Your lifestyle is all about your individuality. Your traits and goals distinguish you from any other person, and we love that. When developing a wellness strategy, it's important that it fits you, and by bringing more voices to the table, we hope to highlight just this. We're teaming up with dietitians, health coaches, trainers, and more to help you discover what wellness means to you.
Maria Brezler has been a fitness expert and wellness coach for 15 years. Although most known as a personal trainer, she's also an international level rowing coach and a two-time All-American rower. She trained as an elite rower for seven years in an attempt to make the US National Rowing team and was ranked as one of the top 25 US rowers before retiring from rowing in 2011 to focus on the health and wellness of others. We'll let her take it from here:
How did you get started with fitness?
I’ve pretty much always been involved in fitness/athletics. I have four older brothers who all played sports and growing up and I loved watching them play. They taught me everything, basketball, soccer, baseball, swimming and football. I loved them all. When I entered the 5th grade I was already really tall for my age and it just so happened that my teacher was also the basketball coach. She encouraged me to try out and I was hooked from that point on. I continued to play basketball through my first semester of college where I was then recruited to switch to the rowing team. I rowed on and off for the next 11 years with hopes of making the Olympic team.
Where does your motivation come from?
With basketball, I was obsessed. What motivated me with the desire to be the best and quite simply because it was so much fun. With rowing, I wanted to do well for my university, my team, but more than anything it was the hope of making the Olympics.
Currently, I have a few things that motivate me.
Quality time with my wife. We love working out together. We feel great afterwards and it’s gives us time to share something we both really enjoy.
My long term health. I want to be strong and healthy when I’m 70, 80, 90 and be able to enjoy my life. I’ve seen to many elderly people who are alive but aren’t really living.
To be quite honest, it’s part of my job. Thank goodness I enjoy it. Part of my job is to be a day to day reminder of the importance of health and fitness.
What workout routine has worked best for you?
CrossFit type high intensity circuits that include rowing. I come up with my own circuits all the time that include the rowing machine. I’m actually going to be opening a rowing studio soon with one class that has these exact workouts.
If you had to pick only 3 exercises, what would they be and why?
Rowing: It works nearly every muscle in your body building not only strength but also endurance. It’s probably the best bang for your buck exercise.
Kettlebell swings: Similar to rowing, it recruits multiple muscles to work throughout the movement while also being very neurologically beneficial.
One arm snatch: With and kettlebell or dumbbell. Just as the two exercises above, it works everything!
What is your training philosophy?
Train for your happiness and your health first and listen to your body. Take a moment before you start a training program to determine your “why”. Why are your about to do what you’re going to do. Now also ask yourself if this is going to bring you happiness and health long term.
There’s a stigma about women who lift – how do you combat that?
Personally, I like lifting and I like being strong. I surround myself with people who value strong healthy women as well.
With my clients, I keep it simple. I have females who want to lose 5 pounds, lean and tone but don’t like lifting heavy as they don’t want to bulk. I’m gently straight forward with them.
You can’t tone fat. In order to have that “toned” look, there must be muscle to tone.
In general, females do not have the testosterone levels to “get bulky” like men.
Lifting is good for your long term health.
I point out the independence they could have. Being able to put their own suitcase in an overhead luggage compartment, carry their kids, strength to defend themselves if needed.
What's your diet like?
I’d say I eat about 80% paleo, the other 20% is nothing totally crazy. I cook nearly all my meals and buy organic when it’s not going to break the bank. My “junk food” is wine, chocolate, gluten free cereal and tortilla chips. I feel better and sleep better when I eat well so that motivates me to do so.
What’s one food you couldn’t live without?
Is wine considered a food? If so, wine. Preferably red.
How do you handle unhealthy food cravings?
I have a couple tricks.
I keep whatever I don’t want to eat on a regular basis, ie. unhealthy foods, out of my home. If I want it badly enough, I have to walk or drive to get it and that’s usually enough motivation to not want it anymore. I can be pretty lazy at the end of the night ;-)
I eat something healthy. Sometimes I’m craving something unhealthy simply because I’m starving. If I eat a healthy snack or meal, sometimes the craving goes away.
Sometimes I simply eat the food I’m craving and move on with my life. No guilt, no shame. I eat it, and go right back to my healthy diet at the next meal.
What is your approach to nutrition?
Everyone is different. I’ve spent years figuring out what foods help me feel my best and give me the most energy. Food is fuel first and foremost but can also be a great joy in life. Try and find a balance. Eat to fuel your body and your soul and if you don’t know how, do what I did. Educate yourself, ask for help, join a nutrition program, and surround yourself with those who have similar nutrition lifestyles.
What are 3 tips for someone looking to change their fitness and nutrition habits?
Don’t expect to fix everything right away or to be perfect.
Make short term and long term goals. 1 week, 1 month, 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, 10 years etc. Again, don’t expect to be perfect and hit every one.
Tell everyone you know your goals and surround yourself by those people who support you. Yes, you can do it by yourself but it’s a lot easier to have long term success if you have support.
What are your hobbies and interests outside of the gym?
I love playing with my 7 month old son. My wife and I take him on tons of jogs and walks. We jog to get lunch or play in a park and then walk/jog home. I also love hiking, paddle boarding, water skiing, playing cards and looking at real estate.
"It is a shame for man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable." -Socrates