Whether you are new to fitness, coming back from an exercise hiatus or looking to take your fitness to the next level, Nikki Ray has some great ideas to help you reach your goals. From pantry makeovers, to choosing a functional, fun workout program, this episode will help you up your game and get more fit.
Nikki Ray is a Fitness & Nutrition Coach whose main focus is on strength & conditioning training and weight loss. After a 15-year career as a corporate lawyer, Nikki decided to pursue her passion for fitness and got certified as a Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist. She also got Muay Thai and High Performance Training in Thailand.
What are the current challenges you see most people facing in regards to weight loss today?
1. Lack of time. The biggest challenge for most people is their perceived lack of time. A lot of people tend to think that exercising and eating healthy are to time consuming. That is understandable. We all have so much going on, like our jobs, we have kids, so much going in a day that sometimes it feels like impossible to live a healthy life.
It’s always like easier to go to drive through and pick up some food, then skip the gym. And in reality it’s not easy, but it’s not as difficult as it looks. It’s all about planning ahead. If you know on Sunday what you’re eating that week, and which days of the week you work out, you’re 50% there. So it’s all about planning.
All you really need is a couple of hours, maybe 2 or 3 hours at the gym, a couple of hours of planning your food, meal prepping or ordering, whatever you decide to do. Once you have a plan, it really isn’t difficult or time consuming to eat healthy or to work out. This is what I try to show people.
There are studies that show that an average person has about 5 hours of free time everyday. And over 50% of this time is spent on screens of some kind, like phones, television, computer. So it really is just a mental barrier. And I try to help people see that it’s just in their head. They do have the time, they just have to learn how to plan and use it right.
2. All or nothing mentality. Another huge challenge that people face is the all or nothing mentality. Being incredibly strict with their diet for a few of days, eating rabbit food, getting sick of it, and then giving your self permission to indulge and then ending up overdoing it. It’s a terrible cycle that a lot of people go through. Strict deprivation, over indulgence, guilt, repeat, over and over again.
I try to show people that it’s really about moderation.
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Talk to us about Cardiovascular health…
Cardiovascular health is considered to be one of the major component of fitness. The higher a person’s cardiovascular fitness, the more work they can perform before getting tired. If you’re climbing the stairs and 2 minutes later you’re hyperventilating, you have a problem.
This is especially important as we get old. It might not be a problem now but as you get old, if you don’t have your cardiovascular strength or endurance, it leads to a lot of issues. You need to take action to improve your cardiovascular health.
Spending an hour on a treadmill every day is not what you have to do to increase cardiovascular fitness. You can build your cardio vascular endurance by increasing the intensity of your workout, interval training, and circuit training, for example.
There are so many ways of doing it, like walking somewhere instead of taking your car, using every opportunity to keep your body moving. There are so many things you can do to get your heart rate elevated, I can’t stress it enough.
Strength training. What kinds of Strength Training are you Recommending to Your Clients Right Now?
Strength training is about exercise that builds strength and cardio at the same time. Workouts that are usually a combination of exercises that’s focused on both cardiovascular health and muscular strength. Muscular strength is essential for everyday functioning like lifting and carrying groceries, getting up out of the chair, walking up the stairs, pretty much what we do in real life.
You need both. You can’t just be doing cardio or you can’t just be lifting weight. You need a little bit of both because these are two main components of fitness. It’s a lot of high volume, heart rate elevated HIIT, circuit.
So we’re targeting cardiovascular health, but we’re also hitting muscular health and endurance, in addition to the strength. It’s a lot of compound movement. I am a strong believer that you can’t have one without the other. So I try to focus on both.
For the longest time, a lot of women were under the impression that lifting weights is gonna make them bulky because they were seeing pictures of female body builders who compete. They were somehow worried they’ll end up looking like that.
But over the years, I am so happy that women, including myself, are finally realizing that you do need to work out but you’re not gonna end up like those female body builders, unless you actually want to look like that.
Working out, lifting weights, all those dumbbells, they used to be for men only. And now when I walk in to the gym, I see more women than men, and I love it. I love it that women are finally lifting weights, doing strength training, and not just doing the Pilates, or Zumba. I think it’s awesome.
But when I work with people, you can really see the gender difference because women are usually more worried about the lower body. We want to work on those gluts, work on those inner thighs, strong core and abs. Men on the other hand are generally more focused on upper body.
Yes, there are gender differences but at the end of the day I am so happy that women are finally lifting weights without worrying that they’re gonna bulk up or look like a body builder. We need to.
Postural issues. What are the main postural issues you are facing and what are your most common recommendations?
Posture is about the position we hold our body in when we are sitting, standing, and lying down. It’s super important, it’s a lot more important than most people think because if bones and joints aren’t in the correct alignment, you are not using your muscles properly. This leads to a number of issues from chronic back pain to blood vessel constriction, believe it or not even cardiovascular disease.
Overtime if you don’t have a good posture it can literally change the shape of the spine over the years. I think the number one postural issue on a daily basis has to be slouching, also known as the hunchback posture. The main cause is sitting with poor posture for prolonged periods of time, especially at the office doing computer work. Obviously this increases tension in the muscles, and causes a lot of issues.
And the number one that can fix this issue that doesn’t even have to do with exercise is getting into the habit of sitting in the chair without slouching, always sitting with your back straight and try to lose that hunchback posture. But there are a lot of corrective exercises I incorporate into my work out for clients that have that problem to correct the slouching posture.
Exercises to improve posture
-Upper back foam rolling
Some postural issues are structural and they don’t respond to corrective exercise. But for the most part, most of the people I work with, good posture is really a skill that can be achieved through repetition and practice. Working on it on a daily basis. It is something you can fix.
On Foam Rolling…
I try to do foam rolling pretty much after every session and I encourage my clients to get their own foam roller because it’s something that you don’t necessarily have to do before or after you work out. They can foam roll when they have a couple minutes at home, whether they they feel sore or not.
Make it a part of your daily life. Just like stretching, I tell people before and after workouts, by all means, of course do stretching.
Any time, stretch a little bit, you’re going to be amazed by the difference it can make.
And I’m literally talking maybe like five to 10 minutes a day. So foam rolling, stretching, these are things that anyone can easily incorporate into our life and wouldn’t take any more than maybe 10 minutes a day. But they’re game changers.
I usually prefer to do dynamic stretching before the workouts to get the body kind of prepared to what we’re about to do. So I don’t really use the foam roller before the workout. It’s mostly dynamic stretching for more advanced level clients.
I would recommend dynamic stretching, which is basically getting your body kind of warmed up and used to what you’re about to do in that workout, as opposed to static stretching, which is like holding a yoga pose for 15 to 30 seconds.
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You have a concern with “too much too quickly,” how do you help people start with where they’re at and advance at a reasonable clip and avoid burnout?
That’s a major problem in nutrition and exercise. So when it comes to nutrition, unfortunately a lot of people have the dieting mentality. So they think of dieting as a temporary thing rather than a lifestyle.
So when people come to me wanting to lose 20 pounds in a month, I tell them I’m sure I can certainly help you do that, but are they okay with regaining those 20 pounds and possibly even more once they stop dieting? Because that’s what’s bound to happen.
And this is not about willpower. This is not about self control. It’s just that these quick fixes are bound to fail unless you turn it into a lifestyle. When you follow a very strict diet in an attempt to lose weight very fast, certain biological changes take place.
The first is neurological. So when you’re dieting, I’m sure we all know that you actually notice and think about food more. So basically your brain becomes overly responsive to food. Everything begins to look more tempting and this triggers all sorts of mental challenges. And so you can lose those 20 pounds in the short run, but the short run isn’t the whole story. You’re messing up your metabolism in an effort to get fast results.
The biggest challenge isn’t losing the weight, it’s keeping it off. And it’s only possible if you’re following a nutrition plan or a diet, whatever you choose to call it, that you can do every day for the rest of your life.
There are no quick fixes, no magic pills. And it’s the same for exercising. So when someone who hasn’t worked out a year, it comes to me and says, I want to get in shape and wants to start training four or five times a week. I tell them to walk before they run.
I mean, when you change things like when you go from not working out for a year to suddenly working out like four or five times a week, your body’s adaptations do more harm than good.
So for people who haven’t worked out consistently before or who had to take a break due to an illness, injury, pregnancy, I always recommend starting with two days of resistance training a week, a little bit of light cardio, some flexibility, stability, mobility, just focus on improving your function first.
Then incorporate strength training, see if you can keep it up for at least a few weeks. And then start training three times a week, then four, but like one step at a time. I think it all comes down to the difference between progress and achievement.
Today as a society, we’re all obsessed with achievement. For some reason we think that starting easy and going up slowly is a waste of time. We want results and we want them fast and we have all these ads and everything we see online. It’ll get shredded in a month and this and that. And it’s not the way to go. I mean, people try to make up for being inconsistent by going harder, it’s the all or nothing mentality.
But long term progress doesn’t work that way. It’s not sustainable. The results that you get like that are not sustainable. So you need to take one step at a time.
If you haven’t worked out in three years, your first step should always be building the habit of getting in the gym and not missing workouts before you get into a schedule. So you have to be patient with your body and you have to know what you’re doing.
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Tell us your best “Pantry Overhaul” ideas.
So we need to stop labeling food as good or bad. It’s not always black and white. And there are everyday foods, there are sometimes foods. Yes, some food we need to avoid eating too often or in large portion.
But at the end of the day, food is only fuel and for enjoyment. I mean it’s not right to say kale is the best food, but cake is the worst thing ever. Obviously it’s better to eat kale that cake, but we shouldn’t be demonizing it. So part of my practice is to teach people to practice mindful eating, to learn to enjoy food without guilt, have everything in moderation, and stop when you have a sensible amount.
More about Nikki: Originally from Turkey, Nikki now lives in Boca Raton, FL with her twin daughters and toy poodle. In addition to coaching clients in Boca Raton and surrounding areas, Nikki also helps people all over the world achieve their health and fitness goals through her online programs.