Why We Write Programs Not Workouts

Unfortunately, it's far too common in the fitness industry to see trainers scribbling down a workout for their client 10 minutes before they show up. They'll throw something together last minute to appear prepared, when in reality, they're anything but prepared. I've seen it constantly when working at other places. 

We can even back up a step, and say that maybe workout was prepared the night before. The problem is, when you make a workout, you're creating a singular exercise session intended to yield some type of benefit on that particular day. Not in a week, or a month, or a year. Just that day. It's usually going to be something challenging and it's almost always something completely different than the previous workout because people can get bored of doing the same things all the time, right?

It's usually this type of thinking that can yield progress for a short amount of time, but in the long run, will be anything but productive. How could it be? The focus is only on one day. Where's the plan? Where are you going? How are they going to get there?

If you liken exercise to a road trip, a workout could be an individual map (when we used to use those) of a specific city you're passing through. The thing is, without a map from the start to the end of the trip, you'll most certainly get lost. If it's the wrong city map, you may get even further from your destination.

Many people enjoy random tough workout after random tough workout because it gives them a sense of accomplishment. You really feel like you did something. Operating this way, however, isn't taking into account the bigger picture which is where are you going with all of this? What's the end result that you're chasing?

It seems to be all the rage today to hop in a large group training session, get destroyed, and do it again the next day. It can't be fun to be always sore, and the thing is, over time, this is detrimental. It's detrimental to your progress and to your health. Immediate progress is sometimes seen, but then it starts to taper off either due to an injury layoff or simply overtraining. 

When taking into account any fitness goal, it's crucially important that you're doing two things:

  1. Adequately fueling and recovering from exercise (nutrition, sleep, stress management)
  2. Training appropriately for your goal and capabilities (following a well-structured program)

When making a workout, rarely, if ever, are these two things taken into account; how can they be if they're a series of random workouts strung together? Simply training hard with no plan is arbitrary and potentially dangerous.

The beauty of the program is it takes the above information into account. There are planned rest periods and fluctuations in training to make sure the client or athlete is recovering from the training sessions. With regard to the workouts in the program, they should be individualized to the person. Not everyone should be doing a box jump or a deadlift. This is trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

What does individualized mean? It means to assess someone before they come in to see what they're capable of, where their limitations are, and how to either fix or train around the limitations. If someone, for instance, cannot get their arms over their head without excessively arching their lower back, we know it's not safe for them to do an overhead press. Over time, the program should progressively get them to their goal. Each workout builds off the last one. If you're not assessing, you're just guessing.

This is why we create individual programs for our clients. It's the surest way to get people to their goal as safely and effectively, and not get lost along the way. Sure, it takes a little extra work, but there’s peace of mind in knowing you're on the right path.

Spicy Sweet Potato Fries


  • 2 Sweet potatoes (medium, peeled) 
  • 1 Bowl of Water
  • 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 tsp Chilli Powder
  • 1 tsp Cumin
  • 1/2 tsp Onion Powder
  • 1/4 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper
  • Salt (to taste)


  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

  2. Chop the sweet potatoes into long 1/4 inch thick pieces.

  3. Place into a bowl of water to soak for 30 minutes.

  4. Combine all of the spices in a small bowl and stir together. Set aside.

  5. Dry off the sweet potatoes with a towel.

  6. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.

  7. Sprinkle the sweet potatoes with the spice mixture and stir to evenly coat.

  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes, flipping once, until browned.

  9. Serve hot.

Herb & Spice Crispy Chicken


  • 1 whole chicken, pre-cut into pieces
  • 1 Tbsp paprika
  • 1 Tbsp garlic granulated
  • 1 Tbsp onion granulated
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried sage
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Chopped parsley


  1. Mix herbs and spices together until well blended
  2. Preheat oven to 400ºF
  3. Season both sides of the chicken pieces well, covering all skin surfaces
  4. Place pieces in a baking dish 
  5. Bake in 400ºF oven until cooked through (internal meat temperature of 165º F) which should take about 35-40 minutes. *NOTE: The white-meat pieces (breasts and wings) may finish cooking before the remaining dark meat pieces. If so, simply remove white meat pieces and allow the dark meat to continue cooking another 5 minutes or so.
  6. For the final touch, mix a 1/4 cup of olive oil with juice from 1/2 lemon. Drizzle over baked pieces and sprinkle with chopped parsley leaves before serving

Shrimp with Garlic and Artichokes


  • 1 pound (500 g) shrimp, any size, shelled and deveined
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup artichokes, chopped
  • 1-2 Tbsp capers
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Coconut oil or fat of choice


  1. Shell and devein the shrimp. Set aside.
  2. Mince the garlic and chop up the artichoke hearts.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add a spoonful of coconut oil or your fat of choice. Saute the shrimp until it begins to turn opaque.
  4. Add the garlic, artichokes and capers and continue cooking until the shrimp is cooked through.
  5. Season with pepper to taste.

Green Chile Chicken

Is it too early in the year to bust out the crock pot?  We don't care!  This is an awesome recipe to make in bulk and free for later meals.  Plus it's a crock pot recipe so, let's face it, it's really easy!


  • 2-1/2 to 3 lb (1134 to 1361 grams) boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1-1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 3 to 4 tomatillos, husked and diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • ½ lb (227 g) Hatch chiles, diced*
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • Fresh lime wedges and chopped cilantro, for garnish

*If you can't find Hatch chiles (they're seasonal to August/September) use regular green chiles or fine canned green chiles (two-4 oz. cans)


  1. Lay the chicken thighs into the bottom of a slow cooker.
  2. Sprinkle with the cumin, salt, coriander and black pepper. Toss the chicken to coat with the seasonings.
  3. Add the tomatillos, onion, green chiles and garlic.
  4. Cover the slow cooker and set on low for 5 hours.
  5. When the time is up, remove the lid and shred the thigh meat with two forks.

An Orignal Recipe That You're to Love

We have some talented clients!  Here's a great recipe created by Rob who has a Doctorate of Nutrition.  Everyone that has tried this recipe has loved it!  The best part is the weight loss results it typically yields.  It's also super easy.  Once you round up the ingredients, throw them in the food processor (or coffee grinder) add liquid, and enjoy! Props to Rob for this creation.


This makes 2 servings

  • 1 tbsp of sunflower seeds
  • 1 tbsp of pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tbsp of hemp seeds
  • 1 tbsp of sesame seeds
  • 1/2 oz. (7 pieces) of walnuts
  • 8 tbsp of flax seeds
  • 2 tbsp of maple syrup, cherry juice or water w/protien powder 


  1. Grind seeds/walnuts in a food processor or coffee grinder
  2. Divide into two servings
  3. Add maple syrup, cherry juice or water w/protein 

The Details:

Because Rob's such a smart guy, he has provided all these details of the recipe.   

Seriously, What's Up With the Balloons?

Why Blow Up A Balloon?

When we first train someone, handing them a balloon and asking them to get into a specific position to blow it up might seem a little odd. Okay, it seems very odd. Blowing up a balloon may be the last thing someone expects when they come in to lose weight or get stronger. There is a rhyme and reason, though. And it's way more beneficial than you might think.

We are certainly not the first ones to use a balloon in this setting. We use a lot of the concepts and information from the Postural Restoration Institute, which is where we first heard about this. Yes, we thought it was a little strange until we learned more and actually did what they prescribe. Since then, the results have been fantastic, and all three of us (Ashley, Kara, and I) use their various breathing exercises on a daily basis.

It's been well-established that poor breathing patterns and impairments of posture and trunk stability are frequently associated with musculoskeletal complaints like knee or low back pain (1). Muscles such as the pelvic floor, transverse abdominis, and diaphragm are key to stabilizing your spine and maintaining good posture. When we get the pelvic floor to face the diaphragm, we're creating something called a Zone of Apposition (ZOA), which is the ideal position to create stability and balance in the system. When we're having our clients put their feet on a bench and slightly lift their hips off the floor, or stand against a wall and round their back while breathing, we're having them create this ZOA, among other things.

The diaphragm, while commonly thought of as a muscle purely for breathing, does also play a role in stabilizing the spine. This makes breathing an integral part in the treatment of lower back pain, although it's often overlooked (2). Creating this ZOA allows the rest of the core musculature to function optimally, along with the diaphragm, to create a very stiff canister to protect the spine. Think of a pop can that's sealed versus a pop can that's open. Crushing the can would be very difficult while sealed, but very easy while open. The same rules apply to the core. The diaphragm helps control the pressure in the upper body to keep this stiffness, similar to the closed pop can.

When we don't have this optimal ZOA, where the lower back is arched and the pelvic floor and diaphragm are both facing a little more forward, there is much less stability created (3). The diaphragm is less able to draw air in and stabilize the upper body, which causes the over use of accessory muscles to breathe (4). This is referred to as hyperinflation. Typically, clients will feel this as tightness in the neck, upper back, and chest. In addition, the lower back tends to become excessively arched and tight because the diaphragm, which attaches to the lumbar spine, pulls it forward as it is being used to attempt to get air in. This can cause, among other things, lower back pain.

So, where do the balloons fit into all of this? Getting clients to forcefully exhale is a great way to get the core musculature to aid in the process of creating the ZOA by pulling the ribs down and inhibiting/relaxing the muscles along the spine. Using a balloon creates resistance during exhalation, requiring an increase in the usage of the abdominal muscles to exhale. You can think of it similarly as how we would add resistance to a lunge, for instance, to strengthen your legs. 

In conjunction with providing resistance, the balloon is a fantastic way for clients to learn how to breathe optimally by getting all of their air out. To counteract hyperinflation, the Postural Restoration Institute recommends five full exhales per exercise. After the first breath, keeping the balloon in your mouth while inhaling through the nose allows the surrounding muscles of the chest area (such as the pec muscles) to relax and stretch while the ribs stay down. It is this ribs-down position during inhalation that many people are unable to do, which is great for people with rounded shoulders, depressed shoulders, or people with scoliosis (5). In general, though, full exhales using the balloon as a visual cue, allow people best use their diaphragm as a muscle of respiration in an ideal position.

Next time you're training with us, or when you start, it should look a little less weird when we hand you a balloon. Okay, it'll still look weird, but at least now you'll know why we do it.



1. Hodges P. Is There a Role for Transversus Abdominis in Lumbo-Pelvic Stability? Manual Therapy. 1999;4(2):74-86.

2. Hodges PW, Heijnen I, Gandevia SC. Postural activity of the diaphragm is reduced in humans when respiratory demand increases. J Physiol. 2001;537(3):999-1008.

3. Lando Y, Boiselle PM, Shade D, et al. Effect of Lung Volume Reduction Surgery of Diaphragm Length in Severe Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1999;159(3):796-805.

4. De Troyer A, Estenne M. Functional Anatomy of the Respiratory Muscles. Clin Chest Med. 1988;9(2): 175-93.

5. Boyle, KL, Olinick, J, Lewis, C. The value of blowing up a balloon. North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 2010; 5(3): 179-188.

What Is Cupping?

The successes of several Olympic athletes, have recently made Cupping Therapy the hottest new therapy trend among athletes. While it is currently spending a lot of time in the limelight, cupping therapy has actually been around since about 3000 BC. The Egyptians wrote about it in the Ebers Papyrus (1550 BC), which is considered to be one of the oldest medical textbooks of the Western world. In Greece, Hippocrates (400 BC) recommended cupping for internal disease and structural problems. There is even mention in George Orwell's essay, “How The Poor Die,” (1946) where he found it to be practiced in a Paris hospital. Alas, in 2016, this therapy has helped Michael Phelps win a career 23 Olympic gold medals- making him the most decorated Olympian of all time. So what actually happens and how does cupping work?

I generally explain cupping as working opposite of massage therapy. With massage, the therapist uses pressure with their hands to release tension in the muscle fibers and stimulate blood flow to bring fresh nutrients and blood supply to the tissue. This increases tissue pliability, speeds healing and enhances performance (among other things). Cupping provides the same benefits, with a different application method. With cupping, the cups are applied to the skin with a hand held suction pump. The suction raises the tissue within the cup and almost immediately the tissue begins to turn red/pink- indicating an increase in blood flow to the surface of that area. In the case of the Olympic athletes, a stationary approach is used before they compete. Cups are applied to spots around the area desired, and then left in the same position for up to 10 minutes. Cups can also be applied and then moved around the skin in long, gliding motions to have a more broad effect on the tissue. This method works 24 hours before or after a competition... but is not recommended immediately before or after performance. 

In my practice, I use a combination of the two methods, where I initially move the cups to warm the tissue and assess areas where there is increased tension or adhesion. Secondly, I apply stationary cups to those regions, and allow them to release those areas specifically.

After the cups have been suctioned to the tissue for the allotted time- which varies based on the goals, injuries, condition, etc. of the client, the cups are removed. Initially, the skin appears raised and reddish and this discoloration may or may not intensify as time goes on. In the most intense case, the client experiences the dark purplish circles and that will ultimately fade within about a week. While the skin appears discolored, the client may or may not experience bruise-like discomfort and a “tightness” of the skin in the areas where the cups were applied. In my experience, this discomfort appears within 4 hours of treatment and dissipates within 36 hours. As with most therapies, each of our bodies are unique and thus, we may each have a different experience based on activity level, workout regimen, diet, tissue hydration, etc.

So what does the discoloration mean? You may notice with the Olympians, they have some areas of discoloration that are darker in color than others. This indicates that those areas were holding more tension or dehydrated. The suction causes capillaries near the surface of the skin to burst and flood the area with fresh blood supply. This is why healing and recovery increases/enhances with the use of cupping. Adding cupping to your training regimen can provide any athlete the opportunity to take their performance to the next level!

Sarah Eckstein, LMT, is a massage therapist and owner of Sarassage in Woodridge, IL. For more information, please visit www.sarassage.com or contact Sarassage at sarassage@gmail.com.

Zucchini & Sweet Potato Frittata

We get asked for easy breakfast ideas all the time, so we're happy to pass along this simple spin on an omelette. This recipe is great because it's healthy and, hello, SUPER easy! What's not to love? Enjoy a Zucchini & Sweet Potato Frittata:


  • 2 tbsp butter or coconut oil
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut in slices
  • 2 sliced zucchinis
  • 1 sliced red bell pepper
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Heat a pan over a medium-low heat
  2. Add the butter/oil and sweet potato slices and cook until soft, about 8 minutes
  3. Add the zucchini and red bell pepper slices and cook for another 4 minutes
  4. While it cooks, whisk the eggs in a bowl, making sure to incorporate a lot of air in the mixture
  5. Season the egg mixture with salt and pepper and add to the cooking veggies
  6. Cook on low heat until just set, about 10 minutes
  7. Place pan into oven and broil for 3 to 4 minutes, until lightly browned and fluffy
  8. Cut the finished frittata into wedges and serve with fresh parsley

Why I am Obsessed with Softball

Most of you know that while I’m not at Achieve, my time is consumed with softball. I have been involved with softball in some aspect since the time I was 10 years old…that’s 20 years with this sport. There are many reasons why I love it – the sound of metal cleats on pavement, a good pop in the catcher’s mitt when the pitcher brings the heat, the look of a freshly lined field, the thrill of the walk-off win, teammates gathering at home to welcome in the homerun hitter…my list could go on and on and on. And even as I’m writing this, softball is putting me through another challenge, and perhaps, that is what I love most about it – the life lessons and challenges that each and every person involved learns.


As a player, you learn work ethic, sportsmanship & respect, leadership & responsibility, communication, team work & sacrifice humility & resiliency – to name a few. This game teaches those playing to have a good work ethic, and that really, the game rewards those that work hard and don’t give up. Those that keep swinging, keep fighting, keep working hard will get rewarded. That it is important to keep working towards what you want because you will get rewarded. Life will give you set backs, it’s up to you whether or not you give in to them or keep fighting – softball teaches players to keep fighting.


Through softball, a player also learns that they must respect, first and foremost, the game of softball, because it is bigger than the player as an individual. They learn to respect their coaches, their teammates, umpires, opponents, grounds crew, tournament directors, vendors, etc., because every one of those individuals is there for the same reason – softball. Through respect, a player learns sportsmanship. They learn ethical and polite behavior towards the game and everyone involved – hence the “handshake” line at the end of every game. Players (at least I can speak for the one’s I coach and have coached) learn to play the game the right way – to not cheat or look for ways to undercut the other team; they learn to congratulate opponents when they’ve done well or made a great play. It is important in life to respect everyone you meet and treat them ethically and politely – and again, softball teaches players to do this.


Players also learn leadership and responsibility. They learn that not only teammates and opponents look to them, but also younger generations of softball players; that their actions are bigger than them and that they need to lead by example. Players realize that they are responsible for their actions and the way that they carry themselves on the field – that they cannot dwell on what happened last at bat or the last play, that they must learn from it and keep moving forward. They learn that their response to what happens is also their responsibility; they are not able to behave in any manner they want (such as throwing equipment or yelling at teammates when things aren’t going right), but must control their responses. They also learn to become responsible young adults by managing their own gear, their schedule, and their communication with coaches, teammates, managers, etc. Players learn to communicate appropriately regarding their intentions, questions, and difficult situations. These are all important aspects that are valued in individuals both in the workplace and in life.


Players also learn how to work with others – another important quality to have in life. They learn that each person is different and you have to work with them in different ways in order to reach the same goals. Softball also teaches sacrifice. Sometimes, a player will have to do what is best for the team, but it is not always what is best for them. They learn in order to reach a goal one might have to give themselves up for the betterment of the team. In almost every working environment, people have to work others and may need to make sacrifices for others. Once again, softball encourages these qualities.


Softball also teaches players to have humility and resiliency. It is a sport where you are considered a good hitter if you fail (yes, FAIL) 7 out of 10 times. Think about that for a second… SEVEN out of TEN times someone FAILS and is still considered to be good. Imagine the last time you failed that much and what the result was. Players have to be resilient from at bat to at bat realizing the last one doesn’t matter anymore and that this one does. Errors are also a part of the sport – but guess what, there will be another ball hit right at you and you’ll get to bounce back from that last mistake. The game will also keep you humble…just when you think you’ve got it going, some pitcher will blow it past you, or a player will snag that beautiful line drive that you just hit. You can’t get caught up in what you’ve done in the past because the game will put you back in your place. No one is bigger than the game. Life is all about resiliency, bouncing back from adversities and set backs to keep chugging along.


Softball is many things to many different people. For me, it is a way for me to help teach life qualities to our next generation. Softball has taught me so much and I am so thankful that I’m able to pass it along to the next group of players.