Active Rest Day Ideas for Summer

Woman exploring calm tropical bay with limestone mountains by kaThe sun is shining, the birds are chirping, kids are out of school, and the humidity occasionally becomes unbearable — yep, that means it’s officially summer! Many love the summer for its beautiful weather and happy vibes, but I love it most for the variety of fun activities available for active rest days. Not sure what an active rest day is? Let me elaborate.

Rest days are the (very necessary) day or days of the week where you take it easy and let your body recover. Contrary to popular believe, hitting the gym every single day is not a fantastic display of dedication; it’s a fantastic way to sabotage your own progress. Rest is key to any and every individual’s fitness routine because in order for your muscles to become stronger, they must have the time to repair and recover.

Friends doing yoga together with their teacher at the beachThis concept is especially notable in strength training; has anyone ever advised you to either A) avoid working out the same muscle group on consecutive days, or B) avoid strength training muscles that are still sore from a previous workout? That advise is definitely worth taking! If you work the same muscle group, such as the pectoralis muscles in your chest (ahem: men) or the various muscles in your legs (ahem: ladies) over and over again without giving them a break, they will never recover and grow stronger. By working a muscle group that has not fully recovered, you’re essentially undoing your previous workout, as your body has to start from square 1 in recovery again.

With this in mind, rest days are obviously crucially important in a well-balanced exercise routine. However, that doesn’t mean you have to–or should–spend an entire day lying in bed, binge-watching Netflix (although we aren’t judging you if you do every so often). Active recovery, as opposed to passive recovery (a complete break from exercise), may help prime your body’s metabolic pathways of recovery. Additionally, active rest days may help brighten one’s mood and help with healthy diet adherence.

Back StretchingBefore you choose an active rest day activity, take your current fitness level into mind. For example, a marathon runner may find a light, 2-mile jog to be the perfect form of active rest, while the same activity would be a full workout to a new exerciser. As a general rule, exercise qualifies as active recovery if you feel better after exercising compared to before you started, so you should listen to your own body when determining what will be the perfect active rest activity for you. Keep in mind that active rest typically involves performing light exercises (often swimming or cycling) that stimulate the recovery process without imposing undue stress on the injured body part.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite activities for active rest days — enjoy, operathletes!


Young Man Traveler with backpack relaxing outdoor1. TAKE A HIKE

Grab your bug spray, SPF, and water bottle, Google some excellent (and safe) hiking trails near you, and enjoy a hike on a beautiful day! Bring a couple of friends for a fun adventure and a little added safety. Don’t forget to research each trail and remind yourself of nature-related safety precautions and procedures before you take your trip. Perhaps you could do a little Geocaching while you’re at it as well?

2. GO FOR A BIKE RIDE

Bike riding is a fantastic rest day activity for both urban and suburban folk, and everyone in between. Enjoy a ride through the city, down a boardwalk, alongside of a river, or wherever the wind takes you. Don’t forget your helmet & a water bottle!

3. GO KAYAKING / CANOEING

Yoga Class, Group of People Relaxing and Doing Yoga. Child's PosSoak up the sun and enjoy Mother Nature by taking a trip down your local river or on a nearby lake. Although they don’t look ‘cool,’ keep your life vests on, folks 😉

4. TAKE A YOGA CLASS

Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Hatha, Iyengar, Bikram… With so many different denominations of Yoga and a large repertoire of poses, the possibilities for practicing Yoga are truly limitless! Bonus: Yoga breathing technique utilizes diaphragmatic breathing, making it a particularly excellent choice for singers.

5. STRETCH IT OUT

Have you read our recent article on stretching? Grab a yoga mat or a blanket, play some soothing music, and enjoy a good full-body stretch session.

Sup Beautiful Girl Yoga Meditation056. TAKE A PADDLE BOARDING CLASS

Paddle boarding seems to be on the rise lately, for good reason! Obviously you can simply paddle board and enjoy the scenery wherever you are, but there’s been a recent influx of Yoga and Pilates classes on paddle boards. Sounds like a little slice of Heaven to us!

7. ENJOY A SWIM

Swim a few laps, do a few tricks in the deep end of your local pool, or just lie back and enjoy a good float. Any of the above sound like an active rest day well-spent to us!

8. GO ROCK CLIMBING

Young woman practicing rock-climbing on a rock wall indoorsArguably one of my favorite ways to spend an active rest day: indoor rock climbing. Before you go climb away, remember that you should always climb in a safe and supervised environment with well-trained and educated staff. Most indoor rock climbing gyms offer beginners classes and equipment rentals at a low cost. Always do your research before visiting a climbing gym so you can find the best–and safest–option for you!

9. VISIT AN INDOOR TRAMPOLINE PARK

Definitely my favorite way to spend an active rest day: at an indoor trampoline park. Embrace your inner child and jump away! Be sure to educate yourself on safe jumping techniques before rushing into your local trampoline park. Note that these places are usually swarming with small children, so bringing an adult friend with you is usually a must. You can also keep an eye out for adult-only jumping events at your local indoor trampoline park, to avoid crushing a small child in the process! (Don’t worry regardless, as everyone has to sign a waiver before they jump 😉 )


With love,
Kendra Signature with Photo

Stretching 101

One of the most important components of a healthy and well-balanced exercise regimen is systematically overlooked by the vast majority of exercisers: stretching. Not only can stretching prevent injuries that could keep you out of the gym for weeks or months on end, but it also helps correct poor posture by lengthening tight, shortened muscles, and increases blood and nutrient flow to muscles which can help prevent muscle soreness.

Singers who do not regularly stretch after their workouts are often (unintentionally) promoting postural imbalances that could hinder deep and free breathing, among other consequences. Stretching is clearly important for the general public, but for singers, it becomes an even more crucial part of their exercise regimen.

So, when should you stretch? Frankly, the exercise science community is a bit divided on this topic, but those who are in favor of stretching post-workout seem to be winning. Obviously, before beginning a workout, one should properly warm up their body through practice moves and dynamic stretching (another topic for another day), but scientists are finding that full-blown, static stretching session before your workout may actually hinder athletic performance and promote injury.

Attractive female athlete stretching on yoga mat in gym.Young anThat said, arguably the best answer for singers wondering when they should stretch is listen to your body. If the muscles you plan on using in a workout are feeling super tight, then I say go ahead and stretch them out, and/or use a foam roller to iron out the tension (again, another topic for another day). If the muscles you’re planning on working are sore from a previous workout, wait until they have properly repaired themselves and the soreness is gone before you work them again. Instead, work another muscle group that day and get your stretching in!

Now that we’ve covered stretching basics, here are some of my favorite stretches for virtually all of the major muscles in the body. I teach a one-hour class with these stretches; in the class, we hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds, and repeat each stretch two times. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that healthy adults stretch 2-3 days per week, and hold each stretch for 15-60 seconds for 2-4 repetitions. Throughout your stretching session, use your fantastic singer breath to help fuel your efforts by imagining that you’re breathing into the area of tension (ie, the muscles your stretching) and exhaling that tension out of your body. Every exhalation should help you get a little deeper into the stretch.


Warm-up

Warm-up move: Start with this light warmup. Inhale while bringing your hands overhead, and exhale while you bring your hands back to the starting position. I usually repeat this motion 5-10 times to warm up the body a bit.

Stretches: Biceps
Bicep stretch

Front of upper arm (Bicep) stretchWith your palms facing the back wall, point your thumbs down and reach back behind you. You will feel this stretch in your biceps, which are notoriously difficult to stretch. Be sure to actively reach behind you for the duration of the stretch; if you stop feeling the slight pull in your biceps, reach back further.

Tricep Stretch
Tricep stretch

Back of upper arm (Tricep) stretch: Stretch your triceps by bringing one arm behind your head, and pull that elbow toward your head with the opposite hand.

Chest (Pectoralis Major) Stretch
Pectoralis stretch

Chest (Pectoralis) stretch: Interlace your fingers behind your rear-end and reach down and back with your hands. For a further stretch, utilize costal breathing by directing your breath into your upper chest (as opposed to diaphragmatic breathing, where you inhale and allow your belly to move).

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Trapezius & Rhomboid stretch

Upper Back (Trapezius, Rhomboid) stretch: Interlace your fingers in front of you and reach forward with your hands. Allow your shoulders to roll forward and maintain extended elbows throughout the stretch.

Neck stretch
Scalene stretch

Neck (Scalene) stretch: Place one hand on your head and gently apply downward pressure. Reach down and out with your other hand. Do not be aggressive with this stretch; perform this stretch lightly and consistently.

Shoulder (Deltoid) stretch
Deltoid stretch

Shoulder (Deltoid) stretch: Take one hand and place it on your opposite side. Make a “chicken wing” with the other arm, and lean your head toward the “chicken wing.” This stretch will also stretch your neck (sternocleidomastoid) a bit.

Middle/Lower Back (Middle/Lower Trapezius, Erector Spinae) stretch
Middle/Lower Trapezius & Erector Spinae stretch

Middle/Lower Back (Middle/Lower Trapezius, Erector Spinae) stretch: Bring your hands behind your thighs and arch your back up toward the sky. Be sure not to let your hands slip apart!

Calf (Gastrocnemius) stretch
Gastrocnemius stretch

Calf (Gastrocnemius) stretch: Separate legs to a wide V stance and bend the front knee, while keeping the back leg straight. Point both feet in the direction to which you’re facing. This will stretch the major muscle in the calf, the gastrocnemius, in the back of the lower leg. If you need a lighter stretch, bring your back leg forward a bit to make a narrower V; if you need a deeper stretch, bring the back leg back farther to make a wider V.

Deep calf stretch
Soleus stretch

Deep Calf (Soleus) stretch: From the previous position, bring the back leg forward to make a narrow V and bend both knees slightly. This will stretch the flat muscle underneath the gastrocnemius in the calf, called the soleus. You will feel this stretch originate at the Achilles tendon on the back of the rear foot and extend up the back of the leg. Feel free to adjust until you find the ‘sweet spot.’

Hip Stretch
Adductor & Glute stretch

Hip (Adductor, Glute) stretch: Starting with your legs wider than shoulder width apart, squat down and place your elbows on your inner thighs (note: be sure that your elbows are not placed on your knees, but rather, are on the meaty part of your inner thigh). Press out with your elbows to get a powerful and challenging stretch!

Standing Hamstring Stretch
Standing Hamstring stretch

Standing Back of Thigh (Hamstring) stretch: This is a three phase stretch. Starting with your legs in a wide V, hinge at the hips and reach for the ground. Be sure to keep your legs straight, as bending your knees will cause you to lose the hamstring stretch. Hold, then heel-toe your feet closer together to make a narrower V, and reach down and hold once more. Finally, heel-toe your feet all the way together and reach down toward your toes.

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Seated Hamstring stretch

Seated Back of Thigh (Hamstring) stretch, pt. 1: Like the previous stretch, you can perform this sequence in three phases: narrow V, wider V, and widest V. To get a nice side stretch, reach one hand overhead and grab your foot with the other arm. Then fold over the leg and reach your forehead toward your big toe. Repeat on the other side, and repeat both sides in all three positions.

Back of Thigh (Hamstring) stretch
Seated Hamstring stretch

Seated Back of Thigh (Hamstring) stretch, pt. 2: From the previous position, reach your hands forward and aim to get your forehead toward the ground. Don’t forget to use every exhale to get you even a centimeter deeper into the stretch! Perform this stretch in all three phases of the previous stretch (narrow V, wider V, widest V).

Cat-Camel Motion
Cat-Camel Motion

Cat-Camel Motion: Notice that I didn’t call this one a stretch. The goal here is not to see who can arch their back farther in either direction. Instead, this motion is intended to help relieve lower back pain. Many of my group fitness clients suffer with lower back pain on a regular basis, so I always throw this one into my stretch classes. Slowly arch your back between the two positions, and aim to make the motion between the two positions as fluid as possible.

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Variations on Child Pose

Variations on Child Pose (Lower Back, Latissimus Dorsi, Posterior Deltoid, Teres m.m., Side Obliques): Start in the seated position with knees together, then bend over and reach forward. Utilize diaphragmatic breathing to get a powerful lower back stretch; since your belly is on your legs and thus can’t move very much, you will have to release into your lower back to take in a deep breath. Amazing how we can use the singer’s breath to enhance a stretch! Hold, then walk hands to one side while keeping the lower body stable to get a powerful side stretch. Repeat on opposite side.

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‘Cobra’ stretch

‘Cobra’ stretch (Abdominal wall): Start lying down, and place your hands flat on the ground below your shoulders. Press up and extend your arms to stretch your abdominal wall. For an further stretch, utilize diaphragmatic breathing in this position. If this stretch is too intense, feel free to bend your elbows.

Front of Thigh (Hip Flexor) stretch
Hip Flexor stretch

Front of Thigh (Hip Flexor) stretch: Begin with one leg in front of you at a 90° angle, back leg on the ground behind you. In this lunge position, lean toward your front knee. If this feels good, come up to a full lunge by bringing the back knee off the floor. Be sure to keep that back leg straight! In either position, squeeze your glutes for a further hip flexor stretch.

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Single Hamstring stretch

Single Back of Thigh (Hamstring) stretch: Starting with one leg extended in front of you and the opposite knee on the ground, lean back toward your back heel to get a powerful single leg hamstring stretch in the extended leg.

Single Back of Thigh (Hamstring) stretch
‘Pigeon’ stretch

‘Pigeon’ stretch (Hip Flexor, Glute, Piriformis): This is probably my favorite stretch of all time! Start by bringing one leg across your body; your lower leg should be perpendicular to the rest of your body. You can either stay up on your hands, come down to your forearms, or reach your hands out in front of you.

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Seated ‘Figure 4’ stretch

Seated ‘Figure 4’ stretch (Glute, Piriformis): Starting in the seated position with both legs out straight, cross one leg over the other and wrap the opposite arm across that knee. Lightly reach behind with your other arm to get a powerful glute stretch.

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Lying ‘Figure 4’ stretch

Lying ‘Figure 4’ stretch (Glute, Piriformis): The lying Figure 4 stretch is merely a variation on the previous stretch. Start lying flat on your back, and bring one ankle to the opposite knee.  Wrap your hands below that same knee and pull back on your thigh, bringing your legs off of the floor.

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Adductor stretch

Inner Thigh (Adductor) stretch: Start in the seated position with your feet together. Inhale, then fold over as you exhale. Aim to get your head as close to your feet as possible.

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Quadricep stretch

Front of leg (Quadricep) stretch: Lie on one side and grab the ankle of the top leg. Pull your heel towards your butt and hold.

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Latissimus Dorsi, Oblique stretch

Lying Trunk Twist (Latissimus Dorsi, Oblique) stretch: Lie flat on your back with your hands out to either side of you and your legs up, knees in a 90° angle. Rotate your legs to one side of your body. Try to keep your knees together (as opposed to letting the top knee sink backwards) and try to keep both shoulders on the floor, or as close to the floor as you can get them. Hold, then rotate knees to the other side.


With love,
Kendra Signature with Photo

Thank you Dr. Julian Rivera for your contributions, and shout out to MultiSport Fitness for allowing OPERATHLETIC to use their beautiful facility for photos.

Joyce El-Khoury is #OPERATHLETIC

Photo by Fay Fox
Photo by Fay Fox

Joyce El-Khoury is not only a powerful presence, an exceptional soprano, and a strong operathlete, but she’s made it part of her life’s work to advocate against bullying. Throughout her travels, Ms. El-Khoury uses her own experiences with bullying to help be a voice for this social epidemic. Physical health is extremely important for performers to be conscious of, but mental health is an equally important component of total health & wellness that is all-too-often overlooked. We are honored to share Ms. El-Khoury’s interview with the OPERATHLETIC audience.

Ms. El-Khoury has performed a myriad of soprano dream roles including Mimì, Violetta, Rusalka, Marguerite, and more at some of the world’s leading opera houses including the Bayerische Staatsoper, De Nederlandse Opera, Santa Fe Opera, San Diego Opera, Korean National Opera, Dutch National Opera, and Welsh National Opera, among others. She is a graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Program, and she is a First Prize winner in many competitions including the Loren L. Zachary Competition, the Opera Index Competition, the George London Foundation, and the Mario Lanza Vocal Competition. On February 28th & March 11th, 2016, you can see her sing Maria Stuarda with Seattle Opera. To learn more about Joyce El-Khoury, visit her website at http://joyceelkhoury.com/.

We so appreciate that Ms. El-Khoury is sharing her personal, health, and operatic journey with OPERATHLETIC. Mental health issues, including bullying, are often overlooked or underestimated in terms of long term affects on both mental and physical health. It’s time we all take a stand against bullying, and Ms. El-Khoury makes an excellent leader for social change. Thank you, Joyce El-Khoury, for sharing your wisdom, courage, and story with OPERATHLETIC!


Opera Lyra Ottawa -- La Bohème Joyce El-Khoury with Michael Fabiano
Opera Lyra Ottawa — La Bohème
Joyce El-Khoury with Michael Fabiano

Q: What makes you so passionate about the prevention of bullying? 

Bullying is often considered a childhood ‘rite of passage’, but I believe that it is something that can and should be prevented. I was bullied as a child and throughout my teens.  It made those transition years, which are by nature uncomfortable, even more so. I felt the effects of bullying very deeply, and it played a big role in my wavering self-esteem and self-worth as a young adult. Any involvement in bullying does not bode well in adulthood. Studies have proven that children who are bullied, who bully or even witness bullying can grow into adults who have emotional and/or psychological problems.  We must remember that children spend the greatest portion of their days in school and if they are being tormented, we cannot deny that this will be detrimental to their development.

The problem has grown since the birth of the internet. When I was a child, I had the comfort of being able to escape into the happy and comforting environment of my parents’ home, knowing that I could forget about the bullying for a few hours. These days, children and teens are continuously connected through social media, making it almost impossible to have a peaceful retreat even once at home.Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 9.06.40 PM

I would like to add that bullying takes many different forms.  The most obvious and well-known is, of course, physical bullying; but there are many others which are just as damaging, if not more so. For example, purposely leaving someone out of an activity is considered bullying. This is why it is imperative that teachers and parents regularly check-in with the children and provide them with an opportunity to get things off their chest and receive help.  The truth is that I can talk about this for hours, but the most important thing for me is to express that bullying should not be taken lightly. I am a pretty well-balanced and successful adult, yet I can still remember the smallest details from that part of my life. It has stuck with me, and in many ways has been a blessing in disguise because I wouldn’t be the strong and willful person that I am now had I not been bullied. That being said, I did have emotional challenges and obstacles because of bullying and now feel a strong sense of responsibility toward this cause. I am compelled to speak about it because even if I am able to comfort one child who is being bullied by saying: “Look at me… your life can be great too!”, then it is worth the effort. 

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North Carolina Opera – Rusalka

Q: How have your experiences with bullying shaped you as a person & artist?  

A: Most artists are extremely self-critical.  We set such high standards for ourselves, and if we fall below the standard, we are very quick to go down a path of belittling or devaluing ourselves. Now, if you’ve grown up with others criticizing you, their voices tend to resurface in these moments of self-doubt. An artist has to have a balance of self-doubt and tremendous confidence. The doubt must be there to motivate us to keep searching for artistic excellence and the confidence must be there in order for us to get in front of thousands of people and bare our souls.  Most of us vacillate between the two, still searching for balance, and that’s ok. For me, the quest for this balance is not only what keeps me churning away, but also what inspires me to make my art as truthful as possible. I am constantly looking for the humanity and vulnerability in my onstage roles. Having been bullied, and witness others being bullied, I cultivated a heightened sensitivity to my surroundings and people in general. I am able to put myself in someone else’s shoes, and can usually feel what they are feeling. I have learned to do that exact thing with the characters that I play, which I consider to be a gift.

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Q: When did you begin your fitness journey?  What inspired you to start? 

Dutch National Opera - La Traviata
Dutch National Opera – La Traviata

A: I started giving my health a really hard look 5 years ago.  I had often struggled with keeping my weight under control, especially in my late teens/early twenties. The number on the scale was always the one thing by which I measured my self-worth. One day I decided that enough was enough. The scale cannot give an accurate reading for health or fitness and what matters is not the number, but how one feels in their own skin.  I yearned for that feeling which I often read about.. the one where people exclaim how energetic, focused and inspired they feel after a run.  So, I decided to start running. With the help of a running app, I hit the pavement. At first I could literally only run one minute before cramping and feeling like I was going to suffocate. I worked through it out of sheer determination, and soon I was able to run long distances.  Now, part of my routine is to run 10Ks. On performance days, or days where I need to take it easy, I run a maximum of 5K. When I can, I push myself as hard as possible.  Running has not only helped me become healthier, but it has taught me a great deal about self-discipline, mental clarity and above all, meditation.  When I run I have a sense of oneness with nature and the people around me. I run for physical, mental and emotional health, not the scale.

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Opéra Théâtre de Saint-Etienne – La Traviata

Q: How would you describe your weekly exercise routine?  

A: I run 4-5 times per week, sometimes more.  I work it around my rehearsal and performance schedule and try to get it done in the morning right after breakfast. It serves as a mental and physical warm up for the day.  I always find it easier to get my voice warmed up after I’ve had a run.  If I have access to a gym, I enjoy doing some weight training exercises. The most important thing for me to listen to my body as it usually gives signs of what it needs.  

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Vancouver Opera – Die Fledermaus

Q: Do you follow a specific diet or nutritional plan?  

A: I EAT CLEAN! I try to eat 6 small clean meals every day. I avoid processed foods and drinks. What’s great about this “nutritional plan” is that there really is no plan. It is about being conscious not to put chemicals in our bodies. When we eat REAL, unprocessed food, our bodies thrive. It’s amazing how many chemicals we can put into our bodies if we are not mindful.  With travel and challenging scheduling, it is not always possible to eat clean meals. I’m human and sometimes I fall off the wagon, which can lead me to feeling sluggish and cranky.  If that happens, I dust myself off and start again.  It’s really about balance, as well as questioning everything I put into my body.  As singers, our bodies are our instruments, and if we don’t take care of the instrument and fuel it properly, how can we expect it to play at the highest level?  Usually when I arrive in a new place, I immediately stock my kitchen with clean foods to ensure that I’m well nourished, hence avoiding the temptation of stopping in a coffee shop and eating a dozen donuts. 😉  I’ve recently started taking oatmeal on the road with me so that when I wake up in a new apartment or hotel, I have a clean breakfast at my fingertips. I indulge in whole wheat pasta on performance days, which works great for me, especially when I am singing Violetta in La Traviata! Also, on travel days, I usually carry a little container of unsalted almonds… again… avoiding the donuts!

Canadian Opera Company - La Bohème
Canadian Opera Company – La Bohème

Q: How did you discover your passion for singing?

A: According to my parents, by the time I was four years old, I had already discovered my love of singing.  They tell me that I used to stand in the middle of the living room and serenade their guests.  I have no recollection, but there are some photos…. Singing was always comforting to me, especially during my teenage years. I sang in school and church choir and although I enjoyed it, I never considered making a career of it because I had terrible stage fright. In fact, I was so afraid of singing in front of anyone that I would only sing if I were home alone.  One day, my parents came home and caught me in thebasement belting “I Will Always Love You”.  Shortly after, I grew tired of the stage fright, and I was determined to get over it. I told my mother that I wanted to start taking singing lessons. I began studying with Karen Spicer, who taught me about the wonderful world of opera.  She encouraged me to apply for the Voice program in my hometown university of Ottawa, and the rest is history!

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Q: What is your advice for those trying to pursue a career in opera?

A: The one thing that I find myself repeating to young aspiring singers is: DO NOT LOOK FOR SHORTCUTS IN YOUR ARTISTIC JOURNEY.  Do not seek the easy way to do things. Exploration of one’s vocal instrument, and artistic spirit is most rewarding in the long run. It can be tempting in the beginning to want to skip some steps in the hopes of achieving quicker “results.”  However, like the building of a house: If the foundation is unstable, the house will eventually collapse no matter how wonderful it may look on the outside. 

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Korea National Opera – La Traviata

With love,
Kendra Signature with Photo

Avoiding the “Holiday 15”

Holiday Survival Guide

The holiday season is notorious for unintentional weight gain; but that’s to be expected when there are holiday cookies at every corner for nearly two months straight. Finding the balance between indulgence and blatant overeating isn’t an easy task, which can make the holidays extremely frustrating for the health-conscious individual.

Fortunately, there’s no need to dread the holiday season. Despite popular belief, it is possible to lead a healthy lifestyle and enjoy the holiday season, pecan pie and all! It takes a bit of patience, a lot of planning, and dedication to yourself, but you can make it through the holidays unscathed!

Use this holiday survival guide to help you enjoy your holiday season, operathletes!


1. GET YOUR BEAUTY SLEEP

The first step to surviving the holidays without packing on the pounds is as simple as getting some shut-eye!  A lack of sleep correlates with weight gain, so ensure that you’re meeting the sleep recommendations set forth by the National Sleep Foundation for your age bracket.

2. STAY ACTIVE

The holidays can be hectic, but sticking to a regular exercise regimen will not only prevent excessive weight gain, but will also help reduce your overall stress level, which can ultimately help prevent “stress eating.” Avoid using exercise as a punishment for an imperfect diet choice — instead, earn your cheat meals by kicking your own booty at the gym on a regular basis 😉

3. STAY HYDRATED

Most people are regularly under-hydrated.  Ensuring that you are well-hydrated is a crucial part of your overall health, but it can also help prevent “boredom eating.” If you’re ever unsure as to whether or not you’re truly hungry or if it’s just the boredom talking, grab a glass of water! You may find that you were simply thirsty.

4. LIMIT “CHEATING” TO DESIGNATED “CHEAT DAYS”

The use of the word “cheat” in this context refers to meals that are outside of one’s regularly healthy diet. During the holidays, it’s extremely easy to unintentionally make every day a “cheat day.” Designate your cheat days (such as Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve), and outside of those special occasions, stick to a healthy diet rich in green veggies, delicious fruits, whole grains, and lean protein. By planning your “cheat days” ahead of time, you will be able to monitor your eating before & after the holiday, and frankly, your special days will likely feel like a more satisfying treat!

5. BE PICKY ABOUT & ENJOY YOUR “CHEAT MEALS”

If you eat ham on a regular basis, why would you binge out on ham on cheat day??  Go ahead and treat yo’self to those delicious goodies you don’t have on a regular basis, like turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, et cetera!  In my own experience, I’ve noticed that one of the biggest mistakes I can make is punishing myself during a cheat meal by depriving myself of what I really want, or after a cheat meal by filling my mind with regret for going “off plan.” Although it’s easier said than done, avoid the urge to punish yourself for a cheat meal; instead, do the work you need to in your exercise and diet regimen on a day-to-day basis, decide that you’ve earned this cheat, have what you want, and enjoy every last bite.

6. PACE YOURSELF

Pace yourself throughout your meal, but also throughout the entire day. Avoid the urge to starve yourself so you’ll be “empty” enough for the big meal, and savor every bite so you don’t accidentally stuff yourself sick! It’s okay to eat more than you usually do during your cheat meal, but there’s little worse than eating so much so quickly that your body punishes you for your splurge! Instead, eat only to a comfortable level.

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7. STRIVE FOR BALANCE, NOT PERFECTION

So you’re juggling healthy eating, exercise, proper hydration, and adequate sleep habits on top of your everyday life. Let’s face it: you’re not always going to be able to balance them perfectly, and that’s okay! You’re only human, you can only do so much. Some days will be better than others. Instead of punishing yourself for those slip-ups, put your time and energy into getting back on track as soon as possible.

8. CONSUME SUGAR SPARINGLY

Sugar is extremely addicting. The more you have, the more you’ll want. This isn’t to say you can’t have that piece of pecan pie; but if you can, limit your dessert plate to just one sugar-filled item.  Just know that the more sugar you have on cheat day, the more you’ll have to practice your self-control the following day, when you’re back on track with your healthy eating.

9. ALWAYS USE A PLATE

Snacking straight out of the cookie jar is a recipe for disaster. This form of snacking without a definitive limit is even more dangerous if you do it in front of the TV or while you Netflix, like most people do. Instead, make yourself a small plate, put the rest of the goodies away, and enjoy your little plate.

10. LIMIT THE LEFTOVERS

This one is pretty easy to understand at its core: the more temptation you have lying around the house, the more tempted you’ll be to fall off the horse. With all the cookies, candies, pies, and leftovers hanging around, an individual who may usually cheat once or twice during the week may suddenly find themselves cheating on a daily basis! If you’re the host, try to divvy out leftovers to your guests so you have little left to “take care of” (which we all know is code for “eat, yourself”).  If you’re the guest, don’t take home several tubs of leftovers.  Perhaps prepare one little meal for lunch the next day in one to-go container, then leave the rest.


With love,

Kendra Signature with Photo

Editorial: A Fitness Professional’s Perspective on Fat Shaming

Full disclosure:  I am not a professional psychologist, I am a fitness professional.  In this article, I will be speaking from experience, as well as referencing common principles of motivation in exercise and studies by appropriate professionals which address this issue.

Nicole ArbourIn light of recent events (namely, Nicole Arbour’s terrible decision to create this video), I thought it may be the time to sit down and talk about fat shaming. I’m not an expert in the psychology behind fat shaming, so I had to do some research before writing this article. I watched and read enough videos and articles to come to one immediate conclusion: it seems to me that very few people truly know what fat shaming actually is. Clearly, I am not completely clear on the concept myself, because I had to google “what is fat shaming” to prepare for this article (and alas, “fat shaming” is not yet in the dictionary).

So, what is fat shaming? Perhaps the better question is, what is not fat shaming? Unfortunately, one pretty rude man from the internet shares the same uneducated opinion as Nicole Arbour, which is that fat shaming is a necessary evil in promoting better health and fitness. In short, he (and many others) confuse fat shaming with that “moment” people often refer to as the starting point to their fitness journey. Examples include:  getting on a roller coaster ride and not being able to fit in the extra large seat; not being able to play with one’s kids outside due to physical exhaustion that accompanies excess weight; having to purchase two seats on the airplane because one cannot fit into a single seat; no longer being able to climb stairs without help; et cetera. These moments may cause the person experiencing them to have feelings of shame, but note:  not a single one of these experiences come directly from a “fat shamer.” Instead, these moments come from situations that result in a revelation of sorts in the person experiencing them. I can tell you with full certainty that I have never heard someone make a massive lifestyle change as the result of someone else making them feel bad about themselves. Just to be clear, not once have I heard someone say, “I felt so motivated to get into shape when my significant other told me I was a fat slob,” or anything of that nature.  Ultimately, a person’s decision to embark on a health & fitness journey MUST come from THEMSELVES:  a person who is not ready to change will not be successful.  We cannot FORCE anyone into a state of readiness to change through shaming, scare tactics, et cetera.

Woman Pinched Her Fat On Body. Body With Marked Zones For LiposuClearly, we cannot completely ignore the potential health problems that come with excess weight and obesity.  According to the CDC, people who are obese are at an increased risk for many serious diseases and health conditions, including:  all causes of death (mortality); high blood pressure (hypertension); high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides (Dyslipidemia); type 2 diabetes; coronary heart disease (CHD); stroke; gallbladder disease; osteoarthritis; sleep apnea and breathing problems; some cancers; low quality of life; mental illness; and body pain / difficulty with physical functioning. Ms. Arbour fails to recognize that fortunately, most obese & overweight people’s doctors have very likely spoken with them about these risks.  We fitness professionals are encouraged to educate and inform our clients of the health risks associated with excess weight, but again, a good trainer will not attempt to force someone to change through fat shaming, scare tactics, bullying, etc.

Fat shaming is one of the worst motivational tools that exist.  For this reason, in the fitness profession, fat shaming is not considered a tool at all. This is practically group fitness 101: you want your participants to leave feeling successful and good about themselves if you want them to return. As an instructor, I do this by A) designing classes that all or most participants will be able to do, B) ensuring I have appropriate regressions & progressions to reduce or increase intensity, respectively, C) giving positive reinforcement, and D) equipping my students with knowledge about how to execute exercises properly, and how exercise can positively effect their health. Let me be clear: none of these things involve shaming my students into submission. People work harder when they feel like they are doing well and feel that they can make a difference in their health (FYI, this is called self-efficacy); people do not work harder when they feel like they’re a lost cause and when they feel poorly about themselves.

Additionally, we trainers are taught to help our clients set realistic goals, and then help them set “mini-goals” that will get them there. It is our responsibility to help record and celebrate every victory, big or small, along the way.  We do this because this positive reinforcement will help them continue to work toward their long-term goals. Again, you’ll notice that nowhere in this description do I mention shaming our clients into making better health choices or highlighting the negative things about their bodies and/or performance. Considering fitness professionals are literally in the business of weight loss, it would be a safe assumption to make that, if fat shaming was an effective mode for weight loss motivation, we would be using it by now.

Instead, fat shaming has the opposite effect.  Eric Robinson of the University of Liverpool explains in this article that:

A series of studies have now shown that exposing overweight individuals to stigmatising information about obesity or “fat shaming” is associated with adverse outcomes; this kind of experience is stressful, upsetting and it actually causes over-eating.

Multiple research studies have also shown that experiencing fat shaming or being treated poorly because of your weight is not conducive to weight loss. Instead, it is in fact associated with greater weight gain; it exacerbates obesity.

So unfortunately, Nicole Arbour, your video is being poorly received for a very good reason:  not only is it offensive, but science literally tells us that fat shaming is one of the WORST things you can do to “help” someone who is fat.  Whitney Way Thore from My Big Fat Fabulous Life’s response (above) is, in my opinion, the perfect rebuttal to Arbour’s shameful video.

Before we conclude, let me make one thing clear:  OPERATHLETIC does NOT, and will NEVER, support body shaming in any capacity, including fat shaming. In creating this blog, I wanted to design content and workout gear that would empower our readers to continue working toward their health goals. Shaming and empowering are two concepts that do not work together. It is my hope that, through OPERATHLETIC, singers can learn more about how to A) lead a healthy lifestyle with such a crazy schedule, B) get the scientifically sound information about fitness, nutrition, and wellness they need to feel comfortable and strong in the gym and the kitchen, and C) feel motivated and empowered as a part of a community that works together to reach (and celebrate) our health goals and accomplishments.


With love,
Kendra Signature with Photo