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Boost Kids’ Fitness with These 12 Playful Animal Exercises

Need a workout for kids this summer?  Challenge your kids’ fitness and train like an animal with workout moves inspired by the animal kingdom.  Animal exercises are great kids’ exercise.  They make functional training fun and imaginative while improving strength, flexibility, and balance.   Here are a few to get you started.

What are Good Animal Exercises?

Most animal exercises make you use your entire body, as well as your imagination.  These aren’t just workouts for kids.  They build strength, balance, and flexibility.  Here are some of my favorites.


Strength - Animal Exercises

Strength Building Animal Exercises

  • Bear Crawl:

    On all fours, crawl on your hands and feet with your butt high and abs engaged.  This is great for building upper back and shoulder strength.

  • Crab Crawl:

    Turn yourself over and crawl on your hands and feet with your butt low.  This builds shoulder mobility, as well as upper body and core strength.

  • Alligator Drag:

    From a forearm plank, crawl one arm forward at a time to move your body across the ground. You can do this with hips lifted or low.

  • Frog jump:

    From a low squatting position, jump forward. Return to your squat.

  • Pointer Dog:

    From an all fours position, lift your opposite arm and leg to reach forward and back. Too easy?  Keeping hips and shoulders level, reach your arm and leg out to a 45 degree angle.  This is great for your core and low back.


Flexibility Animal Exercises

Flexibility Animal Exercises

  • Bunny sit:

    Come into a low squat and hang out, like a bunny sitting on the grass.  Encourages mobility in the low back and hips.

  • Elephant Dangle:

    Bend forward at the hips and let your trunk (arms) dangle beneath you.  Stretches hamstrings, shoulders, and low back.

  • Giraffe Stretch:

    Reach your arms overhead and imagine they are the neck of a giraffe reaching up into the trees.  Lean to one side and the other.  Stretches the shoulders, the lats, and obliques.

  • Pigeon lunge:

    Come into a kneeling lunge and let your front foot turn out, away from your body.  Come low into the lunge, letting the thigh and hip rotate outward.  Stretches hip flexors (on the back leg), and rotators (front leg).

Balance - Animal Exercises

Balance Animal Exercises

  • Flamingo:

    Practice standing on one leg, similar to tree pose, but bringing your knee forward to imitate a flamingo.  You can create variations taking your leg into different positions.

  • Silly Monkey:

    Standing on one leg, bend your standing leg and reach both hands down to the ground. Now lift your other leg high, coming into a standing split.  Too easy, want to play?  Try to take your hands away from the ground one at a time – then reach them out to the side.  You can even work this into a kick up for a handstand.

  • Swimming Shark:

    This is the same as a yoga balancing half-moon. Balancing on your left leg, reach your left hand down to support you as you raise your right leg parallel to the ground.  Your hips should stack above each other to face out. Now reach your top arm up to make the shark’s fin.


How Kids Exercise like an Animal

While you can introduce animal exercises through a kid friendly You Tube video, your kids’ fitness will benefit the most if you have time to play and explore your animal challenges.  Use animal exercises to create a circuit style workout.  You can add them in to a hike, run, or bike ride as well.  You can also create challenges and races (allowing the youngest exercisers a head start).  In planning your workout for kids, a few exercises will go a long way.  Repeating stations several times will allow children to master the movement.  This provides a greater benefit than rapidly cycling through a multitude of movements.   Incorporate different animal exercises throughout your week to build several aspects of your kids’ fitness while you play.


Keep Exercising Like Animals All Summer Long

As your family’s imagination takes off, it’s easy to forget you’re building core strength and muscular endurance.  Animal exercises are great for growing brains, too.  They stimulate nerves and muscles, building body awareness along with imagination. Combine animal exercises with a hike or trip to the zoo for inspiration and adventure.  Nature books and videos from your local library or streaming service can turn these workouts into a day-long adventure for your summer staycation. As you plan your summer adventures,  consider how you can be inspired by animal exercises to build in fitness and fun for your kids.

About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.




Perfect Yoga Practice: Which Yoga is Best?

Whether you are looking for a challenging workout or a way to unwind, there’s a yoga practice for you. Yoga’s popularity is growing with everyone from athletes to senior citizens. Based on a 2016 study by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, there are over 36 million practitioners of yoga in the United States alone! This is an increase over 20 million in 2012. “Beyond yoga’s increasing popularity, what’s fascinating is the data shows that those who practice and teach yoga have measurably better perceptions of their individual strength, balance, dexterity, and mental clarity versus non-practitioners,” said Yoga Alliance Executive Director and COO Barbara Dobberthien. “Practitioners are also much more likely to be involved in a variety of other forms of exercise, as well as focused on sustainable living and eating.”

While the top five reasons for starting yoga are: flexibility (61%); stress relief (56%); general fitness (49%); improve overall health (49%) and physical fitness (44%), those who practice report additional benefits of yoga, including a strong sense of mental clarity (86%) and a feeling of being physically strong (73%), rates that are significantly higher than those who do not practice yoga.

Once if you’re ready to get started, how do you find the right type of yoga? There are countless types of yoga, which continue to grow and develop with yoga’s increasing popularity in the United States. Here’s an introduction to many of the more common types of yoga classes and a guide to helping you pick the right fit.


Yoga asana - Woman doing the Cobra Pose

Hatha Yoga:

is what most of us think of when yoga comes to mind. It is any type of yoga that focuses on physical practice of asanas (the Sanskrit word used to describe yoga postures). Areas of yoga outside of Hatha Yoga include pranayama (breath work) or meditation. While some teachers and schools describe the type of class they provide as hatha yoga, it doesn’t tell you much about the type of practice you will experience beyond knowing that it will emphasize physical movement.

Iyengar Yoga:

is one of the most widely recognized types of yoga in the United States.  While these classes are physically challenging, they incorporate the use of props and slower transitions to emphasize proper alignment and accommodate all body types and levels of health. If you would like to focus on building strength and flexibility but appreciate a slower paced class and the incorporation of meditation and breathwork, you will likely enjoy this type of yoga. The postures and alignment introduced by Iyengar are incorporated into most other common types of yoga and will be a good preparation for other practices if you decide you would like to try a faster paced class. Purna Yoga also provides an Iyengar approach to yoga practice.

A woman stretching and doing a Seated Forward Bend

Vinyasa Yoga

This type of yoga links movement between postures with the use of breath. These classes can range from therapeutic to powerful but will usually include both standing and seated postures within a class and may include props for assistance. You will find the level of intensity in a Vinyasa yoga class can vary significantly, so it’s good to touch base with the studio ahead of time to ensure the pace of the class will meet your needs. Power Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga are variations of Vinyasa Yoga, as is ViniYoga, a therapeutic form of yoga (see Restorative below). Om Yoga, Jivamukti Yoga, and Prana Flow yoga also provide variations of a Vinyasa style.

Power Yoga:

includes several types of yoga offered as a vigorous vinyasa practice. Baptiste Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, and Forrest Yoga are all types of power yoga. Classes are designed to be physically challenging, building strength, flexibility, and mental focus. This type of yoga tends to appeal to athletic individuals who use yoga as a form of strength training or who are committed to a yoga practice as its own pursuit. Most power yoga classes can be modified for varying levels of fitness, but you should expect a vigorous, flowing practice and the opportunity to challenge your strength and balance.

A Woman doing the Crane/Crow Asana










Hot Yoga:

can include any yoga class that takes place in a warm or heated studio, or it might refer specifically to a Bikram type of yoga class (see below). Hot yoga classes range in temperature from a gentle 80 degree room that assists flow and restorative practices to more intense classes that take place at up to 105 degrees. Hot yoga studios typically have high humidity as well, which means you will sweat a lot during class. Those who enjoy hot yoga find that the temperature increases the intensity and focus during their practice and that the warm room increases flexibility. Most yoga classes can also be taught in a hot yoga studio. Popular styles include Power yoga, Bikram Yoga, Vinyasa yoga, and Restorative yoga. Forrest Yoga and Baptiste yoga, both variations of vinyasa yoga classes are also provided in a warmer than room temperature yoga studio.

Bikram Yoga:

is a type of Hot Yoga practiced in a room of 105 degrees. Classes are typically 90 minutes long and always follow the same format of 2 breathing exercises and 26 postures. The classes also incorporate brief breaks between each of the postures, which makes the intensity of the class manageable in the heated studio.  Bikram is designed to be a beginner class, though it does not include props and it provides a challenging class for all bodies.  Bikram is useful for building both strength and flexibility and does not incorporate a great deal of yoga philosophy or meditation in the standard class.  Variations of Bikram yoga may be offered as “Hot Yoga”, “26 and 2” or “Classic Hot Yoga”.  These classes may offer a very similar (or identical) format to the Bikram class but do not take place in a Bikram studio under the guidance of a Bikram trained teacher.

Yoga - Feet, Hands, Mat

Kundalini Yoga/Kripalu Yoga:

emphasizes the movement of prana (energy) within the body based on awakening Kundalini, which is envisioned as a coiled snake at the base of the spine.  Classes will include physical postures, but will also include chanting, mudras, meditation, and breathwork.  Kundalini classes may include vigorous postures, while Kripalu classes are likely to be gentler paced.  These classes will resonate with those who are interested in the mental and psychological benefits of yoga and who are comfortable with incorporating chanting and yoga philosophy into classes.

Restorative Yoga/Therapeutic Yoga:

can include different formats.  Restorative classes are generally focused on improving flexibility and might also include a Yin Yoga approach that includes long holds of postures and incorporates work on the connective tissue of the body.  These classes are slow paced and provide an opportunity to incorporate the meditative aspects of stretching and movement. Therapeutic yoga is not limited to working on flexibility and may include addressing muscle imbalances and building strength in the body.  Therapeutic yoga may also be called Vinyasa or Viniyoga due to its incorporation of breath with movement between postures. Many Vinyasa classes also include therapeutic or restorative yoga during a portion of the class.

The types of yoga described above are only the beginning of understanding the many schools of yoga available.  Yoga Journal provides an excellent resource to learn more about the types of yoga and teachers in the United States.  You can also use their website for instructional videos and brief home practices.  Treating yourself to classes at a local studio is the best way to really experience the energy of a group practice and benefits of individualized instruction.  It is also invaluable in learning proper form and improving the alignment of your body.  You can complement this practice through the many online class resources (here are some of our favorite beginner friendly poses) and affordable DVD’s (check your local library!) that make practicing at home a convenient option.

About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.




Running PRs Can Be Made Even When It’s Rainy Outside

Spring is the best time to get back to running.  It’s easy to find road races and willing training partners.  Long days and cool conditions make running a breeze…at least until the rain starts. When spring rains and muddy days threaten your spring race training, stay on track with pre-planned indoor workouts. As a bonus, throw in a little body weight strength training, or core and flexibility work.  Here are the most important ways to stay engaged on rainy days.

Enlist Social Support So you and your running partner are both stuck at home?  While you could plan a workout together that includes circuits and strength training, maybe you just need to check in.  ViaFit will help to hold you both accountable when it instantly logs your training run. You can even use ViaFit to include both your indoor and outdoor training, making it possible to train with partners when you can’t meet for a run.

Go Hard at Home While treadmills can’t provide a true substitution for outdoor distance training, they are great for drilling cadence, intensity, and specific terrain.  If your running program includes regular interval sessions, treadmills make completing these simple.  You can program your own custom workout using the timer, speed, and incline settings.  You can also use one of the many pre-programmed workouts provided.  Overslept and pressed for time?  Try Sprint 8 for an interval program of just 20 minutes.  It’s got the research to support improvements in body composition and fitness levels that will let you set new PR’s next month.

Plan a Complementary Workout:  Does your training plan include rest and active recovery?  Use rainy days to build endurance through a low impact elliptical or cycling workout.  Most running workouts can also be completed on an elliptical or cycle.  While you don’t want to do that for all of your training, it is a welcome break if you’ve been doing a lot of pounding.  Mix your active recovery up with some core and yoga to help you improve your running form and head off training injuries. Circuit strength training is also a terrific way to mix up your home cardio workouts.  Add in bodyweight squats, push-ups, planks, and lunges for strength training that will improve your running form and efficiency.  Or just give our Beach Body program a try!

Keep your Distance Days Flexible It’s easy to continue to train for a 5 or 10K using a treadmill.  Training for longer distances requires greater flexibility.   Schedule your long runs for early on a Saturday or whichever day of the week gives you the most freedom.  If the weather keeps you at home that morning schedule your workout for the next morning or evening.   Remember, distance running outdoors is an important part of preparing for your event. If the weather keeps you from completing your long run, consider putting it off until later in the training week.  Substitute a strength or core workout, or a tough interval run, which tend to go better indoors.

Design Distractions:  A good playlist and natural light make treadmill workouts fly by.  Most treadmill consoles are integrated with MP-3 inputs.  If you have the option of positioning your treadmill in front of a window, you also get the mood-boosting benefits of natural light exposure. Virtual Active technology, such as the Passport system, integrates with many treadmills.  This system can be used on your television or some machine consoles to provide a beautiful outdoor landscape.  The pace and terrain can be customized to your workout as you visit locations ranging from Vancouver to New Zealand.

Rainy days are the perfect excuse to shake up your training plan and add variety to your workouts.  Keep your go-to workouts handy so gloomy weather doesn’t kill your motivation.  And remember to build in rewards for sticking to those workouts.  Here’s why rewarding yourself is so important!


About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.




The Best Way to Reward Yourself for Working Out

Why is rewarding yourself for working out so important? The most successful exercise programs are built on creating a habit of working out. Working out becomes second nature, a thing you are more likely to do than skip. Like any good habit, work out habits rely on reinforcement (more on that here). If you want to become more motivated to complete your workouts and to stick to your workout plan, creating a reward system is important, especially at the beginning. So how do you use a reward system to keep your workout motivation high?

Build immediate rewards into your workout.

Any effective reward system needs to be integrated into your workout routine. Your rewards can be immediate rewards built into the workouts themselves. They can also be a system that allows you to bank for rewards in the long term. Either system works well, as long as you use it. Immediate reward systems help to make your workout a more gratifying experience, similar to getting a massage as a way of self-care. Try bundling your workout with something really enjoyable. Taking advantage of longer daylight hours means you can combine workouts with short trips to beautiful locations, such as a trail run, working out at a local park, or biking to a nearby farmer’s market.

Current technology makes building immediate gratification into your home workouts a possibility too. Having trouble sticking to your exercise regime, but couldn’t stop yourself from binge watching Breaking Bad last year? Make your binge watch a reward for working out. Consoles available on Matrix’s line of cardio equipment will easily stream through NetFlix and Hulu. The trick is to pick a series you love and get hooked on an episode or two. Once you know you love it, only let yourself watch it during your workouts. The one hour duration of these programs is perfect for a solid workout. Choose one of the pre-designed workout programs (I recommend using intervals or Sprint 8 two to three times per week with an aerobic workout 1-2 days per week for active recovery), cue up, and enjoy the mood elevating endorphins that come from linking your workout and the reward.

Need help picking your next binge worthy series? This list of Netflix TV shows lets you know what’s coming and going and is constantly updated.

Create a post-workout reward.

Find a way to make your post workout routine a little out of the ordinary. As a reward for working out, light a candle you particularly enjoy, jazz up your post workout shower with a special shower gel, or designate a special set of post-workout lounge wear. The trick to these routines, is that they continue the positive association of your workout as you continue to see and smell the candle, feel the shower gel on your skin, or enjoy your extra soft and comfy clothes. These cues will reinforce your success in sticking to your workout.

Use accountability to create long term rewards.

As part of your post-workout reward routine, create a system of accountability that lets you bank towards a larger reward. Sticking to your workout program is a big job, worthy of your long-term investment. Whether you check it off in your bullet journal, log it in to your ViaFit account (which you can seamlessly integrate with many JohnsonFit home products), or just stick some money in a jar, designate a long term goal and time frame for achieving it.

I love to reinvest in working out, such as treating myself to a new pair of cycling shoes or heart rate monitor for completing a training program. You can also choose shorter term rewards, such as downloading songs for your workout playlists, upgrading your Spotify membership, or scheduling a night out with friends. The Passport Player, with Virtual Active, is another gratifying long-term reward that can upgrade your home workouts. It introduces an interactive streaming landscape that mimics working out in beautiful environments (a great add on next fall!).

Creating rewards for working out is a powerful tool in creating internal motivation for working out. Want more ideas? Sparkpeople provides a list of 50 potential workout rewards. Rewards are individual and help you to transition to new challenges and routines. Choose the reward that is meaningful to you and integrate it into every workout for the best success in sticking to your powerful new habits!

About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.




Ask an Expert: Motivating Others

Question: I’ve recently started a new fitness routine, but my friend has been more reluctant. How do I go about motivating others around me to be active, too?

Congratulations on your enthusiasm for sharing your new fitness program! While you’re excited about the benefits of your routine, you’ve already realized that different factors motivate different people.

If you’ve made great strides in your fitness, it’s possible that your friend is intimidated by your success, or, possibly, would benefit from a different routine altogether. You could start by finding a new, common activity that the two of you can share. Activities like co-ed volleyball and softball are both seasonal activities that are great for being social and active with your friend or a group of friends.

You can also try outdoor, non-competitive activities, such as hiking, biking, or after-dinner walks. Once you’ve found an activity that you both enjoy, using technology (like the ViaFit app that works with many Horizon Fitness products) can help motivate each other and stay on track.



Keep the enthusiasm up by sending fitness-themed motivators throughout the week. Some ideas might include a special invitation for a night out starting with a new fitness class (cycling and restorative yoga are two ideas), a hike on a favorite trail, creating a special playlist for their next home workout, or joining up with another friend for a small group personal training session.

As you look to expand your fitness journey with your friends and family, remember that it might take a little experimentation to find the fit that works for everyone. Keep it fun, positive, and enjoy the adventure!


About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more on the Meet Our Writers page.



Selecting the Yoga Practice That’s Right for You

With so many styles and benefits of yoga available, sorting out the yin from the yang and the power from restorative can be pretty daunting. Looking for a little guidance on finding the right fit for your first class? Here’s an overview of some of the benefits of yoga as well as the styles that will emphasize these benefits, so you can select the yoga practice that’s right for you.

Overall Fitness. For the fitness-minded person who is just looking for a well-rounded approach to cross-training, yoga can offer benefits in the three areas of fitness: cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility. While you need to keep moving to get your heart rate up, recent studies demonstrate that the cardiovascular benefits of yoga can be in keeping with those of brisk walking and exercise, resulting in increased fitness and decreases in LDL Cholesterol and body weight. If this sounds like your type of Yoga practice, look into a Power, Flow, Core, or Vinyasa yoga classes. You might also see this type of offering billed as Baptiste or Forrest yoga. These classes are offered in both traditional and heated studios and you can expect to sweat even at room temperature.

Strength and Improved Mobility:  Whether you’re looking to prevent injuries, improve your balance, or increase your functional flexibility, yoga can assist you in becoming stronger and moving in a healthier fashion. A classic Hatha yoga class, such as those provided by Iyengar trained instructors, or a traditional “Hot” yoga class, as made famous by Bikram Choudhury, will likely emphasize alignment and balance. If you’re intimidated by the quick transitions between postures found in the Power and Flow styles of yoga, you’ll find the slower pace and deliberate instruction comforting, while even advanced students will benefit from the precise alignment cues and opportunities for continued progression. You might also benefit from an Ashtanga approach, a demanding athletic practice that combines movement between postures with an emphasis on proper technique.



Restoration and Improved Flexibility: If you’re primarily looking for a mind-body connection, stress relief, or an introduction to meditation, along with an emphasis on opening the joints and connective tissues of your body, a slower paced class deemed “restorative” is likely to meet your needs. There are many varieties, including Yin Yoga, which includes long holds of supported postures, Kundalini Yoga, which emphasizes connecting to your sacred energy, and even Yoga Nidra, which is directed at improving your meditation and sleep. While the approaches of these classes differ, they will all result in improved awareness of your ability to observe and change the reactions of your body and mind to stress and daily demands.

While there are many more approaches to yoga than can easily be summarized, having an idea of the benefits you’d like to receive from your practice can help you to narrow down the right fit. Many classes combine one or more of the approaches described here and offer practitioners multiple benefits within a single class. Additionally, many yogis draw from different schools of yoga and different approaches when developing their own unique schedule. Whatever approach you choose, yoga offers enormous benefits when combined with your home fitness program for cardiovascular and strength training and can improve your function both in athletic training and daily activity.


About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more on the Meet Our Writers page.

Understanding Heart Rate

After running shoes and a source to play music, a heart rate monitor is usually the first piece of equipment runners add to their workouts. If you aren’t using one now, you’ve most likely at least played with them in the past, calculating whether you’re working too hard or not hard enough, estimating your total calories burned, and even tracking your mileage or sharing your workouts. Using a heart rate monitor can give you a lot of insight into the quality of your workouts, fitness level, and effective training. So what are the best ways to really get the most out of this popular gadget? Let’s break down the benefits:

Step 1: Get your real max heart rate. While the calculation of (220 minus your age) has long been the standard for estimating your max heart rate, there are newer, more accurate methods for fitter individuals. One favored formula is 205 – (.5 x your age).


The biggest take-home is to recognize that your maximum heart rate is very individual and isn’t going to be in complete agreement with any formula. If you see a number on your monitor that’s higher than you thought your maximum heart rate was, that number is your new maximum heart rate. Use it for planning your training.

Step 2: Calculate your training zones. Once you’ve established your actual maximum heart rate, you can use it to calculate your zones for training based on the amount of effort that you’re shooting for in a given workout. At a minimum you should calculate your easy zone, at 65% of your max (not above 70% of your max), and your work zone, at about 85% of your max.

Knowing these numbers allows you to design your workouts intelligently depending on your training goals on a given day. You should include easy days that are directed at increasing your endurance and providing active recovery, during which your heart rate stays below 70% of your maximum. While this may leave you working at a significantly lower effort than you’re used to, (perhaps even walking) you will find that your fitness improves in time as you’re able to work more efficiently on your hard training days.



Step 3: Alternate your training zones throughout your week. If you’re choosing cardiovascular workouts every day, make sure you’re building in active recovery days that keep your heart rate below 70% of your maximum at least twice a week, more frequently if you feel that your age or the demands of your training make that a necessity.

Heart rate monitor training is a great way to keep your efforts consistent between your treadmill sessions and time training on the road. For more on Heart Rate Monitor training, John Parker’s Heart Rate Monitor Training for the Complete Idiot gets consistently good reviews and includes programs that will both challenge you and improve your recovery. Polar’s website is also full of tips directed at helping you get the most from your monitor.

About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more on the Meet Our Writers page.

Technology to Inspire Your Workout Routines

Stuck in a workout rut? Don’t panic. Everyone has been at one time or another. If you are wondering where to start, why not let technology give you a hand? Try a few of these tips to give your workout routines a new life:

Recruit a Buddy. Whether you meet up in person or use an online application, working out with a partner increases your accountability. Free applications (like ViaFit) have made this easier than ever by incorporating online fitness tracking software that links with many other fitness apps (just in case you and your buddy use different devices) allowing you to effortlessly upload your home workouts, set goals, and motivate each other. Having trouble finding the right workout partner? Many apps can help you with this as well by creating on-line communities with common goals and challenges.

Set a New Goal. If you’re not feeling motivated to train for a race or event this spring, fitness apps and devices can help you set a goal that’s customized to what you do want to achieve. Tracking steps, increasing your total time spent exercising, or accomplishing a set number of workouts are all manageable goals that can be tracked through popular apps. Seeing your workouts on your home screen and receiving congratulatory messages through your smart phone can go a long way towards motivating you to stay active and step up your training this spring. Customize your software’s goal setting feature to set your unique challenge.



Try a New Gadget. From smartphone apps to GPS enabled wrist watches, fitness devices can be found in every price range and can inspire you to go further, run faster, and try new experiences.  Breathe new life into your spring training by familiarizing yourself with a new app or device and maximizing its benefits through customizing the settings to your profile. Incorporating a device that includes heart rate tracking can also be a motivating way to monitor your progress in a new activity and to track the calorie burn improved performance that accompanies your workouts.  You can also use your device to track your activity level as you run your way through your Saturday errands, add in a walk after work, and take the kids to the playground. You’ll find your motivation and your fitness increasing just by getting more daily activity.

Create a New Playlist. No discussion of technology and exercise would be complete without considering the motivating impact of music. You can create custom playlists through online tools (such as Spotify) or access playlists that others have uploaded.

Ready to get started? Web MD has a great article on customizing workout approaches to meet individual needs. Take the time to give it a read, then get moving!


About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more on the Meet Our Writers page.




Exercise During Pregnancy

As a part of your prenatal care, your doctor has probably already talked to you about the importance of exercising during pregnancy. Benefits include everything from better sleep and improved mood to an easier birth and better outcomes for you and baby. Even if you weren’t regularly exercising before pregnancy, you can still start a simple program and begin to smartly exercise during pregnancy.

If you’re new to exercise, it is very important to start slow. Avoid activities that include a risk of falling or potential injury to the stomach area. An indoor cycle and elliptical are great options. Walking on a treadmill is also a good program to start with, though if you are not already a runner, you’ll probably want to wait to start until after delivery.

Every woman is unique (and we encourage you to speak with your doctor before starting any sort of fitness program), but current recommendations are to work up to a half hour of exercise daily for the best benefit for you and your baby. After the first trimester, avoid exercise that involves lying on your back for extended periods of time, and respect the increased elasticity of your body by avoiding overstretching or unbalanced load bearing activities (such as weighted lunges), if those cause discomfort for you.

If you’re already committed to your training program, you can probably safely modify it throughout your pregnancy. Previous heartrate guidelines of staying below 140 are no longer recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can now work within the exertion levels in which you are used to training. Provided that you do not have any physical risks associated with your pregnancy (such as bleeding or history of premature births), you can continue moderate and high impact activities (such as jogging and running), as your comfort allows. For more pregnancy information on safe exercise during pregnancy, ACOG’s website provides a wealth of resources for moms to be.

During my own pregnancies, I found that with special attention to pre/post workout nutrition, working out helped tremendously with nausea and energy levels. Sticking to a diet that was high in protein and contained plenty of natural electrolytes was especially helpful in alleviating dizziness during exercise. I also used compression tights to help with the light-headeness that can happen after exercise due to the expansion of the circulatory system. Late in pregnancy, an SI belt was also very helpful in improving my comfort while running and assisted me in avoiding associated joint pain.

Most importantly, choose the exercise program that allows you to enjoy your pregnancy or at least feel better throughout it. Talk with your doctor to help craft the right program will leave you with more energy, better health, and will make it easier to recover following labor and delivery.


About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more on the Meet Our Writers page.

Simple Recommendations for a Healthier Heart

February is American Heart Month in the United States, aimed at bringing attention to a national effort to prevent one million heart attacks in the United States. Simple choices in diet and exercise can have a substantial impact on your overall heart health by improving overall cardiovascular function and decreasing cholesterol and tri-glyceride levels. For daily choices that can make a big difference, I recommend that you try some of the following tips.

Common advice for improving heart health is to follow a low fat diet, but we also know that focusing on the type of fat in our diet matters more than the overall level of fat intake.

Trans fats are the biggest offender when it comes to unhealthy fats. These artificially stabilized fats hit our heart with the double whammy of raising bad blood cholesterol while lowering healthy cholesterol. So what should you do?

  • Increase healthy fats (like those found in olive oil and nuts) which beneficially impact overall cholesterol levels.
  • Be sure to read nutrition labels to see if trans fat as an ingredient. Even if the amount per serving is very low, these levels are often reduced by indicating an artificially small serving size, which can still add up to a detrimental impact on your heart.
  • Finally, while reducing saturated fat consumption is also beneficial, these natural fats do increase both protective and unhealthy cholesterol levels and can be included in moderation.

For more dietary recommendations that will help with improving heart health, the Mayo Clinic provides simple recommendations such as including more soluble fiber (found in foods like oatmeal) omega three rich fish (salmon and sardines), nuts, olive oil, and foods with added plant sterols.


In addition to cholesterol, elevated tri-glyceride levels are an indicator of risk for heart disease and diabetes. These levels increase when we routinely consume more calories than we burn.  While healthy diet choices like reasonable portion sizes, moderate alcohol consumption and an emphasis on fruits and vegetables will likely have a positive impact on your triglycerides, these numbers are also helped by regular exercise.

General recommendations for heart health are to ensure at least 30 minutes of movement most days of the week. If you are working to control your weight increasing this level of movement to as much as you can fit into your day is likely to be beneficial. Rather than emphasizing overwhelming endurance sessions, break your goal down into approachable segments throughout your day, such as increasing your overall step count, climbing more stairs, and adding in brief activity breaks throughout the day.

Many fitness monitoring apps can help you in monitoring your progress towards your daily goal and can even be integrated with your home workouts through the ViaFit app offered on many models of Horizon Fitness equipment.

Free Polar Chest Strap with Cardio Equipment

To make your heart rate tracking easier, select exercise equipment that will sync with Polar Chest Straps. Get a FREE Polar Chest Strap with Horizon Elite machines.

For more information on heart health, offers a wealth of tips and resources. While these small changes many not seem like much, when they become daily habits, they can add up to a big impact on your heart health, weight loss or maintenance, and overall well-being.