The Unique Challenge of Striving to Be Fit While Being Woman

Recently, my sister-in-law, Katie Crank, reached out to me for a quote for an article she was writing for Thrive Global. The topic was about how shame may play a role in acting as a barrier to a woman’s relationship with fitness (here is the full article). As I provided her with my thoughts, it led me to think even deeper about the topic.

The topic of shame and women’s fitness has been an ever present challenge in my career, but also a great opportunity to coach and teach. My experience spans group fitness, private personal training, and now corporate wellness. I’ve had the privilege to work with all types of women and hear their stories.  During the assessment phase or initial conversation with a woman, you learn a lot about her motivation to workout. I would say the most common motivators are external. Meaning that she doesn’t want to work-out to make her self feel more energetic or to improve her sleep, but to change something about her body.

Today, we live in a society that is filled with images of the “ideal” female body type. These images ultimately embed themselves into our own concept of how we think we should look. As a result, we are constantly striving for something that is often unrealistic. We see images and videos on social media of women broadcasting their workout regimens. These are then followed up with an image of their perfectly toned bodies. The message is that by doing the exact exercise she just did, you’ll see the same results. However, often what is unsaid is how long and how much work it took to achieve that body-type.  I do believe it is these messages that lend to a women’s dissatisfaction with her body and often why they lose the motivation to stick with an exercise plan.  And unfortunately, we are starting to see a similar trend for males.

Over the course of my career in corporate wellness, I’ve talked to a lot of women who are hesitant to start an exercise program because they do not want to be vulnerable in front of their co-workers. They are fearful that they won’t know what to do and that they might be judged by others. I’ve also talked to women who are intimidated by the others they see in class; they compare themselves to the women who do not look like them.  I have seen too many times these women try a class once and not return. On the flip side, I have had the awesome opportunity to witness many others transform and build confidence when they are consistent with their exercise routine.

As a wellness professional, my goal is to break down the unrealistic expectations women have come to develop and build up their confidence. Through active listening and supportive coaching, all professionals in the industry can help break down this barrier and keep women motivated to stick with a program. By recognizing that it’s not what our bodies look like, but what it can do, we can help instill a more body-positive outlook.

High Intensity Workout to Work Off Your Thanksgiving Feast

We are traveling to St. Louis this year to celebrate Thanksgiving.  Whenever I travel, I always try to plan ahead how I will squeeze a workout in.  It’s going to be sub 50 degrees in STL, so a run is out of the question for me.  Instead, I have planned a quick and dirty 18-minute high intensity workout routine that will get my heart rate up and leave me feeling less guilty about eating so much over the next few days.  The beautiful thing about this workout is that you can adapt it to your fitness and comfort level by altering the work:rest ratios.  I usually do a 30:10 ratio and that keeps me working hard!  Feel free to comment below if you have any questions about the exercises or if you’d like modifications for each exercise. Happy Thanksgiving!

Set a time to 30 sec. of work, 10 sec. of rest.  Repeat each circuit four times through for a solid six minutes of work.  Equipment: just your body!  The video below shows 2 reps of each exercise.

Circuit #1
Squats
Speed Skaters
Push-ups

Circuit #2
Lunge Jumps
Bicycle Crunches
Forearm plank

Circuit #3
Burpees
V-Ups
Hip Bridges


What Works When It Comes to Working Out at Work

This month marks my third year anniversary of teaching fitness classes at LinkedIn in San Francisco.  As I reflect on the past three years of teaching, I first feel honored to have met so many wonderful people across a number of disciplines: sales, marketing, engineering, HR.  I then start to think about the difference between the people I’ve seen consistently over the last three years, and the folks I see a bit more sporadically.  Why are some people able to stay consistent in attending class on a regular basis, while some people can’t seem to figure out a way to squeeze it in on their calendars?

Of course, I am sensitive to travel schedules, sales goals and special project deadlines.  I understand special circumstances make it hard to stick with a consistent workout routine while at work.  But for those individuals who rarely miss more than a week of classes, I have come to conclude they share certain habits.  Here are a few of my observations and I hope those who have struggled to create a regular exercise routine will take something away from them.

  1. They make new friends.  I have seen numerous friendships and business relationships form over the last 3 years.  People who would never cross each others paths are suddenly feeling a sense of camaraderie, because they see each other in boot camp every Wednesday at lunch.  When you sweat together and experience a shared level of grit trying to get through those extra burpees, a bond is formed.  Suddenly, they are seeing their classmate in the hallways or break room and asking if they are going to boot camp later in the day.  I remember it was about 6 months in to teaching at LinkedIn that I realized I needed to group people in to teams of two in order to accommodate everyone in a small space.  I think it was the best thing I could have done to foster a fitness community in the workplace.  People started working together and cheering each other on throughout the 45 minutes.  It was a beautiful thing to witness.
  2. They block it out on their calendar.  We have a great system that allows employees to pre-register for classes a week in advance.  This gives them the opportunity to plan their calls, meetings, and days around their workouts.  I’ve found that those who do not make this a regular practice, lose the regularity in their workouts.  When we don’t plan ahead, we open ourselves up to those last minute calls that get scheduled over lunch or losing track of time.
  3. They recognize the positive effects of a regular workout routine.  I get feedback all of the time from the folks I see in class on a regular basis that they are crushing their sales goals, feeling more alert throughout the afternoon and are more energetic in meetings.  These are the type of results that people don’t often think about when they decide to work out.  It goes beyond the physical- regular workouts improve our mental, emotional and spiritual worlds.  To me, that type of feedback from my participants is so much more meaningful than hearing they have lost weight (which is also a wonderful side effect).

Even if you do not have a fitness program at your workplace, these habits listed above apply.  Developing an emotional connection to a workout and scheduling them in as important meetings are the most effective ways to sticking with a program.  Life gets crazy sometimes, so we have to plan for the inevitable.


South America, Part II: Mendoza, Argentina

Wednesday, December 24th, 2015
This part of our vacation starts with quite a funny story.

On Christmas Eve, Mikey and I checked out of our beach town Airbnb and set off in our rental car for the 5-hour drive through the Andes mountains to Mendoza, Argentina. This leg of our trip is what drove our decision to visit South America. We couldn’t wait to spend our days visiting wineries and learning all we could about the region and my beloved Malbec.

A view from the road as we approached the Andes.
A view from the road as we approached the Andes.
The famed curved road up the mountain!
The famed curved road up the mountain!

As we drove through the Chilean side of the Andes, we stopped to take pictures, played dance music loudly and overall were in a positive mood. Then we arrived at the Argentina border…

Feeling lucky that there were few travelers on Christmas Eve and our wait at the border was less than 15 minutes, we walked up to the window with our passports with big smiles. After a few exchanges between the agents in Spanish, the one who spoke English looked at us and said: “You can’t go to Argentina.” They wouldn’t let us in with our rental car. We did not have permission from the rental car company to visit another country. After some pleading from Mike, we got back into our car and drove back through the Andes without a plan.

We ultimately decided to find refuge at the very nice boutique hotel we had already booked for New Year’s Eve in Santiago (our last leg and part III). We checked in after 6 hours of driving, drank our complimentary Pisco Sours and bought bus tickets to Mendoza the next day. We lost another day, but kept our heads up!

So thankful for these cocktails!
So thankful for these cocktails!
Feigning excitement about a 7-hour bus ride to Mendoza.
Feigning excitement about a 7-hour bus ride to Mendoza.

We finally made it to Mendoza on Christmas Day. We had reservations downtown at Azafran (recommended by a co-worker). It was the perfect meal after a long day of traveling. The restaurant allows you to step into their wine cellar and choose your bottle from their selection. We chose a heavy Malbec and a delicious pork chop.
The next 4 days consisted of relaxing in our adorable cabin in the heart of Mendoza, using our host’s bicycles to get to the wineries, learning all about how the Mendoza climate aids in growing the best Malbec grapes in the world. Of course, we found struggle in communicating with taxi drivers (who get around without a GPS!) and never finding a salad. One sommelier actually told us that Mendoza is not a place for vegetarians. They love their BBQ!

The roads leading up to the wineries were gorgeous.
The roads leading up to the wineries were gorgeous.
The sommeliers enlightened us on the wine-making process. Here I am at Kaiken in Mendoza.
The sommeliers enlightened us on the wine-making process. Here I am at Kaiken in Mendoza.

We had an overall great time in this region. Being surrounded by majestic snow-capped mountains is magical and I know feel closer to a Malbec expert 😉

IMG_0118

South America, Part I: Concon, Chile

Friday, December 18th, 2015
In May of 2015, my boyfriend (now fiancé) and I booked flights to South America. This entire trip was driven by my love for Malbec wine. With Mendoza, Argentina being the “Tierre de Malbec”, we decided we had to go. We set aside two weeks to explore Mendoza and parts of Chile. Specifically, we chose Concon for the beach and Santiago as it is the major city in Chile.

So our departure day finally came. We were all packed up and mentally prepared for a 17-hour travel day that included a red-eye and 3 different planes. Of course, it wouldn’t be an adventure without some hiccups. We arrived at SFO to discover that all United flights had been delayed by hours that day. They had bumped us from our original flight and re-booked us on a later flight that would not allow us to make our connection. With the help of a very nice United agent, our itinerary changed and we were departing on Saturday at noon. Alas, we returned to our home for a night’s sleep. We made the best of it by opening a bottle of wine to wallow in our sorrows of losing a day in South America.

The view from our patio in Concon, Chile.
The view from our patio in Concon, Chile.

Despite all of this, we finally made it to Chile on Sunday afternoon. We picked up our rental car and made the 1.5 hour drive to Concon. Our AirBNB was wonderful, complete with a patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean and our beloved sunsets. We spent four nights and four days in this little beach town that was driving distance to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso- two larger beach towns on the coast of Chile. Easing into our vacation was a great choice. We spent our days on the beach (despite it being a bit cooler than we’d like for beach weather) and either cooked at home or went out for dinners. This area challenged our communication greatly. There were very few people who spoke English and our broken Spanish was not enough to get our message across completely. But, we made do with the help of my Spanish-educated little sister and Google Translate 🙂

Taking in the sunset from the beach boardwalk.
Taking in the sunset from the beach boardwalk.

On the 3rd day, we went into Valparaiso. This is the largest port city on the coast of Chile. We visited La Sebastiana (Pablo Neruda’s home), which was just ok. I would say the walk to and from his home was more interesting. We climbed a steep hill on a very narrow road. The buildings were plastered with murals and brilliant art work.

An example of the cool artwork on buildings in Valparaiso.
An example of the cool artwork on buildings in Valparaiso.
I loved this little corner. The stairs were decorated with such bright artwork.
I loved this little corner. The stairs were decorated with such bright artwork.

Overall, we had a great time in this area and firmly believe we made a genius decision in starting our two-weeks of vacation on the beach. Mike and I are true romantics when it comes to sun sets and the view we had was priceless both in physical location and the experience we shared.

I don't think any of the pictures we took capture the sunset on the Chile coast. But I tried with this one.
I don’t think any of the pictures we took capture the sunset on the Chile coast. But I tried with this one.
Of course I had to squeeze some yoga in on our patio during the sunset :)
Of course I had to squeeze some yoga in on our patio during the sunset 🙂


I Gave Up on the 6-Pack Abs Dream and Started Showing My Midriff 

I think it was about 2 years ago or so that crop tops became a huge trend.  I know mostly because my little sister never went a night out with her friends without wearing one. I’m already pretty modest, but that was never going to be an option for me.  I felt slight pressure to wear one as they were stylish and I like to stay up on the trends.  But I just didn’t have the confidence for them.

As a personal trainer, people have always expected me to have 6-pack abs.  And I always felt that pressure alongside shame that I didn’t have what they believed I did.  While I could have spent all my free time planning out meals and working out for 1-2 hours a day, I instead chose to spend time with my friends and go out for nice meals and drink wine.  I’ve known people who live that life and while it is admirable, I prioritized other things.

Recently I posted an Instagram photo with my belly exposed.  At first, I felt minor reservation.  But I’ve grown to be completely comfortable with my body and what it can do.  I know how strong it is and I’ve accepted the amount of effort I put into it to keep it healthy.

For me, life is too short to eat brown rice and chicken breast only.  Now let’s uncork a bottle of wine!


Plank: The Ultimate Ab Exercise

Currently UNCORKED: 2013 Vistalba Corte C Malbec Cabernet Blend. So silky and smooth! This is a wonderful blend that I’m really starting to get into. Has the earthy taste of a Malbec with the slightly heavy qualities of a cab.

 

A not-so-obvious groan often follows once I’ve told my clients to get into plank position.  Holding a plank position is no easy feat and there is a reason for this.  Plank helps to strengthen your mid-section as well as the upper body and lower body muscles along the front of your body.  This includes the pectoral and serratus muscles for your upper body; the quads and hips of your lower body; and the rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis muscles of your abs.

Holding plank also encourages gains in flexibility.  When you lift your quads away from the ground and push into your heels as if you were pushing up against a wall, this lengthens your hamstrings, thus increasing flexibility.  Most modern-day office workers fall victim to tight hamstrings due to long days sitting at their desk.
The benefits of plank go on.  When the core and muscles surrounding the hips are strengthened, this helps to improve posture and prevent deficiencies such as lower-back pain.  Standing with your hips in neutral position and shoulders pulled back not only makes you appear taller, but more confident.

Start practicing this simple, yet effective full-body exercise today.  Start with short intervals of 30 seconds and increase as you become stronger.Shannon Wong| Forearm Plank


Uncorked Fitness 14-day #Fit4Yoga Challenge

Welcome to the 14-day #Fit4Yoga Challenge!  Why did I create this?  Because I’ve found that strength in my core and shoulders have been major predictors of my ability to progress in yoga.  Any arm balance, standing balance pose, or inversion require strength from both and I believe that these three exercises are an effective way to build just that!  Join along and be sure to post your progress using the hashtag #Fit4Yoga.  Have fun!

 

#Fit4Yoga Challenge

 


5 Reasons Why I Love Pinterest Fitness Challenges

Currently UNCORKED: 2011 Passerina Offida. A delicious Montepulciano I enjoyed at a work dinner in Vegas at an Italian restaurant. Medium-heavy bodied, not too dry, with a nice smooth finish.

Fitness Challenges were never my thing.  I’ve always been a trainer and I assumed that doing a 30-day challenge was never going to lead to a lifestyle change.  But in one 2-week challenge with a co-worker, I completely changed my viewpoint.

My co-worker and I decided on a two-week Plank challenge and we were going to post about it on Twitter.  During week 1, we did 60-seconds every day.  In week 2, we stepped it up to 90-seconds each day.  I loved this for so many reasons.  Here are my top 5:

  1. We made it social. Each day we would post on twitter that we completed the challenge and post a picture of planking along with it.  It held us accountable and kept us motivated.
  2. It was easy.  If you only hold yourself to 60 seconds or 90 seconds of planking each day; it suddenly becomes far more achievable than a larger goal.
  3. My boyfriend got involved.  He had fun doing the plank along with me and it became something we did together.
  4. I could do it anywhere.  I was actually traveling for work during week 2 of the challenge.  I was able to plank whether I was in the hotel or in the office (see picture above!).
  5. It made me want to do more challenges.  Since the plank challenge, I’ve found on Pinterest a 30-day squat challenge (which I really think made my butt look more perky) and am now gearing up to do a 30-day push-up challenge.

Each of these challenges are fun and take less than 5 minutes a day.  Even when I do a regular workout that day, I still find a way to squeeze in the day’s challenge right before bed.  On a Saturday night, while my boyfriend and I enjoyed wine in the living room, I performed 185 squats before he finished uncorking the bottle and pouring us each a glass.  These challenges have also inspired me to create my own challenge, so get ready for some fun ones coming your way.  I hope you’ll join me!

 


I Did Two Workouts in One Day and Almost Passed Out

 

Currently UNCORKED: 2012 Souverain Cabernet Sauvignon. Smells woody, oaky. A bit fruit-forward at the start, but has opened up nicely in the glass.
Today I did a one hour power yoga class and a 45-minute intense boxing class.  It’s been over a year since I have done super intense workouts at that level.  I’ve committed to a solid yoga practice over the past 12 months and have thus prioritized the practice over cardio or weight training.  I don’t possess the same level of fitness as I used to.  I’m not ashamed by this nor feel like I need to make a change in my workout routine.  I think instead, I need to accept that I am in a different kind of shape than I used to be.

At the moment, my current workout routine includes yoga 3-4x/week and riding my bike to and from work 3x/week.  I love it.  It’s working for my body right now.  In fact, my arms have never looked better 😉

Our bodies change with each passing season and every year we grow older.  It’s important we listen to the changes it’s requesting of us and work with it.  Yoga has served me in many more ways than just physical.  It’s helped me find acceptance of my body.  It’s helped me find patience in my relationship.  And it’s taught me the importance of commitment, practice and intention.

Maybe one day I’ll return back to the intense, high-energy, high-impact workout days.  But for now, I’m loving my mat and loving being upside down.

By the way, the picture above is of a recent sunset in Noe Valley.  The sunsets have just been unreal and so beautiful.  I hope you take the time to notice these types of things.


Stories of wine, fitness & life