Wellness Friday: A Personal Trainer Answers All Your Questions.

I’m really, really excited for today’s post. My good friend and former personal trainer (former only because I moved into a more expensive apartment and then she moved home to West Virginia to go back to school!) Alex Ellis agreed to answer ALL of your fitness and wellness questions. I consolidated all of your questions (via Instagram DM’s) sent them off to her, and here we are! This is a very long post (probably one of the longest we’ve had, but it’s PACKED with amazing information (including a few great workouts you can do at home or at the gym).. and a little tough love that will hopefully motivate you – it definitely motivated me! I hope you enjoy it/learn as much from it as I did!!!!

Q: What motivated you to be a trainer?

A: To be totally transparent, I became a trainer initially to just pay the bills when I first moved to New York City. I spent the majority of my time auditioning for acting roles, dancing (hip-hop and lyrical are my favorite styles!), and dabbling in fitness modeling. I have a B.S. in Health Sciences/Health Studies on a Pre-Professional track from James Madison University, and I really wanted to put my degree to good use while I was pursuing my dreams of acting and dancing in the big apple. I knew I wanted to go back to school eventually and pursue a career in healthcare if things didn’t pan out for me in NYC, but I wasn’t sure at the time what my true calling was. I got a job at Equinox, passed my personal training certification with flying colors, and off I went into the world of fitness! Truth be told, I fell in love with training, and I began to spend more time focusing on that than on pursuing an acting career. I am absolutely fascinated by the human body and everything that it is capable of, and through multiple certifications, and training clients of all different ages, backgrounds, and abilities, I learned so much about how to program effectively and safely to help my clients reach their health and wellness goals.

After a few years of working at a chain gym, I decided to start my own business! I obtained several more certifications, including Precision Nutrition (Pn1) so that I could write nutrition plans for my clients, as well as offer nutrition plans separately from training packages. I’ve met so many incredible clients through referrals and word of mouth, and can honestly say that each one of my clients became a dear friend – like Grace! I genuinely love training/coaching/instructing and running my own business, but a personal injury in 2017 set me back a great deal and I was unable to train my clients or teach my classes at CityRow for 4 months. It was awful. I spent so much of my savings just trying to stay afloat in NYC.

During all of the time I had to sit and think, I came to the realization that as much as I love training, I need (and want) a career that will provide me with more stability later in life. Having a successful training business is very much dependent on whether or not I can physically perform, and I don’t ever want to be in a situation again like I was last year. That said, I plan to continue training in addition to my future career as a PA. I recently made a big life change, left NYC, and decided to go back to school to pursue a career practicing medicine as a Physician Assistant! My goal is to work in Emergency Medicine and either Cardiothoracic surgery or Neurosurgery after school, and ultimately open up my own practice one day. If you didn’t know, PAs are trained in the medical model in school just like MDs are, and can practice medicine in any speciality they chose after graduating/passing the national licensure exam. I am so thrilled at the idea of being able to practice medicine in any area that I chose, and having unlimited lateral mobility throughout my entire career. In addition, I won’t have the same demands as I would if I went the MD route, and I’ll have time to devote to the things I love – like training, traveling, and exploring!

This is Alex!

Q: How much does a personal trainer cost?

A: This answer honestly depends on where you’re looking. Geographically speaking, as well as whether or not you want a trainer to travel to your apartment or home to train you. In major metropolitan areas like NYC, personal training will typically be more expensive than in more rural/suburban areas. If you want in-home training, that is definitely going to be more expensive than training at a chain gym. Some trainers who run their own businesses like I do partner with independent training gyms that they work out of to train their clients. In this case, the trainer is required to pay the gym an overhead cost to use their space for the hour, so that cost is usually factored into the hourly rate. Trainers in chain gyms are usually the cheapest option, but some (not all) of them have the bare minimum in terms of certifications. In my opinion, it is worth paying more for a trainer who is knowledgeable in human anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, strength training, interval training, nutrition, and injury prevention – and is willing to put time, energy, and effort into designing a program that is tailored to your individual goals.

Q: What’s the difference between going through a gym or finding a trainer who can come to you?

A: There are several differences here, but typically you will find that a trainer who has to travel to you for your sessions will be more expensive than a trainer at a gym. Once I left the chain gym where I worked and started my own personal training/nutrition coaching business, Alex Ellis Fitness, I began working out of several different locations. I found independent training gyms where I could take my clients to train, which allowed me to train clients back to back, and I also traveled to some of my clients’ apartments for in-home sessions. My rate for in-home training is more expensive given that I’m spending time traveling to and from the session, so it usually ends up being about 1 ½ – 2 hours of my time vs. just the hour for the session.

I highly recommend hiring a trainer that you’ve been referred to if possible, and also one that has either a) multiple certifications and/or a degree in Exercise Science or Health Sciences, or b) holds 1-2 certifications and has several years of experience designing individualized programs. Some trainers unfortunately only have the bare minimum, and not to say that some trainers with only 1 certification can’t be great, they definitely can – but some may not have all of the tools in their toolbox to properly program for someone who’s suffered from injuries in the past or has health complications. Bottom line: hire someone experienced who is certified and knows how to program for a client based on their individual needs and goals.

Q: How do you design programs for your clients?

A: This depends on the client’s individual needs. I always start out by doing a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) with all of my potential clients to assess their movement patterns and pinpoint any imbalances they may have and are unaware of. This allows me to design a program that is effective for reaching the client’s individual goals, while also accounting for any imbalances, injuries, and inefficient movement patterns. I always say that anyone can give you a hard workout, but not everyone can design a challenging workout that’s also SAFE for that particular client’s body.

Q: Can you share your most inspiring fitness story?

A: This is a tough one. I’ve been so amazed by so many of my clients and their dedication to reaching their goals that we’ve planned out together. Each one of them is so unique and so wonderful, and I am genuinely inspired by all of their stories! For me personally, fitness has saved me from some pretty dark times in my life. I went through a really horrible, painful break-up in 2014, followed by the dissolution of a friendship, and I was an absolute wreck emotionally for most of 2014 after that. The only thing that brought me solace consistently was spending time with my clients and seeing them progress closer and closer to their goals. But at the time, I was unmotivated to workout myself, eating my feelings in food, and drinking WAY too much. I put on weight as a result of my unhealthy habits, and that made me feel even worse. I knew I needed to make a change, but I just wasn’t sure what to do. A friend of mine at the time suggested that I sign up for/compete in a bikini competition. I said, “F it, let’s do this,” and signed up in January 2015 to compete in April 2015.

At the time I weighed 165 lbs and my body fat percentage was around 22% (serious bikini competitors and bodybuilders usually step on stage around 10-13%). I had a lot of work to do! I wanted to prove to myself that I could prepare for the competition myself without hiring a coach. So, I did some research; I used the knowledge that I gained from my research, in combination with what I knew already from my certifications, and made myself a 3 month plan. I quit drinking (alcohol has SO MANY empty calories), and I was training a total of 6 days/week with 1 recovery/rest day; it was INTENSE. During 4 of the 6 days, my training consisted of traditional bodybuilding splits that I designed, focusing intensely on only a couple of muscle groups each day, and the other 2 days were spent cross training at CityRow or practicing yoga. I followed a strict meal plan that I wrote, which included eating 5-6x/day (small meals and snacks) and very strategically placing carbs throughout my meal plan. I worked my ass off for those 3 months, and it paid off! I stepped on stage at 140 lbs (and 12% body fat) on April 4th, 2015 feeling like a new woman. I placed 7th in my category, and 8th overall (out of about 30 women). More importantly than how I placed was how I felt; I was so proud of my efforts that I didn’t feel the slightest bit sad anymore about the hand I was dealt in 2014. It was by far the most disciplined I have ever been, and the renewed confidence I had in myself and my body was so worth all of that hard work!

Q: What’s the best way to get back into working out after an extended illness or injury? I’m having trouble getting back into it!

A: One day at a time, girl! You’ve got this. I’ve been in that situation multiple times. Trainers are human, too! First of all, make sure you are cleared by your doctor to workout again. Do NOT try to jump right back into what you were doing prior to your injury, because you will risk re-injuring yourself. If you’re cleared by your doc and have completed physical therapy to rehabilitate your injury fully, I always just try to start small and set a goal for the first day that feels attainable and realistic. For example, I’ll opt for a quick 15-20 minute circuit routine at home, and you don’t even need weights to do it! You can add in weights (see below) if you choose to, but can do the entire sequence with just your body weight. Something like this doesn’t require physically going to the gym or to a class, so you’re more likely to follow through with it when you’re getting back into the swing of working out. If you’re someone who is motivated more by the class setting, then sign up for your favorite class, and make it happen. If you’ve already paid for it, you’re also more likely to go!

Sweatfest Circuit

  • 20 Mountain Climbers
  • 10 Jumping Jacks or Power Jacks*
  • 20 Squats (you can add weights here)
  • 10 Push-Ups or Modified Push-Ups (or Plank for 30 sec)
  • 20 Alternating Lateral Lunges (you can add weights here)
  • rest 20-30 seconds and repeat for 15-20 min

*For power jacks → jump out to a wide sumo squat (toes out/feet wide), arms extend straight out from shoulders, and jump back to “pencil” with arms overhead and feet together.

Q: What are your best tips for staying motivated?

A: It really depends on what drives YOU, personally. Motivation can’t be forced, so my best advice is to find what intrinsically motivates you to put your big girl pants on and go kick some ass. I personally am motivated by how awesome I feel after I workout (hello, endorphins! let’s conquer the world!), as well as by having someone to help hold me accountable – whether it be a training/lifting buddy, friends who I go to a fitness class with, or simply being in a class with other humans who are just trying to be better versions of themselves.

Q: What are your tips for working out at home if you hate going to the gym?

A: See above for a sweaty circuit to do at home! You have to find something that will motivate you to workout at home and stick with it. It’s a great idea in theory if you’re dedicated and follow through, but it’s easy to skip a day when you’re tired and would rather just relax. I’ve shifted my business to primarily online training and coaching, and I offer monthly programs for people like yourself who want to workout at home and don’t like going to the gym! Shoot me an email (alexellisfitness@gmail.com) or find me on insta (@alexandra__ellis) and we’ll chat.

Q: What are the best exercises to reduce one’s midsection/reduce belly fat. Any tips for specific nutrition/exercise besides just “eat better and exercise regularly?” Are there any exercises that will actually make a dent?

A: Girlfriend, I wish I could give you the answer you’re looking for, but it just ain’t gonna happen. The reason you always hear “eat better and exercise regularly” when asking this type of question is because ABS ARE MADE IN THE KITCHEN. You can do every ab/core exercise there is on this planet, and then more variations of all of those exercises, but if you aren’t eating for your goals, you’ll never see any change. Belly fat can literally only be reduced through dietary changes in combination with regular activity; that said, your abdominal muscles can be built and sculpted through core/ab work, but they won’t show up through abdominal fatty tissue without a decrease in that fatty tissue. I hate to be a downer here, but there are no magical exercises that will counteract dietary habits.

Q: What’s the single best decision women in their twenties and thirties can make for their health (i.e. get more sleep, stress less, cut out sugar, lift weights). It’s hard to massively overhaul your life.

A: All of these are so important! I know it is really tough to focus on making multiple lifestyle changes all at once, but this is difficult to choose between because the “best decision” for you may be different than the best decision for me depending on our lifestyles. We all know we should be getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night, but do we all do it? Probably not. Studies have shown that long-term sleep deprivation can have some really gnarly side effects on your health. So get those ZZZ! We definitely all need to stress less, especially about trivial things. I’m not a believer in cutting out sugar completely, because then you’ll be more apt to crave it and binge. If you’re going to have it, eat natural sugars that come from fruit and stay away from processed sugars as much as possible. I’ll be totally honest though, I really love Reese’s cups and I will never give them up completely!

In terms of longevity, I’m going to have to say that lifting weights in the single best decision that women in their 20s and 30s can make for themselves. As women, it is extremely important to think about how our bodies age and what we are at risk for later in life if we don’t take care of our bodies now. We only get one, and instead of bashing our bodies because we don’t look like models, we should be celebrating them in their glory, cellulite and all!

Weight training is so important for women for a multitude of reasons, but here are my top 4:

1) As women age, our bone density decreases, which puts us at risk for developing osteoporosis. Strength training with weights helps us maintain a healthy bone density and decreases our risk for developing osteoporosis later in life.

2) Lifting weights can help keep you injury free! When training effectively and safely, a strength training program can help you build the muscle necessary to protect your joints and improve your core strength, which leads to better balance and coordination as you age.

3) Regardless of your gender, your muscle mass will decrease as you age unless you are actively doing something to counteract that fact of nature. Weight training will help you maintain your lean muscle mass as you age and prevent an increase in body fat percentage.

4) Weight training provides a much more efficient way of reaching health and fitness goals than cardio. Why, you ask? Well, it’s pretty amazing actually, and relates to our bodies’ incredible ability to restore glycogen and oxygen to our muscles after we’ve depleted our sources during a workout. The physiological effect post-workout is referred to as EPOC, also known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or oxygen debt. It is the amount of oxygen that your body requires to return to homeostasis (your resting level of metabolic function). You may have heard of this before referred to as “afterburn,” the informal term for this physiological effect. After an effective strength training session with weights, your body will continue to burn calories at an elevated rate for up to 24-48 hours after your workout! The amount of time depends on the intensity of the workout. After a cardio session, your body only remains in EPOC for 15-90 minutes depending on the intensity of your training. This is the number one reason why I emphasize weight training to my female clients who are trying to shed body fat!

Q: What are the best workouts to do if you have a schedule that only allows for you to work out 3 times a week?

A: If you can only workout 3x/week, I recommend finding a workout that incorporates both weight training and cardio. If you’re looking for studios in NYC that offer classes that combine weight training + cardio – I highly recommend CityRow, Mile High Run Club, and Barry’s Bootcamp. If you have weights and you’re looking for something you can do at home, shoot me an email and we can chat about at-home monthly programs!

Q: I work 10-15 hour days… what are the best workouts/movements to maximize results and lose weight when I can only sneak in 20-30 minutes of exercise per day?

A: If you can only squeeze in 20-30 minutes per day, you should definitely be doing high intensity workouts that incorporate weights, interval training, and conditioning. I included an at-home circuit in one of the previous answers, and will leave another one here. I have several online clients right now who I program for monthly and help keep them active when they live such a busy work life like you do!

20 Minute Calorie Torcher

Round 1 – 4x

  • 20 sec – Alternating Lunges
  • 10 sec – Rest
  • 20 sec – Mountain Climbers
  • 10 sec – Rest

Round 2 – 4x

  • 20 sec – Speed Squats
  • 10 sec – Rest
  • 20 sec – High Knees
  • 10 sec – Rest

Round 3 – 4x

  • 20 sec – Alternating Lateral Lunges
  • 10 sec – Rest
  • 20 sec – Burpees
  • 10 sec – Rest

Round 4 – 4x

  • 20 sec – Squat Jumps
  • 10 sec – Rest
  • 20 sec – Opposite Knee to Elbow Mountain Climbers
  • 10 sec – Rest

Round 5 – 4x

  • 20 sec – Jumping Jacks or Power Jacks
  • 10 sec – Rest/transition to floor
  • 20 sec – V-Ups or Sit-Ups
  • 10 sec – Rest/transition to stand

Q: Any tips for struggling to get those last 5 pounds off? What do you do when you feel like your body has hit a plateau!?

A: Sometimes those last 5 lbs can be the hardest to lose! First, be honest with yourself about your nutritional habits. Are there areas where you could make improvements? Are you consuming empty calories that are preventing you from making progress? If your diet is in check, I recommend changing up your routine and trying new workouts that push you outside of your comfort zone. Over time, our bodies adapt to the type of training we put them through. As a result, it is common to hit a plateau unless we introduce new variables into the equation: sometimes this could just be more weight or more reps, or in other cases you may need to introduce a totally new style of training. I recommend a high intensity, total body workout like CityRow (if you’re in NYC), or a boxing/kickboxing class that will put you to your limits!

Additionally, make sure you’re not stressing about what the scale says too much — as you gain strength, you’re gaining lean muscle mass, which weighs more than fat. So you could weigh the same and look totally different at that weight depending on your level of lean muscle mass vs. body fat percentage. Unless your health is at risk due to a medical condition, I highly recommend throwing your scale away (it’s an added source of stress you don’t need) and instead focusing your progress on how your clothes fit, progress photos (every 3-4 weeks!), and measurements (i.e. bust, waist, belly button, hips, thighs, etc). These will all give you a more accurate measure of your hard work than an arbitrary number on a scale.  

Q: Do you have any favorite apps for tracking progress?

A: I really love MyFitnessPal! It’s great for keeping an accurate picture of your daily nutritional intake, as well as tracking activity. I highly recommend giving it a try.

Q: Tell us about recovery days! Do we really need them? What is best to do on a recovery day?

A: The recovery is just as important as the work! You need to make sure that your muscles adequately recover in order to see the optimum benefits of training, and most importantly, prevent injury. The amount of recovery you need is directly related to how intense your training is. If you don’t take a recovery day, your muscles will just continue to break down and fatigue — the recovery time allows for them to build them back up and for you to see those #gains you’ve been dreaming of! I highly recommend myofascial release (aka foam rolling) on recovery days to aid in recovery and help spread the fascia (the fibrous tissue that encases our muscles) back out since it can get “knotted” and cause scar tissue to build or soft-tissue adhesions. I also love a restorative yoga practice on my recovery days. Nothing intense, just mellow stretching and body awareness. Lastly, my favorite way to end a recovery day is to soak and hot bubble bath with Epsom salt!

Q: Any tips for getting over being self conscious at the gym?

A: This can be tough, especially if you feel lost in the gym and are out of your comfort zone. I recommend going in with a plan so you know exactly what your workout will be for the day, putting on your favorite workout playlist that gets you in the zone, and tuning out everything else. Put yourself first and stay focused on why you’re there in the first place – to be a stronger, healthier, happier version of yourself. That is YOUR TIME. No one else’s. Don’t text, don’t play on your phone, don’t pay attention to the dude next to you who’s checking out your butt, don’t pay attention to the girl who clearly works out twice per day to have a body like that, and don’t get in the habit of comparing yourself to anyone but YOURSELF. Just show up, and strive to be better than you were yesterday.

Q: Do you have a workout you recommend for a new mom who has just been cleared to exercise after having a baby?

A: I recommend starting slow! Don’t jump into anything too quickly, but I’ve always told my pre-post natal clients that they can gradually (key word) start back into the physical activities they were doing before their pregnancy. I definitely don’t recommend any high intensity workouts right away, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Some studies have shown that it can increase lactic acid production (a by-product of the aerobic energy pathways in our body) in your breast milk, and it will not taste as good to your baby. I recommend starting with something that can be easily modified to your level and ability like yoga or working 1-on-1 with a pre-post natal certified personal trainer if you have the funds to devote to that.

Q: Do you have any good core exercises for pregnant ladies? Sit ups are not so good.

A: PLEASE NEVER DO SIT UPS WHEN YOU’RE PREGNANT!!! As your uterus expands and your baby grows, your abdominals may begin to separate, this is referred to as diastasis recti. If you forcefully perform spinal flexion motions (like crunches or sit-ups) while your abdominals are separated, you are essentially pushing your organs against your peritoneum (the membranous lining that holds all of our organs in place) behind your abdominals. This can lead to pain and discomfort, and even worse, a hernia. Additionally, lying on your back for an extended period of time can decrease blood flow. Maintaining core and pelvic floor strength is vital for pregnant women – and I’ve always made that a focus of my training with my prenatal clients. We focused on slower, more controlled movements to strength the core muscles such as bird dog, kneeling knee to elbow (targeting obliques), modified side plank (knees down), standing side “crunches” (elbow to knee), bridge, kegels, and activated bridge (with a yoga block between your thighs).

Q: What are your best tips to jumpstart your metabolism and burn fat?

A: This is a great one! There are several ways you can train your metabolism to work in your favor and run more efficiently:

  1. Weight training! I answered this in detail in another question, but weight training significantly boosts your metabolism for 24-48 hours post-workout, depending on the intensity of your training session.
  2. Drink plenty of water to help your body’s metabolism stay revved up even when you’re resting.
  3. Make sure to eat a protein-filled breakfast (my go-to is 2 eggs with 1-2 pieces of uncured turkey bacon or an egg/egg white scramble with spinach, green onions, mushrooms, and a little bit of feta)
  4. Incorporate interval training into your routine. Short bursts of high intensity work, followed by a shorter bout of rest, then repeat! I included a Tabata style circuit for you guys to try in an answer to another question.

Q: I hate weights and love cardio and yoga/pilates. What is a good ratio or mix of cardio and yoga/pilates to tone up and stay toned?

A: First of all, “toning” is a myth. There is no such thing, and I strongly dislike that word. All “toning” really is is an increase in lean muscle mass (which requires a stimulus – weight – to achieve) and a decrease in body fat (which, as I mentioned in another answer, is mainly a result of following a proper nutrition plan for your goals in combination with your fitness routine). I hate to break it to ya hun, but you’re going to have a tough time achieving those results you’re looking for without weight training. And if you’re a female worried about getting bulky *insert eyeroll here* — I want you to know that the amount of estrogen that our bodies produce makes it near impossible for us to “bulk.” Real talk.

My best advice for you if you’re really not willing to put your big girl pants on and pick up a weight, is to spend more time doing yoga that is truly challenging – like a power yoga or vinyasa yoga class – that way, you’ll be using your own body weight to help build your strength and lean muscle. So aim for 3-4 days of challenging yoga practice, 2-3 days of cardio/pilates, and 1 true recovery day.

Q: I recently started working out in the new year and have cut back on added sugar. I’m looking for advice on heart health and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Would you recommend 3 days a week of intense one hour classes, or 5 days a week of more moderate activity like jogging or biking?

A: If you’re just looking to live a healthier lifestyle, 5 days/week of moderate activity would suffice. If you’re looking for something that will challenge your fitness level and increase your strength/endurance more, choose the intense class 3 days/week. Truly, you can’t go wrong here. Either way, you’re working on becoming a better you and that’s amazing. You go, girl.

Q: How much is it about working out vs. diet?

A: I’m assuming you’re referring to weight loss. To be honest, it’s about 75-80% nutrition and 20-25% working out. It is possible to lose weight without working out if you make the necessary changes to your diet. I don’t recommend not working out, but just to give you an idea of how powerful proper nutritional changes can be. Everyone should be actively working out at least 3x/week!

Q: Do you really need a pre and post workout snack?

A: A pre-workout snack is not totally necessary, unless you’re someone who gets sick if they exercise without anything in their stomach. I personally can’t eat a meal within 1-½-2 hours of my workouts because of the level of intensity. I usually have a piece of an Rx bar, a tsp of peanut butter, or just a little something before my workouts so my stomach isn’t grumbling. Post-workout nutrition IS A MUST. Make sure that you’re fueling your body with protein and carbohydrates post-workout. I cannot emphasize this enough. Studies have shown that individuals who have a protein shake within 30 minutes of working out lose more weight and build more lean muscle than those who don’t have one post-workout. A personal favorite of mine (that I got Grace hooked on!) is the Peanut Butter Split from Juice Generation. It’s pretty much heaven in a cup. If you don’t want to shell out $8 for a shake. I recommend buying Quest Nutrition protein powders (Chocolate Milkshake is my fave) and mixing it with either water or unsweetened almond or coconut milk. If you’re looking for a plant based protein, I have heard wonderful things about Vega.

Q: What’s the ideal post workout breakfast meal?

A: Breakfast is legit my favorite meal of the day. I could go on forever here, but I’ll share a few of my favorite choices for post-workout breakfast:

  • Egg + Egg White Scramble + Avocado Toast on Ezekiel Bread– I like to spice this up with green onions (or any kind of onion), mushrooms, peppers, and/or spinach. Sometimes I have time to throw all of that in there, and other times I just have to throw a dash of garlic powder and pepper on them, and call it a day. I season my avo toast (super basic, I know) with garlic powder, turmeric, cumin, fresh ground pepper, a dash of sea salt, and a drizzle of hot chili oil from the Asian market. It. Is. Delicious.
  • 2 soft-boiled eggs or 2 eggs over easy + 1-2 pieces of turkey bacon
  • Protein smoothie with fresh fruit & spinach or baby kale
  • Oatmeal with chia + flax seeds + vanilla protein powder (I know this seems weird, but I tried it once just for funzies and actually really liked it!)
  • If I’m in a rush, a protein shake will do the job (see previous answer for more details)

Q: What’s the best way to be less sore when working out new muscles?

A: It’s impossible to prevent soreness when you’re training muscles you’ve never trained before or haven’t trained in a long time. However, proper stretching post-workout, foam rolling, and a nice, hot Epsom salt bath will help your muscles recover faster and thus, be less sore.

Q: What are the best type of HIIT activities to burn fat that I can pair with total body weight exercises like BBG?

A: I’ve included 2 at-home circuits in previous answers, one of which is a Tabata style workout. I recommend giving those a shot! You can always email me if you’re interested in a monthly program to supplement your current training routine.

Q: I like to strength train and lift and don’t hate cardio but I’d rather not do it. What types of exercises can I do to speed up fat loss?

A: You’re just not doing the right type of cardio. Haha! Kidding. I feel you. Sometimes cardio is just the worst. If you’re group fitness driven, I recommend finding a class that you can go to that incorporates both weights and cardio/conditioning (like the ones I mentioned in a previous answer – CityRow, Mile High Run Club, and Barry’s Bootcamp).  That way you don’t feel like you’re torturing yourself on the treadmill, elliptical, bike, etc for a full hour. These classes break up the routine in a way that’s much more manageable, and

Q: What’s the best cardio to make legs thinner? I feel like spin and stairmaster have made my legs bigger.

A: Girlfriend, strong is the new skinny, haven’t you heard? Skinny is so 2001, and thick thighs save lives, so I’ve got nothin’ for ya here except to say that you should love yourself the way you are and stop idealizing thinness. Also, if you’ve read the previous answers, I’ve shared that weight loss (namely a decrease in body fat percentage) cannot occur without a change in dietary habits. Unless your weight is a health concern, just live your best life and stop worrying about your thighs.

Q: I am a nurse and do not get home until 8:30. I eat dinner around 9. Are there any foods I should avoid eating at this time? (And no, I can’t do dinner earlier.)

A: I know it’s tough when you’re not able to eat dinner at a “normal time” and then when you’re home and can finally eat, you’re starving. You may be tempted to reach for comfort foods later in the evening, but try to stay strong! Definitely avoid eating starchy carbohydrates later in the evening (potatoes, pasta, bread, rice, etc), and stay away from sugars and processed foods at that hour. Focus those later meals on lots of vegetables – particularly green veggies – and lean proteins like chicken, turkey, and light, flaky fish like tilapia.

Q: What basic supplements and vitamins should women be taking?

A: I’m so glad you asked this question! Almost all women should be taking nutritional supplements every. single. day. It is incredibly difficult to provide our bodies with all of the nutrients it needs to function optimally solely through the foods we eat on a daily basis. It’s possible, but takes a great deal of self-discipline and time.

Here’s the deal with the main vitamins/supplements all women should be taking:

  1. Vitamin B complex — helps promote a healthy metabolism, boosts energy levels and helps prevent fatigue, and improves cognitive function
  2. Vitamins A, C, & E — these vitamins in particular have antioxidant properties and help fight off free radicals (which cause aging) and many diseases that affect brain function, the heart and lungs, and eyesight
  3. Vitamin D — data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the majority of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D. It’s imperative to supplement your diet with Vitamin D to promote bone health as you age, as well as healthy brain function and hormone balance
  4. Vitamin K — is very important in maintaining bone health, and preventing heart disease – which is currently the #1 cause of death for women in the U.S.
  5. Iron — many women suffer from from iron deficiencies or anemia unknowingly, and it can lead to crippling fatigue

Q: I just broke a bone in my foot and can’t do any weight bearing workouts. Any suggestions on what I CAN do? I’m dying for cardio. You can only do so many crunches and knee push-ups…

A: I feel your pain! I broke my ankle last year and was desperately craving a good sweat session. I had a half-leg cast so I truly couldn’t do much the first few months except for arm exercises with dumbbells in my apartment. Once I got used to the crutches and a was a few months into the healing process, I was really in need of a good sweat, so I went to the studio where I taught (CityRow) and put my broken leg up on a rower next to the one I was on – and rowed with my 1 good leg! I did intervals of 300-500 meters, with seated circuits on the rower in between intervals of bicep curls, hammer curls, overhead presses, and tricep extensions. 10 of each. If I were you, I would definitely invest in a pair of dumbbells for home and do some upper body circuits! Here’s one of my favorites:

Arm Blast  (use 8+ lb dumbbells, no baby weights!)

  • 10 Hammer Curls
  • 10 Overhead Press
  • 10 Wide Bicep Curls
  • 10 Overhead Tricep Extensions
  • rest 20-30 seconds and repeat 3x for a total for 4 sets

I hope all of this was helpful! Be sure to follow me on insta at @alexandra__ellis and please feel free to shoot me an email at alexellisfitness@gmail.com if you have any questions about online exercise programming and nutrition plans! Go live your best life, ladies.


Alexandra Ellis

Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment


  1. What a great post – super thorough, too! I’ve scanned it briefly but will definitely read it again when I get home from work. It’s nice to have expert advice on fitness. 🙂

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    4.13.18 Reply
  2. I didn’t know weight training was so important! I always feel like I need to up, up up my cardio so it’s good to know that I can exercise more effectively! A,k of this advice is so helpful thank you so much! xAllie http://www.theallthatglittersblog.com

    4.13.18 Reply
  3. leah:

    Loved this post! Thanks for so much useful information, Alex, and especially for the circuit suggestions!

    One random note – my experience with trainer pricing in NYC has been the opposite of what was stated here. When I worked out with a trainer at Equinox, it was super expensive (I only justified it before my wedding). I started using the same trainer at my building’s gym instead and the cost was cut by around 50%, since the trainer could keep 100% instead of only getting a cut of the gym’s fee.

    4.13.18 Reply
    • i think it definitely depends on the trainer!!

      4.13.18 Reply
    • Hi Leah! I’m so glad this was helpful and hope you enjoy those circuits!

      I agree with Grace – price definitely depends on the trainer. As well as how many certifications they have, whether or not they have a bachelor’s degree in health science/kinesiology/exercise science/etc, and how many years they have been training.

      4.15.18 Reply
  4. Erika:

    Alex is so REAL & doesn’t sugar coat any of her answers (which I love). I had no idea that weight training was so important & allowed you to burn calories for that long afterwards. I’ve been seriously neglecting that part of my workout – will need to work on incorporating weight training into my everyday workouts!

    4.13.18 Reply
    • right!? that’s why i love her! she asked if she was too honest and i was like NO!! KEEP IT!!!

      4.13.18 Reply
    • Erika!! This just made my day! I’m so happy you enjoyed the article and found it helpful. Grab those weights, girlfriend! xx 🙂

      4.15.18 Reply
  5. Definitely the most in-depth interview about fitness that I’ve ever read. So many good tips!

    Alex, I’m also a JMU alum! Love to see a fellow Duke doing awesome things! Keep it up!


    4.13.18 Reply
    • yay – so happy you enjoyed it!

      4.13.18 Reply
    • GO DUKES!! That’s awesome, Angela. It makes me so happy to know I could help out a fellow Duke! Don’t hesitate to email me if you have any questions.

      4.15.18 Reply
  6. Erin Tenneson:

    WOW. Literally thank you SO MUCH for all of that awesome information. Got some great tips and tricks. I can see myself referring to this many times in the future.

    4.13.18 Reply
  7. This is such a great post, Grace! It’s so thorough, someone really could just print it out and keep it on hand as their little manifesto. Love it.

    briana | youngsophisticate.com

    4.13.18 Reply
    • i completely agree!!

      4.13.18 Reply
    • I am so glad you found this helpful, Briana! I hope you continue to find it useful and refer back to it when needed. Email me if you have any questions!

      4.15.18 Reply
  8. Katie:

    I LOVE THIS! Thanks so much for this post! I’m wondering, is it possible to weight train without going to the gym or having a home gym? I have some dumb bells I use a lot, but is there anything more? Do jump squats qualify as weight training? I’ve got to incorporate more weight training into my routine (BBG), but I don’t want to join a gym! Is this possible?

    Thank you again for an amazing post!

    4.13.18 Reply
    • will let alex answer but yes definitely!!! you could even do the circuits alex provided at home!!

      4.13.18 Reply
    • Hi Katie! I’m so glad you asked this. You can absolutely incorporate weight training into your routine at home. Squat jumps don’t count, haha, but they are GREAT for building muscular endurance in your glutes, quads, and hamstrings! I write programs for clients every month that they do in their own homes (or at the gym if they prefer that environment) to supplement their routine, or to use as their go-to workouts. Email me at alexellisfitness@gmail.com and we can chat more about this!

      4.15.18 Reply
  9. Alex, this post was so inspirational. I hope you come back and write another post soon. I am starting my career in health care, in the mental and social services division. This post encourages me to keep working smart as well as take care of my total well-being so I can help others as best as I can.

    Happy Friday

    4.13.18 Reply
    • so so happy you enjoyed it! hope to have her back again!

      4.13.18 Reply
    • Lee! This makes me smile from ear to ear. I am so thrilled to know this inspired you and I hope you are able to keep coming back to it for inspiration and motivation! I will absolutely be back soon to share more knowledge and helpful tips for you all! Please don’t hesitate to email me in the mean time if you have any questions: alexellisfitness@gmail.com.

      4.15.18 Reply
  10. Zoe:

    Good luck in PA school! I graduated from PA school in January and am 2 weeks away from starting my first job as an orthopedic PA!

    4.14.18 Reply
    • WOOHOO! That is awesome, girl. Congrats on graduating and all of your hard work! Now the fun begins!

      4.15.18 Reply
  11. Debbie:

    Awesome post!!! I really enjoyed the scorcher at home cardio circuit and the section on the vitamins.

    4.15.18 Reply
  12. Sooooo much great information in this post! My favorite is the answer to how to make your thighs thinner. LOVE Alex’s response!

    4.18.18 Reply
    • Right!? She’s the best.

      4.18.18 Reply
    • I am so thrilled to hear you found this helpful, Amanda! and that you enjoyed my candid response on that question haha 🙂

      just keepin’ it real! xx

      4.21.18 Reply