Mar 312017

I am excited to announce the release of my new book, Fitter Than Ever at 40 and Beyond.

I know fitness and how the right balance of training, mindful exercise and good nutrition can transform your life. Rewrite your script of making resolutions and quitting them and start living a healthy lifestyle today. Fitter Than Ever offers an easy-to-follow activity and eating plan and is packed with Slim for Life Secrets to keep you on-track and motivated. This book will make your journey of losing weight, exercising and eating healthy fun and empowering.

The e-books are available now. A paperback print edition will be available by April 30.

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Fitter Than Ever at 40 and Beyond


Jul 032016

BeatStep App for Fitness Instructors

Ever since I’ve starting playing music in classes from my iPhone or iPad, I’ve been frustrated over being stuck with the original beats-per-minute. For years, I would pitch CDs up or down to get the count just right for different classes. For this reason, I found myself sticking to my old CDs whenever possible. When one of my work places removed the CD player once and for all, I knew I had to get more in-the-know about Apps. So I researched Apps that might help with this issue and decided to download BeatStep (cost is 12.99). I had some trouble finding it because another company, Arturia, has a program with the same name at the top of the search engines and is apparently designed for music studios rather than fitness instructors!

At first, I was a bit stymied by the App. After you load a play list and save it, whenever I tried to load a new one from my iPod library, it would ask if I wanted to remove the current songs and I worried I would lose my previous playlist or even the one in iTunes. Fortunately, when I queried BeatStep from their Facebook page, I learned this is not the case. I was also given a step by step explanation on how to load the new playlist and save it. This does not in any way alter your original iTunes playlist. Basically, you are importing it into the App and saving it as a different playlist that you must access from BeatStep.

BeatStep Playlist

BeatStep is very responsive to email or FaceBook correspondence. Here is a link to the BeatStep Facebook Page. The company also sent me a link to several You Tube  videos that outline the major features of the App. You can choose a set BPM for your playlist or a percent of original speed. If the program’s calculation of the song’s BPM is inaccurate, you can select the song and “tap out” the BPM so it resets to an accurate tempo. Here is a link to the You Tube training videos. Watching these videos really helped me get into the swing of using the App.

Once glitch I found with the App is that if you stop playing your music before the playlist ends and then start another class and start playing music, you may hear two songs playing at once. If this  happens, simply exit the program and start it up again (it just takes a few seconds) and you will be back to hearing only one song at a time.

I’m very particular about the music I use for classes. For this reason, I like to download individual songs and make them into playlists instead of buying pre-made mixes. This creates a problem when you want every song in your mix to have a similar BPM. I recently learned that by using the Tempo Planner add-on (cost 2.99 or request a code on the BeatStep Facebook page), you gain this versatility as well. To add on this feature, simply click on the star in the bottom left and enter the code. Now I can go to each song and determine BPM or percent of original song speed one at a time. It is useful to test this ahead of time to make sure the song doesn’t sound terrible pitched up or down a lot.

I don’t recommend downloading this App tonight and trying to use it in the morning. Give yourself a few days to get familiar with it so you feel confident and comfortable with it before you walk into class. With adequate preparation, BeatStep is a great program that can allow you to offer your students more music variety at a speed ideal for the workout you have planned. My students really appreciate that I’ve taken the time to assemble so many fun new playlists. Now I have New Age, Jazz, Dance and Rock, sometimes all in a single playlist and music that before was too slow to use for exercise is now accessible. I hope you enjoy using BeatStep as much as I do.

Oct 252011

Whenever my fitness classes start to feel stale rather than fresh, I know its time to learn more. Conferences and research get me pumped back up. At fitness conferences, such as Fitness Fest and IDEA, I learn new techniques, exercises, and research relevant to my work as a fitness professional. I run out the door bursting with excitement to put what I’ve learned into practice. I literally can’t wait to teach my next class.

It should be like that with your workouts as well. When enthusiasm flags, you seek a way to bring that excitement back to exercising. If your strength training workouts are putting you to sleep, you hire a trainer to show you exercises that are safe, yet different from what you’ve been doing. If you are tired of going it alone during workouts, you join group exercise classes or a group of individuals that do an activity you enjoy. If you have reached a plateau where you aren’t seeing any improvement, you try cross training with less familiar modalities to kick your body back in high gear.

Here in Tucson, we have groups that meet to do many different activities including swimming (we have at least 4 Masters teams – azlmsc.org for Arizona; see www.usms.org for a list in other parts of the country), hiking, running (Southern Arizona Roadrunners – www.azroadrunners.org), mountain biking (Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists – www.sdmb.org), and road biking (Greater Arizona Bicycling Association – GABA – www.bikegaba.org). For those of you who live in SaddleBrooke, there are groups for you right in your neighborhood. I recently learned that the SaddleBrooke Hiking club even has a daily fitness walk at 6:30 that meets at the HOA 1 basketball court (a newsletter on the group can be picked up in the HOA 1 fitness center). Even residents who don’t feel comfortable walking on uneven surfaces can get out there and walk and meet new people.

If your current group exercise class isn’t meeting your needs, shop around until you find a class you find one that’s fun and meets your fitness objectives. Many people I work with report getting excited about trying a new kind of group exercise format such as Zumba or taking lessons to improve their golf or tennis game.

Knowledge can get you excited about working out, too. It can be empowering to read how taking charge of your fitness can reduce your risk of getting Type 2 diabetes, improve bone and muscle density, energy level, reduce body fat, improve HDL (good cholesterol), reverse the “age” of your muscle cells, and much more. Many fitness enthusiasts attend fitness conferences and read every article out there about health and fitness. If knowledge fuels your fire, go out there and get educated! Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Fitness, American Fitness, and the IDEA Fitness Journal are just some magazines I read often. It is important to use your intellect and reasoning to evaluate the quality of what you are reading. There is a lot of misinformation out there as well. Sometimes discussing what you’ve read with a fitness or medical professional can be helpful. The American College of Sports Medicine is a reputable source, which offers annual recommendations pertaining to cardiovascular and strength training for individuals wanting to maintain fitness and/or lose weight.

Whatever you need to do to bounce out of bed excited to move that body, figure it out and then go for it. Your body and mind will be glad you did.

Sep 062011

Are you one of those people that still believe if you do 500 abdominal crunches each day, that flabby middle will evaporate? If so, you are not alone. Many people still believe that over-exercising specific parts of the body will enable “spot” toning or the dissipation of fat from a preferred part of the body.

The harsh reality is that it just isn’t so. Aerobic exercise and strength training help you to burn fat, but your body makes the bottom line decision as to where the weight comes off. Face it ladies, the first place where weight tends to disappear is from the bust line! It’s not fair, but unfortunately the adipose tissue on the abdomen, hips and thighs is usually most unwilling to say a final farewell.

Removing fat from the body is a function of calories in versus calories out, nothing more. If you eat more calories than you burn, you will add fat; if you eat less than you burn, you will lose a pound for every 3500 calorie deficit. The most efficient way to reduce your body fat is to eat a healthy diet, engage in at least 200 minutes of continuous or aerobic activity per week (low-impact or step aerobics, walking, elliptical, cycling or swimming), and follow a regular strength training program. During continuous activity, the body burns fat which facilitates weight loss and increases caloric expenditure at rest. Regular exercise stimulates activity in muscle tissues and reduces the loss of muscle mass during a weight loss program.

People often set unrealistic goals for their bodies, which can be destructive to self-esteem and body image. You will be most content if you learn to make the most of what you have, since each of us was genetically designed to be a bit different. Ladies, forget about the Cosmo cover models; and gentleman, its OK if you have to wear a shirt along with your Calvin Kline jeans. Remember to set your sights on a healthy weight, rather than a perfect body. And exercise regularly, so you will look and feeling the best you possibly can every day.

Aug 022010

I recently started doing some water training in my home pool. Its so nice to get up, throw on a suit (or not) and walk out the door. Because my home pool isn’t as long as the pool where I normally train, I do some vertical kicking and stationary swimming so I’m not constantly touching the sides. Here’s how you can do some stationary swimming in your home pool…

Buy a medium strength Versa Tube and a 6 foot Thera-Band. Loop one handled end of the Versa Tube to a diving board or ladder at one end of the pool. Attach it as close as possible to water level. Then tie one end of the Thera-band around the other Versa Tube handle. Then tie the other end of the Thera-Band around one ankle. Slide into the pool and get started. Try with or without a pullbouy, depending on if it improves your body position, since you will mostly be pulling anyway (the band around the ankle will restrict your ability to kick).

I have successfully done free, fly and breast stroke pull this way, but found it very awkward on my back. Have fun!

Jul 132010

Our New House

Our New House in Oro Valley

When stress strikes, its tempting to back down from your normal training routine. After all, you’ve got the best of excuses to dump the workout for a nap or a strong drink. Or so it seems. In reality, maintaining your exercise routine could actually help you cope better with whatever you are up against. Instead of letting your stress get the best of you the next time around, try some creative ways to keep yourself up and moving?

Speaking of moving, my latest stressful event was a relocation from one Tucson house to another (that’s why my posts have been so sparse lately)! When our offer was accepted and the closing loomed within 30 days, my first instinct was to forget about going to U.S. Masters Swimming nationals later in the summer. After all, I wasn’t going to have time to put in the training, right?

After further consideration, I decided that keeping the championship on the calendar would keep me focused so I would put in the miles I needed not only to do well in my events, but to stay more calm and upbeat as we underwent the stress of the move. And sure enough, its been working. I have maintained consistent training habits and have managed to deal with all of the box packing and carrying as well as repairing and installing various things at our new house without bursting into tears. OK, well I did kind of lose it once when I looked at my old closet floor after I had loaded several boxes and there was still a ton more and I wondered how I had accumulated so much stuff and where I would possible put it all! I do know that had I not been swimming almost daily it would have been a whole lot worse.

Below are some tried and true strategies to help you succeed when stress strikes:

1 – Plan your workouts in advance. Put these scheduled times in your handheld device like every other appointment and stick to the schedule without fail. Pack your gym bag the night before so you are ready to go.

2 – Set a goal. What do you want to accomplish shortly after this difficult time to keep you from missing a workout? It could be an athletic competition, a charity walk or run, or a vacation that requires being physically fit.

3 – Enlist the support of a friend or family member. In the case of our move, I encouraged my husband to go to the gym while I did something around the house so he didn’t feel he needed to miss workouts to do something for me. He always encouraged me to attend all my morning swimming workouts as well. I even trained the day the movers came to pick up our furniture! Be sure to offer encouragement to those close to you when they are under stress so they won’t fall off the exercise wagon.

4 – Release your frustration in the water or as your feet hit the road instead of out on other people. Notice how well it works. When your workout has helped you to cope with stress and deal better with frustrating situations, take note. When your day goes well, you will want to do it again. And people won’t want to hide from you whenever you are under duress.

The next time your work or personal life becomes crazy, don’t let go of your exercise routine. Keeping consistent will have a way of grounding you so the difficult time doesn’t seem as rough. If you have to relocate like I just did, being fit can come in handy. If I didn’t have great muscle tone, how would I have ever handled the packing, carrying, painting, hammering, drilling, backwashing, and trimming that needed to be done? Now if you will excuse me, I have to install another towel bar.

Jun 172010

While vacationing in Ohio, it seemed perfect to stop what I was doing (drinking tea) and write about staying active while traveling. Its almost 9 a.m. here and I am happy to say I have already walked 20 minutes and been swimming for an hour. The Worthington High School Pool is just minutes from the house, so I slipped on my tennis shoes before dawn and walked there to join the high school swim team for practice. Afterwards, I walked back home, had a bowl of oatmeal and now here I am writing this article.

Clients often tell me its difficult to stay active on vacation. I say its a piece of cake. When you maintain your exercise routine, you adjust quicker to time changes, feel happier and more energetic, and good about yourself for staying on track. I make it a habit to always plan what I will do to stay in shape before the trip even happens.

Before travelling to Ohio, I emailed the Worthington Swim Club coach and asked him if he would mind if a Masters swimmer joined his group for practices. When he gave me an affirmative answer and the schedule, I was all set. All I had to do was have the gumption to get up at 6 a.m. every morning, the equivalent of 3 a.m. in Tucson. So far so good.

I also get a lot of residual exercise spending time with my family. One morning I took a 15 minute jog with my daughter. Yesterday, we played Marco Polo in the pool and took an hour-long evening walk along the Olentangy River. I even spent an hour or so pulling thistles out of my mom’s garden. Ouch! My days have been activity-filled. It is a great feeling to know that when I go home to Arizona, I will be in even better shape than when I left.

Another strategy I use for staying active on trips is to plan the trip around a competitive event. I recently wrote an article on this topic (featuring other people like myself who thrive off of this type of travel), which will appear later this year in American Fitness.

I often compete in the La Jolla Roughwater swim and the La Jolla Shores 5K so I can enjoy La Jolla and also get out there and race people. Later this summer I will compete in the U.S. Masters Swimming Long Course National Championships in Puerto Rico. After a few days of pool swimming races in Puerto Rico, I will top off the week with a one mile open water swim and then fly to Granada where from our hotel’s beach, you can swim for miles and still stand on the bottom! I know already I will be swimming every single day of vacation.

If you’re a fitness instructor like me, you can take a trip and teach classes at the same time (check out fitbodiesinc.com). Last summer I took my family to an all-inclusive resort in Cancun and paid very little because of the two hours I spent teaching classes daily. There are places all over the Caribbean where you can have a fabulous time on an active vacation.

So if you’re making a list of excuses of why you can’t keep moving, why don’t you pitch that in the trash and write up an activity agenda. Here in Ohio, swimming will continue to be on the daily agenda as well as walking and the occasional jog. And who knows. Maybe the kids will be able to talk me into getting on the trampoline again for seat wars. I’m not 18 anymore. But I can pretend.

Apr 032010

Many people tell me they can’t stand to workout an hour a day because its “too boring.” Mindless exercise is boring. Bringing your brain into the picture is a quick way to make training engaging instead of dull.

If I’ve planned a 3000-yard swim, I can either get in the pool and plod out 120 mind-numbing lengths of the pool or I can pre-establish a workout with specific intervals and objectives to keep my mind engaged throughout.

Occasionally, I’ll do a long swim so I can contemplate something going on with my life and try to come up with a solution, but I woud be bored to death if I just got in and used my brain for nothing more than counting lengths of the pool (kind of like singing 101 bottles of beer on the wall).

Every time I get in the water, it is with some specific purpose. Maybe I want to achieve a certain time on a set of 100s. Or to negative split a set of 200s (swimming the second half faster than the first half). Or to step down a set of 3 500s (first one slow, second one a little faster, last one really hard). When I attend a Masters swimming workout, our coach sets up the workout for us and then I just mentally plan goal times for different parts of the workout.

I also often think about one specific element of my swimming while swimming a set. Perhaps it might be getting a good pushoff on every turn, keeping my head lower when I do breaststroke or avoiding that crossover I sometimes get with my right arm on freestyle. The entire workout, my mind is engaged and there is a mind-body connection going on. When you just try to force the body do an activity in which the brain is in no way involved, you get boredom.

I bet you’re wondering what I think about watching T.V., listening to iPods, and reading or listening to books on tape while exercising. My answer? That depends. If you want to do some long steady state exercise and aren’t concerned with “correct form,” it won’t hurt anything to do it some of the time. But I think its worthwhile to spend at least some time each week tuning into what is happening with your body.

I advocate not “tuning out” while doing a sport such as swimming that requires a lot of skill. I also think its JUST PLAIN CRAZY to go out road biking with a headset on. While road biking, you should watch for objects and obstructions on the road in front of you and be alert to other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. You can also track your speed, heart rate, and distance to make your ride more stimulating.

Below are a few before/after workout makeovers
1 – instead of that same old 3 mile run (treadmill or outside)…. Put on a heart rate monitor and run 5 minutes to warm up and then finish the run with 2 minute easy intervals and 2 minute hard intervals. Make sure your heart rate doesn’t go higher than is safe for your age and cardiovascular health.
2 – instead of that same old X distance run outside….Put on a heart rate monitor and do random intervals. Warm up five minutes and then sprint until you get to the fire hydrant, the next corner or some other land-mark determined distance and then do a recovery jog in between each hard interval. This way you will get more engaged with your surroundings.
3 – instead of that same old boring 45 minute walk (treadmill or outside)…Go ahead and put the iPod on, but put songs of different tempos in sequence so you can walk to the beat of the music. Some songs will have you walking faster, others at a slower interval.
4 – instead of that same old boring 45 minute walk…Recruit a friend (or family members) to join you, walk your dog (or someone else’s), or go to a state or national park for a change of scenery.
5 – instead of a mile swim….400 yards (8 lengths) warm-up, including different strokes and drills you like and some kicking with a kick board. 12 x 25s (1 distance per stroke, 1 fast turnover, 1 combine distance with speed x 4) 3 x 200s (negative split – second half faster than first) 6 x 50s (any stroke – step down 1-3, 4-6). 50-100 easy.
6 – instead of 45 minutes on a stationary bicycle….Buy or use a spin bike instead. Put songs on iPod that are good for hill climbs, sprints, and out-of-the seat jumps and jogs. Miix up the workout with a combination of these. Monitor heart rate and make sure to insert active recovery intervals.

I’ve spoken to open water swimmers who say they rarely get bored while swimming for hours in the ocean. Why? Because there is too much to think about, they say. Keeping your mind engaged in every aspect of your activity can make workouts much more interesting. Have a fun and productive workout week. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I look forward to hearing about YOUR favorite ways to beat boredom in workouts!

Jan 222010
Susan Dawson-Cook swimming butterfly

Photo by Chris Mooney

Did you know you can turn back the biological clock by 10 years or more doing interval training? It’s true. Recent research says so. I know you want to try it right away, but hold on for a moment! First, let me explain what interval training is and how it keeps the body young.

Interval training consists of short bursts of hard work followed by short periods of active recovery. Active recovery is what it sounds like—you slow down, but keep moving. You can do interval training on the treadmill, stationary bicycle, elliptical, outside walking or bicycling, or swimming. Some group exercise formats are also interval workouts.

Here’s an example of a treadmill interval workout. You warm up for 5 minutes and then alternate between a minute of fast walking with a steep incline and a minute of slow walking without an incline, repeat that 10 times and follow that with a 5 minute cool down for a total of 30 minutes. On other days, you could change it up by adding some intervals of jogging to the high-intensity segments or changing the length of the intervals. Fit people should aim for a 1 to 1 ratio of work to recovery, with intervals ranging from 30 seconds to 4 minutes.

I recommend using a heart rate monitor to ensure heart rate stays within recommended ranges (60 to 80 percent of maximum heart rate for a healthy individual). People taking medications reducing blood pressure and heart rate should refer to the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) to estimate how hard they are working.

People new to interval training often need attenuated recovery periods. A healthy, fit individual can safely work at a higher intensity than a sedentary individual with health issues. Many athletes train or compete at levels higher than 90 percent of their maximum heart rate, whereas individuals with cardiac risk may be told not to exceed 50 percent of their maximum heart rate or an estimated RPE of 11 (light) on the 6 to 20 scale.*

Now on to the why…The lungs and heart work together as an oxygen delivery system, taking in oxygen and pumping and delivering it to the muscles. As we age, heart beats slower and lung capacity decreases, which means that oxygen gets delivered more slowly to muscles.  This is why we fatigue quicker and are unable to move as fast.

Training at a high intensity forces the body to make adaptations to cope with this stress by building more muscle, stronger bones, and a better oxygen delivery system in preparation for the next episode. We can delay age-related degradations in stamina and strength by doing regular interval training. In addition to keeping you younger, interval training burns beaucoup calories, not only during the workout, but for hours afterward.

*Interval training is not safe for everyone. Consult with a doctor before beginning a new exercise program.