Tag Archives: busy life

Four Minutes to Feeling Fab

There are some days when a little warm up and shake out are just what you need to get moving.  Just a little movement can get your blood flowing and also lift your spirits to get you ready to go do great things.

And, look…I know you’re busy.

But what I have here is a four-minute full body warm-up routine.  Everyone has four minutes.  Maybe you can do it right now.  Maybe you can do it while you wait for your kid’s basketball practice to wrap up.  Maybe you can do it while you’re waiting for the water to boil while you make dinner tonight.

Maybe I should stop writing so you can get to it…..

Try it out!

Let me know how you feel!


OnBalance Off-Balance

I recently met up with an old friend in London.  She’s one of those women I don’t see very often (you know, on account of our living on different continents), and I don’t even communicate with very often, but I always make sure we get together when I’m in London.  We first met in the late stages of pregnancy with our firstborns, and her son was born just one day after mine.  The boys are two peas in a pod, finding the same camaraderie and contented friendship that we mamas share.

I’m so grateful for my friend.  She’s also an awesome example of a person leading a fully-engaged life, enjoying the offerings of London while raising her two kids and working as a physician.  She has zero pretense and welcomes discussions about the challenges of balancing the many realities of life.  Anyone would admire her.

This lengthy (but heartfelt) preamble is necessary, as I need you to understand how surprised I was when she told me that she used to be a loyal OnBalance reader, but then the posts started making her feel inadequate.

Ummmmm, what?!?!?

Let’s review:

  • Super nice, absolutely genuine woman
  • Two bright, articulate, and entertaining children
  • Husband who is interesting and a delightful conversationalist
  • Medical doctor, committed to the well-being her patients in a way all of our doctors should be
  • Community advocate who volunteers in multiple capacities in her neighborhood and schools

What on earth does she have to feel inadequate about?


Look, y’all.  We’re all different.  The way we choose to spend our time is all different.  If you are happy with what you’re doing, ROCK ON.  If you’re not, find someone who will support your efforts to make changes.  It’s worth it.

You’re worth it!

In the interest of full disclosure, there’s always another side to my stories.  There are usually multiple other sides to my stories.  Here are some of the “other sides” I can think of off the top of my head:

  • My husband, while he is mostly brilliantly supportive of my running, can sometimes feel marginalized by it.
  • My kids, who I try to raise with a spirit of curiosity and sense of mind-body balance, screw up and have meltdowns.  A lot.
  • I’m a yeller.  I can go foreeeeevvvveeeerrr being patient with my kids until WHAMMO I am no longer patient, and I start yelling.  I’m not proud of this.
  • My house is not a museum.  My house, while tidy, is not usually very clean.  And I don’t particularly care.
  • We often eat very simple meals.  Think “picnic.”  (That’s my fancy, parent-marketing way of saying “random leftovers and other stuff I pull out of the fridge.”)
  • Someone is always not getting enough attention.  Sometimes it’s me.

What I share here at OnBalance I choose because I like to focus on the positive.  I like to provide stories that may inspire others to make changes towards a healthier lifestyle.  I like to offer tips for creating family wellness.

But please know that me and my family are very much a work in progress, too.

If you’re ever in Austin, you’re welcome to come over for a gourmet dinner of baby carrots, string cheese, apple slices, and almonds.  I’ll even clear all the homework papers off the table so we can sit and eat together.  You’ll have to pretend I don’t stink because I ran in the morning but haven’t been able to take a shower all day.  NBD.

Good health and great happiness to you.


Comrades Update: Darkness Befalls Me

This post is one in a series about my preparations to run Comrades Marathon in South Africa next May.  Comrades is the world’s oldest and largest ultramarathon.  The 2016 race is a “down run”, so its 90KM (about 56 miles) will start in Pietermaritzburg and run to the coastal town of Durban.  I am planning on running with my dad, an avid runner since the early 1960s who has dreamed of running Comrades since I was a child.


In any training cycle, there are low points.  I think I’m in one now.

I’m just under two months from my target qualifying race, the Dallas Marathon, and I’m feeling a bit sluggish about it.  Thankfully, my training is right where it should be.  But anyone who does distance running knows that it’s 90% mental, even on the best day.

The biggest wet blanket in my training right now is the darkness that has overtaken my mornings.  I’ve always been a morning runner, enjoying the quiet and relative solitude of my just-out-of-bed run.  I like that I get my run done before anything else interferes with my day.  I like that even if the rest of the day goes to hell in a handbasket, I’ve done something good for myself that day.

Oh, but the darkness!

On a practical level, the darkness isn’t very runner-friendly.  Of course I ensure that I wear light-colored clothing with reflective strips, and I usually wear a clip-on blinking light as well.  The courses that I have mapped out are all well lit by streetlamps, and there is a “just right” amount of traffic on them: I don’t feel isolated or at risk, but I’m not dodging cars all the time, either.

Personally, the darkness is a challenge because I don’t have great depth perception.  I carry a headlamp with me while I run– can anyone actually wear one and run?– so it’s not an issue of not being able to see.  It’s that I spend so much energy trying to decide how to place each footfall that I find the whole run exhausting, regardless of pace.

There’s also the mental drudgery of going out for a run– and coming back from the run– in the darkness.  While some may be inspired by this get-it-done-before-the-sun approach, I don’t feel the uptick in energy.

Despite all of this, I had an A-HA! moment while on a dreary morning run recently.  And that is– wait for it– I don’t *have* to run first thing in the morning.  I have enough flexibility in my schedule most days to wait until it’s a bit brighter to head out for my run.  Sometimes it might mean pushing my four-year-old in the BabyJogger on part of the run, or asking my husband to do a bit more of the morning parenting, or being willing to shift my running plans if a personal training client needs to shift session times.  All of those are variables I can work around, and I’m fortunate to be in a position where I have so much control over my time.  I should use that to my advantage!

(The real A-HA came from the realization that I can still get up at my usual 5.30am.  Instead of heading out for a run in the dark, though, I can use that time to write emails, plan client workouts, and do other business-related tasks that I normally do during the morning hours in between clients.  I am one of those annoying morning people, so there’s no use sleeping through my most productive hours of the day.)

There’s also the rare evening when I might be able to squeeze in a run.  I save evening runs for emergency purposes only, as 4pm to bedtime is family time.  But I could plan to run during the hour while The Monkey is in his piano lesson.  And, bonus: there is a 400m track about a half a mile from where his lessons take place.  It’s just a matter of making sure that I’m properly fueled and in the right headspace for an evening workout.

None of these issues are unique to me.  Most distance runners struggle at some point with fitting in the mileage to prepare themselves for race day.  This type of training demands commitment, but it really helps to develop the understanding that perseverance pays off.

Good health and great happiness to you.


Review: Fit Desk


The evidence is mounting: being sedentary, even for people who exercise regularly, is detrimental to health.  One day I was doing a little internet research about treadmill desks and came across the FitDesk.  It is a stationary bicycle with a desk attached.  I was intrigued.  I did a little more research, read some reviews, and decided to buy it.  That was nearly six months ago, and I’m here to report that it was one of the better purchases I’ve made in a while.

I ride using my FitDesk almost every day.  I use the time I’m riding to answer emails, plan client workouts, surf Facebook, and buy way too many things off of Amazon.  (Like the FitDesk itself, which I picked up when it was a Deal of the Day.  Woo Hoo!)  Basically, if I’m going to be sitting at my laptop, I’m going to be using the FitDesk.  Even this post was written while pedaling.

One of the things I love most about the FitDesk– and there are many great qualities to choose from– is that it’s so so so quiet.  I can ride it without driving myself crazy by the noise, and my kids can watch TV in the same room while I’m riding without turning up the volume.  The other nice feature of the FitDesk is that it’s easy to adjust, so 5’3″ me and my 5’9″ work-from-home hubby can both use the same FitDesk.  I’d resisted buying a piece of exercise equipment because I didn’t want something noisy or something that takes up a lot of space– so the Fit Desk has been a perfect fit in those regards.

Now, I’m not out to convince myself that riding and working is the same as going for a run.  And that’s okay.  I bought the FitDesk to insert more movement into my day, and it certainly achieves that goal.  I can ride very comfortably (16-18mph, resistance set at 4 of 8) without breaking a sweat, and the seat is comfortable enough to ride for an hour.  That sneaky workout burns about 500 calories– not bad! The FitDesk can be used more like a traditional stationary bicycle, with higher resistance and just holding the handlebars rather than typing, and using it that way does provide a high quality cardio workout.

If you work from home and have thought about a treadmill desk, give the FitDesk a look.  It would also work great for someone who finds it hard to fit exercise into the day but likes to watch TV at night.  It’s a small footprint and quite affordable for quality exercise equipment.  And the benefits of more movement are priceless!

Good health and great happiness to you!

 I have not been compensated to write this post.  All opinions are my own.

Review: Garmin Vivofit







One of the biggest changes in the fitness industry in the last five years has been the explosion of options in wearable fitness tracking technology.  The number of companies in the market– and all of the options each of those companies offers– is really quite mind-boggling.

More than a decade ago, I was an early adopter of a wearable heart-rate monitor for running.  I used it on and off for several years, but I never felt like it was truly reliable. But now that more options have come on the market recently, I thought I might start trying some of them out so I can give better advice to my personal training clients.

Many of my clients need basic feedback, so I thought I’d start with a Garmin Vivofit.  Garmin is well-known in the fitness technology industry for making reliable, easy-to-use products.   My experience has shown this to be true.  While the Vivofit may not be super fancy, it does everything an entry-level device should do:

  • tracks steps, calories burned, and total distance travelled
  • adjusts daily goal based on previous days’ activity
  • water resistant
  • 1-year battery life
  • transfers data wirelessly to Garmin Connect
  • can pair with a heart rate monitor (sold separately) for even more feedback

The set-up for the Vivofit is simple.  (And if I’m saying that, it’s really super easy!)  Just enter your sex, age, weight, and height, and you’re ready to go.  Synching data to the Garmin Connect site (or to the app on your mobile phone) is as easy as pushing a button.  You can customize what you do with that data to your liking, using it to set goals or plan new fitness milestones.  I admit that I don’t use all the features of the Garmin Connect site.  Personally, I don’t find the social share site approach motivating, but I know millions of people do— and the software itself has useful, user-friendly features.


I do, however, find the “move bar” quite motivating– it’s a little red bar that appears after a period of inactivity, and this visual cue is surprisingly effective at getting me up and moving again.  It has been a really useful tool in illuminating patterns of inactivity that creep up over the course of my day.  Regardless of the personalized goal number of steps, moving more throughout the day is good for anyone.

Some of the shortfalls of the Vivofit are: 1) it doesn’t always track steps if my arms aren’t moving (think of pushing a shopping cart through the grocery store), 2) it tracks distance based on step count, so when I run and have a longer stride, the distance covered reading is inaccurate, 3) it has no backlight so is impossible to read the time when I wake up in the middle of the night, 4) it has no seconds indicator or stopwatch feature, so I still need another watch or timing device when I run or am training clients.  None of these issues is a deal breaker, especially for the entry-level market, but it does mean that the Vivofit isn’t a great fit for all of my needs.

In the end, if you’re interested in purchasing a piece of wearable fitness technology, do your research.  Make sure the item your considering has all of the features you like.  For someone transitioning to a more fit lifestyle who wants basic metrics and an easy-to-use interface, Garmin Vivofit fits the bill.

This post is the first in a summer series in which I will review fitness-related products.  I have not be compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own.  If you have a product you’d like me to review, please contact me: karen@balancepft.com


Swim Workout: Keeping Cool, Getting Fit


Apologies for missing last Thursday’s water workout post.  I got caught up in the last week of school for my boys, fifth grade graduation for The Bear, and recovering from an awesome vacation you’ll get to hear all about next Monday….

But I’m back today, ready to continue the series of WATER WORKOUT posts.  Today I want to give you some examples of what to do in the pool for a swim workout.  This post is especially aimed at those of you who know how to swim but don’t do it for exercise often.  First, a word of warning: breathe.  Swimming for exercise is hard work.  But if you can find a rhythm for your breath, you’ll soon find yourself logging the laps in a zen state.

I like to do swimming workouts as interval workouts.  The reasoning for this is two-fold: 1) Swimming is hard (see above), and rest is essential, and 2) The thought of swimming for 30+ minutes is exhausting, but the thought of swimming for 1-2 minutes at a time and then taking a rest is much more mentally manageable.

Here are my favorite swim workouts, which all take about 30 minutes to complete:


20 x kick 1 length with a kickboard, rest 20-30 seconds (depending on your ability level)– major low body burner


5 x kick 2 lengths, rest 15 seconds, swim 1 length, rest 15 seconds, use pull buoy 1 length, rest 30 seconds– full-body workout

3 x 1 length fast, 1 length easy; 2 lengths fast, 2 lengths easy; 3 lengths fast, 3 lengths easy; 2 lengths fast, 2 lengths easy; 1 length fast, 1 length easy with 1 minute rest between sets– an endurance challenge


Kick  4 lengths, Swim 20 minutes (any stroke, just no rest!), Kick 4 lengths– for those days you just want to get in the water and swim

These workouts are based on those presented in Run Less, Run Faster, a distance-training book I’ll review in a few weeks as part of my marathon training overview.   I’ve found these workouts a fantastic compliment to my running.

Do you like to swim as a summer workout?  What’s your favorite swimming challenge?

This post is part of a series about Water Workouts: you can see what swim kit you need to make your workouts most effective, learn more about aqua yoga, get a water safety refresher, or find other summer workout options here at On Balance.



Summer Workout Options

It’s June.  When did that happen?

If you’re in a bit of a panic state (NOT THAT I AM, PROMISE!) about summer coming, having the kids around more, and still trying to keep fit, read on.

What are your stumbling blocks to exercising during the summer?

  • Kids at home
  • Kids going to multiple camps/activities so you’re in the car all day?
  • Too hot
  • Interrupted by vacations

If you have kids at home, why not include them in your exercise plans?  Play soccer in the backyard, invent a game that will keep you all moving, or take them to a playground where you can use the equipment to exercise.

If you’re driving the mom taxi all summer, see where you can find just 10 minutes of time a few times a day.  You can go for a walk, step up and down a curb in a parking lot, or even do a 10-minute cardio blast (that’s from my Balance Virtual Bootcamp)…all without any special equipment.

Too hot where you are? I know the feeling!  Check out my rundown of Five Ways to Beat the Heat and keep exercising through the summer.

Are your workouts interrupted by going on vacation?  I know how that goes, too.  But with a little planning ahead, you can get some workouts on your calendar before you leave.  Giving yourself this accountability tool may be the motivation you need to keep at it while you’re away.  Also, make a list of rules before you leave so you know you have room to relax and enjoy while you’re on vacation, too.  Even if your summer vacation is a staycation, setting guidelines can keep you on your path to wellness.

And if you do happen to be one of those people who is in a bit of a panic about summer coming, why don’t you round up a friend or two and go on a walk.  You can talk through some survival strategies and even set up a time to walk again.  Having a friend along always makes life better.


Good health and great happiness to you!