It Starts With Food

On Monday, I finished my first pleasure read of the summer. A great stride, if I do say so myself. Every semester I find myself needing a stronger prescription for my contacts. I blame the hundreds of pages per week I’m required to read. That’s why it’s unlikely to find me reading anything more than online health and fitness articles and the occasional Sunday Globe front page until at least midsummer. This summer, however, is a little bit different. My interest in health, nutrition, and fitness has kicked into high gear, so you can almost always find me reading up on the fitness world’s latest and greatest. So, naturally, my first pleasure read was about food and its mind-blowing impact on our health. 

Note: When I come across something I love, I talk it up. Big time. Not because I’m an aspiring saleswoman, but because I truly believe in the value of whatever it is I happen to be raving about and want the whole world to reap its benefits. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always play out like that. But, I do believe that if I talk about something enough, the right people will listen.

So, without further ado, my thoughts on It Starts With Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. 


It Starts With Food (ISWF) is exactly what I have been looking for in a health book. It explains all the trappings of healthy lifestyle (and diet) and why they matter. It debunks the motives behind trendy gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free diets, and explains why we feel the way we do when we eat certain foods—something that I’ve been struggling to grasp for a long time—in a simplified yet oh-so-scientific manner. In my humble opinion, it is a book that would do worlds of good for the hundreds of thousands of Americans suffering from lifestyle related diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and even some kinds of cancer. If you want to understand the effect of what you’re putting into your body has on your health or are just seeking some motivation, seriously, read this book. Or at least a few of the creators’ blog posts (

The book encourages you to make lifestyle changes, rather than failing on diet after diet. It offers a solution many dietary and lifestyle issues, should you so choose to listen. The creators wrote the book in conjunction with the development of a 30-day no-cheat program that recommends no added sugars, vegetable oils, dairy, or grains. Oh, and it claims to change your life.

I know what you’re thinking—don’t all diet gimmicks make that claim? Yes, but…Whole30 is different. Just read the hundreds of success stories on their website (, and at the beginning of each chapter. Whether you lose 20 pounds or simply discover more about your body and it’s response to certain foods, it just might, in one way or another, change your life.

What it is not: An over-complicated diet book with meal plans, cheat days, and unsustainable requirements that makes promises it cannot keep.

The Best PartISWF’s authors created the Whole30 program to show you how good you are capable of feeling. The program asks that you make various dietary changes for only one month as a science experiment, if you will. If you can make it through the 30 days and want to continue with the lifestyle changes you made, hooooray! If not, that’s O.K., too. But at least you know how you could feel with a little bit of effort. Heck, you don’t even have to do the program. But at least you will be able to understand the emotional, hormonal, and immune reactions you have to certain foods.

I finished ISWF with a new understanding of why my body does what it does. Why it doesn’t shed pounds when I restrict calories and exercise like a maniac. Why I crave sugar after dinner. Just about everything except for why my eyes are blue. I embarked on my first Whole30 journey with my best friend on Monday, July 8. Four days in and we are going strong! I’m going to continue spinning at The Handle Bar and see what impact a change in my diet will have in addition to my regular exercise routine. Reading this book and starting its 30-day challenge is my own way of raising the bar. How will you raise the bar this summer?

Falon Sweeney 

Who raised the bar in June?

Marcus Springer!

At The Handle Bar, we hope to provide our riders with a place to achieve their fitness goals and constantly improve by raising the bar higher. For some, raising the bar might mean just showing up to class two times in the same week, and for others it could mean reaching weight loss or other fitness goals. No matter how high you set the bar for yourself, we hope that each ride makes you stronger, both physically and mentally. To honor our riders’ commitment to improvement, we choose one rider every month who has made some serious progress towards achieving whatever goals he or she has been working towards, whether goal setting was a conscious choice or it just “happened”.
This month, (for the first time ever!) we are proud to announce that rider Marcus Springer has really raised the bar! Marcus is totally new to spinning and has hit the ground running. In just about a month, he has lost ten pounds and is well on his way to achieving his ultimate fitness and weight loss goals. Did we mention that Marcus has two young boys–one of whom, a newborn–and runs two companies. Talk about staying focused on fitness while making time for family and other responsibilities. We are so excited for Marcus and are happy to be a part of his fitness journey. Congrats, Marcus!

So, Marcus…

How did your journey with indoor cycling begin?

I started spinning when The Handle Bar opened. I had never done it before and was curious.  I found it pretty hard at first but after the fifth time I was able to keep up with the resistance etc. Now I love it. I am addicted and getting noticeably stronger.

How have you been able to juggle accomplishing your fitness goals and spending time with family (including the new baby!)?
I only go first thing in the morning.  I take the 6 and 6:15am classes during the week and the 8:30 class on Saturday and the take Sunday off.  That schedule works well for all concerned…The newborn is basically up every three hours so I just have to roll with it. :). I try to go six times a week. I have missed a couple of times but am able to keep to that schedule pretty well.

[How] has The Handle Bar helped you in accomplishing your goals?

I was rapidly becoming an overweight slug so I was looking for an activity that I could do in the morning that was a group activity in order to get fit and lose weight.  The gym doesn’t really work that way and spinning is ideal.  Since I started I have lost 10 pounds of my goal to get a 1 in front of my weight for the first time in 15 years…20 more to go… Goal is to get to 195 lbs by Thanksgiving.

Do you have a favorite/hardest class at The Handle Bar?
So far I like all the classes. Elise, Tim and Meg are all really good. Those are the ones that stand out in my mind.
What is your favorite music to Spin to? 
I don’t really have a favorite. Whatever they play I kind of ride in to the music.  It is really a lot of fun. The 45 minutes passes by pretty quickly now.
What are your thoughts on using bike shoes?
Bike shoes are critical to spinning in my mind as you have to pull the pedal up as well as push it down which you wouldn’t be able to do without bike shoes.
“I think The Handle Bar is a great addition to the Macallen building complex.  It makes it so easy for me to achieve my goals of getting fit and weight loss.  I generally go to the gym after spinning to do free weights for a half hour. After all that I can be back in my apartment by 7:30 to make breakfast for the boys and get the day going.  I have two companies of my own that I run in addition to the two boys. In order to do that you absolutely have to be fit or you’re screwed.  The Handle Bar is definitely the answer for me!”
See you in the saddle, Marcus!

Friends who sweat together stay fit together, longer

So you’ve decided to workout on a regular basis. And you mean it this time. No excuses, no postponing until tomorrow. Your journey starts today. That’s great news. However, as many of us have experienced, it is so much easier said than done. For some, a week of working out consistently can snowball into months of regular exercise and healthy eating habits. But for others—a.k.a., most of us—one week of consistency equals three more weeks of sporadic exercise, one too many “cheat” meals, and the inevitable fall from the bandwagon. This cycle continues, leaving us wondering how some people manage to hang on and make it past the proverbial hump, incorporating exercise and proper nutrition as part of their lifestyle—for life. It’s a puzzling sequence, but if you can find a motivational tool (aside from your unbending willpower, of course) from the start, you’ll be twice as likely to stick with it for the long run—even through those bitter Boston winters.

 There are endless ways to get motivated without even flexing your willpower muscles. Honestly, a few of my favorite motivators come from late-night Pintrest browsing. You could create a “fit-spiration” bulletin board, invest in some new kicks to show off at the gym (or maybe a pair of bike shoes?!), or buy a pack of spin classes or a gym membership with an expiration date so that you’ll be sure not to waste your money. But just like money can’t buy happiness, it can’t always buy motivation, either.

The best motivation I’ve yet to find comes from friends—a few of whom I barely knew before becoming a fitness fanatic, and others who have been by my side for years. Whether you introduce yourself to a fellow rider during class or drag your couch-potato roommate to sweat with you, I can almost guarantee it will be harder for either of you to lose your motivation when you don’t go it alone, for a few reasons:

Accountability—It’s rude to cancel last minute, but we always seem to cancel on ourselves. When you have a date to sweat with yourself and someone else, you’ll be way less likely to cancel, especially when that fit image you’ve been chasing is on the line. 

You’ll have more fun—If you’re making fitness an integral part of your lifestyle, you have to make it fun, or else you’ll eventually get bored. #Workhard with a friend and you can #playhard later!

 Spend time with the friend who’s always M.I.A.—We all have those friends whom we never see because they are just too busy. But chances are, if they’re into fitness, they won’t skip a workout. So sweat together a few times a week and your long lost friend could soon be your new bestie.

Celebrate your successes and sweat away your failures—With a few setbacks, you’ve kicked those stubborn ten pounds! Congrats! Now go celebrate with your fitness buddy—after you have a kickass workout together, of course : )


At The Handle Bar, we never sweat alone. That’s why we have an ongoing promotion that allows you to bring a “date” that has never ridden with us for free!

See you—and your friends—in the saddle!

I’m Hooked: My Transition to Bike Shoes

By: Falon Sweeney

One of the things that sets The Handle Bar apart from other spin classes and studios is our strong encouragement of “clipping in,” or the use of bike shoes during your ride. Initially, I was a little apprehensive about using bike shoes. At other spin classes, I didn’t understand why people wore them, but one thing was for sure, it was usually the experienced riders that had their own pair. I often thought, “Nah, I’m not THAT into spinning, where I’d drop $50-$100 on a pair of shoes that looked a little silly and could only be used for one type of exercise”. I never had the chance to rent them and I had always thought that they were more for road cycling. Only the really intense riders wore them, right? Wrong.

I clipped in for the first time on Monday at The Handle Bar. By the end of the warm up, I finally understood why so many riders wear bike shoes. From the moment I started pedaling, I felt more connected to the bike and my ride as a whole than I ever had before. I was able to concentrate my energy through my leg muscles, rather than my joints to get a much more efficient, not to mention, safe workout. I could focus on the energy I was expending and direct it exactly how I wanted it, with minimal energy wasted. I’m now realizing that the spin workouts I used to do in regular running sneakers were not challenging my leg muscles nearly enough. I found that I was using my feet and knees to do the work, rather than the muscles throughout my entire leg. After just a few days of clipping in, my legs are more sore than they have ever been from a spin workout. I can’t help but feel like I’ve been missing out all this time, but all I know is that I can’t wait to see the long-term results of using bike shoes.


If you’re having trouble believing that clipping in could make all the difference, think about it like this: If you’ve done yoga, you know that it would be pretty difficult to practice with socks on. You’d find it hard ground yourself and really connect with your mat. It’s the same thing with spinning. Regular sneakers act as a barrier between our body and our bike. But bike shoes help to bridge that gap and help connect us to our ride, making the workout all the more enjoyable and rewarding. I find myself better able to just let go and let the music carry me through the ride.

If you’re a beginner, you’re in luck. You don’t have to waste years spinning in regular sneakers to finally figure out that bike shoes will transform your ride. From the start you will experience the additional power, safety, efficiency, and muscle balance that clipping in provides.

At The Handle Bar, we give riders the option to rent shoes for two dollars, but we encourage you to buy your own pair. They’re a great investment and pay for themselves in just a few months. If you need advice on which shoes are the best for you, feel free to reach out to any of our instructors.

Don’t forget to come out this weekend for our grand opening! There will be prizes, giveaways, and freebees from our sponsors. If you weren’t able to reserve a spot, still stop in to check out the studio and take advantage of our Grand Opening 25% off special!

This Father’s Day, set the bar higher; give Dad the gift he really wants

By: Falon Sweeney

Father’s Day is on the horizon and approaching swiftly. If you haven’t secured a pair of Bruins Stanley Cup Finals tickets for Dad – relax; you’ve got a few days left to get him something just as good (well…maybe not quite). We all know how tired he must be of receiving the same tie in a different shade or a different brand of grilling tools each year. So here are a few new ideas that’ll help keep Pops healthy and happy, whether he’s a fitness guy or not.

The FitBit Flex
For the tech savvy guy – The first thing on his list may not be arm candy, but this sleek, man-friendly activity tracker does more than just count steps and calories burned—it also tracks hours and quality of sleep. It can even fitbit be programmed to let Dad know when he’s been sedentary for too long. For just $99 this activity wirelessly syncs to iPhones 4S and higher, as well as a few Android models (and to Mac and PC). There are similar gadgets on the market (Jawbone Up, Nike FuelBand, etc.), but this is by far the most discreet model with wireless syncing and sleep tracking — the most bang for your buck, if you will. If you don’t think you can swing the bracelet version, you can purchase the One model—an earlier, pocket-sized version that has many of the same features for the same price.
(For details:

Cycling Shoes
If the Dad in your life is an avid cyclist or is even just getting started, you may want to help him improve the results of his rides by investing in a pair of cycling shoes. Wearing these special shoes help to improve form to prevent injury, and make sure that the feet aren’t doing all the work and that the legs get an adequate workout. Shoes are always hard to shop for, so it’s best to make sure he’s tried on a pair before or that you at least know his shoe size. At The Handle Bar, our bikes are compatible with SPD cleats, which are easy to find in most cycling or sporting good stores and usually range in price from $70-$200.

Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf or The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson
Worried that Dad’s love of bacon might be impairing his health? Pick up either of these books, which describe the Paleo or “Primal” lifestyle—basically, the caveman lifestyle for dummies. It could help him switch from Big Mac to grass-fed burgers in no time and get his health on track with new, healthy eating habits that could stick for the rest of his lifetime, without having to sacrifice the food he loves—including bacon. Because what guy wouldn’t want to eat like a caveman? ($14-$20 on Amazon)

Beer Home Brew Kit
Most Dads love to splurge a bit and end the day with a cold one. If yours is the do-it-yourself type, why not give him the added satisfaction of knowing that he brewed it himself. You can find home brew kits online, or even more conveniently, at a participating Whole Foods Markets. Most kits range in price from $30-120.

The Handle Bar Multiple Class Packages
Whether a newbie rider or seasoned vet, Dad will be sure to enjoy a refreshing class (or 5) at The Handle Bar. Classes come in packages of 5, 10, 20, and 40, starting at $95. See our website for more details at

Of course, if you and Dad aren’t into gift giving, why not come out to one of our classes this weekend and spend some quality time together in the saddle? Often times, fitness is most rewarding when done with a buddy. So grab Dad and head on over to The Handle Bar for a cycling class you won’t soon forget.

Seven steps to make this summer your season of success

By: Falon Sweeney

Memorial Day Weekend has come and gone and we’ve endured 2013’s first heat wave. I think it’s safe to say that summer is here to stay. Summer serves as a time to refresh and renew. As a student I spend the majority of my time bogged down by coursework, multiple jobs, trying to fit in workouts whenever I can, and my social life. Free moments are few and far between, and admittedly, I don’t check in with myself as often as I should.

But the season of sun gives me a chance to come up for air and check in with myself to make sure I’m on track to be my best self, both physically and mentally. It’s a time when I’m able to make lifestyle changes and actually follow through with them—unlike nearly every New Year’s resolution I’ve failed to keep. Something about the warm air and lush vegetation almost begs me to better myself, unlike the abrasive winter mornings that sometimes deter me from lacing up and making that dreaded three-block trek to the gym. It seems like every summer I make some sort of lifestyle change that, in one way or another, seems to stick. Last summer I went gluten free and committed to clean eating and regular exercise. This habit stuck throughout the most chaotic school year of my life and I’ve remained my happiest and healthiest self.

Whether your goal is to train for a half marathon, transform your diet, succeed in the saddle, or to simply sweat more, here are a few tips to help those habits stick long after the sun sets and the temperature drops:

Set a clear goal

You’re making a lifestyle change for a reason. Either you aren’t satisfied with the way things are or you think they could improve in some way. Whatever you’re striving for, make it measurable. Write down your goal somewhere you can see it daily so that potential doubts or negative thoughts won’t overcome whatever change you opted to make during your aha! moment.

Be realistic

Often times this is where we mess up the most in goal setting. We try to commit to seven days at the gym, when in reality we have families, friends, and other responsibilities that make such a goal an impossible feat. Be honest with yourself. Reach for the stars 150%. But if you know your body can’t take the wear-and-tear of marathon training, opt for something just as impressive but in a way that works well with what you know won’t be detrimental to your health. Push your limits, but be smart about it.

Strive for small victories—they add up quicker than you’d think!

Progress comes with constantly being better than you were the day before. So if that means exercising for just one more minute than you did yesterday, let it be. Be proud of your progress and build on it daily.

Believe in the change you’re making

You are your own worst enemy. If you can convince yourself of the change you’re making, you’ve more than likely won half the battle. Learn to love the burn and before you know it, you’ll be able to tolerate—maybe even love—what used to seem impossible.

Leave room for error

It is OK, I repeat, OK to slip up every now and then. We’re human, remember? Just recognize when you slip up and move on. Many of my downfalls in trying to form habits have come from trying to make too many changes all at once and being far too strict about them. Don’t be so hard on yourself that you aren’t happy at the end of the day. So keep those negative thoughts at bay and humor yourself.

Be accountable

If you want the world to know the fitness journey you’re embarking on, don’t be afraid to tell your friends and family, or even your twitter feed what you plan to do and the progress you make. If you’d rather keep it personal, write your goal down in a journal or on a sticky note and keep track of both your accomplishments and downfalls.

Reward yourself

Because you chose a measurable goal, you’ll be able to see how far you’ve come from where you started. Whether you’ve improved a lot or a little, you’ve made at least some progress, and that’s a cause for celebration.

Believe it. Be it. Raise your standards. Raise the bar.

Heart rate monitor; is it for you?

By: Falon Sweeney

Could wearing a heart rate monitor take your workout to the next level?

Whether you’ve taken only a few spin classes or you’ve logged some serious hours in the saddle, you’ve undoubtedly realized much of what a spin workout has to offer—it’s a great alternative to high-impact exercises like running, you love having the ability to tailor the workout to your own personal needs, and you end each class drenched in sweat. The list goes on. But do you ever wonder at what point your body goes from working hard to hardly working? For some of us, using our rate of perceived exertion (the scale used to approximate how hard you’re working) to measure our sweat is good enough. But for others who are seeking to know more about their body’s performance, a great option is to wear a heart rate monitor.

After I had been spinning consistently for a few months, I got to the point where I wanted to take the guesswork my workouts. One thing was for certain—I’d sweat like a dog—but I wanted to know what part of the ride worked me the hardest. Was it the hills, sprints, or jumps, or did they work me all the same? I also wanted to know my physical limits so that I could better decipher whether it was it my mind or my body craving during that final sprint set. Bottom line, I wanted to know how hard I was working so that I could push my workout to the next level and get as much out of my sixty minutes in saddle as I could. What’s more, I’m a skeptic—I never trust readings on cardio machines or the average calories burned for any activity. I needed something to quantify my results while improving my fitness. After doing a fair amount of research, I decided on the Polar FT4. I wanted something simple and easy to use that would give me an accurate reading of my heart rate and calories burned. I’ve worn it during nearly all of my workouts for five months and counting and I can honestly say it is one of the best fitness investments I’ve made.

Of course, wearing a heart rate monitor is only one way to improve your personal fitness, as it keeps you in the know about your body during a workout. Improvement is difficult to quantify and can only truly be measured by the way you feel physically and mentally. So heart rate monitor or not, do continue to challenge yourself and keep your intensity moving with the flow of the class and the beat of the music. Remember that it’s not only about a little number on your wrist, but how far you’ve come since yesterday.

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