Category Archives: Fitness

Fitness Over the Holidays

It’s mid-December and the holiday season is now fully upon us. What does that mean? Probably a little less time in the gym, a few more cookies than usual, and hopefully a lot more time with friends and family. Good things all around in my humble opinion.

If you’re traveling over the next few weeks, you might be feeling a little anxiety about skipping your workouts and training sessions. Here are a few quick and maybe unexpected tips to help keep you on track:

Stop stressing.

Hey you, when’s the last time you actually took a prolonged rest? Did I hear never? Well, look’s like now is your time! And what better occasion could there be to give your body the rest it needs to recover than when spending lots of quality time with your loved ones? You’ll likely be eating a little more than usual, giving your body some extra fuel to use towards recovery. When January 1 comes around, you’ll feel refreshed and super motivated to get back to your normal training routine.

You can still keep your health goals in mind.

Remember that not every meal in the month of December is a holiday meal – most of the time you’re going to be eating the normal, healthy food that fuels you. Right? If not, give that some thought. Holiday food is delicious and should be savored, and it loses its luster when you’re overindulging. Eat grandma’s famous nut roll and enjoy the hell out of, but not every night for a week. You are capable of moderation, and your body will thank you for it.

Use travel as an opportunity to try new fitness things.

One of my favorite things to do when I go home to visit family is to try out different gyms and studios. Never tried yoga? Find a local studio and rent a mat! Climbing gyms abound recently and are a ton of fun, even for casual climbers. Think spinning isn’t for you? You might be surprised.

If you’re looking for a cool place to lift, don’t hesitate to ask the UF staff! We may know a place that suits you (we’re all meatheads after all).

If you’re going to lift, consider simplifying your training.

Union Fitness is a pretty sweet spot and we have a lot of cool equipment you probably won’t find at your basic commercial gym. Be flexible in your training for these few weeks. It’ll be easier on you mentally to head into the gym and just focus on the basics. This doesn’t mean you can’t push yourself! Maybe this is the week you give try a set of 20 reps on your squats?

No access to a gym? Work out at home with Fitness Blender!

I recommend Fitness Blender to friends all the time for travel workouts. They have tons of workouts that can be done with just your bodyweight (or you can include any equipment you have access to). You can choose how long you want to work out for, what body parts, and what type of training.

When in doubt, do burpees.

They’ll destroy you no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

Happy Holidays from the Union Fitness Team!

Ryan’s Training Log

Training log:


Meet is coming November 17th but my back has been giving me more trouble than usual. Most of the time it is just a moderate amount of tightness but after a solid warm up the tightness fades away. A while back I pulled 495 which my back did not enjoy as much as I did.


Besides the physical discomfort and having to adjust more training sessions than I like, the mental aspect is probably the most challenging. One day when deadlifts were feeling like absolute garbage I talked to a fellow member at the gym, who just recovered from a more serious injury than I have, about how to not get discouraged from an injury. He responded (paraphrasing) “You can’t go down the spiral of what you can’t do. Focus on the rehab and what you can do”.


So that’s what I am doing. Luckily I am surrounded by experienced lifters here who have been handing me all the info on their past back injuries. Which has definitely made a significant change in my back.




OH Press 145 3×3
Pull-ups 4×8
FB Incline press 3×15
Bodyweight BB tri extension 4×12
Lateral raises 3×20
Side planks 2x :30 sec each

To supplement, or not to supplement….

One of my favorite questions- “what supplements should I take?”


Everyone from mom and dad to Ray Lewis have turned to supplements at some point in their lives. Why? Sometimes out of necessity- doctors orders. Sometimes to gain a perceived edge over their competition. And sometimes out of ignorance.


I don’t want to comment on the morals of the fitness industry- it’s a rabbit hole I’m no interested in going down for the sake of this article. The industry as a whole is “OK.” But I’m going to be critical of the supplement industry, and deservedly so.


Supplements ARE NOT regulated by the FDA. They can be made in someone’s kitchen, branded, marketed, and sold anywhere, even GNC. Of course GNC decides what to carry and what not to carry, but no matter what, NONE of the items on their shelves are FDA approved. Do I think the FDA regulations do a good job of protecting us- the short answer is no. But would ANY oversight in the supplement industry be helpful- yes.


CAVEAT EMPTOR (Buyer Beware)

Fat burners, Testosterone boosters, Weight gainers, Detox pills…the list goes on.


Fat burners raise your heart rate, period.
Test boosters lower your estrogen levels so your testosterone is higher (relative).
*FYI gents, we need estrogen just as much as we need testosterone.
Weight gainers are typically loaded with sugar.
Detox pills…how about let your liver and kidney’s do their job?


So we’re back to the question that almost everyone asks- “What supplements should I take?”


How about this- “Should I consider taking a supplement?”


A supplement is defined as something that completes or enhances something else when added to it.


Answer these questions honestly, and you can very quickly determine what, if anything, you should be taking:


  • Are you getting 8+ hours of sleep per night?
  • Are you hitting your caloric maintenance number?
    (A surplus will cause you to gain weight, a deficit will cause you to lose weight- obviously goal dependent)
  • Have you had blood work done to determine if you may be deficient in any vitamins or minerals?


If you aren’t eating well balanced meals or are getting a lot of processed foods, you’re missing out on essential micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). If you aren’t getting 8 hours of sleep, your body’s hormones are already out of whack. And if you don’t know what, if anything, you’re deficient in, why supplement? You don’t even know what you’re supplementing.


And supplementing poor habits is a waste of money. Eat healthy. Sleep more. If you can’t take commit to those things, put your wallet back in your pocket and save your money.


Now, I realize most of you will not go through all of this before supplementing. So I’ll give you the basics, as I see them. This is not a recommendation and I am not a doctor.


Zinc, Magnesium, B6
One of the greatest supplements ever invented. It will help you sleep and provides two minerals that the majority of the population is deficient in. *the most bang for your buck


Vitamin D3
We don’t get enough sunshine in Pittsburgh, so this is likely another area where you could be deficient. It will take months after starting supplementation to see a significant improvement in levels, but this should all be checked through blood work. Remember, it is fat soluble, so it needs to be taken with food that contains fat.


I prefer glycinate because it is absorbed easily with little GI discomfort. Too much magnesium will having you running to the bathroom, so start with small doses. Again, most people are deficient here. Magnesium is used in over 300 chemical reactions within the body…it’s important. And if you go to the gym regularly, you need more than the average none gym goer to put it technically.


This is one of the most studied supplements ever. It helps with athletic performance by facilitating ATP production (ATP, if you remember from high school biology, is cellular energy). If you dose this too high, it will strain your kidneys.


Moral of the story- don’t try any of these without consulting your doctor.
Sleep more.
Eat better.
Then supplement, maybe.

Good Stress, Bad Stress – What’s the Difference and How Do We Cope?


This really goes without saying, but it’s how this article needs to start: every single person, reading this or not, has experienced stress of some kind. It’s unlikely that any of our readers have ever been chased by a bear (if you have been, please tell us all about it ASAP), but maybe you’ve had to give a speech in front of a large group of people, got a terrifying medical diagnosis, or got overwhelmed during college finals week. To your body, these events are all the same, and all produce similar reactions: an excess of adrenaline, pounding heart, stomach in knots, hyper aware of everything around you. When you’re feeling these symptoms, your body is in a sympathetic state: what we commonly call fight-or-flight mode. The good news is that this kind of stress can actually be a good thing!


Acute stressors include activities like the training you do in the gym and taking on new challenges in your day to day life. Going skydiving for the first time? You can bet you’re going to have a stress response! But in that situation, it’s a welcomed response. The sympathetic state you go into in the face of something terrifying turns off all the bodily processes that are, in that moment, unnecessary, diverting all of your energy into making your body and your mind work faster and more accurately. When you overcome your body’s urging you to STOP AND RUN in the face of a challenge, you’re not only getting to do the things you really want to do, you’re building resolve and resiliency that will carry over to all other aspects of your life. Lifting heavy weights and running long, long distances create stress on the body and localized inflammation, needed to rush blood and nutrients to the now slightly damaged tissue. In the rest period after, your body has the chance to both recover and supercompensate, so that the next time it needs to perform that task, it’s better prepared. If you never pushed yourself, you’d never get that response, and you’d never get better!


Some people take the idea of using acute stress as personal development even farther. Life coach and motivational speaker Tony Robbins uses a fairly extreme method of creating acute stress: cold water immersion. Every morning, he starts his day by plunging into a vertical pool of 57-degree Fahrenheit water for several minutes. There are lots of physical benefits to cold water immersion – improved lymphatic and cardiovascular circulation, reduction in muscle inflammation – but I’d argue the real benefit is in increased resolve at overcoming such a major stressor. If you want to give this method a try at home, give a 2-3 minute cold shower a try in the morning. It’ll definitely wake you up, take you out of your comfort zone, and prepare you to face just about anything that day.


If there’s good news, that means there’s also bad news. When you ruminate on that public speech, when the medical diagnosis leads to a long treatment plan, when you’re constantly feeling like you’re behind on your schoolwork, you’re experiencing chronic stress. With chronic stress comes chronic inflammation: a 2012 Carnegie Mellon University study found that chronic stress inhibits the body’s ability to regulate inflammation, which can lead to quicker development of disease. So now, not only is your day to day life more difficult because you’re feeling those acute stress symptoms all the time, you’re actually making yourself chronically ill on top of being chronically stressed.


Before I get into some ways to help mitigate that chronic stress, let’s look at how and why it’s happening. Cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone, is the biggest player when it comes to chronic stress and inflammation. When your body is constantly sensing stressors (remember, to your body there’s no difference between being hunted and taking a hard test), it is also constantly secreting cortisol to help you handle those situations. Cortisol, despite its negative reputation, is a super useful hormone. As stated above, some acute inflammation is good! We need it to heal and ultimately get better. Cortisol allows that to happen when all is in working order. The catch comes when your stress never really subsides. In this situation, your body is nearly constantly secreting cortisol, and in doing so decreases your cells’ sensitivity to the hormone. What does that mean? You need more and more cortisol to regulate that inflammatory response, so that response gets out of control and there’s still tons of stress hormone hanging out in your system. Over time, chronic illness can result.


Now, how do we avoid this? First, refer back to my no bullshit self-care guide. Tackling stress-inducing situations and events head on and early is always going to be the most effective way to mitigate chronic stress. Prevention is the best medicine after all. However, there will always be major stressors that happen suddenly and seemingly at random. Here are a few tips to help calm down, both in the moment and over time:


  1. Belly breathing! Deep, diaphragmatic breaths have the incredible power of taking your body out of the sympathetic, fight-or-flight state, and putting it into a parasympathetic, or relaxed state. The results can be just about instantaneous. See Ryan’s article on RPR, which utilizes belly breathing first before any other methods, here.
  2. Meditate. This one will be hard to use in the moment until you practice it a little. Meditation has traditionally been a struggle for me: I’d quickly get frustrated at how my mind seemed to work against me and just would not turn off. With some practice and an excellent app called Breathe, I’ve learned that meditation isn’t about sitting in a field of daisies with a totally clear mind. It’s about developing the ability to direct your thoughts where YOU want them to go. You don’t need to be at the mercy of your thoughts. It’s your brain, you can control what happens up there with practice. I try to meditate for a few minutes each day, with guidance from my trusty app. When I get into crisis mode, it is now much easier for me to direct my thoughts to something useful instead of careening out of control.
  3. Practice makes perfect. Or at least it makes things easier. Like I said above, taking on some acute stress in the form of training, trying new things, or something as intense as an ice bath help you become more resilient in the face of stress. Practice handling stressful situations that are more within your control. Make those challenges harder (that’s progressive overload) over time to continue getting stronger. Life isn’t too unlike the gym, huh?


Further reading:

April State of the Union, Fitness


It’s that time again. Welcome to April’s State of the Union. The weather has been unpredictable at best, but the climate inside our facility remains unchanged. The dedication has remain unchanged. The support is stronger than ever. And the attitude is #powerful.


To keep this coherent, I’ll stick to using our core values at UF to organize this information. If you’re interested in reading more about those, click here:



UF values- EPIC: Education—Passion—Integrity—Community




I introduced the idea of RPR (Reflexive Performance Reset) in last month’s article. If you’ve taken any classes, you’ll notice that all of the warm ups have been initiated with RPR wake up drills. We will continue to build and integrate those into classes over the course of the next 6 weeks (8 weeks in total) until you’re tired of doing them or you love them so much that we can’t stop you from doing them. The reality of it is: the belly breathing alone will change your life. It’s subtle, but powerful.


As a staff, we will be heading back to Columbus in April to learn Level 2 of this system. Where level 1 taught us the basics, level 2 will allow us to pinpoint the root cause of issues. In turn, we will be able to spend less time on general warm ups, and give you specifics that will help YOU improve your training and daily function.




I’m going to turn the spotlight onto one of our coaches this month. Kate Lancaster came to us last year as a member who was comfortable with running, but wanted to learn about strength training. After some time in our classes, she wanted more- “How can I be a part of your team?” It’s a great feeling when someone believes so much in what you’re doing that they want to be a part of it. So we started her in our intern program and then had her take over portions of our Strength Lab classes- warm ups, metcons, etc. All the while she was studying (nervously) for her ACE certification, which she passed at the end of March! Kate is now working for us weekday mornings and helping specifically with our Fatbell and Cardio Lab classes. I’m proud of her progress but I also realize she’s just getting started. This spring, we’ll get her started as a personal trainer as well. It’s pretty incredible watching someone not only realize their passion, but commit to it. We’re excited and thankful to have her as part of our team.




Again, our definitions: (1) the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles and (2) the state of being whole and undivided.


Robert Pennebaker, a former personal trainer at Union Fitness and a Northside resident, approached us last month about a charity event. He is now working with the American Heart Association and wanted to partner with UF for Cycle Nation- a charity ride to raise money to beat a leading killer in the United States- heart disease. Fortunately the date worked out for everyone and they’ll be cycling away on Tuesday, May 8th as part of Nova Nights. We’re thankful that Robert reached out to us and it shows that having integrity brings good things your way- more importantly the opportunity to give back to our community through our community, whole and undivided.




This is my favorite story of the month. Tim Bickerton has been with us for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately for him, he locked his keys in his locker, including the key to his lock. We scrambled to get maintenance on the phone so we could borrow the facility’s bolt cutters, but they had all left for the evening. Cue Paul Werder. I walked into the locker room to ask Tim if he was able to get a ride home and if he had spare set of keys. I didn’t even get to ask because Paul was in Macgyver mode, hand sawing at the lock with a pocket file. It probably took him about 20 minutes but he sawed right through it and Tim was able to go about the rest of his night. I was amazed at Paul not only for putting in the effort to help, but taking 20 minutes to do it. This was just plain cool. Thank you Paul!


Casey Williams

Union Fitness Manager

Building a Healthy Relationship with Food: A Work in Constant Progress

When Alison suggested I write this particular blog post, I laughed.


My first thought: no one could possibly be less qualified to write about having a healthy relationship with eating than me. But after we talked about it, I agreed. I’ve struggled with my eating habits and thought processes around food for a very long time and in those struggles I’ve learned a lot. If nothing else, I’ve definitely read just about every article on the internet on about nutrition at least 3 times, so worst case scenario I could regurgitate some of that information and be done with it.


Then it came time to actually write the article, and I procrastinated. In fact, I put off writing this until the day before it was due. The topic brought up a lot of anxiety and fear that I’d hoped were behind me. I felt uncomfortable with the idea of sharing my disordered history, and more uncomfortable with the fact that I’d have to openly admit that I’m not healed yet. However, I have made progress that I’m really proud of. None of us are perfect and I think it’s important that every person who comes through the gym knows and feels that. So I’m going to share some of my history, some of the things I’ve done wrong (very wrong), and some of the things that have really helped repair my relationship with food and eating.


An unhealthy relationship with food can permeate your entire life. I understand.  I wish that no one else had to deal with these issues, but I know for certain that many of you do. I really hope you can learn from some of my past mistakes and take the positive steps I’ll outline to heart.


How I got to this point


I’ll put this bluntly: I was diagnosed with non-purging Bulimia Nervosa in 2015. I’d been struggling with it for about 10 years at that point, but hit a breaking point that I couldn’t come back from alone.


My poor relationship with food started at a young age. I went through puberty early and was bigger than most of the other girls in my grade. I was super active with soccer, track, cheerleading (I know). I was usually on 4-5 different teams and at 1-2 practices every night. In response, my appetite knew no bounds. I could put away food, and I did. And at some point, a comment about my “thunder thighs” took root. I knew how I wanted to look: dainty and thin. Thunder thighs do not fit that image.


I remember my first diet: I was 12 and had a friend steal Weight Watchers materials from her mom so I could follow them. A pattern emerged pretty quickly: I’d follow that diet, eating as little as I could stand, and then one night I’d be so hungry I couldn’t sleep and I would eat EVERYTHING: a gallon of ice cream, and entire family size bag of chips, straight Cool Whip. If it was edible and readily available, it was going in my mouth. I’d wake up guilty the next day and did what I perceived to be the only logical response: I’d fast until I couldn’t anymore and try to burn off the extra calories by running extra miles.


Things progressively got worse through high school and college. There were ups and downs (in weight and mental health), but the pattern stayed: restriction, binge, fast and run.


I got into lifting when I was 22, in an unhealthy relationship, and needed something to help me feel strong and able. It worked: I got stronger, left that relationship, and found out I wasn’t too bad at lifting. Over the next few years, I got more and more serious and naturally decided it was time to dial in my nutrition. My goal body was a little different now: still thin, but muscular and lean. My binge/purge patterns were still there though, so I had to find a new way to compensate while still eating enough to get stronger.


I found a coach who specialized in concurrent endurance racing and powerlifting training, who also worked with a nutritionist. I thrive on order and planning, so I felt this was perfect for me. I knew if someone else was telling me how to eat and how to train, I wouldn’t let them down and I’d finally reach my goal body, and by extension, my goal life. I spent weeks justifying the reasoning to my boyfriend, who was rightly skeptical.


By all accounts, I did incredibly well on this system: I PRed my half marathon, my deadlift and bench progressed, and I successfully rehabbed a hip injury. Most importantly, my weight and body fat went WAY down. I went from around 142lbs to 122lbs in several months. I should have felt amazing, accomplished, disciplined. Instead, I somehow felt fat. I stopped going out socially because I couldn’t fit any restaurant foods into my diet, because then it wouldn’t be perfect. I couldn’t handle not being perfect.


Then it went off the rails on a family vacation. I was still slowly losing fat but eating a good amount: around 2600 calories per day. The problem came as soon as I let myself eat something “off-plan:” a single restaurant meal that included the most amazing flourless chocolate cake I’d ever had. I lost it after that. All of my binging behavior came back with a vengeance and I could not stop eating. It continued after coming home. I stopped going to work because I was so ashamed of myself. I was always somewhere between binging on thousands of calories at at time or fasting. I was eventually convinced me to seek help. This was one of the darkest times of my life.


Three years later, here I am, still lifting, up in weight, not healed, but substantially healthier. How?


Where I went wrong


If I could go back, I would change a lot of how I handled my disordered eating.


I would have talked about it and gotten help sooner.

I tried to hide my eating from everyone around me, which is a classic symptom of all binge eating disorders. I know that now. I was also really good at finding the other sick people around me in order to feel validated. I wish I would have put that pattern together when I was younger. Additionally, even after getting diagnosed, I opted out of some treatment options that probably would have really benefitted me. I can see now how seriously this disorder affected me, but in the moment I just talked it down. “This isn’t that bad, anorexics have it worse. Inpatient treatment is for teenage girls that are dying, not for 25 year olds that can’t stop eating.” That’s some bullshit. Those treatments are available for everyone for a reason (and there are lots of support groups aimed specifically at post-college age women and young professionals that I didn’t find until much later). Take advantage of them.


I always needed to be perfect.

This is probably the core of my issues, and I suspect the same goes for a lot of the people I see struggling around me. A lot of things came easy for me early in life: school, sports, friendships. I picked up a thinking pattern that goes like this: If I’m not immediately really good at something, it means I am incapable of doing that thing. This has affected me in every aspect of my life. Saddest example: I wanted to be an architect, but convinced myself that since math wasn’t immediately as easy as some of my other subjects, I just wasn’t cut out for it. I let my childhood dream die in an instant because of that black and white pattern of thinking.


I assumed that at some point, the work would be over I would be fixed.

Did you catch that up there? I’m still not healed. I recognize now that there will never be a time where I can just “relax” because I’m 100% recovered with no chance of relapse. That is not a thing. In my last blog I talked about self-care as that hard work and those hard decisions we have to make if we actually want to take care of ourselves. For me, this is it. I need therapy, I need journaling. I hate doing those things because they make me feel sick, but the truth is I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been (both physically and mentally) BECAUSE I do those things that are hard. I will always have to work at this and that is okay.


What I’m doing right (and you should do too)


So what’s changed in three years since getting the official diagnosis?


I finally got professional help.

You hire a professional to reach your fitness and health goals right? So why not hire a professional to reach your mental health goals? I’m on my fourth therapist now and she is a gem. It was hard finding a good fit and took about 2 years. It’s worth it. Half the time we don’t even talk about food, because half the time my disorder has absolutely nothing to do with food! The best part of therapy for me is the work we do on battling that black and white thinking I talked about above. Everyone that knows me well has heard me harp on about how therapy is useful for everyone, and I’m gonna spout that here too. You don’t need to have a diagnosed disorder to go to therapy. We all have faulty thinking patterns, and we all have the ability to retrain those patterns to be more helpful. A good therapist is key in making those changes.


I’m surrounded by people that support me without enabling me.

I mentioned above that I’ve always found other disordered people to make me feel more normal. I’m not doing that anymore. My family here at UF in particular have been a huge driving force in my recovery because they keep me accountable. When my therapist gives me homework, I know I can go to them for some additional motivation. Just like we remind Alison that she’s growing a tiny human right now, my coworkers need to remind me that yes, I do need to eat even if I’m not training that day.


When I was ready, I had to start going out of my comfort zone.

In the thick of it, my life was as follows: wake up at 3:30am, train from 4am to 6:30am, shower, work from 8:30am to 6pm or later, train again or go to class until 8 or 9pm, in bed by 9:30 or 10pm. There was no room for a social life, there was no room for real friendship, and there was certainly no room for food I didn’t make myself. After months of therapy, I was able to get used to eating out again. It was painful, there were a lot of tears, but I did it. Now I’m happy to say that I can eat foods that were even previously “danger foods” with some regularity. Do I sometimes lose it a little bit and binge? Yes I do. Like I said, it’s a work in progress. But those episodes are FAR less frequent, and my response to them has gone from some kind of fasting or over exercising to breathing techniques and mentally refocusing. My body is better for it because I’m not constantly breaking it down. I’m injured less and therefore a better athlete.


I got back in touch with how my body is feeling

A major theme of my disorder has been ignoring every hunger and fullness cue my body was sending me. At first I’d be ignoring my hunger until I got too desperate and then eating far beyond fullness, and then eating to a pre-set schedule no matter how hungry or not hungry I was. While I do still track most of what I eat and eat with a purpose, I spend a little more time trying to parse what my body is telling me. Example: last night after finishing my last meal I was still hungry. I ate half a Clif bar and then I was full, so I just didn’t eat the rest. I never leave food unfinished! This is the constant little progress I’m looking for.


I’m striving to let go of my “goal body”

Because really, that “goal body” has always been code for control. If I could just make my body look the way I wanted it to look, I could therefore make my life look the way I wanted it to look. Instead, I’m doing the hard things that actually affect my life. I left my old job that I hated to come to UF and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’m keeping up with therapy despite it being hard and I’m consistently getting a little bit better. I’m not weighing myself as much and I spend a lot of time seeking out women on social media that are strong as shit but not fitness models as a reminder that I don’t have to be super tiny or super lean to be strong and capable. My goal body now is a body that can deadlift 400lbs (soon), that can run 10 miles, and that supports me in my non-fitness goals of being good to the people around me and helpful in every way that I can. And you know what, it’s succeeding. And I’m proud of myself for getting to a point where I can say that.

Training During Pregnancy


When I was newly pregnant with Asha and Alina, before I actually confirmed I was having twins, I told my suspicion of having twins to one of my sisters.  To this day, I remember verbatim what she said to me.  With a look of utter shock (and maybe some pity) she said to me, “If you’re having twins, you might as well jump out of a window now”.  The very next day, I found out I was indeed having twins.


Now you might be thinking of how that was such a terrible thing for my sister to say to me.  However, after the twins were born, and I wanted to actually jump out of a window, I was extremely grateful for both of my sisters’ honest, no bullshit approach to sharing mothering, pregnant, birthing & general parenting information. They have, and will always be, my go to resource for no sugar coating advice and information.


And now it is my turn to share the no-sugar-coating-no-bullshit-approach to my experience with training during pregnancy.


It’s no longer a secret (and if you’ve seen me around the gym recently, certainly no surprise) that I’m pregnant with my third baby.  I’d love nothing more than to say that pregnancy is beautiful and filled with joy.  But it can be hard to remain joyful when your body aches, you begin to sleep less and can’t stop thinking about ice cream. (Ok, maybe that last one is pretty joyful and beautiful!)


The little feminist voice in my head reminds me that, yes, pregnancy can certainly be beautiful but my training has certainly suffered as a result. And I’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of vent sessions with my coworkers coming to terms with this fact.  At least daily they have to remind me, quite sternly some times, “YOU’RE GROWING A TINY HUMAN INSIDE OF YOU, ALISON”. So sometimes I opt for a nap instead of an intense training session.  Most times I opt for conservative weights instead of my previous training maxes.  And all of the time, I remain mindful that my main goal is no longer getting stronger or training for an upcoming barbell meet, but rather to maintain my strength and to train for a meet of a different sort: labor and delivery.


Most pregnancy training blogs talk about things like: Sticking to low impact exercises, how prenatal yoga is the best form of exercise during pregnancy, not to lift heavy weights, not to lie on your back, and how to generally (in my opinion) let pregnancy take over your life.


But this is Union Fitness and we don’t know how to be average (and/or normal). So here is my personal experience on training during pregnancy:


  1. I’m pregnant not broken/incapacitated/dead!

No, I don’t need those special parking spots for expectant mothers. No, I don’t need you to carry the heavy boxes for me. Yes, I may walk a little slower than usual, but I could probably still crush you in a Cardio Lab class. Yes, I may lift less than usual, but my form is spot on and I feel great!


  1. I’m cautious but not scared!

So I’m a little more cautious about certain movements but not fearful of anything that I did previously to getting pregnant.  I still back squat, deadlift, snatch, bench, clean & jerk and basically every other lift/movement I did when I was sans fetus.  Being cautious doesn’t have to automatically mean eliminating them from my routine. It simply just means I pay more attention to how I’m feeling and how I may need to adjust my position or the weights.


  1. I still lay on my back (GASP!)

There are so many myths floating around out there about training during pregnancy and the “no laying on your back” rule is one of them.  Pretty much the only hard and fast rule about pregnancy that I follow is “listen to your body”.


  1. I deal with tons of body image issues

I don’t want to speak for all pregnant women out there but I imagine a lot of women deal with some sort of body image issue at some point during their pregnancy.  As a coach and competitive athlete, it’s difficult to see the scale climb each week.  Even with the knowledge that this is healthy and what’s best, it’s hard for me to watch the growing belly and increased body fat.  It’s a little bit of cognitive dissonance. This is where the help of my loving coworkers screaming, “YOU’RE GROWING A TINY HUMAN INSIDE OF YOU, ALISON” definitely comes in handy.  It’s helpful to have constant reminders that this state is temporary and normal and healthy.


  1. Yoga sucks

At least it does for me personally in this stage of my pregnancy. (I’m in no way advocating that yoga actually sucks. You should really go do some yoga right now. Seriously, stop what you’re doing and go to a yoga class!)  I’ve dealt with some SI joint issues this pregnancy and the stretching involved with yoga actually makes it feel worse, so I’ve completely cut it from my training regimen. Most, if not all, pregnancy training blogs advise doing prenatal yoga as the best form of exercise during pregnancy. The one size fits all approach is antiquated at best.  Any time I’m in doubt, I ask my midwives or consult the fitness experts (read: my coworkers).


  1. There’s so much pee

It’s not just the fact that I have to pee every 15 minutes during the day or even the fact that I wake up approximately 5 times every night to pee. That I can deal with.  But there’s definitely nothing beautiful or graceful about peeing your pants mid deadlift, mid jumping jack or mid sneeze, is there?!? While this is a common occurrence with pregnancy and women that have had children in general, it’s not normal.  I’ve realized I have to take some of my previous training time to start to strengthen my pelvic floor.  This means extra time with belly breathing exercises and kegels when I’d rather be squatting heavy. The things we do for our kids!

  1. I can still set PR’s!

One of my goals this pregnancy, like I mentioned before, is to just maintain my strength. But that doesn’t mean I’ve been shying away from adding on the plates when it feels good.  In fact just this month I’ve managed to set a personal record for my bench press and my overhead press! At the same time, I acknowledge my limitations. I know my lower body lifts are more challenging right now because of my decreased ability to brace my core properly. So I accept the fact that I bench press as much as I squat right now.  But a PR, at anytime, feels great!


  1. My endurance, strength, stamina and balance have all taken a huge hit

It can be huge pill to swallow when things that were previously easy for you become challenging.  But I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge! I see this time as an opportunity to learn new things.  Because of my ever-increasing belly, it’s become impossible to deadlift conventional style.  So I started learning how to pull sumo style.  Admittedly, this has never been my forte but with the patient guiding of Coach Lindsey, Coach Ryan and Coach Casey, I’ve been learning the ins and outs of this style. Dare I say I even enjoy it?!



Pregnancy does not have to be a time where you accept your fate of growing big and slow. Naturally, every pregnancy and every woman is different and obviously I encourage anyone that is pregnant, trying to get pregnant or recovering from pregnancy to consult with their doctor or midwife before training or starting a new training program.


I have about 10 weeks give or take left in this pregnancy and I’m excited for whatever obstacles and/or surprises come up in my training program until the birth of this baby.  For now, I relish in the fact that I (mostly) feel healthy, fit, fabulous and strong.  And as always, I am ever so thankful for my coworkers and gym family here at Union Fitness for creating such an encouraging and positive environment to be in! Now I’m off to grow this tiny human inside of me and toss around the barbell for a little bit. Cheers!

How Much Cardio Do You Really Need


Cardio for most people is the least exciting thing next to watching infomercials. But it is important for everyone in some way. Now not everyone needs to be training like an ultra-marathon runner but some should be incorporated into your fitness routine.  When determining how much cardio, or aerobic exercise you need, first you need to establish what your goals are. The amount of aerobic exercise you need vastly changes depending on the goal. For example someone that wants to become a world class powerlifter will not need as much aerobic work as someone that is preparing for a marathon. So first, determine your goal.



But first, let’s define “aerobic”…relating to or denoting exercise that improves or is intended to improve the efficiency of the body’s cardiovascular system in absorbing and transporting oxygen. In simpler terms, aerobic exercise raises your heart rate and requires your body to use more oxygen. The benefits of aerobic exercise include reducing your resting heart rate (meaning while you’re not exercising) and lowering blood pressure. Both have significant impact on long term health (“Aerobic Exercise Directory”).



Now you are probably wondering where do I start or HOW MUCH DO I NEED? The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity each week (“ACSM Issues New Recommendations”). ASCM defines moderate exercise as 50-70% of your Maximum Heart rate (“Target Heart Rate and Estimated Maximum Heart Rate”, 2015). The calculation to find your Maximum Heart Rate is simple- subtract your age from 220. As convenient as the heart rate equation is there is a much simpler way- the talking test. If you can talk comfortably with your friend or trainer during any aerobic exercise you are below that moderate zone and thus not working toward increasing your aerobic capacity.



A very common misconception is that more aerobic work equals fat loss. This is not the case. Yes, aerobic work can supplement weight loss, but so can any type of activity. The best weapon against the battle for fat loss is muscle. Think about it in these terms- if the goal is to lose fat and KEEP IT OFF then what you’re ultimately looking to do is increase your resting metabolic rate. Resting metabolic rate is the amount of energy that your body requires to stay alive. What I mean by staying alive is literally sitting on the couch watching TV. Wouldn’t it be great if you could burn calories while sitting on the couch watching your favorite movie? Sounds too good to be true? In fact, it’s not, but it takes time. A combination of strength training and cardio is really the ultimate combination to change your body composition and overall health. What is the easiest way to get started? Talk to our coaches about a plan. The Strength Lab and the Cardio Lab were designed with these principles in mind.


Now for all you cardio haters… I know you put cardio last on your list of training priorities, especially those of you that love lifting weights. But here’s a “life hack” that may change your mind. Aerobic exercise can increase your capillary density in your muscle (“Muscle Adaptations to Aerobic Training”). This increase in capillary density can help deliver more oxygen and nutrients to your muscles for fuller recovery from those long squat sessions. This doesn’t require 30+ minute cardio sessions. 10-15 minutes on the treadmill at a brisk pace (remember our moderate zone) or some weighted carries or prowler pushes. These workouts can be relatively short with the focus being recovery rather than building a huge aerobic base. Ultimately, however, your aerobic base determines your work capacity and ability to recovery between sessions. So, if you like lifting weights, and you want to do it more often without being as sore or fatigued, then some purposeful cardio will help.



Remember, these are just the basics. If you’re in a routine but don’t seem to be making progress, then assess your training and invert it. If you’re doing 3-5 hours of cardio and 1-2 hours of strength training, do the opposite for 2-3 months and see if you notice any changes. Otherwise, consult our coaches and we’ll walk you through a plan using the classes in the Strength and Cardio Labs.

Winter Safety Tips


Despite the motivation that comes with every new year, it can be really difficult to get yourself up and out the door when the weather is miserable. More importantly, the recent bitter cold and constant snow and ice can make training outdoors downright unsafe. Here are a few tips to help protect yourself this winter (and a few ideas on how to mix up your training and indoors where it’s warm and dry).



Know the signs of hypothermia and frostbite

Know what you’re up against. If the temperatures outside are above 5 degrees F, you’re probably safe from frostbite, but keep an eye on the windchill. If it’s below 0, you should really consider coming indoors. Frostbite will affect any exposed skin, so first try to cover up. Second, look for signs of numbness or stinging early. Hypothermia, or an abnormally low body temperature, will mostly come into play if you’re both freezing cold and wet. Early signs include shivering, slurred speech, fatigue, and loss of coordination. Get inside right away if you notice any of these.



Dress for the occasion

The key to staying warm on your outdoor adventures in the winter is layering. Look for moisture-wicking materials to help pull the sweat off your body so it doesn’t freeze while you’re outside. You’ll also want to look for something to cover your ears and nice warm gloves – no one can run, bike, hike or ski comfortably when their head or hands are cold! This is also the season to think about your visibility on the road. As the days grow shorter, the need for reflective clothing increases. Reflective vests are easy to come by and do the job really well. You may also consider something like Yak Trax to give your shoes some extra traction while running. I don’t love these for the road, but if you run a lot of trails, they’ll probably be a good fit.



Slow down and enjoy the winter scenery

With our Pittsburgh roads looking like they do, now is not hte time to focus on speed. Move your speed work inside and when you’re out in the snow, focus on endurance and enjoying hte moment. No matter how inconvenient snowy weather can be, we have to admit that it’s pretty beautiful.



Stay hydrated

When you’re bundled up, you’re not always noticing how much you’re sweating and how much water you’re losing. If you’re going to be out for over an hour, remember to take fluids, just like in the warmer months.



Move most of your training inside

We have lots of bikes and treadmills, and we’ve even added a few more Cardio Lab classes to our winter schedule. There are tons of ways to keep your endurance up in the gym while we wait out this cold snap. For those of you who neglect strength work during the peak outdoor seasons, now is the time to get started and prepare your body for the spring. Maybe now is the time to test out one of our #powerful classes!


Free Weights vs. Weighted Machines


There are some distinct differences between using free weights and weight machines. Depending on your goals and fitness level, one may be recommended over another. Both options have a time and place in a training program and both varieties can be used safely and effectively by practicing slow controlled movements. As the weight is moved further from the body through exercise, there is more core strength and stabilizer muscles coming to play.


So, what’s the difference?


Free weights include dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells and of course UF’s beloved fatbells. Free weights in particular are going to require more core and stabilizer muscles and allow you to move in three dimensions: forward, backward, horizontally, and vertically. They also help build more balance and coordination. Deadlifts for example, are a compound movement, and use larger muscle groups, primarily the glutes and back as well as smaller muscle groups like the biceps and forearms. If you’re looking for a bang for your buck, doing compound exercises will expend more energy which means more calories and allow quicker results in building strength than with targeting these muscles separately! A few disadvantages of using free weights are that proper technique is required and you may need a spotter.



Weight machines include a variety of stationary machines in a fixed position such as a bicep curl or a leg extension. Weight machines allow you to use heavier weight and target or isolate specific muscles without utilizing as many stabilizer muscles. Machines are great for beginners or rehabilitation because there is a clear starting point and stopping point helping prevent injury. Most movements you would do with a weight machine you can do with free weights as they are more versatile! Using free weights or machines can be a matter of personal preference and it’s best to go with what’s right for you.


Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone! Feel free to ask the Union Fitness Staff for recommendations that will help you accomplish your goals!