, and as registered dieticians — nutritionists are not credentialed and licensed — we look at the evidence behind them, the nutrition fact vs. fiction.”
To eat healthier and lose weight, Yoder Latortue says, “It comes down to simple common sense. Half your plate should be fruits and vegetables, including whole grains and both meat and vegetable protein — not just animal, but plant sources like nuts, seeds, peanut butter, almonds, beans, etc. And vary it up: Low-fat dairy is good for sustainable health and weight.”
She warns that salads look healthy — until you put high-calorie dressing on them to make them taste better. “Extra things, like salad dressing, should be used in moderation.”
Yoder Latortue emphasizes that if you want to have energy and feel good, combine a protein and a carbohydrate. An egg with whole grain cereal for breakfast is her first recommendation. “Oatmeal to lower cholesterol is good, but eat it with milk, which provides protein. If you have it with water, add a protein to it, like peanut butter or almonds. Fruit is a healthy afternoon snack, but you need protein with that, so put peanut butter on your apple — that will keep you energized and your metabolism running at the correct rate.”
While food trends and diets are always part of slimming-down regimens, Yoder Latortue is wary of smoothies and juicing. She acknowledges that they can be healthy and are a better alternative than missing a meal. However, she underscores that what folks put into their drinks may be problematic.
“The gym smoothie often has a powder or a supplement in it. The body doesn’t absorb supplements as well as the nutrients of food — there’s no enzyme to absorb a powder/supplement — so it’s best if you are able to get your nutrients through food not supplements.”
She continues. “Have a smoothie that is food-based, not pre-mixed — we’re not sure what’s in those. Skim milk, low-fat yogurt, frozen fruit and a banana and you are good to go!”
Yoder Latortue indicates that juicing is fine in moderation, but it needs to be done in addition to eating good, healthy foods — not a replacement for meals.
“Juicing isn’t harmful, but it isn’t the best thing, even though it’s trendy. Juicing that takes out the peel is bad. All the nutrients are in the peel. All the vitamins are stripped out as well as the fiber. A high-end juicer that keeps the peel doesn’t challenge your body — and your gut is a muscle that breaks food down. Juice goes right through you, so it doesn’t work your gut properly, or as it should.”
What to wear while you work out may not be as important as what you do when you work out — but considering all of the studies that have demonstrated the correlation between looking good and feeling good, it’s definitely in the ballpark.
Breandan Lyman, the manager at Philadelphia Runner, says that Nike Epic prints are hot for running and working out right now. Featuring fun, wild colors, this blend of polyester and Lycra Capri shorts are flattering for women. The Nike Lux style is also popular because the fabric has more material per square centimeter and, according to Lyman, “holds up better.” For women who find tights too tight and want a wider leg, New Balance’s Carefree Contender Pant provides a comfortable blend of polyester and spandex. These workout clothes could double as loungewear.
Lyman emphasizes that having workout gear stand up to intense use is critical and recommends runners change their sneakers approximately every six months.
“The foam in a sneaker compresses on impact, and takes about a day to expand back to its original form. If you use your sneakers every day, the foam never ‘recovers.’ ” He believes alternating between two pair of sneakers benefits both the athlete’s foot and the shoe.
Likewise, Lyman says, sports bras have the same six-month lifespan, and should be replaced because washing sports bras regularly breaks down the material. He recommends “Cold water, air dry,” to get the most life out of them. “They have them with wires now for extra security and adjustable straps with Velcro to have them fit to a woman’s shape, and not be so irritating.”
Compression shorts or Under Armour’s thong called “Cheeky” (because it provides more coverage) are also beneficial for runners or gym rats to wear under their tights in a spin class for extra comfort and protection.
“Layering is key,” Lyman advises. “Thin jackets like windbreakers are good to layer, and they help keep runners warm.” Hoodies, he indicates, are being made out of thin material that makes them more like windbreakers.
“Half-zips for men feature thumbholes that can help keep hands warm in brisk weather.” Both hoodies and half-zips provide a good base layer. Lyman urges athletes not to wear cotton, which can chafe (especially in shorts). He suggests that men wear “2-in-1 shorts” which have a lining that protects against chafing. Lyman explains, “Cotton traps moisture and wetness. It is a real problem, especially if one is running in the wind.”
David Izaguarre, a sales associate at City Sports, concurs that right now, active wear for women is focused on short cropped tees with tights underneath and Nike Legendary tight fit Capri pants with “ambiguous” photos on them.
“Prints are in for spring,” he says, showing of a pair of workout clothes that features a photo of people on them (although you can’t tell unless you get up close — the heads look abstract at any other distance.).
“Tights with prints are being worn inside and outside, and you can throw tops over them for a casual look.” He adds that training items are square cut and textured to give a “casual dress” style.
For men, shorts are of the sporty tennis-style variety with patterns, not solids. “Men’s clothes are brightly colored — hot orange and cobalt blue,” he explains.
For sneakers, Hakim Tucker of City Sports says Reebok’s Crossfit Nano is a must-have, as it has a wider toe box and a rubbery grip so it fits better. The flat-bottom sneaker is good for jumping, weightlifting and running. For those more running-focused, Reebok’s Jetfuse shoes can take your run to the next level.
When it comes to fitness and trying to lose those 5 to 15 pounds you gained over the winter, Steve Hoffman, Master Personal Trainer at the Sporting Club at the Bellevue, thinks that leg workouts are best. He emphasizes working the quads, hamstrings and glutes. “You can burn the most calories doing squats, dead lifts, kettle bell swings and lunges.”
Hoffman is a big promoter of burpees, which are a body weight exercise that involves dropping to a squat position from standing and then kicking your feet back while keeping your arm extended. Returning to a squat, it is recommended that folks jump up before repeating the exercise. The reason the burpee is so great is because it allows for peripheral blood flow; your body pumps blood into your legs as well as your upper body.
Alternating upper and lower body workouts — like doing body weight squats, then pull-ups and then lunges — are key to getting your heart rate up and keeping you fit and conditioned. Moreover, these exercises can be done at home, outside or in the gym.
Hoffman recommends an effective winter workout regime consisting of doing 15 burpees, 15 pushups, 15 squats, 15 pullups, and 15 “V”-up abdominal exercises with interval running of 3 to 5 minutes between each round. Alternating fast and slow speeds for 30 seconds is especially effective. Repeat the cycle three times. It’s a “quick-bang” workout.
Interval training is very effective because it makes for a more intense workout that can increase the metabolic rate over several days. If you have difficulty with the exercises, take comfort in the knowledge that they do get easier with practice. While self-guided workouts like the one listed above are gaining in popularity, Hoffman says it’s best to hire a personal trainer to learn how to properly squat and do dead lifts. “Technique is key,” Hoffman insists. You need to make sure you are doing the exercises correctly to build strength — and, just as importantly, prevent injury.
He suggests avoiding weight machines, which take the stabilization out of the work and merely isolate the muscles being used. Free weights are better because they can mimic real-life activities, like picking up a heavy bag of groceries or a small child.
Lastly, Hoffman urges folks to get MyFitnessPal, an app that can measure your workout goals, weight loss and help count calories. For folks who are watching their diet, Hoffman mentioned two ways to eat effectively. One is to consume 0.6 grams of protein a day for every pound of your body’s weight, which will increase your muscles’ ability to grow. The other involves something called “carb cycling,” where you eat carbs one day, then go two days with low or no carbs. Then have one day of carbs, and repeat the two days of low or no carbs. The idea is to “shock” your body and burn fat faster to lose weight. In four to six weeks, you can see results — just in time for spring.
Earlier this year, several Philadelphia-area gyms and boutique fitness centers joined Fitmob, a national program that offers users unlimited access to participating gyms for a monthly fee of $99. The list of participating gyms and fitness centers offer a range of activities from yoga studios and barre classes to mixed martial art clubs and cycling.
Erik Strassman, head performance coach at Optimal Gym in Newtown, is excited about the way Fitmob allows members to come to a gym and work out for a day.
“Primarily, it’s giving someone the opportunity to work out or take a group-led session, class or training program,” he says. “Members can take advantage of almost anything we offer at the gym — Zumba, yoga, boot camps, spin classes or my group conditioning program, ‘Optimal Workout.’ They can do everything except one-on-one personal training.”
Fitmob, which started locally in mid-December, helps what Strassman calls “gym hoppers” find out what they like from the menu available and it allows people who probably would not have stepped into the gym to test it out. “Group sessions allow Fitmob members to see what we do,” he says.
His comprehensive classes involve cross-training, doing conditioning work on certain days and strength training on others.
“If you’re coming into a gym and just getting started,” Strassman says, “I want to know your goal. Do you want to lose weight, build muscle or get more comfortable in the gym? When I do group training, it gives the beginner a chance to try it and feel more comfortable, or for the advanced athlete to be more challenged. We want everyone in the class to be successful.”
Michele Czerpak, owner of RowZone, which has locations in Rittenhouse Square, Manayunk and Newtown Square offering one-of-a-kind classes for low-impact, high-intensity interval training, also participates in Fitmob. RowZone’s 45-minute classes burn 500 to 600 calories per session and involve a warmup, stretching and strength training, resistance, body weights and core exercises in addition to about 20 to 25 minutes of rowing on an erg machine for five minutes at a time.
The classes are designed to burn fat, build lean muscle and improve core strength, posture, flexibility and endurance while getting (and keeping) one’s heart rate up. One of the benefits of RowZone is that the trainers for the 39 different classes each week have different styles, from intensive to creative. Members should test out various classes to see which instructor best suits their style. Many of the classes appeal to both younger rowers who want to go out and scull on the Schuylkill, but also over-40 athletes who are looking to get in shape through a healthy activity.
RowZone is not just part of Fitmob — Czerpak also participates in ClassPass, which operates on the same monthly fee/multiple gym access plan, only with “elite” studies (e.g., Lithe method), and with some restrictions, such as that members cannot attend any class more than three times in a month.
Czerpak likes the flexibility Fitmob and ClassPass provide, observing that’s it is becoming an attractive alternative to the big-box health clubs that offer limited classes and can prompt boredom more easily. She says she has already seen a jump in her attendance as a result of participating in the programs.
Peter Andrew Danzig, a personal trainer and movement/fitness coach, is the founder of Theatrical Trainer. He is currently in negotiations with Fitmob, but also a patron of many of the organizations they work with, including Crossfit Turbocharge, which is a full-body conditioning, high-impact boot camp, as well as the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, where one of the Fitmob trainers teaches parkour.
Danzig emphasizes that if you are looking for a new fitness regimen, “Circus Arts is an unconventional and fun way to do it.” He has taken (and strongly recommends) the Introduction to Aerials class. “It’s a different class, which features circus silks: you wrap your body and climb. It builds stamina, your core and endurance.” He also uses a lyra, which involves the use of a large hanging circle to promote flexibility, upper body strength and core engagement. The exercises require moving with the hanging hoop to hold poses. “It’s engaging and fun to do in group classes. I like to shape my workouts — it’s ‘out of the box.’ You experiment and see how your body moves. It shakes people out of their complacency, which is what I really like about it.”
Gary M. Kramer is a frequent contributor to Special Sections.