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How Important is it to Eat Organic Food and What is The Dirty Dozen?

Two questions I hear on a regular basis and so it’s time to address them. First, let’s define “organic.”  Organic foods can only be labeled by the USDA as such if they meet the following requirements:

  • Organic farms practice sustainable farming methods that enhance ecological harmony…meaning these farms are good for the earth!
  • Organic farms do not use antibiotics, growth hormones, conventional pesticides, or fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients like sewage sludge.
  • Organic farms do not use GMO’s (genetically modified organisms).

So how important is it to spend the extra money on organic produce and meat/poultry? Absolutely VITAL! It will keep you and your family safe from toxic chemicals and GMO’s.

One complaint I hear often is that organic foods are more expensive than conventionally grown foods. This is because organic farms require more effort and labor, so the price of the organic foods will be higher than the price of conventional foods. Plus, getting certified as USDA organic is quite expensive, so again, this adds onto the cost at the consumer’s end. But in my opinion, it it’s worth it! Pay higher prices for quality food now, or pay medical bills later!


What is the dirty dozen?

The Dirty dozen is a list of the 12 foods that are most heavily sprayed with poisonous herbicides and pesticides. This list is published and updated by the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization that fights for our rights to a healthy food supply. The Dirty Dozen is a great place to start buying organic produce. Since these foods are so contaminated, you will reduce your toxic load significantly by switching over to the organic versions. The EWG also has a list of the Clean Fifteen, the produce that is least toxic and is considered safe to consume the conventional, inorganic versions.

In conclusion, organic produce and meat/poultry are worth the extra money, but if you are concerned with costs, start by purchasing the organic versions of the Dirty Dozen to get you started. Your body will thank you!


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Functional Fitness: The 7 Primal Movement Patterns

The 7 primal movement patterns describe the fundamental movements that humans perform on a daily basis. They are Squatting, Lunging, Pushing, Pulling, Bending, Twisting and Walking (AKA gait).

You should be training your body through all 7 of these movement patterns on a weekly basis. I try to hit as many as I can each hour that I spend with my clients. I plan client workouts with these movement patterns in mind so that they will feel stronger and be able to function better in their everyday lives.

From a functional fitness standpoint, you shouldn’t be focusing on isolating one muscle group at a time…nothing you do in real life will require you to use only your biceps, so sitting down at the gym and doing biceps curls on a machine will not help you function better in real life. If you are a body builder, this may be a great exercise for you, or if you are trying to correct some kind of muscle imbalance, but most people should be strengthening their bodies with multi-joint, multi-planar movement patterns.

1-squatPrimal Movement #1 Squat

It is so important to squat properly! We squat to perform many daily activities like getting in and out of chairs or picking our kids up off the ground. This is probably the most important primal movement to master because we use it so often to function in our daily lives. There are many different types of squatting exercises, but here is the correct form for a traditional squat:

  • Place your feet on the ground approximately shoulder width apart, engage your abdominals, pinch your shoulder blades together
  • Hinge at your hips and stick your butt out behind you as you bend your knees to lower yourself down as if you were sitting back into a chair. Try to get your hamstrings parallel to the floor (about 90-degree angle at your knees).
  • Keep your chest up, back straight, abs tight, and make sure most of your body weight is in your heels. Check that your knees are either in line with your toes or slightly behind them. Never let your knees get out in front of your toes! This type of squat will strengthen your quads, glutes, and core.

2-lungePrimal Movement #2 Lunge

Another movement pattern humans use everyday is lunging. Anyone who plays sports will need to do lunges correctly in order to perform. Volleyball, tennis, soccer, football, martial arts…you name it, they lunge in all different directions all the time. There are many variations of the lunge, but here are the instructions for the traditional static lunge:

  • Start by placing one leg slightly in front of you and your other leg slightly behind you, keeping your legs about hip width apart. Shift most of your weight to your front leg, keeping your back foot on its toes.
  • Bend your front leg at the knee and lower yourself until your hamstring is about parallel to the floor (90-degree angel at your knee). I prefer to have my back knee bent to a 90-degree angle as well. Be sure that your front knee does not move forward past your toes. Just like the squat, you want to keep your front knee in line with your toes or slightly behind, them.
  • Straighten the front leg as you return to start position and repeat. Make sure you even out by doing lunges with the opposite leg in front. Emphasize using your front leg to do most of the work, keeping most of your weight in the heel of your front foot. This type of lunge will strengthen your quads and glutes while increasing hip stability.

Primal Movement #3 Push3-push

We push things around all day long! From pushing your shopping cart at the grocery store, to banging out some push ups at the gym, we use our push muscles to function daily. There are 2 main types of pushes, the vertical where you push something up over your head, and the horizontal where you push something away out in front of your chest.

One horizontal push exercise you can do is the push up:

  • Lay face down and place your hands right next to your arm pits.
  • Dig your toes into the ground, contract your abs, and push up to the plank position. Your body should be totally straight from head to toe throughout this exercise.
  • Lower yourself down, bending at the elbows and retracting your shoulder blades until your chest is an inch above the ground, and then push back up to plank position. This type of push up will strengthen your chest, arms, & core while increasing shoulder stability.

4-pullPrimal Movement #4 Pull

The opposite of pushing, pulling motions are often underutilized at the gym. We use our push muscles so often that it is vital to counterbalance them with plenty of pulling exercises. There are 2 main types of pulling exercises, the vertical pull where your arms are over your head and you pull yourself up (like a pull up), or the horizontal pull where you pull something towards your chest (like a row). Here are instructions for a challenging, horizontal pulling exercise called the plank row:

  • Start by placing 2 dumbbells on the floor and getting into a plank position with your hands on the dumbbells. Separate your legs to hip width apart.
  • It is vital that you keep your abs engaged throughout this exercise in order to keep your back nice and straight.
  • Lift one dumbbell until your elbow breaks the plane of your back, pinching your shoulder blade behind you. Keep your hips facing the ground (don’t let them twist) and your neck straight.
  • Lower the dumbbell back to the ground and switch to the other side. Try not to twist your hips as you shift your weight from one side to the other. This type of pull exercise will strengthen your upper back, arms, & core while increasing shoulder stability.

5-bendPrimal Movement #5 Bend

People often injure themselves doing simple things like bending over to pick up a suitcase because they aren’t bending over properly or they haven’t trained their bodies to use their bending muscles correctly. This is important because bending over properly can save you a lot of lower back pain in your life.  There are many exercises you can do to strengthen the bend, but my favorite is the Romanian Deadlift.

  • Please start with a light weight. Once you have perfected your form, then add weight on a little at a time. It is very easy to permanently injure your back doing deadlifts with improper form or too much weight.
  • Start by standing with your feet about hip width apart, holding a light weight using an overhand grip. You can use dumbbells, a kettlebell or barbell. Your arms should be straight throughout the entire exercise.
  • Bend your knees slightly, push your butt back, keep most of your body weight in your heels, and bend over at the hips with your back flat, shoulders blades pinched back, and your abdominals engaged. Your knees should be stationary as all the movement comes from the hinging of the hips.
  • Bend at the hips until your back is parallel to the floor, then reverse the movement until you are standing straight up again. This type of bending exercise will strengthen your hamstrings, lower back, and glutes.

6-twistPrimal Movement #6 Twist

It’s so important to strengthen your body in the transverse plane of motion. All athletes must twist their bodies in order to perform, like when a volleyball player spikes a ball. But did you know that most human movements involve some kind of rotation, even walking! You can train your twisting muscles by doing exercises involving rotational movements, or anti-rotational movements (meaning you hold still while something or someone is trying to get you to twist out of alignment). Here are the instructions for adding a twisting motion to the lunging movement pattern mentioned above:

  • Perform the exact same lunge as previously mentioned, but this time hold a medicine ball, kettlebell, or dumbbell at chest level.
  • As you lower yourself down into a lunge with correct form, rotate your upper body toward the side of the front leg (if your right leg is out in front, then rotate to your right). Engage your abdominals, retract your shoulder blades, and keep your back as straight as possible.
  • Return to start position on the way up from your lunge. Repeat on the other side. This type of twisting exercise will strengthen all the muscles that wrap around your trunk, otherwise known as the core musculature, as it strengthens your lower body through the lunge.

Primal Movement #7 Gait

The most frequently used primal movement pattern is a gait, which is just a fancy term for walking, running, & jumping. Gait requires you to use a combination of primal movements in order to perform. I will not bore you with instructions on how to walk, but will advise you to engage your core muscles and keep good posture while walking, running, and jumping.


Strengthening the human body using the 7 Primal Movement Patterns is the foundation of functional fitness. Using these movement patterns to exercise, instead of focusing on just one muscle group at a time, will save you time at the gym and create a better balanced and more efficient body. An added benefit is that most of these movement patterns will help your body become leaner because they work so many muscle groups at the same time, causing your body to use more energy to perform them, which means a high caloric expenditure.


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My Functional Fitness Standards

Functional fitness, functional training, and functional exercises are all terms that are becoming quite popular in the fitness industry. But what do they really mean? The functionality of an exercise is highly individualized. What is functional for one person, may not be for another. This makes the term “functional” highly controversial.

In my opinion, there are some universal truths associated with functional fitness training that trainers and coaches can use as a baseline for deciding which exercises will help their athletes and clients function at their best when they are outside of the gym. Here is my list of functional fitness standards that I adhere to when planning a personal training session for my clients:

  1. 7 Primal Movement Patterns – Your clients should be squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, bending, twisting, and walking/running/sprinting (gait) on a weekly basis.
  2. 3 Planes of Motion – Clients should be strengthening through the frontal, sagittal, & transverse planes of motion.
  3. Increase Cardiovascular Endurance
  4. Increase Muscular Endurance
  5. Strengthen Core Musculature
  6. Correct Postural Imbalances
  7. Improve Balance, Stability, & Flexibility

I think that most people can benefit from training sessions that meet these standards. They are a great starting point for personal trainers to use when developing exercise programs for their clients. But I do not believe this list is the end-all-be-all of functional training. Trainers and coaches need to look at each individual client on a daily basis and decide which exercises will help them function optimally outside of the gym.

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If I Could Only Do 5 Exercises…

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by life’s daily obligations that you just don’t have time to squeeze in a workout? I HEAR YA! I am a personal trainer and even I struggle to get my workouts in. My schedule is crazy! I’m tired, stressed out, and I have social & family obligations to attend to, I don’t have time to exercise…these excuses sound familiar to anyone?

So how can I help you put fitness first? By making it easy! All of these excuses lead me to create a list of functional exercises that could be done anytime, anywhere, with little equipment. I took all the guesswork out of the equation for you by creating a workout that meets all of my functional fitness standards. This specialized list was developed to get you a challenging, full body workout in less than 30 minutes! Watch me crush this workout in real time and do it along with me. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.




If I only had time in my day to do 5 exercises, this is what I would do:

  1. Walk/Run/Sprint – chosen because it’s a primal movement pattern that trains your cardiovascular system & moves through the sagittal & transverse planes of motion
  2. Plank – chosen because it strengthens your core musculature
  3. Lunge Choppers – chosen because it strengthens your muscles using the lunge, pull, and twisting movement patterns, & when completed AFAP increases your anaerobic capacity and muscular endurance, and moves through frontal & transverse planes of motion
  4. Cobra – chosen to correct postural imbalances and strengthen muscles often weakened from sitting down too much all day & moves through the sagittal plane of motion
  5. Burpees – chosen because it strengthens your muscles using the squat, push, and bending movement patterns, & when completed AFAP it increases your anaerobic capacity and muscular endurance, and moves through the sagittal & frontal planes of motion

I even listed them in a specific order so that the first exercise would serve as a warm-up for exercises 2 – 5, and there is a recovery exercise slated in between each high intensity exercise in order to give you time to recover without standing around doing nothing. See the chart below to progress each exercise from intermediate to advanced.

If you don’t know how to do these exercises, go to my Exercise Database and click on the name of each exercise for a short, instructional video that will show you correct form and modifications for beginners. If  you are a beginner, start by doing 1 set of each exercise and work your way up to 3. Once you can complete 3 sets at the beginner level, it’s time to move up to the intermediate level. If you are advanced, start with 3 sets and try to beat your time each time you do the workout. I did a 15 minute walk, run, sprint interval followed by 13 minutes to complete 3 sets of the last 4 exercises…try and beat my time! Leave me a comment if you do!


Beginner Intermediate Advanced
1. Walk/Run/Sprint 10-15 mins 15-30 mins (intervals) 15-60 mins (intervals)
2. Plank 15-30 secs 30-45 secs 45 secs-2mins
3. Lunge Choppers 5-8 each side 8-12 each side 12-15 each side
4. Cobra 5-8 reps 8-12reps 12-15 reps
5. Burpees 5- 8 reps 8-12 reps 12-15 reps


So if you only have time for 5 exercises, these are the most functional & efficient ones you can do. Watch my video and the exercises along with me.  Hit LIKE if you got a great workout. If you have a question, leave a comment and I will be happy to answer it for you.

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Planning Workouts for Your Clients

I have found that developing individualized exercise plans for every client can be a daunting task. Planning for all of the different needs and abilities of your clients can get time consuming…so I developed a structure for training sessions that helps me stay organized and gets my clients the weight loss and fitness results they want. Remember, all exercises should be tailored to fit the needs of the individual client, but this is a great framework to start with.

5-10 mins Dynamic Warm-Up

To me, a dynamic warm up means that the motions match what’s ahead in the workout. As a personal trainer who believes in functional fitness, I plan full body exercises for the strength training and HIIT portions of the workout that mimic all of the movement patterns my clients go through everyday. These movement patterns include squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, twisting, bending, and balancing. Your warm-up should include all of these motions in order to prepare the body for it’s workout.

20-30 mins Strength Training

The body should be strengthened in all ranges of motion. When you plan strength exercises, focus on client goals and their daily lives, then pick exercise that will make them feel stronger in whatever it is they do. A mother of 3 will benefit from a kettle bell goblet squat with heartbeat because it mimics the motions she’ll need to perform when putting her kids in high chairs and car seats.  And don’t forget to work muscles in opposition…a beach volleyball player who is constantly using quads and push muscles will thank you for keeping his muscles balanced by strengthening his back, glutes, and hamstrings. Try to include as many of the movement patterns mentioned above and combine them whenever possible.

5-15 mins High Intensity Interval Training

I like Tabata Method but any high intensity interval training will work. This is a good time to add plyometrics, speed, agility, and quickness into the workout if it suits your clients.

5-10 mins Cool Down

A cool down can include foam rolling, stretching, and recovery exercises like clams and cobras that work small muscle groups allowing client to bring their heart rate down and catch their breathe while working very important muscles that often go over looked.



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The Sweet Spot

The Sweet Spot: How I Mix Up My Workouts for Maximum Results

Whether you are a fitness enthusiast or certified personal trainer, the vast amount of information out there regarding which types of workouts you should do and how often you should do them is completely overwhelming! The information is conflicting and changes daily. I know because I spend countless hours reading, researching, and attending personal training seminars in order to keep up with the ever-changing world of fitness.

So what exactly is the answer?

I am a certified personal trainer and I am in good shape. I am strong, balanced, flexible, and have good stamina. I am often asked how I have accomplished my level of fitness and my answer is always the same…I mix up my workouts! I run on the beach, play sports, attend Pilates & yoga classes, and do strength training and high intensity interval training (HITT) on a weekly basis. Keep in mind that I am 36 years old, have had major hip surgery, and am still dealing with fibromyalgia-like pain in my back and neck. I tell you this because if I can do it, you can do it!

Not every week looks the same because I need to listen to my body and try to find a sweet spot…but I do have a few basic rules I follow that work for me.

  1.  I workout more days than I rest. That means at least 4 workouts per week, although most weeks I try for 5 or 6.
  2. I aim for 3 days a week (1 hour each day) of full body strength training with HITT mixed in. So for instance, I may do 3 sets of squats, rows, and reverse crunches (strength training) followed by Tabata style burpees (HITT). You can also get a good mix of strength and interval training by taking boot camp, kettle bell, and body sculpting type classes.
  3. I hate running! Actually I am not a fan of steady-state cardio in general, I think it’s boring (probably not a good thing for a personal trainer to admit but hey, at least I’m honest). Probably because I ran a marathon a few years ago. I never got the “runner’s high” that I had heard so much about, and ever since then I just can’t get myself to enjoy long distance running. However, I do it because it is absolutely necessary for me to do some sort of steady state cardio (walking, jogging, elliptical) in order for me to keep the fitness level and physique I desire. I run 30 minutes on the wet, hard sand in Hermosa Beach each week. If I am really feeling good, I will do it twice. That’s not enough aerobic training by itself, but luckily I LOVE HITT! Interval training increases my cardiovascular fitness level so I don’t have to run long distances to keep my heart and lungs in shape.
  4. I also try to get to a Pilates or Yoga class once a week. This helps keep me flexible, balanced, and core strong.
  5. I play beach volleyball once or twice a week. Sports are my favorite way to stay in shape because it’s so much fun and it doesn’t feel like work!

Again, this is my sweet spot…it’s what works for me. You need to find your own mix of exercises that you enjoy, otherwise you won’t be able to sustain a regular weekly routine. But please mix it up! You need to train your muscles, bones, joints, heart, and lungs. This means that you need to combine strength, cardiovascular, and flexibility training.


TIP: I sign up for daily Groupon and Living Social deals in my area. I literally get emails almost everyday with amazing deals on fitness classes. I highly suggest taking advantage of this because it reduces costs significantly and allows you the opportunity to mix up your workouts.

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Up & Down Planks

Everyone knows that holding a stationary plank increases core strength, but did you know you can also use planks to train your core through movement? One way to do this is called the Up & Down Plank. It is extremely challenging for your core and will also help to increase your upper body strength.


To perform the Up & Down Plank, start in an elbow plank position with elbows directly under your shoulders and feet about hip width apart.


Push up to the top of a push us position leading with your left hand, then lower yourself back down again to elbow plank position leading with the left hand.


The goal is to keep your body as stiff as a board as you move from elbows to hands. Keep your stomach in tight and your hips facing the ground. Repeat this 5 times leading with your left hand and then 5 times leading with your right hand for a total of 10 repetitions. If you aren’t strong enough to push yourself up, you can modify this exercise by doing it on your knees.

As a personal trainer, one way I advance this plank for my clients is to have them perform as many Up & Down Planks as possible in one minute. They should lead with their right hand for the first 30 seconds, then another 30 seconds leading with their left hand (no break in between). I guarantee this will be challenging even for the most advanced plankers!

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Fitness Simplified: EPOC

Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption is the term used to describe the number of calories burned after exercise is completed, and is commonly referred to as the Afterburn Effect. There is a lot of research being done concerning this topic, and it can get pretty overwhelming. Here is my simplified explanation for what it is and how to use it to your advantage.

Basically, during exercise you put stress on your body, which is why your heart rate increases, you breathe much faster, and your muscles burn. After you have completed your workout, your body uses energy (burns calories) to repair the stress and get back to a pre-workout resting state. In other words, after a strenuous workout your body increases it’s metabolism for as long as it takes to return your body to homeostasis. Some research suggests that EPOC can last for up to 48 hours!

So how can you use this to your advantage? Research done on EPOC has concluded that the more intense the exercise, the greater amount of calories you will burn afterwards. For example, doing burpees using the Tabata Method of interval training  will burn more calories post-workout than a steady state jog. This doesn’t mean that you should eliminate steady state cardio from your exercise regimen. It means that you should mix up your workouts in order to include more intense bouts of exercise. You can make your workouts more intense by increasing weight, reps, & speed. You can also decrease rest periods between exercises.

Now this is a very simple explanation of the Afterburn Effect, but if you are a geek like me, you can click on the links below to read a more scientific explanation of what is happening inside your body after your workout.


Fitness Industry Nutrition

Client Appreciation Day, September 16, 2012

My very first Client Appreciation Day was a smash! It was heart warming to see all of my personal training clients working together and cheering each other on as we progressed through a grueling workout in the blazing sun, got some great nutritional advice from a registered dietitian, and ate a heart-healthy lunch on the sands of Redondo Beach.
(see the image gallery below…

After our rigorous workout we were honored to have Sumner Brooks, Registered Dietitian, teach us all a little about nutrition. Here is a summary of her key points:

  • Non-Dutch style cocoa powder is a great antioxidant (Sumner uses unsweetened Hershey’s cocoa powder).  1-2 tablespoons provides potent anti-inflammatory properties and is a fiber boost of 2 grams per tablespoon! No sugar, just great nutrition from the natural cocoa bean.
  • Cloves are also powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory! Take ¼ teaspoon in a smoothie, in your oatmeal, or stir it into yogurt.
  • Trader Joe’s Carrot & Beet Juice is a post workout drink that can help reduce muscle soreness. Take 4 ounces before or right after a workout, and count it as part of your carbohydrate in your pre- or post-workout snack. Real 100% POM juice or tart cherry juice will work too.

Then it was time to eat! I made some healthy salads that everyone seemed to love. As requested, here are the recipes:

Quinoa Salad – I cooked quinoa in vegetable broth and then added the following ingredients as it cooled: grape tomatoes, chopped cucumber, black olives, avocado, cumin, fresh garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, red wine vinegar, chick peas, black beans, and cilantro.

Arugula Salad – This one is super easy! I found a low calorie raspberry vinaigrette at Trader Joe’s tossed it with arugula, strawberries, toasted almonds and bleu cheese crumbles.

Tuscan Kale Salad – I got this recipe from Dr. Andrew Weil. I added grilled chicken to the salad that I spiced with Trader Joe’s lemon pepper and some fresh squeezed lemon juice. I substituted tomatoes for the breadcrumbs that were called for in the recipe. Here is the link:


I can’t wait to start planning my next CAD!  In addition to this being a great way to say thanks to my amazing clientele, it was also important that my clients understand that there are other people here in the South Bay of California who are battling to lose weight, get stronger, and lead healthy lives. I feel so grateful to have such an amazing group of clients… you inspire me to continue learning and loving my job! And for that, I thank you all!

I would love to hear from you…where would you like to have our next Client Appreciation Day? Leave a comment below.


Fitness Industry Training

Fitness Simplified: High Intensity Interval Training

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a method of training that alternates high intensity exercise with low intensity exercise or rest. A good example of HIIT would be sprinting for 20 seconds then walking for 40 seconds. You can use HIIT to train your aerobic system using cardio exercises like running & walking, or your anaerobic system using strength exercises like burpees. There are many different intervals that you can use, but one of my favorites is the Tabata Method which only takes 4 minutes to complete.

High Intensity Interval Training develops your cardiovascular system in a short amount of time. Although it takes less time, HIIT is NOT easier than traditional cardio exercises like running. It is extremely challenging because you must push yourself to your max, and so it may not be a good choice for beginners. Please don’t attempt HIIT until you can do a session of cardio for at least 20 minutes at about 80% of your max heart rate.

One of the many perks of High Intensity Interval Training is that it enables your body to use more fat as fuel then traditional cardio does. HIIT also has the added benefit of EPOC (excess post exercise oxygen consumption), also known as “the afterburn effect.” This means that you will continue to burn calories and increase your metabolism for up to 24 hours after your workout, whereas cardio exercises have virtually no EPOC. This happens because it takes a long time for your body to recover from the strain of HIIT.

So go ahead and give it a try! Remember to warm up for approximately 5 minutes before starting any strenuous activity and wear a heart rate monitor if you are a beginner. Good luck and feel free to post any questions on Facebook.

I always try to write my blogs in simple, understandable terms so that someone who is new to fitness would understand what I am talking about. For more scientific explanations of exactly what interval training does for your body, visit the websites below: