Guest Blogger: Elizabeth's Journey

Elizabeth is a great example of a UFO member that will #neverquit. From marathons to tough mudders, this UFOer is up for the challenge. Even though she’s had a “midlife kick in the pants” in the form of thyroid cancer, she’s used her setbacks as a way to keep continuing her journey to better health and fitness. We're pumped to see what she does in the next 10 years, and the next 10, and the next 10, and the next 10...

I just turned 40, ugh.  

There is something so mental about turning 40. I thought 40 was so old, but at a recent doctor appointment my doctor said I was the healthiest 40 year-old she had ever seen. Her reaction made me change my mind set from “Ugh” to “Wow, I’m kicking ass.”


I grew up as an active, healthy kid: no junk food, lots of playing outside, tennis lessons, etc. I also watched a lot of TV; I mean A LOT. I was never an “athlete “, I was too clumsy for ballet, not coordinated enough for cheerleading and never fast enough to make the varsity swim team.

Elizabeth running the Long Island Tough Mudder...yeah, badass. 

Elizabeth running the Long Island Tough Mudder...yeah, badass. 

I totally let myself go in college: I gained the standard freshman 15 and then some. It took a very close friend to say  - “Hey, let’s start going around the lake”, then “Hey let’s join golds” to get me to pay attention. I got into what I thought was decent shape. I was doing that standard workout-- you know, 30 minutes on the elliptical, some ab work, light weights and eating low fat foods. It worked for my 20’s.


And then came my 30’s, a complete rollercoaster.


I finally got over the idea that I was not a runner and ran multiple half marathons, one full, got into triathlons and learned that I needed to, and was totally capable of, doing more. I joined Urban Fitness after I injured my shoulder and someone suggested that I go to a trainer to make myself stronger instead of wasting time with a PT.


I started off with semi-privates and quickly moved to team training. I learned that I LOVE kettle bells. I also started noticing that the more I went to UFO, the faster I was running. I was feeling good and getting much stronger.


Once in my mid-30s, I ate what I thought was healthy, worked out more than 7 times a week but slowly started to gain weight. People are so kind, and although I went from a size 27 to a 29/30 – everyone kept saying I was trim and looked great.


I began to wonder, was it in my head?


Elizabeth with her sister (and another UFO badass), Kate, hiking the dipsea. 

Elizabeth with her sister (and another UFO badass), Kate, hiking the dipsea. 


All of the sudden I have 30lbs on me and I can’t understand how I got there. Is this what happens when you get older? I started cutting out carbs and for the first time start researching diets. Then a day after a routine check my doctor emails me up to ask if anyone has ever talked to me about my thyroid function. My first response – what is a thyroid?


So if you don’t know, your thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland in your neck. It basically influences everything: your heart rate, metabolism, skin, hair, nails, sleep. EVERYTHING.


Turns out, I had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (hypothyroidism) which meant mine was not working so great. I got on a medication to supplement my thyroid function and at the same time decide to clean up my diet and start eating PALEO. In just a few months I lost all the weight and felt amazing.  


My workouts were killer, I slept great, and my skin was clear. I think this was the healthiest I have ever been, so of course it was about time for a hiccup. While blow drying my hair one day I notice a lump in my neck, I thought little about it. In the next month the lump grew to the point I was having a hard time swallowing.


I had my sister check it out (If you don’t know my sister, she’s is a fellow 6AM UFOer and also a doctor) and she tells me to get a doctor appointment ASAP. Less than 3 days later I am diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer.


Now, as someone who has had thyroid cancer I can say – thyroid cancer is no big deal. At the time though it was extremely scary. Thankfully, I was already in good shape. I had to have my thyroid removed which was a 4 hour surgery and I was back at UFO (on limited duty) within days and I was able to run 10 miles within a few weeks. I followed up from surgery with radioactive iodine treatment and again I recovered quickly.


A coworker described my experience as “speed bumps”. It was so true. Being in perfect health going into my treatment allowed for a very safe surgery and a quick recovery.  My doctors often remark how easy it is do my neck scan (I get that done often) since I am trim and muscular, makes finding anomalies easy.   


All in all, these speed bumps one after the other have not been easy--in particular, finding the right dose for thyroid replacement and suppression. For the first two years I was medicated to be “hyper”, which meant I had muscle weakness, racing heart rate and could not sleep.  


Yet even with these setbacks, I still feel that my experience was a blessing. I got a midlife kick in the pants that will ensure I will continue to work out every day, drink less and eat clean for the rest of my life.   


From giving me a specific program for getting back to speed post-surgery, or giving me at home workouts when I was confined to my house during the radiation treatment, UFO has been there for me. So my plans for my 40s, are to finally deadlift over 150lb, indulge in some chips and guacamole and do as many tough mudders as possible.


Elizabeth with the UFO crew crushing the Tough Mudder in Tahoe.  

Elizabeth with the UFO crew crushing the Tough Mudder in Tahoe.  



Guest Blogger: Marcus' Journey

Last January, Marcus came into UFO ready to workout and crack some smiles on our faces. Our coach's assessment note about Marcus says it all, “He is ready to work hard, takes cues beautifully, and has a zinger sense of humor that is equal parts crass pop reference and book smart hello Mr. professor.” Marcus’ willingness to work hard and make friends has quickly made 5pm semi-private classes a riot, and has resulted in him smashing his fitness goals in the first year. We are ready to help him tackle new goals in the next years to come!



I was never really the kind of guy who ever saw myself as a regular gym going type. From an early age, there was this underlying current of anxiety and fear that first began in Gym Class in high school and slowly crept its way into my everyday life. Partially a product of my own insecurities and anxiety as a gay youth, I always felt like the gym was a place where someone might uncover who I really was and I would be “found out.” The football jocks, who gave me wedgies each day of P.E. class my freshman year of high school, only reinforced the negative connotations that I had with exercising and sports. It was much easier to hide in my bedroom and surround myself with food than it was to deal with my fears and insecurities. So I did.


It was that year, my freshman year of high school that I spent most days at home, sitting in front the T.V. watching MTV and binge eating that my weight went from average to obese. By the time I started my sophomore year, my weight had gone up to 240 pounds. Now, not only was I an insecure gay kid, but now I was an overweight insecure gay kid. This can be especially challenging when you come into your own in a world of photoshopping and airbrushing, guys who look like Michelangelo himself carved them out of marble and the stereotypically “gay” look. There can be a lot of pressure and judgement that occurs within the gay community, especially if you don’t fit a certain “mold,” or at least that is how I felt.


I managed to carry this fear with me from the age of 14 until my 36th birthday, right before Christmas, when I looked in the mirror one morning and I was just so tired of not liking the way that I looked or felt about myself. However, there was still this undercurrent of fear and anxiety that existed within me. I knew I needed to do something. And it wasn’t just about how I felt about my looks, or how I felt about my body, I also knew that there were health implications as my biological father suffered from diabetes and so did his mother. Knowing this I knew that finally the time had come to really do something.



While this fear was present, I never really felt equipped to challenge the fear and anxiety that I was harboring. However, I know that there are two things that are truly essential to me being able to make changes - structure and relationships. I am the kind of person who needs structure, it’s a value that I work with each day in my own professional life. And I am the kind of person that needs to develop relationships with people in order to feel comfortable.


In thinking about both of these things, I reached out to a couple of trusted friends. I asked them for advice on gyms and if they knew of any place where I could find a lot of structure, develop relationships and not exist in isolation, and a place where I could feel safe and secure in who I was. This was when a friend told me about Urban Fitness Oakland. I was told about how there were classes where the workout was already written for you, and how you were provided with opportunities to get feedback and advice on your movements and form. With this in mind, I decided to sign up for my “test drive.”


Getting to the point of being able to walk through the doors for that assessment took a lot of work. My insecurities began to creep up. Would I be good enough, what would people think about me, would I be judged by the way I look? All of these thoughts raced through my head. However, on that rainy, wet afternoon of my assessment, I walked in the door and was greeted by a warm face with a huge smile and a lot of red hair! I sat down to talk with Coach Hannah about what I was looking for and what it was that I wanted to accomplish. This was the beginning of a huge transformation in myself that I didn’t know that I was capable of.



The first couple of weeks during that test drive weren’t easy. But each day I came into the gym, I was greeted by warm faces who would shout out my name as I walked through the door. Not only do the coaches remember who you are, I have seen them strive to cultivate those ever so important relationships with members. There is a personality to this gym that I am not sure exists elsewhere. I also began to see the wide variety of ability levels - from beginners to beasts - and I saw how coaches gave feedback to each, really creating the kind of differentiation where everyone was getting what they needed to be successful.


Since that first day, and the assessment, I have come to find that Urban Fitness really meets all of the criteria that I needed to find - a place with structure, a place where I could build relationships, and a place that I felt safe in. In the 8 months since I have joined UFO, I have found a new level of confidence in myself. I have come to love myself even more. And most importantly, I have begun to see progress. The kind of progress that I was never sure I would see in myself.


Over the course of the last 9 months, I have begun to notice significant improvements in how I felt. I am stronger now, and no longer fear the grey or green kettle bells; I can make it through a whole workout without feeling like I am going to die; and I have a lot more energy in my day to day life. I feel more confident in the way that I look and I am started to develop a more healthy body image of myself. But the biggest measure of success for me is that I have dropped about 3% in body fat over this time.



All of this would not have been possible, I don’t think, without the guidance and coaching of the amazing staff at UFO. When people ask me what I have been doing, I simply tell them that I go to a gym that I love to be at.


Guest Blogger: Michelle's Journey

Michelle is no stranger to critical injuries, but she is so much more than her setbacks. She’s the resilience to find ways to keep moving safely despite critical injuries that would make many want to stay in bed. She’s her good cheer and quirkyness in and out of UFO. And she’s a badass athlete, whether she’s rehabbing, smashing it in Team Training or swinging around in aerial acrobatics. We are ecstatic that Michelle is part of our UFO family and continues with us as she grows and finds new ways to gain strength.


Urban Fitness was right here in my backyard long before I’d ever walk through the doors ready to work out. Neighbors who jumped in with Noah shortly after he opened the gym in 2008 were immediate evangelists. They gushed endlessly about the intensity, the novel workouts, Noah’s charm and enthusiasm. I listened with smug detachment as they sang their songs of praise because, you see, I was a long-distance runner. My legs, lungs and a great pair of shoes were the only equipment I needed. Roads and trails were my refuge; I lost and found myself a million times over on the majestic paths that wind through our beautiful Bay Area. My body was so efficient and the movement pattern so familiar that on a long run my mind was untethered from my physical self. I was free, capable, invincible, strong.


Until I wasn’t.


As the miles piled up, so did the toll on my knees which began a slow but steady protest. I decreased my speed and mileage, acquired custom orthotics and worked with physical therapists but years of imbalanced strength wasn’t to be easily undone. I was no longer a runner. No longer an athlete.


As my ability to run diminished Urban Fitness continued to grow. With a newly adopted dog to walk, I found myself strolling past multiple times daily. This place I’d hardly noticed was suddenly impossible to ignore as groups of people spilled out the doors onto the sidewalk to run, side-shuffle, jump, and throw medicine balls to the uptempo beats of energizing music. I watched, mesmerized, from across the street until the fear that someone might catch me, a has-been-athlete-reduced-to-voyuer, would bubble up. Intimidated, I’d walk home.


My husband noticed the bustling activity on his walks with the dog, too, and began musing about giving it a try. While it was definitely not a place I could ever see myself, I bought him a 30-day intro package for his birthday. He returned from his assessment vibrating with excitement, describing in detail how much he’d learned. His enthusiasm only increased as he jumped into daily group training. He raved about the creative workouts, the coaches and the people he was meeting and training alongside. It was contagious. A week to the day of his assessment, I scheduled my own.


Scheduling the assessment was one thing but mustering the courage to show up was another. As the hour of my appointment approached I contemplated calling to cancel. I walked the single block between our home and the gym as if marching  to the gallows while ruminating on the list of things I was too weak, damaged or old to do. While I’ve often claimed not to know what to expect, I’ll now confess I was pretty confident that the coaches would immediately see my insufficiencies, determine I wasn’t the right type of client, and send me straight back out the door with a pitying look and a recommendation to try yoga. I was utterly prepared to be rejected.


But I wasn’t.



Noah greeted me like longtime friend. “Let’s walk”, he said and over several laps of the block he elicited my fitness story from me. He talked about other “marathoners like me” who trained at Urban Fitness and how much he admired us. He spoke to my accomplishments and drive in the present tense with a forward focus on what I’d like to accomplish. The idea that I wasn’t fully functional didn’t enter his vocabulary nor seem to enter his mind. The movements we worked through to establish my baseline fitness backed it up; it was ‘let’s see what you can do here’ never ‘oh, you can’t do that’. We made a plan for the next 30-days and scheduled out a series of semi-private and group trainings. I left physically exhausted but emotionally restored.


Fast forward two years to July 2015: The workouts have changed me. I can move previously unimaginable amounts of weight in so many different ways: swinging kettle bells, pushing a sled stacked with plates, even (literally) carrying my teammates as I run (yes, run!)around the block. I’ve even taken up aerial acrobatics, training on rope and tissue at Kinetic Arts Center a few days per week. Where running gave me detachment, Urban Fitness gives me incredible presence; the intense workouts require being fully in and aware of my body.  My teammates are among my most treasured friends and I’m part of an incredible badass team. I’m capable, invincible, strong.


Until I’m not.


One morning on vacation I awaken with a stiff neck that worsens rapidly over the course of a few days. I return home and head back to Urban Fitness for a special workout event convinced it’s nothing the coaches can’t help me sort out with some directed foam/lacrosse ball rolling, but even the slightest bit of pressure is excruciating. Alexei whips up a mini program focused on lower-body moves to keep me in the game but the minute I begin breathing heavily pain shoots through my upper back and around to my chest. We all agree it’s time to rest, maybe schedule a massage or see a chiropractor and check back in after a few days.


Two days later, the pain is debilitating and I lose all feeling in my right arm. An MRI reveals two ruptured discs in my lower cervical spine. Without immediate intervention I could lose the use of my arm permanently. We schedule the first of three epidurals to tame the inflammation and I float home in a Vicodin fog, my neck stabilized in a soft collar. The drugs wear off in the wee hours of the night and I lie awake staring up at the ceiling. Tears soak my pillow as reality descends like fog. My injury is grave and recovery will be slow and halting. Best case scenario? At least 12 months.



There’s no way to pinpoint the cause of my injury; no moment when it “just happened” or movement I can blame. It’s the culmination of a myriad of factors over many months; a problematic genetic predisposition, the misreading of small symptoms as minor muscle soreness when it was really nerve pain telling me to stop, my relentless layering of new activities (Spartan races! All that time on the ropes at Kinetic Arts!) into my regimen despite those warnings. The not knowing fills me with terror. That I misread so many signs makes me angry with myself. That getting well comes with no clear roadmap or timelines leaves me feeling desperately alone. I ache with grief.


Urban Fitness is an essential “third place” for me; by definition ‘a great good place’ that anchors my life outside of home and work. I can’t imagine being back on the outside looking in. Thankfully, that’s not a threat. Noah and the coaches make clear that they will be a part of my care team and partner with my doctor and physical therapists to encourage my progress. Though my membership gets put on hold and I can’t lift weight, run, jump or move in any dynamic way I’m invited to come in anytime to do what I can: work through rehab exercises, be in the space, interact with other members, be part of the UFO family.


It’s now July 2016. The one-year anniversary of my injury is approaching. The journey of healing has changed me. In that characteristic Urban Fitness way I learned that very first day with Noah, I’ve let go of what was and embrace myself as the athlete I am today. I train with Alexei in increasingly difficult sessions and have become fluent in the language my body speaks. I’ll soon return to small group training knowing I am safe, capable, strong.


Because I am.


Guest Blogger: Margaret's Journey

Margaret has been a longstanding UFO member and a great reminder to keep crushing your goals, even if you are scared of sharks! We asked her to share a bit of highlights from finding UFO to facing new fears. Here’s her highlights since “drinking the UF lemonade”


Finding Urban Fitness Oakland


My daughters and I wanted to find a gym where we could get a great conditioning workout in and close to our home in Alameda. I swim in a Masters Swim program 3-4 times a week at 5:30am and wanted some dry land conditioning to supplement and help make me stronger and faster. 



One day on a detour around a traffic jam on 880, we drove by Urban Fitness and noticed the big yellow banner outside. I got on the website to find out the gym details and thought “what have we got to lose for $99”? 


Well…you know how you have to attend an “assessment” session to learn the correct technique for lifting a kettlebell, swinging your arms, hips and how to bend over and touch your toes? I was more out of shape than I thought because I couldn’t walk down-stairs or lift my arms over my head for days afterward. Maybe I needed UFO more than I realized! 


Besides getting me generally stronger, UFO has been instrumental in helping me through the rehab process from two separate Achilles Tendon repair surgeries and increasing mobility, strength and building cardiac endurance.


Facing Challenges


That strength and endurance was put to the test in September 2015, when I participated in a nation-wide charity event – Swim Across America. Participants raise money for the a local charity. For the San Francisco location, the charity is UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Pediatric Cancer Research. The event was a 1.5 mile swim from underneath the Golden Gate Bridge to St. Francis Yacht Club. 



Since I work for the hospital, I felt it was a great way to support cancer research for children (raised $3,800) and to face my fears of “swimming with the sharks”. While the event sponsors emphasized that the swim was not a race, I swam as fast as I could to reach the shore before the sharks got me. As it turned out, that 1 week after the bay swim, there was a great white shark that attacked a sea lion near the dock at Alcatraz!!


Looking Back


From the initial painful “assessment” session four years ago, I keep coming back to the work-outs that Alexei, Alex, Melissa and Christy have! 

What I love about UFO is their creative work-outs (like Tabata Tuesdays, or what I like to call, Taco Tuesdays) and the many daily training sessions. Noah is always looking to expand services (like mobility on Saturdays) in response to the members. It’s also fun that my husband Peter has also “drank the UF lemonade” and enjoys the semi-private sessions.


Run Like a Superhero

“Any movement is better than none.”

Not so fast.

Getting a run in by any means necessary is better than nothing, right? 

Getting a run in by any means necessary is better than nothing, right? 

We’re in a rush to do everything these days, and being in a rush might seem like a good idea until you’re in a rush to the hospital because you herniated a disc moving a friend’s couch. Maybe it went like this: your knees were screaming at you recently, but you had to get your hour run in daily, and you had to sit upwards of eight hours a day, not staying hydrated, no pre/post workout mobility or warm up.

So your hips were in a bad position all day, followed by a grueling run for an hour before you went home. Everything hurts before the run, and even more so after, but it must be done. No pain no gain, right? Because your hips and everything downstream was jacked, when you went to help your friend move the couch POW SNAP KABLAM...there goes your back. But I thought it was just my hips and my knees from running, why is it my back that’s injured? It’s all connected folks.

Attention is like a reservoir - you've likely sapped it on the majority of the day spent at work, talking with co workers, navigating the hotbed of technological enthusiasts found in the Bay Area, dealing with life and it's infinite complexities, pondering the cosmos, and avoiding hipsters (even though you know deep're a hipster...come on!). But like a muscle, attention can be worked, and it is in all of our best interests to pay more attention to the things that are important to us. Like health and longevity, right? If running (feel free to swap in ‘health’ or ‘fitness’ here too) is important to you, here are some important pieces to think about when it comes to running.

  1. Are you drinking enough water? You’re probably sick of hearing this one, but it’s an important piece to be sure of before you go work up a sweat.

  2. How many hours are you sitting a day? Sitting for extended periods of time, week after week, month after month, wrecks your body. Even if you are active 1-2 hours a day in the gym. Stay moving, you’re an athlete around the clock, not just when you come in here.

  3. What kind of pre/post running mobility do you do? You have 5-10 minutes before every workout to do some stretching, smashing, joint distraction. Do something! If you have an hour to workout, you have an extra 5-10 minutes to do mobility, no excuses.

  4. What kind of shoes do you have? There is a growing body of research around the effects that thick soles have on the foot. Basically a plastic ‘cast’ around your ankle. Limiting ankle range of motion and foot strength...and we wonder why we developed heel striking as a running technique? It's because of those super thick shoes you're wearing. It might be worth transitioning SLOWLY to a shoe with a thinner sole. Over time, your feet will get stronger and subsequently help some of that twingey unpleasantness upstream that might have been settling in your joints for some time.

  5. Pay attention to how your feet, ankles, knees, hips, torso move when you start to run. Are you heel striking (planting with your heel first)? This has been shown to force the knee to absorb more impact versus forefoot running, which allows the ankle to absorb the impact. If your knees are already bugging you, think of practicing more forefoot running.

  6. Are your feet turned too far in/out? How about your sprint? Neutral spine when you move, or flat back? You remember hearing this in class almost daily. Working on keeping neutral feet is equally as important. Try this right now, get your feet pointed straight ahead, put them together, now squat ass to grass keeping your heels on the floor. Can you do it? Did you fall over? Keeping your foot pointed straight ahead while running is synonymous with keeping a flat back with workout. Excessive ‘duck feet’ or feet pointed out can pull off how things align upstream (from ankle to tibia to femur to hip capsule). Now just imagine sparks every time you make a thunderous strike to the floor while you run with your feet turned way out. Ouchies.

As always, keep it together, or come talk to me. Big hugs folks.

Seriously...we know a thing or two about getting run ready. Come chat! 

Seriously...we know a thing or two about getting run ready. Come chat! 

-Coach Alex

Want to geek out some more?

  • If you’re curious to know more about these pieces, I’d recommend Kelly Starrett’s Ready to Run and Becoming a Supple Leopard; they are great resources for anyone that wants to dive all the way in and learn everything about running.
  • Not sure if you’re well hydrated? Click here to see how to apply the “skin pinch test” to measure hydration.
  • Don’t believe me about sitting? Scope this Runner’s World article.
  • Check out this video for tips on mobility recovery for running. Or check out our mobility classes every Saturday, including our mobility for runners class happening this Saturday, May 21st.
  • Not sure if you need to invest in some new shoes? Give Runblogger’s post a look over.
  • Dig into the nitty gritty of running form from Harvard’s Biomechanics of foot strikes to Newton Running’s video on forefoot running. (note: the shoes in this video look a little too thick for what I’ve read are good shoes. See Runblogger’s post about minimalist shoes above)
  • Lastly, feast your eye on this slow motion sprint to help you gauge good form.

Guest Blogger: Donna's Journey

What makes Urban Fitness such a rad place? Awesome coaches and killer workouts certainly help, but it's our UFO members that really take this place up a notch. With such interesting, fantastic URBies, it only seems fair that we let their stories be heard. That's why we are welcoming guest bloggers to share their fitness journeys--struggles, triumphs, awesomeness and all.

Our first guest blogger is Donna; a bit hesitant to get into our doors last December, she's since shaken off her uncertainty and been crushing it in here! Here's her story (so far!):


I moved to Oakland in September after six long years abroad pursuing a Master’s and Ph.D. Six years of sitting at a desk often for 12-14 hours a day, schlepping unholy quantities of books across cities, of stress eating and just not taking care of myself in general.


At first, I tried to play off the added pounds as “bloating”; it will surely go away in a few days. Then I went up a sizeit must be the brand. Then it went up to the next size and the next size…

Setting a new PR not even breaking a sweat. BOOYAH!

Setting a new PR not even breaking a sweat. BOOYAH!

Besides not working out, the emotional/binge eating was the worst. Hiding chip bags and candy wrappers underneath other garbage in the bin so my roommate wouldn’t see what I’d eaten was a particularly low point. Since most of my friends are “skinny”, I didn’t think they would understand. Similarly, I know they meant well when saying “You’re beautiful no matter what size you are. You’re awesome and we love you.” And while I know their words were heartfelt, I used it as an excuse to continue to not take care of myself, to overeat, and to not workout.  


I don’t think they understood the emotional and mental baggage that came with the weight gain. For the last several years I actively avoided looking in the mirror, cut tags out of my clothes, reverted to online shopping so that I wouldn’t have to be seen in the mall by the slim salespeople and, on the rare occasion when I would agree to go out with friends, always avoided sliding into a booth seat lest I should inadvertently hit the table next to me and their drinks with my large backside! Professionally and socially I let the fat define who I was, losing my identity to the “jovial fat girl” persona.


I did try to mitigate the caloric damage by trying to eat healthier, doing some yoga, and swimming, but it was always few and far between. And then, of course, once I saw a little progress I took it as a green light to revert back to my old habits. There was also the added problem that using the university gym would involve my students seeing me workout and, after that, they would never take me seriously in the classroom again!




The turning point for me came gradually. In June I graduated and moved home for a while. I lost about 20 lbs on my own through eating healthier and exercise and felt really good about it, but it still wasn’t enough. I could see the old habits creeping back in to my lifestyle.


One day in the fall, I decided enough was enough. I was tired of being embarrassed about being seen in public, tired of second guessing what everyone thought when I walked in a door and tired of being winded by walking up the four flights of stairs to my apartment. It was time to take control.


I asked some people I knew about gyms and did some online research. Their recommendations didn’t seem to fit the bill for what I was looking foreither being too CrossFitesque or unrealistic in their goals. Having been fit and enjoying sports in a previous life, I knew what I wanted, but was struggling to find it. Then, while driving home, I noticed people running around the block, others carrying kettle bells and…wait for it…smiling?!? (something I very much did not associate with the above activities).


I looked up gyms in Jack London Square and found Urban Fitness Oakland. I perused the website and was intrigued both by the workouts and witty rhetorical devices used on their page (nerd moment, I know). I vacillated for several weeks about whether or not to go in and check it out, feeling embarrassed about my weight and my athletic ineptitude. One day after teaching I decided to take the plunge. I drove up, sat in my car for a few minutes working up to the courage to walk in, saw the coach at the door, freaked out (he was very intimidating, okay!) and, just when I was about to turn around and hightail it out of there, he opened the door and ushered me in.



We chatted for a while about my fitness goals and hurdles and I decided to sign up for a month. It was only $99 dollars and I could always quit, right? Wrong. After the first week I was hooked. The workouts were hard, okay, really hard, and I struggled with a lot of the movements, but the coaches were so supportive and the other members so encouraging that I couldn’t help but enjoy myself and feel that I was accomplishing something.


About a month in I flew home, and my family was so impressed by the positive changes they could see in my appearance and my attitude. Instead of avoiding the gym, I plan my day around it. I keep extra gym clothes in my car, so I can’t use the excuse that I couldn’t make it home and a stockpile of healthy snacks so I can’t say that I got too hungry to come (or that that donut really was the only food option available for miles).




In all honesty, that $99 Intro fee to Urban Fitness was the best $99 dollars I’ve spent. Joining the gym has allowed me to access a part of myself that I had lost to the “jovial fat girl” persona. Instead of letting my weight define who I am, I am slowly but surely moving forward (like doing those damn bear crawls) and putting my health first. Jobs and relationships will come and go, but I’m pretty much stuck with myself, so why not invest in me for a change?


No surprise she even has Coach Melissa smiling! 

No surprise she even has Coach Melissa smiling! 


There are still many hurdles ahead, but I can feel myself getting stronger both mentally and physically. My biggest problem now is whether or not my calluses from the kettle bells are “cute”; as opposed to ‘Can I sit in that seat without spilling over into the next one?” And it’s only been 3 months! I’m excited to see what changes lay ahead and very thankful for the coaches who are helping me get there.

Meet Christy, our Newest Coach!

Noticed that we have a new coach extraordinaire rocking assessments and classes? If you haven’t been formally introduced, her name’s Christy. If you have, you know Coach Christy is a fantastic new addition to our team. We’re thrilled to welcome her to the UFO family and to celebrate her first month here, we had her answer some of our burning questions about her journey to Urban Fitness and her plans for the future. Besides kicking your asses on the regular. And yes, we are all jealous of her perfect hamstrings.


Can you tell us a bit about where you grew up and went to school?

I am originally from Connecticut where I grew up doing gymnastics. I eventually found my way into track and field in high school and was immediately hooked. However, I was NOT the distance running type. I was all about the sprints and field events. I mainly did hurdles, high jump, and triple jump.


Later I was recruited to Clemson University in South Carolina for the heptathlon. The heptathlon consists of 7 different events, which are high jump, long jump, shot put, javelin, 100-meter hurdles, 200-meter sprint, and 800-meter run. While I did several heptathlons in high school, I actually made the switch to pole vault at Clemson because of my gymnastics background.



Just grabbing some air, no big deal. 

Just grabbing some air, no big deal. 

During my time at Clemson University I majored in Health Science with a minor in Athletic Leadership. I then made my way out to Phoenix, AZ to further my education in strength and conditioning. After a year and half in the desert I found my way to UFO!


What got you into fitness and coaching?

Being an athlete, I was always loved the training that went along with it. It wasn’t necessarily seeing the physical changes as much as it was the mental changes. Strength and conditioning is what really gave me the confidence as an athlete. I mean I’m throwing myself in the air with a stick for crying out loud! Of course it was a little crazy, but if I didn’t feel prepared with my training then I was certainly not ready to go for a jump.


Alright yeah, our new coach is a major badass. 

Alright yeah, our new coach is a major badass. 

I ended up interning with my strength and conditioning coach at Clemson. I helped out with rowing, baseball, volleyball, etc. He was the person who truly got me interested is such a fascinating field.


Can you tell us about one of your favorite memories coaching?

One of my favorite memories from coaching would be seeing one of my client’s mindset change. Yes, it was absolutely amazing to see the physical transformations she made. However, in my opinion seeing her come in with a different outlook on fitness, a positive attitude, improved sleep, being more productive, and more was a much bigger win. It’s amazing how a healthy lifestyle can have such a big impact!


What do you hope to accomplish at Urban Fitness?

I love seeing what motivates people. Everyone has a different health and fitness journey. It’s not a one solution fixes all. Finding those solutions and being able to guide and aid people through this process is a true passion of mine.



Got any cool nicknames we can call you by?

I actually got the nickname Icebox back in Phoenix. Anyone seen the Little Giants?


Welcome to the team, Christy!




Are you Anemic?

In talking to clients here at UF, many in our community believe that they are “healthy” for the most part. You know, they eat basically enough veggies and protein, and try to go for whole grains when given the option. We drink too much once in a while, and shoot for 8 hours of sleep a night. Combine that with regular workouts at UFO and a healthy dose of perspective (we won’t all have Alexei-arms, OK!?!), we definitely believe we live within healthy zones...right?


Well, I got to talking with a super-regular UFer the other day, and it came out that she recently had been diagnosed with pretty severe anemia caused by iron deficiency. Here’s someone who is very aware of her body, exercises regularly, and cares about what she eats. Worried about a few abnormal changes in her body, she went in to see the doc and came away with some serious gratitude about the timing of her visit; turns out that a pretty minor incident might have triggered a severe reaction because her iron levels were so incredibly low.

Needless to say, we were very glad to hear that she paid attention to her body, got some medical help and is doing much better. But considering that more than 1 in 10 women (ages 20 - 49) are iron deficient--and 1 in 20 are deficient enough to be considered anemic--it got us thinking how it might be a good idea to address the UF crew more generally about what anemia is, how it is caused, how you can know if you’re at risk, and what to do about it. So here we go!

Basically, anemia is just a failure by your body to deliver oxygen to your tissues. Considering that every cell in your body requires oxygen to execute its job, oxygen delivery ends up being pretty important. Brain and muscle activity, ability to burn fat, and immune system function are a few of many processes that start to break down when the body becomes anemic.

Anemia can be caused by many things, including vitamin B12 deficiency, internal bleeding, and genetic mutations. However, iron deficiency is far-and-away the most common cause, especially among women of child-bearing age (who experience the highest rates of anemia). Without enough iron, your red blood cells have trouble grabbing those tasty oxygen molecules from your lungs, and all the tissues in your body suffer. While anemia is an extreme state of oxygen deficiency, you may experience some anemia-like symptoms with “sub-clinical” levels of iron-deficiency.

So how do you know if you’re iron-deficient, or anemic? It’s impossible to tell without a proper diagnosis from a your doctor, but some of these symptoms might be early-warning signs:

  • Easy fatigue and loss of energy

  • Unusually rapid heart beat, particularly with exercise (easy to see with MyZone!!!)

  • Shortness of breath and headache, particularly with exercise

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Dizziness

  • Pale skin

  • Leg cramps

  • Insomnia

Additionally, the following symptoms may indicate a more serious condition, while also pointing towards specific deficiencies:

Iron deficiency…

  • A hunger for strange substances such as paper, ice, or dirt (a condition called pica)

  • Upward curvature of the nails, referred to as koilonychias

  • Soreness of the mouth with cracks at the corners

Vit. B12 deficiency…

  • A tingling, "pins and needles" sensation in the hands or feet

  • Lost sense of touch

  • A wobbly gait and difficulty walking

  • Clumsiness and stiffness of the arms and legs

  • Dementia

  • Hallucinations, paranoia, and schizophrenia

Do you recognize of these? If so, we definitely recommend going to talk to your doctor about potential anemia risk. Luckily, correcting your course is pretty straight-forward for most people, and involves adjusting dietary iron intake. However, some people might have more complicated situations that involve issues with nutrient absorbtion, and--again--a medical professional’s help is critical.

I hope this finds you well, and as always, please do not hesitate to be in touch if you have any questions!




Super-Mom-ing with Sarah Doherty


UF is all about creating and fostering a space where our members can train in a way that supports their lifestyle and moves them closer to better. Each client has their own story, their own fire that they bring to this pursuit, but that diversity is exactly what gives the UF approach it's power: the training means something to those who train. 

This really hits home when one of our clients shares with us that they are pregnant. All of sudden, no matter how intensely they trained in the past, these soon-to-be moms ratchet up their focus--now they're training for more than themselves. Of course, there are a few important alterations to our approach training these Super-Moms, but they are to a person some of the most fun to coach. 

I had the chance to ask one of these rockstars--Sarah Doherty a few questions recently, and it was great. Sarah has brought a such great attitude and effort from day 1 (almost 3 years ago!), and it really shows as she moves through her pregnancy with relative ease. Enjoy!

WB: So, how long have you been at UF? What do you love? What do you hate? 

SD: I'll have my three year UFO-aversary in late January. Kind of hard to believe it's been that long, AND I wouldn't have it any other way. I love the workouts, the results, the coaches, and the people. (they didn't pay me to say this) UFO has been such a fantastic, happy part of my Bay Area life. I only wish you were closer to home (in SF)!

WB: As your classmates now know, you are pregnant! Congrats! How have you had to modify your workouts as you've progressed? Has anything gone differently than you expected? 

SD: It has been *awesome* to stick with something I love, that's just for me, throughout my pregnancy. The coaches at UFO have been incredibly supportive and committed to keeping me in the game. I do modify - sometimes I just don't feel comfortable with stuff...and other things are just "no no's" once you're further along. Each trimester has brought different challenges...and I know there's more to come...but I've been getting great exercise along the way!

Sarah is really lifting up TWO training partners...get it?! get it?!

Sarah is really lifting up TWO training partners...get it?! get it?!

WB: You have really been kicking butt in class, not missing a beat even when we do modify workouts here and there. Can you offer any fitness advice for expecting moms as they go through their pregnancy? 

SD: Establish your fitness routine as best you can before you're pregnant - find something you and your body love - it has felt much easier to stick with something than start something. And whatever your relationship with your body is starting out, listen to it - in the most amazing way, it knows exactly what it needs and what it's doing. 

WB: OK--my mother will hit me for asking you this--but when are you due?! 

SD: March 7th ETA for Baby Boy Doherty! 

WB: Woooo! Thanks Sarah!

Fear not the weight!

Fear not the weight!

Holiday Eating Done Right, Pt. 2

With Starbucks now serving joe in *gasp* red cups, we can rest assured: the holidays are fully upon us.  While I personally am trying to figure how to get my nephew's chocolate out of his advent calendar without him getting pissed, many of us are beginning to sweat about the sheer sensory over-load that is the holiday season. Ugly sweaters, synthed-out holiday classics on every radio station, and a "totally unique" red and/or green decorated cookie at every gathering, no matter how small. 

Sigh. Since when did the holidays revolve around all the little details and not, you know, community and good cheer and gratitude for all the excellent humans surrounding each and every one of us? I digress. 

Here at the gym, we are busy making sure people are set with workouts for holiday travel, setting up special holiday workout schedules (look for emails soon!) and calming people down about holiday eating. While the trepidation is totally understandable ("What about all of my hard work in the gym?! Will I lose my guns if I eat to much stuffing?! How much eggnog is TOO much?!"), there are a few simple rules that, when combined with our last blog post, will make you feel like a champ straight through the season and into 2016:

  • Max Out on Veggies (and Protein): without repeating myself from Part 1, the easiest way to avert a month-long dietary disaster is to fill your plate with the good stuff (veggies and protein). You're looking for green stuff (collards, brocolli, green beans), mostly, as well as any other non-starchy vegetable that you might find. That way, when dessert rolls around, you haven't shot yourself in the foot by eating a "meal" of 6 dinner rolls, a pound of mashed potatoes and 1.3 cans of wine-colored sugar-gelatin--I mean, cranberry sauce.*
Au naturel...

Au naturel...

  • The Rule of First Bites: this one is simple, but oh so important. When you're eating the special-holiday-treat foods (don't pretend you don't what these are...), enjoy them! That's right, go ahead and try your grandma's Pecan-and-Crack Pie-Cake. BUT you have to promise to stop when those treats no longer taste as good as they did with your first bite. Most of the time--especially if you followed the rule above--you can get away with treats and still wear your 2015 jeans in 2016!
  • Keep Moving: one excellent side-effect of eating copious food, no matter the occasion, is the complete loss of motivation to do anything but cuddle with your couch (and no, it's probably not the tryptophan at work...). Knowing that, be proactive and get your metabolism jazzed earlier in the day, and further, stay with it through the whole season. All your standard strength-focused work will fit the bill here, as it will keep your metabolism cranking and tell your muscles to keep from turning to gravy. Also, because of how our blood chemistry works, aim for exercising BEFORE the big meal (or meals). This doesn't mean you have to go crazy (the holidays are super busy, after all!), but definitely get moving, even if it's just a brisk hike. Or a fifty burpees before breakfast. Or a neighborhood 5k Turkey Trot. Or doing your grocery shopping at a dead sprint--which actually looks super fun. 
  • Limit Your Alcohol: This might sound obvious, but during the holidays it's just a little too easy to be 4 drinks deep before Uncle John puts you out with a final Boozey Egg Nog. Other than being a ton of extra liquid calories, alcohol can really mess with your digestion during an already stressful time for GI tract. 

As always, feel free to reach out to us or comment below if you have any questions. And with any luck, you'll January feeling like a boss!

*While it's true that colorful fruits and veggies, it's also true that when you add 3 cups of sugar to anything--be it cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie--it is now called "Junk Food".

Holiday Eating Done Right, Pt. 1

If you've spent more than 3 minutes at Urban Fitness, you will know how seriously we all take eating. Take a few more minutes to start chatting with any of the coaches and one thing will become abundantly clear: we love  food. 

With the holidays being what they are, especially in the Bay Area--a.k.a. the hipster-fueled mecca of deliciousness--our love for food has the potential to fly headlong into a month-and-a-half festival of over-indulgence. And that, my friends, does not bode well for Noah fitting into his New Year's outfit this year (photo to come, don't even sweat it). 

However, the reality is, by following just a few simple "rules", we can stay 90% on track AND enjoy the season. In this post we will go over the most important of these rules; check our next post for the last 2 rules and lock-down the last quarter of 2015 like a nutritional Ninja (albeit one who absolutely destroys your aunt's Pecan Pie, and feels awesome about it). 

One Food Group to Rule Them All: When it comes to setting up any diet, whether you're shooting to take on this guy:

Hector teaching the ropes a lesson. 

Hector teaching the ropes a lesson. 

or just make it to January without feeling like Jabba the Hut, you had better have a good answer when we ask you how much--and what kind of--protein you're getting. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 4 - 6 palm-sized servings of animal-sourced protein every day, or 6 - 8 palms from vegan sources. This sort of intake will nourish your muscle-tissue, helping make you strong and a round-the-clock calorie-burning monster (a good thing :). 

During the holiday-season, when overall food consumption will almost certainly increase, this protein rule becomes extra important. The last thing your body needs when you're pumped full of eggnog and latkes is to be deficient in the stuff that makes--and keeps--lean muscle.

Even beyond keeping your protein-balance (the amount of free protein you have circulating) positive, aiming for that kind of protein intake will give you some direction when building your glorious holiday dinner plates. When you hit that cookie course you'll know you've already done the important part. And who knows? You might just be full enough that 2 cookies does the job! 

Check our next post for Part 2, where we dig into a couple other strategies to keep things on track!