Back up your health: Yoga for back pain

Imagine a virus going around that causes pain, and stops you from driving, lifting your toddler, shopping for groceries, and exercising.

Now imagine a medicine that prevents this virus. You would take it, right?

This pretend “virus” is back injury. It is real and happens to people every day when they trip and try to catch their balance, roll out of bed, bend over to pick up a bag, take a kickboxing class, or perform a dead lift. The medicine I prescribe to avoid “catching” the virus is a few yoga poses for the upper and lower back. As always, you should check with a doctor, chiropractor or physical therapist to diagnose the cause of the back pain, which could be anything from sitting too much, to stress, to lifting, or even a herniated disc (which I have had twice in the last 20 years.) I have found these poses to strengthen area, realign the problem and fix the pain. However your healthcare practitioner may prescribe an MRI, surgery or rest instead, depending on the source of the pain.

Lower for Living:

Strengthening your lower back muscles is important for people who don’t exercise on a regular basis, but equally as important for those who do exercise but overlook the lower back. If you have a bad lower back, you can’t do those crunches, bicep curls, lunges or daily living activities.

Upper for Posture:

The upper back exercises are important as well, especially if you sit at a computer or hunched over a desk much of the time. It is equally important if your exercise routine includes pushups and bench presses but not working the opposite muscle group – the trapezius and rhomboids. Hunched posture can cause painful knots and strains, chiropractor bills and give the wrong first impression.

Moves: It’s best to use a flow or vinyasa that creates counter-stretches, so that in one pose you are extending (straightening or arching) the spine, and in the other you are flexing (bending forward or rounding). If experiencing back pain,  twists should be limited, as they could help turn a bulging disc into a herniated one. It’s also important to stretch the hamstrings, hip flexors and glutes, because tightness in these muscles can lead to pulling and pain in the back.

cow cat

Cat/Cow (Marjaryasana/ Bitilasana)This is a great way to start your yoga practice even if you don’t experience back pain. It warms up the body, helps you focus on the breath and strengthens the arms, back and core. Start on your hands and knees in a “tabletop” position. Make sure your knees are set directly below your hips and your wrists, elbows and shoulders are in line. Center your head in a neutral position, eyes looking at the floor. As you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling, gently release your head toward the floor. Inhale, coming back to neutral position on your hands and knees and allow your belly to sink towards the earth, slightly arching your back while lifting your head to look forward and bringing the chest towards the sky. Exhale, coming back to neutral “tabletop” position on your hands and knees. Repeat 10 times.

Opposite Reach Back

Spinal Extension/Bird Dog/Hunting Dog           

This pose is a great way to tone and strengthen your upper body, core muscles, work on balance issues and strengthen the lower back.  Come into a hands-and-knees position on your mat, keeping a neutral curve in your lower back, strong arms and look at the floor between your hands. Next, slowly extend your right leg back behind you with your toes turned under and the ball of your foot on floor.  If you are feeling stable, lift your right leg up until it is about parallel with the floor, but no higher. If you still feel stable,  reach your left arm (opposite side) forward and parallel to the floor, as if you were to shake hands with someone in front of you. Hold for 3 deep breaths, and repeat on the second side. After holding 3 times, you may want to flow the pose, inhaling as you lift the arm and leg, and exhaling to lower. Modify: If you are having lower back pain, keep the toes of your straight leg on the ground rather than lifting your leg. If you have wrist pain, bend your elbows and rest your forearms on blocks, rather than putting weight on your hands.

cobra

Sphinx Post/ Baby Cobra (Bhujangasana) Lie on your belly, legs side by side with toes pointed on the floor behind you. Place your hands flat on the floor so that they are directly underneath your shoulders, elbows off the floor, and lower your forehead to the ground. Inhale, slowly rolling up and back, using your lower back muscles rather than just your hands (think: snakes don’t have hands). Move slowly, so that you feel each vertebra arching back. Hold the pose for 3 deep ujai breaths, before you get as high as your elbows make sure you are not overextending the lower back. No pain should be felt in the lower back. Slowly roll down, keeping your head back until last. Repeat two more times. As you get stronger you can lift up until you can rest on your elbows, making the backbend more pronounced, while relaxing the glutes.

down dog

Down Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) – This is one of my favorite poses for building upper back strength, flexing the low back, and stretching the spine, calves and hamstrings. From sphinx or baby cobra, lay back down onto your stomach and then lift up onto hands and knees. Press your hands strongly down into the mat and lift your forearms up. Your fingers should be spread like starfish, with the middle finger pointing directly forward. Curl your toes under and lift your hips up and back, keeping your knees bent and heels lifted. Gently roll the outside of your upper arms down and feel a widening across your upper back, establishing external rotation in your shoulder joints, spreading your shoulder blades apart. Straighten your elbows and press your hands into the mat as if you were trying to push it away from you, elongating your spine lifting your hips to the sky into an inverted letter “V.” Keep the feet hip-distance apart and begin to “walk the dog” by inching one heel closer to the mat at the time. Eventually you may be able to straighten both knees and reach the heels almost to the floor. (Note: If you can glance at a side mirror, make sure you’re in a V – with the head between the arms, shoulder blades reaching down the back towards the hips, and sits bones lifted as high to the sky as you can. It’s common for beginners to take the arms and legs too far away from each other into a wide V and to look at hands instead of relaxing the neck and looking at the knees.) Breathe deeply for 5 breaths while gazing at or past your knees.

 

Staff pose (Dandasana)– From down dog, come back down to all fours, then cross the ankels and sit back and down. Next, extend your legs in front of you with the feet flexed and the backs of the legs touching the mat, knees not bent. You may already feel your hamstrings stretching. Sit tall and reach the crown of your head to the sky. Inhale, then exhale and fold forward with a straight spine, reaching the hands towards the knees (beginners), shins or feet (advanced). It’s important not to bounce, but rather grow longer on the next inhale and lower if possible on the next exhale. Hold the pose without bending the knees for 5 breaths, being sure not to round the spine. If the spine is rounded, back off from reaching towards the feet and sit taller. It’s not about touching the nose to the knees, but feeling an incredible hamstring stretch and stretching the lower back as well. Surrender to the pose.

 

Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) – From staff, lower down to lie on your back (supine), bend your knees and place your feet on the floor underneath the knees, both hip distance apart. You should be able to touch your heels with your fingertips. Your hands should be by your hips, palms down. Exhale and push your tailbone upward toward the pubis, firming (but not clenching) the glutes, and lift the hips toward the sky. Keep your thighs and feet parallel and knees over ankles. Next, interlace the fingers beneath your glutes with pinky sides on the floor and extend through the arms to externally rotate onto the outsides of your shoulders. Stay in the pose for three breaths, and lower hips to the floor. Repeat 3-5 times and release with an exhalation, rolling the spine slowly down onto the floor, then hug the knees into the chest for a counter-stretch. Your glutes and lower back with feel strength building and your chest will feel more open and stretched.

 

Supine Figure Four (Supine Pigeon) This pose stretches the glutes, specifically the periformis, and tight glutes can cause back pain. It offers less room for error than pigeon and often feels good to lay on your back to relax it and feel grounded. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet lying flat onto the floor.  Then, cross the right ankle on top of the left knee. Start here and then gently press your raised knee away from you with your right hand Then, interlace your hands underneath the thigh of left leg and pick your legs up to hug them into your chest.  If you are unable to reach your arms that far, you can use a yoga strap. Hold for five deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.

 

Savasana (Corpse pose/final relaxation) If lying down with your legs extended is uncomfortable in corpse pose for your final relaxation, bend your knees and place them together while the soles of your feet are under the knees but hip-distance apart. If this position still hurts, place your legs up a wall or find a rolled-up mats, blankets, or towel to place under your knees when you lie flat to encourage your lower back to press into the floor. These modifications will help create length in your lower back to alleviate any tension. Hold the pose for at least 10 calming breaths, then if comfortable, roll onto your right side and stay for 3 breaths in fetal postion. Next, use the strength of your left arm to push you up to a comfortable seated position for meditation or to get on with your Namas(day).

Back it Up

Before I became a personal trainer and yoga instructor, I didn’t realize the importance of working my back as much as working my abs. I ask you to add these moves to each workout you do and take this advice from someone who went through a back injury and could not do normal daily tasks… and take your (yoga) medicine.

Summer Product Review: All Natural New You- NikkiFitness Faves 2015

When I shoot fitness segments on national TV, they do my makeup done professionally. It’s enough to turn a former country-mouse into a NYC beauty diva. However, my love for the all-natural, wellness, fitness and not absorbing chemicals in general, caused me to go back to my country roots and search for all-natural products. A skin cancer diagnosis in the family and being pregnant with my second child also played a role in my search for less chemicals on my skincare daily routine. This #NIkkiFItnessFaves summer product review strays from my normal fitness product picks to summertime body-conscious organic, vegan and natural products that you put on your body after you sweat the toxins out.

So please indulge me while you pick up some products to indulge your pampering side. It took trying a few samples to get me to totally ditch my previous makeup bag, medicine cabinet and shower caddy to totally restock and restore for health.  I’ve included some colors that work for me, medium complexion, but all it takes is a visit to each website to find the shades for you.

How to get glam from with products from the garden…

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Body Wash – Shea Moisture’s Manuka Honey & Mafura Oil Intensie Hydration Body Wash with African Rock Rig and Baobab Oil. The scent is enough to hook you, but the 10% of each sale they give back through Community Commerce Initiative and the ingredients list makes you want to stock up and shower three times a day!  A 13 oz bottle costs $9.99 and they have many other scents, a remedy scroll bar for your type of skin/hair/needs, products ranging from men to baby, and even offer natural face masks. http://www.sheamoisture.com/Community-Commerce-Manuka-Honey-Mafura-Oil-Intensive-Hydration-Body-Wash_p_849.html

 

 

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Face Cleanser– Kimberly Parry SeaOrganics Creamy Cleanser with coconut and argan is rich in sea minerals, vitamins and lactic acid to help your skin look and feel soft and silky. The ingredients glossary helps you navigate your way to a clean facial cleanse. $58 http://www.kimberlyparry.com/skin-care/creamy-cleanser-coconut-argan

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 10.59.20 AMExfoliants – WIth accolades from Yoga Journal and Organic Spa Magazine, and this cool packaging, I couldn’t wait to try Balance Guru’s Organic Farm-a-ceuticals Scrub Me Body Scrub. Then I opened the package and the invigorating smell of Raw Sugar, Organic Coffee, Coconut Oil, Babassu Oil and Cocoa Butter (plus a little of Spearmint and Ginger to spice up your scrubbing experience) gave me a jolt of happy. Safe for expecting mothers, nursing mothers and children, this is a must-try. $22.99. http://balancedguru.com/products/scrub-me-nice-and-gritty-body-scrub

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For the face, exfoliate with Crumbles Strawberry Lemon foaming food facial scrub from Buff Her House of Exfoliation, smells so good you want to eat it. Lemons are a great skin brightener, with high vitamin c its a great antioxidant. Lemon also neutralizes free radicals and gives a boost to collagen. Strawberries are high in salicylic acid, one of the main ingredients in over the counter acne medications. Strawberries are rich in Vitamins A & C. $25 http://buffher.com/products/strawberry-lemon-crumbles

 

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Deodorant and Lotion– Another place on the body, like the lips, that absorbs a lot of chemicals is the armpits. I have looked for years for something that is strong enough to last through a hot day or a heavy workout, trying crystals, all-natural homemade concoctions, and products. Nubian Heritage Honey & Black Seed with Wild Honey and Apricot Oil 24 hour all-natural deodorant is the closest I have found yet. It’s slightly stickier than the average drugstore brand, but smells great when you put it on – better than any deodorant I have ever used. It definitely lasts all day, but needs to be re-applied before bed. For an average workout, you can wear it. For the hardest workouts, I still recommend using the normal brands so those in class next to you don’t give you a funny look. Still, that covers you for most of the day without the chemicals. There are several other inventive scents for  $7.99 each which I can’t wait to try. If you love a good smelling lotion or body butter, shop their Patchouli and Buriti Shea Butter moisturizers.  https://www.nubianheritage.com/product-types/deodorants
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Face Mask -Earth Kiss offers 100% natural mud and clay masks infused in a bamboo sheet and energized with 85 plant micronutrients found in Himalayan Shilajit.
It’s a quick and relaxing way to deep cleanse and help balance the skin to its optimal health and vitality. Choose between revitalize, hydrate, rejuvinate, exfoliate, pore refining and pore cleanse recipes $2.99 http://www.myearthkiss.com

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Protect from the sun with SPF MyChelle has an array of über-safe, natural sun protectants that will guard against both UVA and UVB rays. Titanium Dioxide and clear Zinc Oxide offer clean, broad-spectrum defense that helps prevent the signs of aging, and research has even shown that Zinc Oxide can shield against ultraviolet rays as well. What’s more, their sunscreens for the face have soothing Aloe to ease signs of redness and irritation before they have a chance to occur, and restorative algaes reduce sun-induced inflammation while replenishing oils hydrate and relieve your skin. $17 http://www.mychelle.com/SunShield-Coconut-SPF-28br?sc=7&category=4417#.VVkurMZbz1o

 

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Lips – Not convinced that the skin absorbs chemicals? You should at least be sure that if you wear lipstick you also eat it. Every day. If you only change one thing, change your lipstick to a natural brand. My favorite still, after many samples, is Burts Bees, caramel shade. It looks as good as my Chanel favorite with a summertime sexy shimmer, but 1/5th the price. You can be sure you’re not ingesting chemicals when you put it on then eat a meal, take a drink! The Vitamin E, beeswax, peppermint and sunflower oils only cost $5.  Check out the ingredients: http://www.burtsbees.com/Lip-Shimmer/02313-00,default,pd.html#ekAdP0R90ZFZbvlH.99

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Under-Eye Concealer– Josie Maran’s ultra-hydrating concealer crayon seamlessly smoothes over blemishes, dark circles, and uneven pigment, with no caking, creasing, pastiness, or fading away.  There are six shades for all skin tones, and the chubby, retractable tip just glides like butter. The 100% pure, organic Argan Oil is the main ingredient for natural, earth-friendly beauty, free of parabens, synthetic fragrances, and irritating chemicals. There is also an  Argan Tinted Moisturizer, for maximum luminosity and an all-over, evened-out glow. Luxury with a conscience under your eyes costs $20.  http://www.josiemarancosmetics.com/argan-creamy-concealer-crayon.html#.VVk3bsZbz1o

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 5.41.30 PMEyes (and Face): Eyeshadow/Eyeliner/Browliner from Honeybee Gardens. These items offer shimmer, shadow, smokey eye and glam without leaving the garden. National TV-approved by me, and natural without a tear over chemicals on your oh-so-thin-skin of the eyelids. The pencils glide on like liquid eyeliner and give your brows a model-look. Bat an eyelash at the vegan and cruelty-free ingredients for $8.99 each.

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Get their pressed powder for $10.99 while you’re there. http://honeybeegardens.com/cosmetics/

 

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Mascara– Rejuva Minerals’ Mega Lash is a  water resistant, lengthening and thickening mascara an Organic Spa Magazine pick, and was presented to the attendees of the 2015 LA Red Carpet Event for the Grammy’s. It’s designed for women who want to reduce their overall chemical load by living cleaner and greener, and to experience wellness every day  More and more Hollywood personalities are demanding high quality natural and organic makeup for use on set. Rejuva provides for the needs of celebrity personalities such as Shailene Woodley and Lorielle New, is used on the set of CBS’s “The Talk” and HBO’s “Girls.” But I’m the last person who cares what a celebrity uses. I tried it for $14.95. My eyelashes look awesome now and I feel better knowing about their ingredients vs the average mascara on the market. I’m also a fan of their bronzer/blush/pressed powder which you can score a sample size with a lid that limits the  spill factor for $5.95- pictured here. Investigate yourself at http://www.rejuvaminerals.com/store/product1025.html

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Cheeks – I like Virgin Mineral Makeup because other samples I tried had loose powder that fell out or got too much on my brush. This blush – in a shade called “radiance”- was not too pink and not too bronze, and contains a middle piece of plastic that allows only so much to penetrate to the top, where your brush can grab it. The website contains lots of other products that keep your skin young, by sticking with high-quality products that avoid certain ingredients such as talc, corn starch and parabens. $22 at http://virginnmineralmakeup.com/product/radiance/

 

After looking great all day…

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Makeup Remover -Juicy bamboo natural facial cleansing cloths are made in small batches and saturated in vitamins B12, C and E, then soaked in citrus essential oils.  Their “secret weapon,” a nourishing blend of honey, is heated, liquefied, and then blended with sunflower oil and jojoba oil and put into facial cloths that harvested from unbleached bamboo natural fibres, which mean they have a lower environmental impact than a standard wipe, making them cashmere-soft with no paragons, synthetic fragrance, sulfates or  alcohol. Sounds like hard work, but taking your makeup off won’t be!  $15.50 http://kaianaturals.com/shop-2/juicy-bamboo-natural-facial-cleansing-cloths/

Natracare’s new COSMOS-certified Organic Cleansing Make-up Removal Wipes  Perfect for any gym bag, these make-up removal wipes are now available across the country at Whole Foods and online. Taking it off (make-up that is), has never been this easy or safe. These wipes are organically formulated and free from harmful chemicals.  They wipe gently and effectively remove all make-up while moisturizing your skin too.  And with the COSMOS-organic seal, Natracare wipes are the purest make-up removal wipes on the market – the world’s first of its kind! Prices vary by location, and you’ll also find intimate and baby wipes. http://www.natracare.com/p2219/en-GB/Natracare-Products/Wipes/Organic-Make-Up-Removal-Wipes.aspx 

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Face moisturizer – Immunocologie Face Serum is a highly concentrated, ultra-hydrating nutrient rich essential oil formula dry to the touch, that I like to use at night. Combined with the Vital Oligo Complex, this strong emollient supported by the Balanites Roxburghii Seed Oil increases epidermal lipid recovery, providing a robust plumping while also bringing essential vitamins and nutrients to the skin. These nutrients, including omega fatty acids, vitamins A and C preserve moisture in the skin, fight free-radicals and stimulate collagen production leading to increased elasticity. And you just glow. $185 dollars. http://www.immunocologie.com/immunocologiefaceserum/ 

If that’s a little pricy, try Chia Seed Passion Fruit Oil for $32 https://www.lather.com/chia-seed-passion-fruit-facial-oil.html

 

Get your 8 hrs sleep, wake up fresh, splash with facial cleanser, add more natural deodorant and start the day with one of my workout videos the next morning!

Fitness – fit it in, Nikki.

Walking Workout with Weights to Fight Common Aging Issues

Optimize Your Outdoor Walking Workout

If the thought of workouts make you want to cry, cheer up, because walking might be all the exercise you need to combat obesity, diabetes, perimenopause, menopause, hypothyroidism, and even osteoporosis.

Physical activity is an important part of a weight management program with decreased calorie intake. Finding a workout you like and will make part of your lifestyle will keep the pounds off once you lose them. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Exercise has a benefit of reducing risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, beyond that produced by weight reduction alone.”

Reports show that tougher workouts might actually cause setbacks when you are suffering from hypothyroidism, and by adding small weights or resistance tubing, osteoporosis effects on bone health can be minimized, and blood sugar can be regulated for diabetics. A regular fitness routine can also help offset dipping estrogen levels which can lead to breast cancer, weight gain, and depression in those with perimenopause and menopause, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The NIH recommends starting with “Walking 30 minutes for 3 days a week and build to 45 minutes of more intense walking, at least 5 days a week. With this plan, you can burn 100 to 200 calories more per day. All adults should set a long-term goal to accumulate at least 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, and preferably all, days of the week. This regimen can be adapted to other forms of physical activity, but walking is particularly attractive because of its safety and accessibility.”

Location: On nice days, go outdoors and do the bonus moves I outlined. Studies show that the green vegetation, sunshine and blue skies of nature boost your mood and de-stress your mind. If you can find a walking location with some hills, it will increase the muscle toning and calorie burn. If it’s too hot, cold, raining or snowing outside, take the walking workout to your treadmill or one at the gym. If a treadmill is not available, get my 30-minute no-equipment  Anti-aging Walking Workout with Weights DVD or download the app for itunes or android.  It was shot on a beach, so it’s another way to cheer you up on a rainy day! There are 15 bonus moves that march your muscles past a basic walk.

 

Tools:

  • Stopwatch/stopwatch app –  These come standard on smartphones and will allow you to use the minutes (if you are not sure of miles walked each workout) for improvement in training and time your bonus move intervals (below).
  • Weights – Add 3-5lb weights for extra toning, calorie burn, and to help fight osteoporosis. I like sand weights that just look like little pillows rather than dumbbells. You can also use resistance tubing for some moves.
  • Music – I have upbeat music playlists in different genres on my website at Nikkifitness.com but you can also just create your own by combining your favorite songs. Maybe you chose music from a trip you took, a time in your life that was especially happy, or something beachy.
  • Audiobooks – These can be your secret walking weapon! Download audiobooks from iTunes or the library to your phone or listening device, throw on some headphones and ONLY allow yourself to “read” while walking. This way, you look forward to your walk even more because you are dying to know what happens next in the story!
  • Friends – Workouts are always better with friends. Instead of going out to eat, drink alcohol, or go to a movie, make active playdates with a friend. You can both motivate, laugh, make the time fly with conversation, and avoid the extra calories that other outings might add.

 

Plan:

Week 1 Walk ½ mile or 10 minutes M-F. Rest Saturday, do yoga Sunday.

Week 2 Walk 1 mile or 20 minutesM-F. Rest Saturday, do yoga Sunday.

Week 3- Walk 2 miles or 30 minutes M-F. Rest Saturday, do yoga Sunday.

Week 4 – Walk 3 miles or 40-45 minutes M-F, Rest Saturday, do yoga Sunday.

 

Weighted walking moves to work cardio, legs muscles, biceps, triceps and shoudlers:

bi curls kick up

 

Biceps curl and kick: step forward with the right leg, raise the left knee and extend the leg into a powerful kick forward with the left foot flexed while raising the weights up to shoulder level to work the biceps. Lower the left leg, and kick with the right while lowering the weights. Repeat the kicks and biceps curls for 30 second intervals.

tri kick lunge back good Stepping triceps kickbacks: Place the left foot on the ground pivoted to the side with a moderate bend in the knee.  Do a slight lunge with the right leg behind. Pull the weights into your ribcage with elbows lifted (starting position). Bring the right knee in towards the other knee and “kick back” the weights  by extending the arms to engage the triceps. Pull the weights and right leg back to starting position and do a 30 second interval. Change facing direction and repeat on the other side.

 

side shot shoudler weight knee lift

Shoulder knee lift: Step forward with the left foot and hold weights by your hips.  Lift the right knee up to hip level as you raise the weights just above your chest. Lower the weights as you step the right foot down and lift the left knee. Repeat for 30 second intervals.

 

 

front lunge shoulder sie raise Shoulder lateral raise with lunge: March for a count of 4 with a right leg lead and weights in your hands. Lunge your right leg forward and lift the weights to the sides with a slight bend in the elbows. (Make sure you lunge far enough so that your right knee is directly over your right ankle, not out near or past the toe, and keep your torso directly over the hips.) Push off your right foot back to standing and lower the arms. Lunge forward on the left leg and lift the weights laterally, engaging the shoulders again. Lower weights and push off the left leg back to start. March for 4 counts and repeat for a 60 second interval.

 

inside bi curls 2 Inside biceps cross: take your march and change it into a toe tap with the weights and your palms facing away from you, and arms extended towards the ground. When the right toe taps, curl the left hand in towards your right shoulder, across the center line of your body, while keeping the left elbow close to your waist. Lower the left hand. Tap the left toe and cross the right hand and weight towards the left shoulder. Repeat for 30 second intervals. side shot overhead tri press goodTriceps overhead press with march: March your feet to the original walking pace, and lift both weights overhead. The elbows should point to the sky and be bent so that the weights are directly behind the neck and hands are touching at the knuckles (starting position). Continue to march right and left and lift the weights to the sky by straightening the arms. March right, left and lower arms (two counts for feet = one count for arms). Repeat for a 30 second interval.

Repeat these moves in order of the intervals laid out above three times for a full set of arm weighted intervals. Check out my next blog for walking workout muscle moves you can do with resistance bands to work your chest, upper back and more!

Fitness – fit it in! Nikki

5 Ways to Exercise While Pregnant (and get body back after baby!)

Mother’s Day is around the corner and the Royal pregnancy is about to pop , so it seems everyone has babies on the brain!

If you’re pregnant and worked out before you conceived, you can continue at a less intense pace as long as cleared by your doctor. (If you didn’t work out at all before, now is probably not the time to start, but perhaps some walking around the neighborhood might be in order.)

The benefits of staying active include more than being fit for labor. Pre-natal workouts help reduce stress, release feel-good endorphins, burn extra calories (think keeping the bump contained to just he belly and not spreading to your butt, hips, arms and legs when you overdue the desert), keep up your endurance (for walking up steps and doing errands in your last month), cut leg cramps, help you sleep, maintain good posture and tone your arm muscles for holding the little tot when he/she arrives!

As long as you’re feeling good, some of the best exercises to do while pregnant are:

1-Swimming – this type of workout is great for pregnancy because you will avoid the bouncing and joint pain that often comes with HIIT, aerobics and running. The cardio high will keep you coming back for laps that tone your muscles while keeping your lungs in good shape.

2- Walking – This is my favorite workout at the moment (I am seven months pregnant and usually run 12 miles a week when not this large) because running has begun to hurt my legs, hips and back. I created the Slimnastics Walking Workout (www.nikkifitness.com)  DVD and App download video for prenatal exercise, anyone recovering from an injury or after giving birth and being cleared by a doctor (normally 6 weeks after delivery), and simply to keep moving as you age. Aside from strolling through the park, you can burn calories and keep up your endurance by add some moves like V steps, lunges, hamstring curls, knee-ups, walking kicks, twisting knee curls, and, running lunges. Bring along an exercise band (resistance tubing) and you can add lots of upper body moves as pictured here!

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3-Indoor Biking – spinning also keeps knee, back and ankle pain at bay for the most part, and provides a great cardio workout. Some classes now add light arm weights to tone the upper body. Indoor spin classes are preferable to biking outdoors, because the chance of falling off a stationary bike that you are clipped into is much less than having to swerve to avoid an obstacle or hitting a pot-hole and losing your balance on an outdoor bike. Stay safe and avoid falls, and ride indoors, make new friends at class, enjoy the music, and sweat without overdoing it. Work at about 80% of the effort you used to exert, and if you get lightheaded or feel any discomfort, take a break. Drink lots of water and have snacks like bananas and nuts on hand. Once the belly gets huge, you may feel like the upper legs hit the bottom of your stomach or your upper body curves into the “bump” too much when reaching for the handlebars. The positions I find most comfortable are in the saddle with the handlebars up as high as they will go or seated with my hands on my hips, and second position where you’re basically standing up and holding the sides of the handlebars.

4-Yoga – taking time to breathe with ujjayi breath, focus inward and gently stretch and strengthen muscles through yoga is a great way to exercise and de-stress during pregnancy. Because of the hormone relaxin in your body during these 9 months, you’ll want to limit some poses and modify others. For example, omit warrior 1 and substitute high lunge instead. Avoid inversions, twists, and backbends, like up dog and camel, that can put baby and belly in an uncomfortable position. During sun salutations, lunge forward with the front foot on the outside of  the same side hand instead of inside between both hands to make room for the baby. You should also preform forward fold and child’s pose with wide legs. Keep standing balances  safe by holding onto a wall and modify (for example you can do tree pose with the lifted foot on your ankle instead of above your knee if needed). Avoid dancer and twisting standing balances. Finally, during the second and third trimesters when laying on the back is not advised, instead of savasana laying on back, lay with bolster pillow between your legs and turn onto right side, ip and arm to relax and reflect at end of your practice. Poses like down dog are great for upper body/back strength and posture while stretching those calves that are prone to cramps in the last months. And remember to rest and take child’s pose any time you need a break.

5- Muscle toning certain target areas will not only keep your arms and legs looking strong, but they can also fix some common pregnancy ailments. In my classes and DVDs I generally recommend multitasking your workouts (doing upper, lower and core at the same time and adding in plyometrics), but while pregnant, you should single-task. Focus on arms only, or legs only for example. You can help fix/avoid back pain and posture by picking up some light weights (5-8lbs) and performing back flies, cat/cow stretches on all fours, spinal extensions (also called pointer dog) where you set up on your hands and knees and outstretch your right leg with left hand, hold for 10 seconds and then reverse the move for 10 repetitions.

To ease leg cramps, roll out the legs on a foam roller (see my free how-to video here) and stretch the calves after your workouts or walks by lunging with your hands on your front knee and your back heel pressed into the ground. Hold for 30 seconds on each side.

To help you sleep and tone the arms and leg muscles, perform seated arm moves like biceps curls, overhead triceps presses, shoulder overhead presses and pushups on an elevated surface, like a coffee table or a wall (to make it easier as you get heavier). For the legs, try assisted wall elevator lunges where you hold onto a wall with your legs scissored so that the right is in front and the left is behind you. Bend the knees to 90 degrees and lower towards the floor (your front knee should be directly over your ankle, not the toe or past the toe. If it is, step the legs further apart.) Rise up and down for 10-20 reps while holding onto the wall. Repeat on the other side by switching the legs.

Postpartum Workout: For ways to work out with the baby once he/she is big enough, around 3 months, check out my Baby Bootie Camp Workout video!)

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Fit in your fitness while pregnant, so that bouncing back after baby is a breeze!

BIO

NikkiFItness is a 37-year-old fitness expert, author of The Slimnastics Workout, a freelance fitness writer, and the star of 11 fitness DVDs/Videos/Apps including the new 2015 Anti-aging Walking Workout, 2014 Slimnastics Stability Ball Workout, the Seasonal Affective Disorder Workout, Hard Core Abs, Fit Travel Workout, Booty Camp, The Slimnastics Workout (Yoga+Plyometrics Fusion), Red Carpet Runway Workout, Military Wife Workout, Baby Bootie Camp, and the Beach Bride Destination Wedding Workout (Amazon). Nikki’s “Slimnastics” exercises have been featured in over 100 national media outlets including the New York Times, Live! With Kelly and Michael, Fox & Friends, GMA Health, Shape, Self, Fitness, and Women’s Health. Her “Improve the Move” workouts focus on multitasking toning and plyomentric cardio intervals (HIIT- High Intensity Interval Training) to cut workout time in half and boost metabolism. Nikki is an AFAA certified NYC personal (and celebrity) trainer, group fitness instructor at Crunch in Manhattan, and a 200hr RYT YogaFit/Yoga Alliance trained yoga instructor.She is also the “spokestrainer” for Huggies Little Movers and SilverSports antimicrobial fitness gear. Nikki got her start in fitness as a Syracuse University Cheerleader, where she graduated with a degree in Broadcast Journalism from the prestigious Newhouse School. Search for “NikkiFitness” on Facebook and Twitter, to get the free #movesoftheday and #mantrasoftheday. Her music playlists, video demos and DVDs can be found at  www.nikkifitness.com