Coach Mel's Urban Journey

A bit of background on how Urban shaped me as an athlete and as a teacher: 

About three and a half years ago I began training at Urban fitness as a sponsored athlete. Another coach had introduced me to Noah and a style of conditioning that would eventually improve my body mechanics and my performance as a competitive martial arts athlete. I learned all about the puzzling kb swing, struggled with the elusive Turkish Getup and bruised my forearms doing my first snatches. I got stronger and more mobile which translated beautifully to great results on the competition mats. In 2014, I sustained my second major knee injury during the Judo Pan American Championships in Argentina. While this ended my competitive Judo career, it opened the door for me to become a coach at Urban Fitness. At UFO I learned ways to teach others how to move well from a team of expert coaches. With rocky beginnings, I eventually learned the best ways to coach not just the movements I'd learned but also the unique approach to physical training that had such an impact on my life as an athlete. I've now enjoyed two and a half years of nonstop learning and professional growth as a coach at Urban. I've learned what certain movements were and how to teach them certainly, but more importantly, I was given a foundation on which I could build a passion for coaching; a "why" and a "how" for helping people improve their health and to be more comfortable in their own skin. I've been gifted with the opportunity to play a part in improving the habits and confidence of the people that come into this space - I celebrate that above all as I start a new journey and take the next step for me professionally as a coach. As I learn and grow, my next steps are towards more personalized coaching as I also develop a client base with some of my martial arts teammates who I know will now benefit from my expertise in the strength training realm. 

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.  



Shhhh! UFO's Secret Weapons - Part 1

You want to get stronger? Easy! Workout.

There’s more to getting stronger than just workouts you say? Sounds like we have taught you well.

Yep, it’s true. There are an assortment of factors that go into making a healthy, strong UFO ninja, and we want you all to keep getting stronger. That’s why we are releasing some of our super-secret-super-helpful weapons used to take your training to the next level.

Ready for our first super-badass-secret weapon? Keep reading:   

We’ve all ran into a wall in our training at some point. Maybe your knees may cave when you squat and sound like you threw a box of rice krispies into a fire or you can’t quite get your legs to stay in the air whenever you attempt a handstand. We’ve all got something to work on, but the truth is, any movement you can’t do without correct patterns you shouldn’t be doing...YET.



When we first run into that wall, our instinct is to run right through it, and time and time again, our bodies may pay the price for muscling through our limits. Instead of crashing into that wall, utilize our first secret weapon to work on correcting those patterns, improve your mobility and stability, and have that wall become a step you can easily walk over.


The secret: mobilizing. A lot of mobilizing.


Okay, so it’s not exactly a secret--especially given that we harp on you all after every class to get rollin’ on the turf. But we really can’t oversell how important mobilizing is. Even if you are sure to get your foam rolling on for a few minutes after class, you always could be doing more. To help you start mobilizing at home, we created a handy mobility calendar with some moves you can do each day.


Before we jump into good mobilizing practices, let’s take a step back and define mobility. To simplify, we can categorize mobility into three main parts:


  1. Mysofascial release (SMF, also known as smashing) -


SMF addresses the tissue quality you house. If you think of stacking many layers of pancakes on top of each other, with each pancake representing fascial structures in your body (What is fascia? Connective tissue). If all or most layers of connective tissue are well oiled then the sliding surfaces (layers between pancakes) move unrestricted. If we’ve been doing lots of exercise or experienced some trauma in that area, we might have some ‘knots’ or adhesions (fascial tears that didn’t heal properly). These adhesions (think adhesive) stick together and subsequently form those unpleasant and often golf ball size gristly bits in your muscle. Sliding surfaces that don’t move well can cause some discomfort and limited your range of motion. Examples would be anything with a lacrosse ball, rumble roller, foam roller, or other firm object.


     2. Joint Distraction -


Most joints that we exercise contain synovial fluid. Think of this as your vehicle oil. Synovial fluid helps to lubricate a joint so that it can express itself through its range of motion inside that joint capsule. When the surrounding soft tissue becomes restricted or tight, there subsequently is some pressure that translates to that joint/capsule. Once we lose space in a joint, bad things can happen after repetitive exercise without correcting the loss of motion. Using a band to pull on the joint can help move it back into its natural place as well as wedge the joint to allow synovial fluid to return back into the joint. Repeated movements with a lot of joint dysfunction will force your body to engage in compensatory mechanisms. In other words, using muscles that you’re not suppose to. Examples of joint distraction would be any mobility we do using resistance bands.


      3. Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF, also known as stretching) -  


Yeah screw those proper medical terms eh? Just stick with saying ‘stretching’ unless you want to sound like your vernacular is excessively sophisticated.  Anyhow, the idea is to take a muscle to length (end range of motion) contract and resist an object (e.g. resistance band) or partner for 5-10 seconds, then relax and see if you can gain more flexibility in that position. For example, lying on your back and having a partner stretch your hamstring by pushing your straight leg towards your face. You would contract against them for 5-10 seconds, and then relax and see if they can push your leg a little further. You would do this a few times on each leg.     



With these 3 forms of mobility in mind, the mobility calendar I want to recommend doesn’t address everything that you should do, but certainly will provide you with a well rounded template to try along with addressing common problems we see. Don't know how to do a move? Click on the link or ask a coach next time you're in here!



Monday: Couch Stretch x 2mins a side

Tuesday: Calf Smash on kettlebell x 2mins a side

Wednesday: Hang from a bar for 2 sets of x30 seconds. Then do some scapular pullups/rollbacks. X3 sets of 5 of each.

Thursday: Adductor Smash: Grab a kettlebell and sit on the handle with the inside/underside of your thigh - right up by your southern bits. X2 mins a side

Friday: Pretzel Stretch: How long can you go?

Saturday: T spine Rollout

Sunday: Pec Smash


Monday: Grab a lacrosse ball or something to stick in your hip crease and have a smash party for x2mins on each side. Make sure you scream ‘smash party’ as loud as possible before you do it though ok? Empty rooms still require this of you.

Tuesday: Downward dog plus divebombs. At least 1 min

Wednesday: Arm Circles on the wall: stand close to a wall - rotate your arm in a bit circle, thumb up until you start turning behind your ear (thumb forward). Try not to touch the wall. X 10 on each side nice and slow.

Thursday: Seated Splits: Sit on your butt, spread your legs as far as you can - relax your lumbar spine and fold forward reaching towards the floor. Breath x 2 mins

Friday: Hammer Nail

Saturday: Quad Smash just above the knee

Sunday: Gut Smash Forever ok? Try at least 1 min/side. It's the first 30 seconds that are brutal


This is just a template to help you get most parts of your body singing like a Whitney Houston ballad and position you one big step closer to knocking over those pesky walls in your training.


One of the best things about this calendar? Our chart becomes a template for you to personalize long after the first two weeks is done. Take time to think about what are sticky spots for you, what hurts or is sore after most workouts? What “homework” have you been given after class to work on? Add in any extra moves to help target those spots and don’t be afraid to ask us coaches for any recommendations!


So, ready to take your training to the next level? On your mark….get set…...Mobilize!


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.


Game Time

After sustaining severe injuries in the Judo Pan American Championships one year ago, Mel had made a spectacularly fast recovery and fought her way to this Jiu-Jitsu Pan American Championships, only to find herself sick the day of her matches. Fighting ill at one of the biggest championships of the year worldwide, she needing to dominate every fight to stay in the competition. By relying on her team, her resilience, and that UFO spirit to never quit, Mel shares how she came out on top.    


My game plan was different now that I had to factor a severe lack of energy into my strategy on the mat. I weighed in and saw that I could eat a little bit more and still be on weight later in the day. After filling my stomach with some food I made my way to the warm-up area.


Feeling terrible, I didn’t have any extra energy to spare for a regular warm up so I broke it up into manageable stages.


Then my name was called - it was Game Time.




All manor of work went into meticulously preparing for this big day: I was sure to eat to maintain the proper weight for my division, I got as much rest as I could, tapered my training and mentally prepared myself to dominate in my “top” style of fighting.


 Mel training hard? I don't believe it. 

Mel training hard? I don't believe it. 


Then, I woke up the morning of the fight, flu-ridden.


Frustration set in. How could I be ill at the Pan Am Championships? Perched on the edge of the hotel bed and told myself that I had to put aside the frustration and regroup and re-strategize my whole day--I had to view my sickness as a simple bump in the road to roll right over. Besides, I'd been through worse.


At 18 I started Judo, dedicating heart and soul to training. I broke bones, trained overseas in the harshest conditions, struggled with cutting weight for my divisions and lost many many more matches than I won. It all had the effect of driving me harder in practice and in my goal of making the US National Judo Team for the Rio Olympics this year.


As things would turn out, last year at the Judo Pan American Championships in Argentina I injured my left knee. Unable to compete, I flew home with crushed spirits to undergo another knee surgery for ACL reconstruction and meniscus repair (I had undergone surgery for my right knee only the year before). In April of last year, the heartbreak of preparing for another knee surgery - and the accompanying 12 months of rehabilitation - was more painful than the broken knee itself - this second major injury had derailed any hopes of making the US National Team for the 2016 Olympics.


 Awwww, a young Mel fighting! Yeah....I'm still scared of her. 

Awwww, a young Mel fighting! Yeah....I'm still scared of her. 


Making it through round two of knee rehabilitation, I’ve come back to a high-level championship with more grit than ever, even with a flu.


Steeling myself, I walked into the mats with the determination that got me here.




The fights were single elimination, meaning that if I lost one match I was out of the entire competition. Knowing this, I went into each fight holding nothing back, listening intently for the shouts of my coach and teammates to help guide me. I won my first and second fights by a joint lock submissions, my third on points and the fourth by dominating in a top position.


The gold medal match was going to be against someone I had fought twice before, and had lost to - twice. At this point in the tournament, the jitters I always have in the first couple of matches were gone. I was extremely exhausted from the previous matches and felt my energy draining by the minute, tugging at my focus.


I waited patiently for my last match to show up on the screen and to be called to the mats again. This opponent knew my game and I knew hers. It was going to be my toughest match of the day.


 Just one last match....

Just one last match....


Digging deep I acted quickly from the start and managed to dominate the majority of the fight by keeping her on her back and putting her on the defensive positionally.


In the last 15 seconds, profound exhaustion set in; we scrambled for holds and grips but before I knew it I had slipped into a dangerous position. Where previously I was on top putting pressure on her and had gotten points from establishing that hold, now my back was exposed to my opponent. If she was able to wrap her legs around my hips to establish control, a position that earns a lot of points, I would lose the match.


My teammates’ voices quadrupled in volume and my coach began screaming for me to block her hooking legs. We rolled over, somersaulted, and fought, as I put everything I had left into blocking my hips with my hands. Those last ten seconds felt like years, but finally, the buzzer went off, the ref stopped us, and I had just won Pan Ams.

 Definitely a cause for celebration. 

Definitely a cause for celebration. 

I am so proud of my win, but I also know that victory does not happen in a vacuum. The process of rebuilding oneself over time can be as formative as it is difficult. I was able to use my time of injury as a period to better develop myself. I couldn’t have developed without the support of teammates, mentors and family; from every struggle, the support I have continues to be a defining factor in every push to go further than I have before.

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!




Finding the Silver Lining on the Sidelines

Injuries aren't exactly pleasant. Just ask Coach Alexei; last month he had to deal with his own knee injury. Feeling down but not out, Alexei found ways to keep pushing himself while rehabbing his knee. Here's his story of his road to recovery and getting back on the mat:


This was the first time in a while that I felt good at a tournament.


Nerves are inevitable, but I didn’t feel weak and tired like at the Irvine Open or the Pro Trials in Houston. I didn’t feel as if a car had just hit me like at the U.S. Open. And finally, my dislocated thumb healed up after 3 months. I was able to train hard for the whole month and rest extra the week of the tournament.


I felt great! Submitted my first opponent in under 2 minutes. Submitted my second opponent in less than a minute. Now placed in the semi’s of the Lightweight division at the UAEJJF Abu Dhabi Pro Trials in Long Beach, I was guaranteed a place in the Light Open Weight division. The winner of any of the Opens gets an all-expenses-paid travel package to Abu Dhabi to compete at their World Championships! Definitely a dream come true.

So my first task was complete, but my plan was to settle for nothing less than double gold. If I want to win at the biggest tournaments in the world--Pan Ams and Worlds--I can’t lose anywhere else. This was my mindset going into my match: no matter what, I cannot lose.

I heard my next opponent likes ankle locking those he has already submitted. That was fine with me; I’m confident in my ankle lock defense. He tried four times to break my ankle, giving up his position and allowing me to climb on top and pin him several times. In the last minute of the match, I was ahead on points but I had not been able to submit him yet.

In desperation, he grabs my left foot and tries to sit back on one more ankle lock. He struggles and contorts himself, trying to maximize the pressure on my ankle, but my ankle felt fine. We end up stuck when he fully commits to his attack, and neither of us can move without giving up an inch. I figured he would gas out and be done, or waste the rest of the match with poor technique.


Then suddenly, PPPPPPPPPRRRRRTTTT! This is the closest I can come to describing the strange noise that my knee made. There was a feeling of shifting, but my joint didn’t shift. I just felt something had changed in my knee, so I started to scramble in order to reposition it--obviously my knee wasn’t happy with the pressure it was under.


Then suddenly, PPPPPPPPRRRRRRTTTTT! This time it was my ankle, but more crunchy than my knee. I was almost out of the ankle lock attack, but I was too focused on protecting my knee. Either way, I had to pull my foot out and get on top. I cannot lose. I forced my foot out of his grasp and posted on my injured leg to get on top, but I was unable to pin him.


He made his way to his feet and we tackled each other one more time… but this time my left leg was useless. My body shut down all power to my left side. I ended up on my back, unable to close my legs and stop him from passing my guard and mounting me. 3 points for the pass, 4 for the mount. That was 7 vs. 6. I lost in the last 5 seconds of the match. Not only did I lose the gold in my division, but I also I knew I couldn’t fight 4 more times for my ticket to Abu Dhabi with my knee. On top of that, my sponsors, ETRNL RND, had paid my tournament expenses for the following weekend’s San Jose International Open, and now it was looking like I would have to back out. I was frustrated, to say the least.


My opponent told me later that he threw his back out trying to break my ankle. He’s lucky that my knee gave out first. With a grade 1 LCL sprain, which I only found out recently, I am more than halfway through my recovery already. When the injury first happened, I was definitely frustrated and a little devastated. I had to promise almost everyone I knew that I wouldn’t compete at San Jose anyway. Only one awesome friend told me I should definitely fight: “Nothing’s more dangerous than an injured tiger!” according to him. But the Pan Ams were already on my mind.

With only a month and a half before Pan Ams, I had to do everything I could to get back to training with time to prepare! I was massaging my knee the whole drive home from Long Beach and keeping it elevated. I moved my knee constantly, and in every direction that I could without pain. If I could only workout on one leg or just my upper body, I was doing that. As soon as I could squat at all, I was squatting.


Moving is the best way to recover--as long as you move pain-free. The contraction of your muscles helps push inflammation out of injured areas, and more blood moving around means more nutrients delivered for healing. I still can’t quite deadlift perfectly yet, but I can do most things now. I had to take 2 weeks off of Jiu-Jitsu training (I literally got depressed), but I only took 2 days off of working out!


I am back to training hard in Jiu-Jitsu, but I can’t do any of the techniques I was working on before the injury because they aggravate my knee. So I have learned a whole new position and set of attacks that don’t hurt my knee, thanks to the help of my teammates. And because I could only do squats for a while, I also learned to LOVE squats!


Setbacks, big or small, are just that. They set you back, but they shouldn’t stop you. My goal is to be Pan American Champion and bring back fat medals for my instructors, my training partners, and all the awesome people at UFO that help me push harder than I can push myself. Injuries are an excellent opportunity to slow down and learn something about yourself--whether it’s a better way to move in the gym or a better strategy for your next fight. My injury improved my squats and my Jiu-Jitsu, and I will definitely be better for it when I am back to 100%.


It’s frustrating, it’s painful (literally and mentally), but there really is nothing else to do but look for the silver lining. Allow yourself a bit of time to feel these things, that’s normal; but if your goals are important to you, there’s nothing left to do but move forward. My sponsor signed me up for Pan Ams today. Win or lose, I won’t be wondering if I worked hard enough when I get on those mats.


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!

Welcome, Allie!

Allie came on board as our Front Desk-ista (I believe the technical title is: Front Office Manager. Schmancy!) about a month ago, and has jumped right. An awesome team-member from Day One, Allie had big shoes to fill as Natalia went off to Ninja-academy (er, work in law-enforcement), but has really done an amazing job. 

Coach Will had a chance to chat with her last week, and see what she's all about. Enjoy!


Where are you from/grow up? 

~I grew up in Davis, CA. It's flat. It's hot. It also made me hate bikes for a while. That's pretty much it. 
Haha, why the bike hate?! What'd they ever do to you?! We might need to fight...

Hated! I like bikes now! It was kinda a mix between hating being the slowest person on a bike and also the million hardcore bikers there own the road and act like di--uhh, jerks. 

OK! Glad you got THAT off your chest. What did you study in school (and where?)?
~My BA was in English Literature at Sonoma State University. I loved it so much I got my MA in English Lit at Mills College this past year. My specific interests are in Modernist and Postmodern lit, narrative form and rhetoric & composition. 
Umm, them's a lots of big werds. I'm going to stick to what I know: What's your fitness background? 
~I was a dedicated horseback rider for most of my life, and when I couldn't seriously pursue it anymore my fitness really lapsed. In the last year or two I realized I wanted to make fitness a priority so I started taking a while bunch of fitness classes and started really getting into swimming, hiking, salsa dancing, and pushing myself to try new things (in the past few months it's been boxing and wakeboarding). When I started getting back into all this physical activity, I worked really hard--but not smart--which led to some unfortunate injuries. Now, I am trying to learn as much as I can about fitness to make sure I'm building myself up, not breaking myself down. 

 Allie pumpin' iron (and trying not to laugh).

Allie pumpin' iron (and trying not to laugh).

How are UF workouts new for you?
~UF workouts are new (and so much FUN) for me because I'm able to work on strengthening exercises while being part of a team. Working with other people really keeps me motivated to push myself farther than I usually would.
What's your favorite food?    
~It's really hard to pick only one favorite food. Indian and Japanese food would probably be my top two. And anything my Nana makes. 

 Atta boy Nichols. Always making the newbies feel right at home...

Atta boy Nichols. Always making the newbies feel right at home...

What about when your coworker-nutrition-fascists aren't watching?
~More than food, I'm actually a really in love with a good beer. Belgians, triples, quads, sours, browns, reds, saisons...the list goes on and they are all sooooooooo yummy......
Good call. Beer me. Now, I saved the best for last: If you could choose a superpower, what would it be? Why?

~My superpower would be the ability to change form--specifically, to be able to morph into animals. Because animals. ANIMALS!  

Oh, phew. Glad to hear she's as weird as all the rest of us :). Kidding!

That's it for now. And hey, UF community: be sure to say hello to Allie next time you're in!

Give the Gift of Great Coaching

 Coaches coaching coaches coaching.

Coaches coaching coaches coaching.

About twice a week, each of us answer the following question:

"So, what kind of gym is UF?"

That's a pretty open-ended question! Are we a kettlebell gym? Sort of. Are we a Strength & Conditioning gym? Yeaaaa, if you call taking dance breaks between sets of Floor Presses "conditioning". 

Of course, the answer is multi-faceted, and changes from client to client! For some of our most seasoned veterans, we are a healthcare plan insomuch that we keep them on track for any and all outside activities that captures their fancy. For others, we are their weight-loss solution, offering on-going, supportive guidance over the journey that is successful body comp change. And for some, we are the first fun fitness experience they've ever had. 

Obviously, each of these stories are rewarding to us in unique ways, as they are rewarding to each individual who benefits from moving in that positive direction. But it also points most directly to what exactly it is that we do here: coach. To rephrase it (and this is usually how I put it when people ask that question above):

"UF is a community of individuals eager to address the physical part of their life, and they don't give a f*ck what you think about it!"

We know that coaching works. We know, in fact, that it works better than any other single approach, mostly because it is adaptive to the needs of each individual--it meets them where they're at. Your friend who lost 30lbs doing Olympic lifting lost that weight because of great coaching; the barbell was just a tool to help them get there. Your brother who does yoga 4x/wk and has made peace with his inner gorilla has a teacher or 3 to thank; he could have been running or swinging a kettlebell, but the magic came from the human connection he made. In the fitness world, amazingly, this singular act--of coaching individuals in a long-term, consistent way--is not the "it" trend, and isn't being splashed across the web with anywhere near the same fervor as plans promising "15 pounds GONE in 5 days!" 

About as often as we are asked the "What kind of gym..." question, people ask for advice on their fitness routine: "What should I do to get ripped?!" Simple! Find a great coach, and do what they say. 

This holiday season as you look back over the last year, and ahead to the next one, consider how coaching fits into your life. Have you found a person or group of people committed to making you better, whatever that may mean? If not, now is the time to seek that out. If you have already found that community, have you shared that experience with those closest to you? Maybe someone who seems to be perpetually struggling when it comes to working out? 

Either way, during this time of giving, sometimes the best thing you can give is a commitment to that which makes you strong (inside and out), all year long. And if it moves you, share that gift with your nearest and dearest. 

Happy Holidays, and go lift something heavy!


For this special Thanksgiving edition of the UF Blog, we wanted to feature the heart and soul of UF: our staff. Every day, they think about how to make all of YOU more of who you want to be, and every day we get word from clients about how meaningful that has been for their fitness path. Today, we turned the tables, and asked the staff what THEY'RE thankful for...enjoy!

Mel: "I am grateful for thoughtful co-workers/training partners/friends that are open-minded, playful and so hungry to learn. We tend to soak up the energy of the people we surround ourselves with; I feel so enriched by the depth of those I am surrounded by every day because their drive constantly inspires me to do my best."'s best to not make eye-contact.'s best to not make eye-contact.

Hannah: "I am #grateful for good workout buddies (Looking at you fools, Nichols, Lex, Will, Natalia, Mel!) who inspire me to move well and often, and challenge me to go beyond what I think I can do."

Will: "I am thankful for the time, energy, and heart that our clients put into every workout. Their dedication inspires me on the regular. Oh yea, and showing up to work to see all my teammates shining faces every day is pretty awesome, too!"

 Coach Will is much nicer than he looks in this picture. Promise. 

Coach Will is much nicer than he looks in this picture. Promise. 

Alexei: "I feel deeply thankful for too much, I honestly get choked up thinking about it so please don't ask me in person. I am forever thankful to my parents and brothers for teaching me to work relentlessly, enjoy the journey, laugh as often as possible, and maybe most importantly to be MINDFUL of my actions and the people around me. I am thankful to spend every day doing the things I love, surrounded by people that I admire and who's qualities I aspire to share. I could elaborate endlessly, but to keep it simple that means my Jiu-Jitsu family and the entire UF community. I have learned so much about myself and about the world from you all."

Nichols: "I am grateful for the ability to be grateful, to recognize boredom is a failure of humankind, to be in awe that we live in a universe where we have voyaged far enough to see 'our pale blue dot, suspended on a sunbeam' as Carl Sagan would so brilliantly say. I am grateful for my family, teachers, friends, and coworkers for the unending support in helping myself and others recognize that we have a responsibility to become the best version of ourselves because it might be the wisest endeavor we might practice. I am grateful for the experiences and people I've met, and those that have yet to come. I am immensely appreciative of all you Urbies, Jiu Jitsu fanatics, and those who read, write, and question everything. In the words of Bertrand Russell, 'the good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge'."

Allie: "I'm grateful for all my families--from my genetic one to the one made up of close friends and now to the new UF family I have found. And I'm forever thankful that I am privileged enough to wake up every morning excited about my day and my future."

Well, that's a wrap--now go eat yourselves silly!

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!

Fall Into a Bowl of Fall

Enough of us here at UF have lived in the Northeast US that when Fall rolls around our hearts yearn for those special signatures of Autumn: crispy leaves, apple-picking, and thick sweaters. But with Bay Area weather acting like it's June, it's hard to act out most of those fantasies.

The kitchen, however, offers a chance to live "in-season". Take Coach Will's recipe for Fall Squash Salad, for example. Built with basic roasted squash (recipe here), apples, and whatever herbs you can find, this salad is easy-peasy but tastes classy as hell--and perfectly captures the season. Enjoy!

 The salad as a featured dish at Coach Will's nutrition demo at City Slicker Farms last month. All the produce used was grown in West Oakland!

The salad as a featured dish at Coach Will's nutrition demo at City Slicker Farms last month. All the produce used was grown in West Oakland!

  • 1 squash, roasted (recipe here); make sure to retain the squash seeds when you scoop out the center!

  • 2 TB cup vinegar apple cider or rice vinegar

  • 1 Granny Smith apple

  • ½ small onion

  • ½ tsp salt

  • ¼ tsp ground pepper

  • ¼ tsp cinnamon

  • 2 TB olive oil

  • 1 bunch lemon balm (Will likes lemon balm, but fresh herbs like rosemary, basil, oregano or parsley will work well when chopped fine)

  • salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 425℉.
  2. Mix seeds with ½ TB oil (or fat) of choice, and the measured salt, pepper and cinnamon. Place in single layer on a cookie sheet, put in oven to bake; check every 5 minutes, shake to move them around, and rescue them just when they start to brown. Let cool.
  3. Dice onion, slice lemon balm into thin ribbons, and combine in a large bowl. Cover with vinegar, season to taste with salt and pepper. Let sit for at least 15 minutes undisturbed. Then, add the ¼ cup oil in a drizzle as you mix with a fork.
  4. Cut apple into ¼-in cubes. Combine apples, roasted squash, and seeds, and mix thoroughly.
  5. Enjoy!

Roast a Squash, Rule the Kitchen Game

We like doing things that pay you back in a big way. You know, lots of bang for your buck. Like squats: they make you strong, they make you sweat, AND they give you an awesome booty. 

In the kitchen, we want to leverage our time and energy in the same way. Roasting veggies is one of the easiest--and tastiest--ways to cook up LOTS of food with minimal effort. And while the recipe below is for Butternut squash, any variety of (fall) squash will work great--Kabocha, Acorn, Blue Hubbard, etc. In fact, most any vegetable will shine when coated in fat and cooked hot: all types of potatoes, broccolli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, green beans, bell peppers, onions, or any combination of these!

 Oakland-grown, baby!

Oakland-grown, baby!

For the basic recipe below, you'll just need a squash, some fat (we like coconut oil, bacon fat, or butter best!), and salt & pepper to taste. 

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 425deg F, and place a foil-covered cookie sheet in the oven.
  2. Peel the skin of the squash.
  3. Cut off the ends, chop the squash in half length-wise, and scoop the seeds. 
  4. Hack it up! Aim for 1-inch cubes. 
  5. Heat up 1.5 TB of coconut oil, bacon fat or butter in a large bowl in the microwave; when it is liquid, add the cubed squash and toss to combine. 
  6. Spread the squash into a single layer out onto the HOT cookie sheet covered in foil, and throw into the oven. 
  7. Let it cook! Don't mess with the veggies for at least 20 minutes. At that point, carefully shake the pan to turn the squash, and marvel at the brown, carmelized edges. Mmmmmm. 
  8. Every 5-10 minutes, begin testing the squash with a fork; it should give with slight pressure, but not be mushy. When it's done, pull it out, season with salt & pepper and enjoy!

The really awesome thing about roasted veggies is that while they're great as-is, they can also be added to salads, stir-frys, or even soup to fill things out (although if you're using it another cooked dish, add them right at the end to avoid over-cooking). UF Coaches often will just roast whatever looks good at the market, and decide how to use it later!