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Pursuing Strength: Top 5 Back Pain Prevention Techniques

Let me just start this off by saying that I am not a physical therapist, so if you have access to healthcare and need a diagnosis for your back pain, GO DO IT! Seriously. Get off your keister and do something about it instead of suffering. However, if you’re like me, health insurance and doctors can mostly be out of reach except for emergencies, so I’ve taken a lot of time to research and talk to knowledgeable people about reducing back pain and prevent injuries therein. I occasionally have pretty severe back pain and I’ve discovered through help that there’s nothing actually wrong with my spine. All of my pain is due to soft tissue tightness or imbalance. Also my sacroiliac joint slips out of place sometimes on my right side. Ouch. It’s a side effect from pregnancy and birth. Thanks kiddo! 

Couch stretch will stretch hip flexors of the back leg and the hamstrings of the front leg.

Through several debilitating flare ups with my back over the years I’ve learned what helps me prevent and/or heal flare ups with my SI joint. A lot of clients I’ve had over the years experience back pain, and almost all of them benefited from this approach and reduced their back pain. The ones that kept up with the maintenance of these prevented a good deal of pain in their futures as well. Honestly, injury prevention should be on your mind consistently throughout your workouts. There is no exercise that is worth getting injured over. Injuries require time off and time and energy to heal. Time and energy that you could otherwise be using to progress rather than repair damage. 

Deep Tissue Massage

Mobility work is first and foremost. Keeping muscles that push on your hips nice and flexible and working out adhesions is crucial. Adhesions can form in the connective tissue that surrounds muscle fibers and can cause muscle tissue to become bunched up together and tense. Foam rolling, a lacrosse ball, stick, or any other myofascial release technique you prefer is will work. The areas I recommend targeting for lower back pain are glutes, pirformis, IT band, and quads. A good rule of thumb is that if it hurts, that means you have a knot right there and you should sit on that spot for about 30 seconds before moving on. I foam roll before every CrossFit or leg day training session. Most days it can be painful, but if I don’t address the knots, the tension in those muscles can cause compensations elsewhere, which can lead to injury.


I also stretch on workout days. For lower back pain and tightness, the muscles in your hips are actually the ones that usually need to be addressed. Stretches need to be held fro 30-60 seconds. I know that gets boring. (really boring) But there’s a reason why stretches need to be held that long. There are protective mechanisms in your muscle fibers (called Golgi tendon bodies) that keep your muscle from stretching too far too quickly. It takes about 30 seconds to override this mechanism. So even though you feel the stretch right away, it takes at least 30 seconds for the stretch to take effect on the muscle fibers when that Golgi tendon body releases. Stretching hamstrings, pirformis, adductors, hip flexors, and quads all help immensely in reducing lower back tension. My favorite stretch is the couch stretch, because it hits several muscles at once. Ideally we would all take the first 30 minutes of our day stretching and performing some core and hip activating movements, but in reality, there are some days when I’ll get to squeeze in 10 minutes right before I work out or maybe 10 minutes on a weekend. When it comes to back tension, the more often, the better, even it’s only a few minutes.

Core Work

After mobility is established, it’s important to get your core and hips stable and strong. Core work is obviously crucial for anyone trying to feel better physically. A strong core helps with posture by stabilizing the spine through every movement. I include extensive core work within all of my personal and clientele programming, whether they like it or not. Most people think about crunches and sit-ups when they think of core. However, your core is comprised of many overlapping muscles that go in different directions. Crunches and sit-ups are good at targeting the rectus abdominus (the six-pack muscle), but in terms of functionality, the other core muscles do a lot more for stabilizing your spine through your workouts and daily life. Exercises such as planks, side planks, rotations, and anti-rotation movements, can be very helpful to include in your workouts or warm-ups.

Hip Activation

Banded Squats activate hips and glutes to stabilize hips through the squat movement.

Hip activation before lower body work is very important. Glutes are considered to be part of your core, so buns of steel should be your goal! Glutes and core activation along with other hip stabilizer exercises helps me before an intense workout or running. Glute bridges and hip extensions are my go-to ways to engage and activate glutes before work. Banded squats helps engage other muscles in my hips that keep good knee tracking for me. My knees tend to cave in heavy squats, so it’s something I have to keep in my routine to help fix it.

Movement Pattern

Correct movement patterns are imperative when it comes to preventing injury for your lower back. whether you’re working out or just going through life, correct movement patterns for squatting, deadlifting, and rotating can greatly reduce the chances of harming your back. Everyone has room for improvement–there are things in every lift that I do that could be improved upon, and that’s part of the journey. Knowing the basics of needing to shift your weight into your heels and keeping your chest up in order to squat or deadlift safely can make the difference between lifting something without pain, or putting your back at risk for injury over time. Living with back pain or tightness is not fun, and it can take a little extra time to take care of in order to live life fully and while minimizing pain, but life is worth it, right?

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In Pursuit of Yourself || In Pursuit of Balance

“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” -Steven Jay Gould

In Pursuit of Nutrition Balance: Why am I eating AGAIN? || In the Pursuit of Balance

I’m sitting on the couch and constantly finding myself wondering what I can eat next…. Sound familiar to anyone else? Please tell me I’m not alone on this! I’m usually on the go and busy with work so now that I am at home looking for things to occupy my time with, I feel hungry all the time. Is it because my body needs more food? Hell no!

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In Pursuit of Health: Balancing Your Mindset Towards Food

This is your gentle reminder that there is no moral value attached to food! There is no food that is morally bad or morally good. There is just food that can help you and food that will hinder you from your goals that you have chosen for your health and for your life.  You didn’t eat “bad” on the weekend. You simply consumed things that were counterproductive to your goals. And because there is no moral value to food, you certainly should never “punish” your body for what you ate. You simply need to get back on track and make the decision to pursue what you want in your life. Working out or eating healthy foods should never be a punishment for what you ate or how you feel about how you look. Exercise and movement should always be a celebration for what your body is capable of. Choosing to eat healthy food will simply be the most effective fuel for your body expanding it’s capabilities.

Usually when I hear people saying they “ate bad”, they’re usually referring to the weekends, and they use Monday as a fresh start to getting on track with their goals. Weekends can be a tough time to stay on track with your goals. It is for me as well! Usually people’s schedules are completely different on weekends versus weekdays, which can make it difficult to eat or move the way you want to or should. Planning ahead can help–meal prepping healthy meals to have ready and available can help create healthy convenience for busy schedules. But sometimes there is only so much you can plan for when it comes to weekends or special events. I have always believed that fitness exists to enhance people’s lives, not to control them. On everyone’s journey, there will be occasions where there will be overindulgence or counterproductive foods. We all have one life and it is meant to be lived to the fullest. So worrying about an occasional “cheat day” on your fitness journey can sometimes be more counterproductive to living your full life. Having said that, I do also believe we need to be honest with ourselves in our pursuit of our goals. Whether those goals are fitness related, mental health, career related, or with our relationships, we need to take an honest account of our efforts towards our goals and our consistency with that effort. Everything worth having requires work. All of our goals in life will take consistency and effort. But being honest with ourselves doesn’t need to result in feeling guilt if our efforts are less than perfect or just straight up bad. Feeling guilt or shame is fruitless and will get you nowhere and will benefit no one.  So go ahead and do a self check. What are your goals exactly? What specific steps are you taking today that will take you closer to that goal? If you don’t know the steps required, educating yourself on those first steps is your first step!

Ok, back to the morality of food and health…. Just like healthy food versus unhealthy food, people are not inherently better than others for being healthy either. That’s right. People who eat healthy all the time or work out all the time are not inherently more moral or valuable or better than people who don’t. Low body fat does not grant anyone moral superiority. Their physical strength does not add value to their soul. That mindset can be very profitable to certain people in power and companies trying to capitalize on everyone’s internal desire to be seen as being valuable. But this is toxic thinking. Not only is it mentally toxic to approach life and other people this way, it just isn’t true! As a society we need to move away from assigning value to people based on how they look. At the end of the day, your body isn’t actually you; it’s simply the physical house for your soul anyway.

At the end of the day, guilt and shame should never be attached to what foods you consume or did not consume. Knowledge about how what you are consuming can help you or harm you is important. Understanding and being honest with yourself about your decisions for yourself is important. Self assessment regarding your actual efforts you put towards your goals is important. Guilt and shame will get you nowhere. Knowledge and self honesty can help direct your decisions to align more with where you want to be in your life. So instead of wasting your energy feeling guilty about “eating bad” use that energy instead to do better! Turn your negative feelings into positive action with a positive mindset! 

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Top 5 Leg Exercises: Pursuing Leg Strength

Training legs can be a daunting workout, but because legs are the biggest muscle group in the body, a lower body workout can very effective in developing muscle, increasing performance, or weight loss. With as many machines that exist for working out, I find that some of the best lower body exercises just require your body and a barbell or dumbbells! A good warm-up is always necessary to keep your lower back and knees healthy. This can entail glute activation exercises, core work, and/or stretching. Once you’re warmed up, I always recommend working through the big compound movements first and then progressing onto the accessory work once your legs are already fatigued.  This approach will maximize your efforts for the big, dense muscle groups and reduce the stress on your joints during isolation exercises.

Sets and Reps

After warming up, there are a few different sets and rep schemes that you can incorporate to get stronger and gain muscle. A good foundation will always be 3 to 4 sets of 12. But as you get comfortable with that, you’ll need to progress to heavier weights. Start with one set of 15 at a manageable weight, then add weight and decrease your reps every set. Your last set may be so heavy that you can only manage 3-5 reps, and that’s good! The idea is to address muscle fiber endurance (with the first two sets at 12-15 reps) and then address pure strength of the muscle fibers in the second two sets (reps ranging between 3-8). Addressing muscle endurance and muscle fiber strength in your leg workouts will be tough, but the results are worth it. Whether you’re trying to achieve your next level of performance or a certain look, introducing these strategies into your workouts will help.


With squats, you should try to get as strong as you can! Whenever you squat, you want to shift your weight into your heels and keep your chest from falling forward. The stronger you get with squats, the stronger your back and core will get as well.  There are many different ways to squat: back squats, sumo squats, front squats, single leg, sissy, or hack squats, to name a few. Your goals might determine which squats are best for you, or your injuries/limitations may determine which one is best for you. I like doing CrossFit; so for me,  back squats, front squats, and single leg squats are best for me to focus on in my workouts. So whichever type you choose, it’s good to rotate through them with your workouts to avoid over training one movement. 


280 lb for 2 touch and go reps!

Again, get as strong as you can with this! Keep your back straight, chest up, and drive your heels into the ground to pull. I could write whole articles about squats and deadlifts and cues for doing them correctly, but those are the basics of deadlifting. The deadlift is considered the most taxing exercise on your nervous and muscular system because of all the muscle groups involved. That’s what makes it so important to incorporate and get strong with it! Because you should approach the deadlift with getting strong and doing heavy sets, I wouldn’t recommend doing heavy deadlifts on the same day as heavy squats at first.


I have a bittersweet relationship with lunges. They suck. Big time. But they work! They’ll get your heart rate up and they burn a lot of calories.  Aim for 90 degree angles for your front and back leg while keeping your weight on your back leg. Keeping your weight in your back leg reduces the stress on the knee of your forward leg. Lunges are best in high volume training, so endurance is the goal. You can do lunges weighted, but I would recommend a weight that allows you to get at least 20 lunges at a time. Some people’s knees don’t tolerate lunges very well, so they may need to be modified in order to do them pain free. I’ve trained people with knee replacements and hip replacements and every injury in between. If you’re cleared to workout, there are modifications to everything, and I promise you that your body is capable of more than you probably think. 

Romanian Deadlifts

This is considered an accessory exercise. That means you should do this after your big compound movements like squats and lunges.This exercise is great for isolating the hamstrings while still incorporating the glutes and core. I like to recommend that people do this exercise one leg at a time to reduce how much weight they need to get in good work. It’s important to keep good posture and to listen to your body as to whether this is a good exercise for you.

Leg Extensions

This is also considered an accessory exercise and should be done at the end of your workout. Leg extensions require a machine that can be found in almost every traditional gym setting. It’s not necessary for sports performance per se, but it’s very helpful in developing a well rounded muscle structure for legs.

Training legs doesn’t have to complicated to be effective. It won’t be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. If you’re interested in a more in depth training for legs, core, or upper body, check out my online training packages! My online training clients get access to in depth instructional videos and detailed workout routines.

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Meal Prep for the Lazy Cook: Balancing a Busy Life and Nutrition

OK, so the truth is, is that I’m not lazy. I’m just tired from a busy life. Trying to balance a full time job where I’m on my feet the majority of my day followed by kids, homework, working out, etc… My body has just had it by the end of the day and I don’t want to expend more energy on cooking. I want to sit down. I want to recharge because I know that before I blink, I’m going to wake up and do it all again. Sound familiar?

Healthy eating doesn’t have to be hard, if you’re interested in more information about healthy, clean eating, check out my post, Stop Dieting, where I talk about the all the basics. 

So how do I find the balance between recharging and making the time to cook healthy meals? To be honest, sometimes I don’t! I do my best, but sometimes life has a way of kicking my ass and I find myself serving mac n cheese for dinner…again. But I still have to try, right?  The best way I have found is to try to set myself up for success. When things go according to plan, I meal prep only on select days, and on those days I try to cook enough to last until the next day I know I’ll have the energy to cook again. I pick easy things that I can set to cook, then go sit on my keister until it’s done. Crock-Pot recipes are golden! Big batches of soups (bone broth soups are soo good for you)  are great too, especially in colder weather. My personal go-to’s are typically chicken (baked or sauteed with a little coconut oil) cooked with a few bell peppers and rice. I have red meat once or twice during the week to give my body a little extra fats and a different source of protein, but I usually stick with eggs, chicken/turkey, and an occasional protein shake for most of my day to day protein. If you subscribe to my blog, you’ll receive a free guide to clean eating!

I know that with my personal schedule, I’ll have the time and energy to meal prep on Sunday and Wednesday evenings, so that’s when I cook my meals for the week. Any other day of the week, I’m too rushed to get to work or busy with family stuff to cook healthy meals for when I’m at work. I know many people who choose to cook everything for the week on Sunday. Taking on the whole week in one go ended up being to overwhelming for me, so I adapted and did something different. It may take a while to work out what days and times work best for you, so I would advise trying to find the most realistic days you will be able to stick to. 

Meal prepping doesn’t just set you up for success with pursuing health, it helps out financially as well. Instead of paying $5-10 once or twice a day eating out, I can eat 4 times a day for about $10 total. So if finances are something you are pursuing as well, meal prepping just makes sense. It takes a little more effort and energy and trial and error, but in the long run, it pays off big time. 

Meal prepping is key on those busy days when fast food would otherwise be tempting. If you have a full meal waiting for you at home or in the fridge at work, it makes it significantly easier to stick to pursuing your nutritional goals. So if you can, take the time to cook while you have energy so you can recharge later, and not have to worry about sticking to your plan!

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Pursuit of Motivation

Tis the season to get in shape! Usually at the beginning of every year, countless people resolve to lose weight/get healthy/ improve their body. And, unfortunately, most of those people don’t follow through with pursuing their goals. Life can get in the way or, more often than not, they just get discouraged by their slow progress, or lack thereof. 

Curiosity can be a big motivator… Aren’t you curious what your body is really capable of?

I’ve been a personal trainer for almost 15 years, and though I am by no means am expert on motivation and sports psychology, through my experience, I have seen tendencies and trends with a lot of people in the arena of health and weight loss. What I’ve seen is that most people begin their health journey out of a negative relationship to their body–they don’t like their body, they don’t like how they look, and it makes them feel negatively about themselves. So they try to lose weight to feel better. Well, this is a very negative view on fitness–it seeks to subtract from your life (deprive yourself of food, reduce your weight, shrink your body, etc…) as opposed to adding to it. People use this negative mental state as motivation to change their body. But this motivation only lasts as long as they are in that unhealthy/negative headspace. As soon as they get in a healthier mental state, that motivation to improve their physical disappears. 

Then so begins a toxic cycle of self loathing, wanting to get healthy, getting healthy, and then losing the motivation to be healthy. It can be followed by physical regression, which results in self loathing, yet again. I’ve seen the cycle repeat itself over and over again in people and it gets them nowhere. If you are interested in a video where I speak about this very topic, motivation and fitness, you can check out this YouTube channel run by my good friend Misti. If you’re looking for videos on manifestation and positivity, definitely check out her videos!!  She is an incredibly inspiring individual who helps people every day bring positive thinking into their lives. 

I often hear people referring to working out as a punishment for the unhealthy food they ate over the weekend, or for being too busy to work out the week before. That can be a very negative frame of mind with which to approach exercise. Moving and weight training should be a positive journey, whether you’re trying to make yourself stronger, faster, or for more endurance. It should be a discovery of what your body is capable of accomplishing day in, and day out. I’m not a competitive powerlifter, but I can deadlift 315 (conventional, not sumo, for those keeping track), and I’m very intentional in never training, lifting, or eating healthy as a punishment to my body. I’ve gotten very strong out of celebration of my body and out of curiosity. I celebrate when my body can do a certain amount of work, and then I get curious…let’s see what else it can do? I’ve trained many women over the years and within a month I have them pushing and pulling weights that they never thought they would do. They became more capable than they imagined they would and it made all the hard work fun! With that, losing weight and losing inches came as a bonus!

It’s very easy to get caught up in the aesthetic aspects of working out, even for veterans in the gym. I think that social media is responsible for a lot of the pressure we face in recent days to look a certain way or maintain a certain lifestyle. There’s more pressure than ever to look perfect and look like you have your life together. But that’s not reality, is it? Perfection can never be attained. Using that for motivation is futile and only leads to an unhealthy view of yourself and others. The pressure that you put on yourself to look a certain way can be very toxic. There are a myriad of different body types, which makes it impossible for some people to achieve a certain look or shape in a physically healthy way. So before you start comparing your body to those Instagram models we all see every day, think about your genetics and see their unique potential. My body type will never allow me to look like any of the Kardashians, so it’s pointless for me to waste my energy trying. My natural genetics make me tend to gain body fat on my stomach, not my butt or my legs. Think Spongebob… So to achieve the narrow, six-pack-abs waistline with a huge bubble butt, would only lead me to failure. Big failure. But…My genetics allow me to get strong, and that’s what feels best for me to pursue. My body feels it’s best when I’m challenging my strength and performance because that’s what my body type lends itself to. So take a moment to see the potential in your own genetics. I guarantee that your potential is much greater than just how you look in a pair of leggings!

Instead of relying on a negative state of mind to find and maintain your motivation, look to add positive things to your life! Add strength and endurance. Add years to your life. Make a goal to walk/run races with your kids or your friends. Join a martial arts class. Check out a dance class for adults. Try crossfit or yoga. There are countless communities to get involved in and they have the potential to be an incredibly positive force in your life and your future health! So instead of hating your body, begin doing things to add to your life, because your body isn’t actually you, right? Your body is just the physical representation of you. Who you are has always been and always be fluid. Everyone grows and changes over time, and that’s a good thing. It only makes sense that your body will be a fluid representation of you as well. So adding positive things to your life will have a healthier impact on you and your body than a negative punishment. Positivity will take you further than negativity every time.

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Pursue Strength First and Cardio Later

We’ve all heard it….you have to do cardio to lose weight. You have to run to get in shape. Hit that elliptical and burn calories to shed inches. Right? What if I told you that that’s only partly true? 

Yes, cardio burns more calories for the duration of the activity than weight training, but when you’re done with cardio, the calorie burn stops. Weight training burns fewer calories for the duration, but the burn continues in the form of tissue replenishment, repair, muscle building, and muscle maintenance. 

Think about it in terms of a short term versus a long term investment. Yes, cardio will help you lose more weight in the immediate future. But, weight training consistently and building muscle tone is an investment in your weight loss for your long-term future. Lifting is an investment in your metabolism for the years to come. 

Muscle mass takes up less space than fat tissue (significantly less) and it takes more calories for your body to maintain it than fat tissue. So, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body will use up just doing daily life. Don’t get me wrong–cardio is still hugely important and absolutely necessary for cardiac health as well as body fat loss. But weight training should be equally important in the process of becoming healthier and leaner. 

There is also a correlation to lifting heavy weights in building muscle and leaning out than keeping the weight light for high volume of reps. The heavier weight you use, the more muscle fibers, your body will recruit to do the work. Our bodies are built for survival and will use the path of least resistance to accomplish a task. That means, if it can get the job done while only using half of the muscle fibers in your muscle group, it will! Unless, that is, you give it a big enough challenge that requires more fibers helping out. That’s why those 3lb dumbbells need to go and you need to challenge the strength of your muscles, not just the endurance.

Typically, I like to recommend people 3-4 sets of 12-15 repetitions. This is actually considered low weight and high rep. What that means is, the weight should be light enough to be able to complete all 12 or 15 repetitions, but heavy enough to where more than 15 is impossible. So if you’re smoking those sets quickly without needing to rest, or if you’re able to do 17 or 20 reps, it’s too light to do you any good. Go grab those heavier weights!! I guarantee that it will be uncomfortable at first. And sometimes it can be intimidating to venture to heavier weights in the gym. But I also guarantee that magic happens when you’re outside your comfort zone!

Now, a lot of women are concerned with “bulking up” from lifting weights. And in the future I’ll probably address this issue in it’s own post. But, in short, because of our hormone profile, it’s actually extremely difficult for women to get that bulky look naturally. And by naturally, I mean without the help of legal and/or illegal supplements. Men are able to achieve a bulky muscular physique because of their testosterone. Now, women have trace amounts of testosterone naturally, but only a tiny fraction to what men produce daily. That’s why men are typically able to lose weight more easily than women. Testosterone boosts their metabolism, causing them to burn generally 1,000 more calories per day just existing. Because we only produce trace amounts of testosterone, lifting heavy will help our bodies utilize what is there more effectively and improve our bodies response to weight training as well as recovery. Besides, can you ever be too strong?

Increasing your strength will never reduce your femininity. You are a woman, you are feminine. Society likes to tell us what femininity is because they like to make money off of selling us their ideas. The ways in which corporations try to profit from selling women the belief that their bodies need to look a certain way is extensive. That being said, increasing your strength won’t necessarily increase your size if that’s a concern. There are female power-lifters that can dead lift over 500 pounds, and by looking at them, they just look like athletic women. Wearing normal clothes, you would never guess that they were 5 foot tall Amazon warriors that hold world records for weightlifting.

So lift that weight. Get as strong as you can. Get curious to see what your body is capable of! It will help you out with your everyday life, your health, and your journey to weight loss. If you’re wondering how to start an effective weight training program check out my post where I talk about the basics of a lower body program. If you have more questions, reach out!! There’s so much to do and so many solutions to roadblocks that you should never be bored with your training!

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