New Year, New Elephants

We're a week into 2016, and for many of us who made resolutions or new commitments for this year, this is our kick-off week.  We've got the usual suspects - get back to the gym, quit that smoking habit, eat better, save more money, more time with family and friends, and of course minimize stress.   I'm not at all against resolutions.  I think self awareness and seeking self-improvement are healthy behaviors but I know the real struggle and pain point is figuring out how to stick to it.

So how do we get better at sticking to it?

That self-improvement list can get long and overwhelming.  And as days and weeks pass, doubt about the feasibility of your resolutions start bubbling.  Little subconscious whispers in your head that it's just too hard, too time consuming, too much too soon, and maybe not even worth it.

The first thing to consider is that these changes we tend to make in the New Year are usually lifestyle changes.  Changes that are meant to be longer term and can't be fixed with a pill or some duct tape.  These changes can feel like ELEPHANTS - they're overwhelmingly huge.  But there's only one way to eat an elephant, right.  Piece by piece, or habit by habit.


Shifting the way you perceive changes can be the trick to sticking to it.  Changes don't have to be grand in scale, but rather tiny changes and tiny habits can start paving the way for bigger changes.  This infographic from Dr. Mike Evans breaks it down nicely and I dig the quote at the bottom.

So if you made a resolution, let's chip away at the that elephant piece by piece, habit by habit, and celebrate the daily wins and progress.  For extra encouragement, here's another  video from Dr. Mike Evans where he explains why those who make resolutions at the New Year are 10 times more likely to stick to it.  Enjoy and good luck!

Catching the X Train

In late May, I had a nice chat with Will.  Will takes my group strength training class at Oakland Fit Co and he was telling me about a recent ski trip to Mount Shasta.  Mt. Shasta, which is 4 hours north of the Bay Area, is at the southern end of the Cascade Range and it is the 5th highest peak in California.

May seemed a little late for skiing, but according to Will, an avid skier, there was still snowfall which meant it was fair game to hit the slopes.  Mental note - add this to the growing list of awesome wonders and pleasures of California.

I asked Will how it went, and immediately his face lit up and beamed with pure delight.  He was all smiles from ear to ear, and he had that content look about it him that said it all - he had a hell of good time and it was amazing!  

He also added that it was the best skiing and climbing he’s done in YEARS!

He explained that he and his wife have an on-going “competition” on the mountain.  Typically, he eats her dust and tries to keep up.  But this time was different and for a change, Will was no longer lagging behind her, but rather setting the pace for both of them.  

Thanks, Cross Training!

Will sang praises to the cross training and strength conditioning work he did for several months at Oakland Fit Co and in my class.  He’s an active athlete, but only recently decided to incorporate other exercises that combined interval training, strength training, agility training, and cardiovascular exercises to his normal routine.  

His hard work paid off at Mount Shasta and now he feels like a stronger, well rounded, and balanced athlete. I absolutely love hearing stories like this!  When people surprise themselves with their new physical capabilities, a light turns on and it's like discovering a super power.  Helping people find new limits, that's what this is all about!  

Will was dizzy with excitement, clearly still high from his trip.  He approached me recently and told me that he finally convinced his wife to do some cross training and she’ll be working with me soon.  I can't wait to work with her and plan on having some fun, and of course, helping her reclaim her seat on the “throne”.  

Fruits of Cross Training


A training routine that combines different forms of exercises is a great way to work different muscle groups, develop a new set of fitness skills, and kill the gym boredom after months of the same workouts

Our body is very efficient at adapting to movements.  After months of doing the same exercises at the same intensity, the body plateaus and will maintain a certain level of fitness unless more stress is placed on the system.  For those who participate in only repetitive movement sports, (running and cycling), adding cross training is even more important. It helps reduce the risk of injury from overuse by challenging the body to move in different positions and various planes of motion.

The summer days are longer and there are endless options for outdoor workouts here in big beautiful California, so don’t be afraid to mix it up and try some new types of training.  Whether it’s trail running, hiking, hill sprints, yoga, kick boxing, swimming, or a HIIT class - go for it!  Your body will thank you.  

Better yet, sign up for one of my classes at Oakland Fit Co for a total body burner that will challenge your strength and also get your heart rate pumping!

Take advantage of these benefits today by adding cross training to your routine!

  • Kill the gym boredom.
  • Gain higher level of conditioning.
  • Reduce risk of injury from repetitive movements.
  • Work and condition the entire body.
  • Improve body movement in different planes of motion.
  • Train other muscle groups while others recover.
  • Improve agility, balance, and overall fitness skills.

Events & Updates

In late May, Catalyze Fitness wrapped up a 3-month cross training program with friends from Capoeira Mandinga in Oakland.  This special group of athletes have electric energy, amazing capoeira skills, and I’m so proud to have had the opportunity to train them and see them in action at their special event, Sarau Na Mandinga.  

Excellent work everyone and thank you for sharing your art with me, Obrigada!

Catalyze Fitness also participated in Love Our Neighborhood Day in North Oakland.  It was a blast and a perfect day to get to know the Golden Gate community, meet new people, and spread fitness good vibes!

A special shout out to Sonia and Anne, our partners specializing in massage therapy for the work they’ve done with Catalyze Fitness and Oakland Fit Co.  Thanks for all of your help!

Oakland Fit Co and Catalyze Fitness have partnered with Road Runner Sports, Berkeley as a running check point for their monthly Adventure Race, which takes place on the 4th Thursday of the month.  There are tons of opportunities to win shoes, apparel, as well as fitness and wellness goods and services in the East Bay - sign up for July's run here!

Diet, hormones, stress. Oh my!

The hypothalamus and pituitary glands are critical to the body's endocrine system.  This sytem controls hunger, eating behaviors, body temperature, thirst, sleep, mood, and sex drive.

The hypothalamus and pituitary glands are critical to the body's endocrine system.  This sytem controls hunger, eating behaviors, body temperature, thirst, sleep, mood, and sex drive.

In April, I attend a nutritional series hosted by my friend and Oakland Fitness Co’s nutritionist, Erica Favela.  The 4th and last part of her series focused on how to gain energy and lose weight.

Her presentation touched on a topic that I experience often in conversations with clients, colleagues, and friends.  Everyone wants to lose weight and tone up.  They live active lifestyles and workout 3-4 times per week, but find that they can’t get rid of the extra weight and sometimes will even gain weight.  Also, their energy levels tend to fluctuate and they often feel tired and fatigued.

Most of my female clients struggle with this.  I understand their frustration and have been there myself.  You feel like you're doing most things right, but the end results are missing because something is just not working.

Diet and Hormones

A key point in Erica’s presentation is that one part of the problem stems from long-term calorie restrictions.  Unless you are morbidly obese, calorie restricted diets will unlikely work because it is actually slowing down your metabolism.  When we don’t eat, our survival instincts kick in.   Our metabolism slows down because the body doesn’t know when it will eat again, and it will naturally hold on to fat longer.

She recommends 6 healthier ways to improve metabolism:

  1. Daily detoxification (hydration, fiber, bitter foods)
  2. Proper Nutrition (whole foods)
  3. Identify & Eliminate Food Allergens (gluten, dairy, milk, corn, soy, peanuts/tree nuts, sugar, additives, eggs)
  4. Active Lifestyle (HIIT & weight training)
  5. Stress Management - Trauma & Emotional Support
  6. Stress Management - Spiritual Practice 

The other important factor to pay close attention to is our hormones.  Hormones play a huge role and is particularly sensitive to our diet and how we manage stress and sleep.  

Ghrelin - The “hunger hormone” is released in the stomach.  Ghrelin is triggered when we have low blood sugar and when we are stressed out or sleep deprived.

Insulin - Insulin is the “master hormone” and escorts glucose to cells and muscles.  It is made in the pancreas and responds to carbohydrates.  Insulin manages our blood sugar levels and low levels of insulin generally results in leanness and metabolic health.  While high levels of insulin (insulin resistance) can lead to Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Leptin - The “I’m full hormone”, or satiety hormone, that helps regulate energy levels by inhibiting hunger.  Leptin is released by the fat cells of our body.  Some people have lower leptin sensitivity (they don’t recognize that they are full) due to genetics or due to excess insulin release.  When too much insulin is released in the body, it disrupts the brain’s ability to read leptin activity and feel satiated.  Think of leptin as a meek hormone with a small voice.  When other hormones are out of control, Leptin is the first one bumped off of the brain's radar.

When it comes to keeping weight off, the biggest problem is managing our LEPTIN and INSULIN resistance.  

Those with diets high in carbohydrates and high in refined sugars - lots of nutrient poor foods - will struggle with this the most because insulin is constantly released in the body.  Nutrient poor foods result in high levels of glucose and triglycerides in the bloodstream.  As triglycerides elevate, it impairs the brain from recognizing the leptin hormone.  This person will end up eating more and develop leptin resistance.  Leptin resistance spirals back into insulin resistance, which leads to more triglycerides in the bloodstream, and eventually gaining excess weight.

What can you do?

They key to long term weight management is a balanced neurohormonal system.  Here are a few ways to help your hormones stay balanced:

1.  Stay away from hormone disruptors

  • Chronically overeating (overstimulates leptin)
  • Refined sugars and starches
  • MSG (packaged foods/spices)
  • Aspartame (in artificial sweeteners & chewing gum)
  • Stress and inflammation

2.  Fight Insulin Resistance and Leptin Resistance

  • Do weight training & HIIT
  • Consistent, restful SLEEP
  • Fish oil and sufficient amounts of Vitamin D
  • Resist constant snacking by adding protein and fiber to snacks
  • Eat scheduled meals with enough protein and fiber
  • Cholecystokinin - inhibits ghrelin and makes you feel less hungry (slow cooked meats, Omega 3s, fermented foods)

3.  Manage your Stress level and get adequate Sleep

This is a big one.  We all know stress will kill you but it also raises cortisol and diminishes the body’s ability to build muscle.  In addition, it lowers DHEA, which is the hormone responsible for anti-aging, libido stimulation, and fat burning.

Sleep and rest is also critical.  If stress is high, serotonin (the happy hormone) is low.  Research has also shown that sleep deprivation is associated with consuming an average of 300 additional calories per day.


Our body is an ever evolving complex system and many factors affect how we feel and perform each day.  Erica’s presentation was an excellent reminder that we need to pay close attention to how our body and system is functioning.  

When our system is not working - when we don't feel good and we’re not seeing the results we want from our current situation - it’s a perfect time to reset and reflect on factors such as our diet, stress levels, sleep patterns, and hormonal changes.  

Write things down and keep a log.  Experiment with your diet, sleeping patterns, and try new ways to manage stress.  Introduce something new (drink more water) or take something away (drink less coffee) for an experimental period of time, 1-2 weeks, and see if it changes your mood and behavior. 

Having awareness of these personal factors, coupled with making small lifestyle changes, can help you get better at finding your balance and ultimately closer to the results you’re looking for.

Shout Outs

A shout out to Erica Favela for the AWESOME nutritional series she hosted at OFC in March and April.  Thank you for the education and knowledge you've shared with the Oakland Fitness Company community!  Learn more about Erica at

A SUPER shout out to the UC Berkeley WorkFit U Grads of spring 2015.  They’ve been working with me for the past 10 weeks and I’m so proud of their hard work and dedication to fitness and living a healthier lifestyle.  You all did an excellent job in my class - thank you for bringing an open mind and positive energy to each workout!  Congratulations!

Upcoming events

Catalyze Fitness and Oakland Fit Co will be participating in these upcoming events in May.  Mark your calendars and come join us!

Adventure Run with Road Runner Sports in Berkeley.   Thursday, May 28th.

Adventure Run with Road Runner Sports in Berkeley.  Thursday, May 28th.

Saturday, May 30th, 2015.   Streets will be closed from San Pablo + Ashby to San Pablo + Stanford to celebrate Love Our Neighborhood Day.  Make sure to stop by Oakland Fitness Company and participate is free classes, raffles, have some food, and play games with the kids!

Saturday, May 30th, 2015.  Streets will be closed from San Pablo + Ashby to San Pablo + Stanford to celebrate Love Our Neighborhood Day.  Make sure to stop by Oakland Fitness Company and participate is free classes, raffles, have some food, and play games with the kids!

Goodbye, Winter. Hello, Spring!

My second winter in the Bay Area was spring-like again and by no means am I complaining.  Five winters in Chicago taught me a cruel lesson that from November to April, if temperatures rise above 35, consider it warm and balmy.  

So thank you, NorCal, for the gorgeous outdoor conditions!  And even though I know this is not normal, I will take it.

Clocks have sprung forward, the sun sets later, and great weather is upon us.  If you haven’t already done so, dust of your trail shoes, pump air in your bike tires, grab your softball glove, break out the soccer cleats, and restring that tennis racquet.  Spring is officially here and it’s time to go outside and play!

...just for kicks let's quickly compare and contrast Bay winter vs. Chicago winter.

Family photo at Cataract Falls Trail - Winter 2015

Family photo at Cataract Falls Trail - Winter 2015

Walking home from work, Chicago - Winter 2011

Walking home from work, Chicago - Winter 2011

Thoughts on Training

Whether you’re getting back into shape for seasonal sports, training for a new activity or race, or just adding a new class to your routine, make sure to spend some time on stabilization exercises as your fitness gets ramped up.

Stabilization exercises are part of the stabilization endurance phase of training, which is your foundation.  This phase is especially important as you get back into shape because it helps you do the following:

  • Improve muscle endurance, enhance joint stability
  • Increase flexibility, enhance control of posture
  • Improve neuromuscular efficiency, boost balance and stabilization

Training in this phase allows your body to build proper connective tissues while developing stability, strength, and endurance.

Many recreational athletes and weekend warriors are eager to jump straight into their activities, but it’s important to work on stabilization exercises several times during the week to avoid soreness, imbalances, and injuries.

Include these stabilization exercises to your workout routine 2 to 3 times per week as your season and training progresses. 

Do 1-3 sets, 12-20 repetitions, with 0-90 seconds of rest between sets.  Target roughly 60-70% of your maximum effort.

Happy Training!

Glute Bridges

Glute Bridges

A.  Lie on back with knees bent, feet flat and shoulder-width apart. Engage ab muscles.

B.  Squeeze butt muscles and push through heels to lift pelvis off floor until knees, hips and shoulders form a straight line. Lower pelvis to floor.  Repeat for 12 reps.  Progress to a stability ball or one-leg bridge.

Plank Holds

Plank Holds

A.  Lie on stomach with forearms on ground and elbows directly under shoulders. Keep feet shoulder-width apart with toes pointing into ground. Contract your ab and butt muscles.

B.  Press against forearms to lift body off floor, making a straight line from head to toe. Hold for 20 seconds, then return to starting position.  Repeat 3-5 times.

Single Leg Side Balance Reach

Single Leg Side Balance Reach

A.  Stand with feet pointing straight ahead, hip-width apart. Lift chest and tuck chin so that head is in a neutral position. Tighten your abs and butt muscles.

B.  Balancing on right leg, bend left knee to lift leg until left foot is next to right calf. Straighten left leg, pointing it toward the ground on a diagonal to the left. Hold for two seconds and return to balanced position. Repeat 12 times on each leg.

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

A.  Stand with feet hip-width apart. Lift left foot a few inches off floor and put right hand on hip.

B.  Bend right knee slightly and hinge at hips, reaching left hand toward floor. Squeeze butt muscles as you come back up (tap left toes to floor if needed). Repeat 12 times on each leg.

Squat Jump w/Hold

Squat Jump w/Hold

A.  Stand with feet straight and shoulder-width apart. Engage abs and butt muscles, and bend knees to squat, hinging at the hips as if you were sitting in a chair, keeping your knees over your 2nd and 3rd toes. Extend arms for balance.

B.  Jump up, swinging arms above head; land softly. Hold 3-5 seconds, then repeat 12 times.

Front Lunge w/ Balance

Front Lunge w/ Balance

A.  Stand with feet straight and shoulder-width apart, chest lifted and hands on hips.

B.  Squeeze butt muscles and step forward with right foot, bending both knees to 90 degrees. Your right foot should be flat and your right knee should be over your 2nd and 3rd toes; your left heel is lifted off the ground. Pushing off your right foot, straighten your left leg to standing, with your right hip and knee bent to 90 degrees. Hold for 3 seconds, then return to starting position. Repeat on opposite leg.

Floor Cobra

Floor Cobra

A.  Lie on your stomach with arms extended alongside your body, palms facing the floor. Draw in your navel, contract your glutes and pinch your shoulder blades together.

B.  Lift your chest and hands off the floor at the same time, keeping your arms straight. Hold for two seconds, then slowly lower to the start position.  Progress this exercise on a stability ball and add dumbbells.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

A.  Hold two dumbbells and stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Tighten your core, maintain strong posture, and press the dumbbells straight overhead.

B.  Hold for 2 seconds at the top and slowly lower until your triceps are slightly below parallel. Hold 1 second at the bottom and repeat for 12 reps.  Progress this exercise with a single leg shoulder press.

Recent News & Upcoming Events

New Classes

Some exciting news, I’ve started teaching a class on Monday evenings for the WorkFit U Graduate program at UC Berkeley.  The WorkFit U-Grad program is an in-house fitness program for UC Berkeley faculty and employees.  The athletes in the WFU-Grad program have gone through the prerequisite WorkFit U program in the past.  The Grad program is an opportunity to expand upon what they’ve learned about fitness, lifestyle change, and nutrition since joining WorkFit U.  Some Grads are also using this program to add fitness back into their lives or work on new goals.

I applaud the Grads for continuing their fitness journey and I’m looking forward to helping them improve over the next several weeks.  

Go Bears!

Go Bears!

On Thursday evenings you’ll find me at Oakland Fitness Company teaching a strength conditioning class from 6-7pm.  If you’re interested in dropping in for a free class, just send me an e-mail and let me know. 

One thing you can expect in my Thursday class is VARIETY.  Be prepared for a fun total body workout that could include a mix of TRX, free weights, battle ropes, kettlebells, and more.

Evening class hitting the battle ropes.

Evening class hitting the battle ropes.

Recent Events

On Sunday, February 22, Catalyze Fitness and Oakland Fitness Company participated in their first community event at St. Columba Catholic Church.  St. Columba hosted a hypertension screening event and trainers from OFC helped educate our community on ways exercise, fitness, and nutrition can reduce hypertension.

We raffled free personal training sessions, demonstrated how to use light gym equipment, and our OFC nutritionist, Erica Favela, shared a delicious green smoothie with our friends at the church.

Many thanks to St. Columba for the opportunity to share our health and fitness gospel!

Our booth at St. Columba

Our booth at St. Columba

Me, Mike B(OFC Owner), Lisa (OFC Trainer), and Erica (OFC Nutritionist)

Me, Mike B(OFC Owner), Lisa (OFC Trainer), and Erica (OFC Nutritionist)

Upcoming Events

The OFC/Catalyze Fitness community workout at Sports Basement is happening in early March.  We’ll be hosting a free workout at Sports Basement, Berkeley on Sunday, March 8th.

Here are the event details.

When - Sunday, March 8
Time - 11am - 12:30pm
Where - Sports Basement, Berkeley, 2727 Milvia St, Berkeley, CA - Community Room
Why - Get a free Sunday workout and meet people in your community!

Oakland based nutritionist, Erica Favela, is hosting a 4 part weekend series on nutrition at OFC starting on Saturday, March 21.  Find the details here, come check it, out and learn more about nutrition.

Thoughts on Training

Ankle mobility has been a priority in my clients' training.  It's important to add ankle flexibility and strength exercises to the workout routine especially for those who are trying to improve squat form or correct an excessive forward lean.  I’m spending 20 minutes with my clients at least once per week on evaluating ankle flexibility and teaching stretches, self-myofacial release,  and strengthening exercises.

Here’s a great video from Brent Brookbush explaining what happens when you have an excessive forward lean in the overhead squat and which muscles are overactive and underactive.

I start clients with shoes off, let them put one leg in a full single leg squat position (other leg can be resting on the floor), and take a look at the angle of dorsiflexion between the top of the foot  and anterior tibialis (shin).  In this position, assess how far the client’s knee can track over the ankle while keeping the heel grounded to the floor.  This gives you an idea of how much ankle flexibility the client has and you may notice that most will have more flexibility in one ankle compared to the other.  

After assessing the flexibility in both ankles, use a lacrosse ball or softball to break up fascia in the soles of the feet.  Do this for a few minutes and also roll the ball around the achilles and and in the calf muscle of both legs.

After a few minutes of rolling out overactive muscles, do some band exercises to work the ankles and strengthen the anterior tibialis.  Here are some great exercises, also from Brent Brookbush.

When the ankles are nice and warm, have the client do a few reps of air squats and the ankles should be flexible, pliable ready for a workout.  Clients will overlook this detail in their training so it is a trainer's responsibility to educate them on these complementary exercises that can help them execute larger movements with proper form.

Hello, World!

I am posting my first blog entry today!  To start, I'll recap some recent events since starting Catalyze Fitness.

First off, I'm very excited to be working with a great crew of trainers and athletes at Oakland Fitness Company (OFC).  I am partnering with OFC and will be training clients and teaching classes at this new local gym in north Oakland.  A special shout out goes to Mike Beatrice, owner of OFC, for the positive energy, guidance, and tireless encouragement he's been giving both clients and the training team.  Thanks, Mike!

Proud to be doing work at OFC!

Working on TRX squats with my client.

Working on TRX squats with my client.

Mike & the class enjoying the sunshine.

Mike & the class enjoying the sunshine.

Also, I am planning a free community workout with the good folks at Sports Basement in Berkeley.  This new location, on 2727 Milvia Street, opened in November 2014 and boasts over 70,000+ square feet of retail space - it is sporting goods heaven!   After attending a few of their evening fun runs, I connected with their events manager and Sports Basement has officially invited Catalyze Fitness and OFC to host a FREE weekend workout in early March!  Stay tuned, more details are coming soon.

Sports Basement does a fantastic job of offering classes to their local community.  These events are FREE to the public, so get out there and check them out.  It's a great way to way to meet new people while getting a workout.

Me with the Sports Basement fun run crew.

Me with the Sports Basement fun run crew.


I'm programming more resistance band and mobility work in warm-ups.  My clients have been using bands to do a series of ankle, knee, and hip mobility before tackling the main workout.  The goal here is to engage and loosen the lower kinetic chain.  Clients are finding this especially useful for high rep leg days and it's a great exercise for anyone working on strengthening the gluteus medius.

Mika hitting the bands.

Mika hitting the bands.