Graduate School Barbie ™

The image of an older Barbie ™ is amusing. Barbie for my generation has always represented youthful perfection.

Yet all of us – even Barbie – have to grow up and tackle new challenges. My current challenge is grad school. Apparently I am not alone in looking for humor in my situation.

I recently came across a hilarious satire of Barbie as a graduate student. It has apparently been posted all over the Internet. I wish I knew the original author, but I found it here:

This prototype lifestyle doll comes with all sorts of typical student accessories, from a computer to medicine cabinet. The stereotypes of pressure to produce, limited budgets, late nights and bad diet are so painfully true they are funny. But I think that if Barbie just had exercise accessories she could work out her stress and be able to cope with the demands of grad school.

I fondly remember the Barbie ™ workout video from my childhood. Set to catchy music, with smiling colorfully dressed dancers, the video was fun! Not that my course load and homework in grade school were anything like what I tackle now. But I loved getting to jump around and move after a day spent sitting in a classroom. It set the stage for learning about the positive effects of exercise when you are faced with daunting workloads.

When you get moving and your blood is flowing you will unclench your muscles and loosen up. This will allow you to let go and relax and enjoy the moment of movement. It gives you an escape to put your feelings aside and focus on yourself. Is it even possible to stay anxious and tense while losing yourself in dance?

I have found my workouts to be so important with dealing with the intensity of graduate school. A healthy outlook on prioritizing and what’s important is vital for sustaining yourself during long semesters of heavy workloads. Exercise is why I can handle grad school.


Janna dancing to her Barbie exercise video in 1995!

Record Your Holiday Feasts

Have you ever stepped on the scale and been surprised to see that you weigh more than you thought? Have you ever tried to pull on your favorite skinny jeans and have them not fit after a summer/fall of shorts? Have you ever had this dilemma and thought “but I’ve been eating well and dancing most days of the week?” – How did this happen?

Maybe you’ve been taking in more calories than you’ve been burning. A good way to see what’s been happening is to start keeping a food journal. The concept of a food journal can be daunting to some. It sounds hard to have to record everything, even if it is “just a bite of cake.” But it doesn’t take long to do and there are even cool smartphone apps out there if you never have paper handy.

Doing this journal for a week can help you see what you are eating. This is beneficial from several standpoints. First, it will allow you to see whether you are getting adequate nutrition. Do you eat enough vegetables, or does your diet consist mostly of carbs? Secondly, it will help you see the quantity you take in both in terms of calories and amounts of servings. Are you sedentary? Then you will need take in fewer calories than someone who dances who needs more fuel to be able to exercise.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, take the time for this next week to keep a food log so you can see where you are. My challenge – continue your journal through the holidays to document where your weaknesses are so that you can be more mindful. Say you have a glass of wine but are trying to lose weight – that’s your dessert for the day. Do you go to a birthday party and eat cake? How many servings of pie did you have on Thanksgiving and Black Friday? Those calories add up. 1 pound is 3,500 calories. If you don’t compensate for your splurges or exercise to negate the extra calories you take in then you’ll end up with more than just a food baby after the holidays passes.

The holidays are often times when people want to indulge. But consider this trick for this year – how about indulge in your company of family and friends. Be mindful of your servings and if you need that leftover pecan pie slice for breakfast then watch what you eat the rest of the day. Try convincing your party to go for a light digestive-promoting walk after the big meal.

And the best part of having kept your food journal is you will have a wonderful record of all your holiday festive fun.


Shopping As Exercise

It’s that time of year again, when stores begin their discounts to lure in shoppers, beginning with Veterans’ Day and Black Friday. And the holiday sales will continue through the New Year.

Want the most bang for your buck? Head to the outlets if you dare. I bravely ventured to the Woodbury Commons Premium Outlets outside of New York City for the Veteran’s Day sales. The bus ride there was only an hour and it wasn’t that crowded first thing in the freezing fall morning. While the sales ended up not being nearly as impressive as I had hoped, the selection of stores was overwhelming. My friend and I gathered at the Starbucks to plot our day. We figured out the most logical routes to hit each store on our list.

The more you buy – the more weight you carry. Remember that especially if you have to travel to get to your destination. Whatever purchase you make you will have to carry it around to the other stores, as you wait for the bus, on the subway, or walk around the parking lot trying to remember where you left your car. This can help reign in eyes bigger than arms. However, you can also remember that bags are weighted depending how much or what you buy so you are at least getting some resistance training from the purchase. The lifting of your bags to walk or the setting down and picking them up again as you hold up items and try on things counts as exercise. It’s always useful to find creative ways to enjoy a good workout.

Keep in mind that holiday sales are really stressful for employees and sometimes things can be overlooked. If you have garments with security tags make sure you see the clerks remove them all and double check your bag before you leave the store. It’s embarrassing to walk into other stores and have their sensors go off because a tag was left on your dress. Then you have to walk all the way back to the original store to have it removed safely.

We had a nice 7-hour shopping experience with an unfortunate 3-hour delayed bus ride back into the city thanks to traffic and an accident. That’s a lot of walking! We ended our day with cups of hot tea and stretching of our sore legs, arms, backs and feet.

I think I prefer shopping online with frequent yoga breaks!

Exercising. Period.

I was surprised when I ran into one of my students in the hallway and after I remarked that I missed her in class that morning that she responded she had been sad to skip but she had no choice since it was that time of the month for her. I followed up to ask my other students if they also had the misconception that they couldn’t exercise during their periods. I was shocked when three fourths of my class said they had that impression.

Unless we’re discussing the female athlete triad, I’ve never really heard any arguments for not working out on your period. Well except for the excuses from girls who claim they are too tired, feel gross, are bloated, have cramps etc. Actually, I’ve read a lot of studies about how beneficial exercise can be for your menstrual cycle. While I am not a physician, and everyone should consult theirs before beginning an exercising regimen – from a physiological standpoint, exercise is amazing for everything from your cardiorespiratory fitness to weight loss to regulation of your metabolism to hormone fluctuations.

Yes. Exercising during a period can be sweaty. But with the invention of Playtex sport and other such brands you don’t have to sweat having “aunt flow” come to visit.

Being active during your period can help relieve cramps by sending energy to your muscle tissues to help them move and de-constrict. It boosts your endorphins so that your mood swings can be kept under control and it even can help fight the inevitable bloating. I’ve been there – curled up in bed with horrible cramps and I recognize that it can then be a challenge to motivate yourself to be active and get moving when it feels like there is a boxing match going on in your lower abdomen. But I can honestly say from experience that it is worth it to take the effort and make yourself exert some energy. It has helped that I’m an instructor so I can’t just cancel a class because of cramps but if I can get through a class teaching at least at 110% on my period then you could show up and just move around lightly to get your blood flowing.

So next month, put down the Ben & Jerry’s & take off your chubby sweats and go take a class, dance in your room or go for a walk – your body will thank you!

It’s Hot for Our Skin

The heat has been turned on in apartments across the city. It’s the law in New York City that once the outside air hits a certain temperature, central air conditioning must be replaced by central heat. Unfortunately, for me that means that the heat is on and not adjustable. The choice with my thermostat is either On or Off. No regulation of the temperature is possible.

I’ve been dealing with a room that feels like a sauna or a hot yoga studio. I open my window and keep a fan circulating fresh outside air, but the room is still stuffy. It feels strange to put away the down comforter I needed on my bed all summer because of air conditioning now that snow drifts against my window.

And, yes, I’m writing this at the end of October, and in New York there was indeed a snowstorm just in time for Halloween.  When I tried on my German fraulein costume I was shocked to see that my skin looked like I had just come back from a day at the beach – without sunscreen!

Here are some tips to help you get through the cold winter months while the heat is on full blast inside. Keep your skin in good condition so that you won’t hesitate to wear your sleeveless dresses when you go out on the dance floor to warm up.

  • Open your window (s). You’ll get some fresh air, which is important since the heat is using stale air. You’ll also introduce more moisture from outside into your rooms.
  • Buy a humidifier. The heat is pumping in dry air. This can dry out your nasal passages, your throat and especially your skin.
  • Lather up with lotion when you get out of the shower so that your skin has a barrier of protection from the elements. Make sure your shower or bath water is not too hot, because hot water is also drying.
  • Stay hydrated. This will help you fight the light-headedness caused by too much heat. It can also help cool you down internally.
  • Change your light bulbs to more energy efficient types that don’t give off as much heat. Keep your lights off when you aren’t using them.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Bundle Up

It’s getting to be that time of year when it’s cold outside. Walking to and from the gym or studio, it’s becoming necessary to wear a coat again.

It’s important to make sure that you bundle up when you go out during these coming months. You can catch a cold if you go outside wet with sweat. The sweat on your skin will attract the cold air, which not only will chill your bones but also leave you susceptible to catching something.

At least bring a scarf, hat and gloves to retain your heat. Your head, hands and feet are the first places for your body temperature to escape from. When you cover these areas of your body you will feel much warmer.

One fashion look that works surprisingly well is a long warm scarf. You can wrap the scarf around your head and neck while you are walking outside to get to the subway or the next club – then, once inside, use it like a pashmina to drape over your shoulders when you’re not dancing.

I’m still learning techniques for coping with temperature changes between my apartment and the gym. Last week it was really hot and stuffy inside, so before going out I stuck my arm outside the window. The air felt crisp, not cold. But once I got outside and had walked a few blocks I realized that the air had felt so invigorating in contrast to the heat in the building – and despite picking up my pace I was getting chilled.

Layers are a smart fashion choice – I’ve started keeping a cozy sweatshirt in my workout bag so once my body heat cools down after exercise I can pull it on to keep warm. I also like to layer an attractive tank under a sweater, so if the sweater is too much when I’m not just sitting still, I can take off the sweater and still look presentable.

Even when you forget to wear enough clothing in the winter, don’t forget there are other time-tested ways to keep warm. Nothing beats walking in the crisp winter air snuggled against your date with his arm around you, unless it is wearing his gallantly offered suit jacket!

Teaching Injury

Dancers, athletes, and fitness instructors can often overdo a movement and suffer from a sprain. Being injured is an unfortunate consequence of the process of enthusiastic exercise. Yet if you’re supporting yourself through teaching movement, what happens when you are injured?

How do you teach while injured when your students are expecting you to demonstrate the movements for the class? In Zumba, all eyes are on the instructor who must be able to shake it, move it and shimmy regardless of how many classes they’ve taught that week and if they are sore or injured. So what is a girl to do when the plan doesn’t work and you find yourself in a dilemma?

First off, don’t freak out! There are always options. The worst-case scenario is you might need a sub or to team-teach but before you get to that as your last resort consider these options to get you through the class successfully without furthering your injury.

Look at your shoes: do they have support? Did you pull a foot muscle? Do your shoes have cushioning? Perhaps you might need to run to the drugstore to buy an orthotic shoe insert for the area of your foot that needs something extra. Did you hurt your knee? Buy a knee brace at the drugstore. It never hurts to ice a pulled muscle, strain, or sprain so buy an ice pack. I love the gal pal ice bags since they balance well on uneven body parts. The packs with beads inside that freeze but are still flexible are also useful. You can even use a bag of frozen peas.

Be up front in class about your injury so that your students will take seriously injury prevention. I shared with my class when I strained the side of my foot from an improper landing from a jump. I explained that they can jump or step into a side squat but I step to prevent injury. I explain how to land properly if they want to up the intensity level. Advil also never hurts for reducing inflammation and pain. Rest is overall the best cure for most injuries – try to stay off the injured area or avoid using the injured area until it heals. Teach and then go rest.

Facing My First Class

This was it. I was teaching my first class in the big city. I felt like a small fish in lots of water. After teaching at my undergrad gym where I was challenged but had become comfortable, I was in a new space with new students.

This was the start of my drop-in classes for student activities. The classes are free to the students. I am anxious to see how many return and come regularly or who never return. I likely will never know whether they love the class, hate the class, have schedule conflicts, what their names are, what their fitness goals are or their feedback unless they come up to me after class. The dynamics of teaching a drop-in style class are more challenging than a series or block of classes that people register for where you know you see them once a week for 10 weeks. A drop-in class is always full of beginners or first-timers so it requires more breakdown, explanation and stress (will people show up even if the class is free?)

This is my second time teaching in a location without a mirror so that no monitoring is possible unless you face the students. This is my first time teaching Zumba entirely facing my students. At my Zumba Gold workshop, we discussed the importance of face-to-face interaction as a teaching method for being able to control your class in terms of intensity, incidents and interaction. It allows you to clearly make eye contact with your students, which helps them feel more involved and motivated. The most important thing however, is that it allows you to monitor their faces to make sure they are breathing normally, not too hot, not looking like they are about to pass out, so you can head off any problems hopefully before they occur.

It was an adjustment and took some getting used to knowing they could see my face (like when my sweat was running into my eyes and burning so I might have looked like I was crying before I wiped it away with my towel) but by the end of the class I enjoyed seeing their feedback and reactions to the movements. I found it was easier for me to check-in on my shy back row students by seeing them. I could tell when my steps seemed too complicated and it was necessary to break it down. I remember noticing these things when I taught to a mirror but I felt surprisingly more in control in teaching this new way.

I have my first Zumba class in a gym with a mirror this coming week and I’m not sure whether I will teach the new way or the old. I’m thinking I’ll mix it up and do half and half since we will have a mirror. But then again, maybe I will let the class dictate it. If the students aren’t seeming as motivated, then when I face the class the students will have to take more responsibility for their participation, since they can see that I can see them.

Shoe Life

Investing in good shoes is important. Despite the trends promoting barefoot running and dancing, wearing a good shoe provides protection and added support for your feet.

But did you know that your shoes wear out over time? It is necessary to replace your shoes more often if you’re doing more intensity and higher duration activities. For runners, the advice is to replace about every 300 miles.

However – if you’re a dancer or do aerobic dance classes how do you know when to replace your shoes? A quick Google search gives you various recommendations but most are tailored towards runners. Replacing shoes for dancers is not often discussed, until now.

For dancers, since your shoes are important for your movement they tend to feel best once they are broken in. Dancers will often wear shoes until the treads are coming off or they rip before considering replacing them, since the broken in shoe is easier to dance in. For dance aerobics classes like Zumba, your shoes wear out from the high impact cardio. Your treads will become worn because of the lateral and horizontal movements across the floor. It is important that your shoes have enough support to absorb the force of impact from jumping and forceful motions. Over time your shoes will loose their elasticity that can cushion your heels and feet from your exertion.

Just like a runner does, look at the soles of your shoes to monitor how they are wearing down. Run your finger across the bottom of the sole to make sure they are not worn so smooth that they are slippery. You need some traction to avoid skidding on turns. Next, put the base of your hand inside the heel of your shoe and push down. There should be some bounce back from the insole and the heel should not feel as hard as when you push against the floor.

You can extend the life of your shoes by replacing the insoles. I like the orthotic inserts but even replacement insoles sold by your shoe manufacturer will help protect your feet.

1 2 3 4 19