How I Became A Bikini Body Builder – As Told To Andrea Bartz for Trending NY AUG 28, 2015

Sabrina Mercado, 24, devoted a year to grueling training and life sans simple carbs—all so her body could be judged onstage.

Illustration by Ben Wiseman

​I played water polo in college, but after school, I couldn’t find a workout routine that fit. I started looking at fitspo on Instagram, and these female bikini athletes had the most incredible, muscular figures—I thought, “How can I look like that?” My stepdad and boyfriend helped me start lifting weights, and for a year and a half, I watched my body transform. Then I decided to see how far I could take it; I wanted to look back in 20 years and say, “I did this, I pushed myself, I looked like this.” So I signed up for a bikini bodybuilding competition.

In bikini bodybuilding, women compete onstage for the title of best physique. It isn’t the scary, steroid-y bodybuilding you’re thinking of; the women are just super fit, like models in a Nike ad. My very first competition was the World Beauty Fitness & Fashion Show on July 11, and I started training in January. It was a full-time commitment: I did 1½ hours of lifting five days a week, and I drank a huge amount of water and ate every 2½ hours. I took in 3,000 calories a day: After my morning workout, I’d have a double serving of oatmeal plus 2 cups of egg whites, scrambled. At 10 a.m., I’d eat one of those big, squat tubs of Greek yogurt and three slices of bread. And that was all before 11 a.m.

In spring, I started a new job in merchandise planning, and halfway through a meeting I’d have to get up and grab food to stay on schedule. I was the new girl who always had stinky ground turkey at her desk. On my first day, I blurted out, “Oh, it’s nice my desk is so close to the bathroom!” because I had to pee every 25 minutes. And I was totally that weirdo eating sweet potatoes and green beans on the subway. It wasn’t cute.

I couldn’t drink alcohol or deviate from the eating plan, so my social life took a hit. I’d order seltzer at bars and pull out a Tupperware of ground meat at restaurants. It was tough on my relationship, too, because I had so little energy—I’d say, “You can come over and sleep next to me!” But my boyfriend was  supportive, as were my friends and family.

My body was so depleted right before the competition, thanks to four hours at the gym every day and no carbs. I cried almost every day. Then I walked onstage and it all faded away. I thought, “Every second of the last six months was leading to this.” I felt so proud of myself! It was such a crazy rush of endorphins. Then I walked off and tore into a bag of Oreos. I didn’t place, but I know I did my best. I’m looking forward to having margaritas and pizza and cookies again, but I might sign up for a November competition and get back into training mode soon. I want to do better.

You know, I’ve been told my whole life that my brain is the most important thing, not my body, and it was funny to be doing something that’s strictly about my looks. I understand the criticism, but—have you ever worked so hard for something and then gotten an opportunity to showcase it? The rush of that moment on stage…for that, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

When He Says Yoga Saved His Life, He’s Not Exaggerating – MARC SILVER AUGUST 28, 2015 12:40 PM ET

Yoga Pose

Yes, it’s a cliche: “Yoga saved my life.”

Google the phrase, and you’ll get 12 million matches!

But when Walter Mugbe says it, he really means it. It’s not an exaggeration. It’s the truth.

When Mugbe was 7, growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, his father, John, died in a car accident. John Mugbe was an electrician, and his salary supported the family of five children. Walter’s mother, Catherine, didn’t work. Suddenly, the family was in crisis. The two older siblings had a tough time. At a very young age, Walter Mugbe felt he had to make sure his younger siblings had enough to eat.

To earn money, he began transporting drugs for dealers. By the time he was 10, he was selling drugs and picking pockets as well.

But he lived a kind of double life — he excelled in what he calls “acrobatics”and took classes to improve his skills. That training had real-life benefits. When you’re a pickpocket, he says, you do a lot of running and jumping to get away from victims and from the cops.

Did his mother know what was going on? “She didn’t want to know,” he says.

By the time he was in his early teens, two of his friends had been “killed by a mob,” he says. “I knew I was going to be the next person to die.”

And then, yes, yoga saved his life.

In 2007, Paige Elenson came to town. A businesswoman and yoga teacher, she co-founded the Africa Yoga Project and began offering free classes in poor neighborhoods in Nairobi to ease tensions after election-related violence and give people a way to “positively transform lives.”

There was a class at the school where Mugbe practiced soccer, so he signed up. He went through the poses for the first time. He was in downward dog. He lifted one leg to the sky and brought it down in front of his body, parallel to the front of his mat. He folded himself flat over his leg. He was in half-pigeon pose. (That’s the sequence in the animated GIF above.)

“I felt so free and safe at that moment,” he says. He was always on the run in his criminal life. And now, his worries were gone. “I felt light, like something was weighing me down and all of a sudden I felt free. It was a brand new experience for me.”

Walter Mugbe kept taking yoga classes.

Some family members and friends thought he was getting into a crazy cult. That didn’t bother him because he loved yoga. Eventually he gave up his criminal activities. He looked at who he was and who he wanted to become. “It was tough to face the truth,” he says.

AYP offered him a scholarship for teacher training. Today at age 26, Mugbe is one of 100 teachers who lead free classes for kids and teenagers as well as adults in the slums of Nairobi, reaching thousands each week.

Walter Mugbe, a teacher with the Africa Yoga Project, demonstrates side plank in the Bethesda, Md., studio of Down Dog Yoga.

Walter Mugbe, a teacher with the Africa Yoga Project, demonstrates side plank in the Bethesda, Md., studio of Down Dog Yoga.

Mahafreen H. Mistry/NPR

Mugbe visited Washington, D.C., this summer to spread the word about AYP and teach classes at the local studios of Down Dog Yoga, an AYP sponsor. The Down Dog studios are heated to the mid-90s, which is not the case at home: “It’s hot in Kenya.”

With a twinkle in his eyes and a sweet grin, he tells his American students to really root down deep in a pose. And he makes them hold it for what seems like eternity plus five minutes. “The worst that can happen is you get stronger, you get flexible,” he teases. There’s another benefit, he says: “When you are firmly rooted to your purpose, you are unmessable with.”

Here in D.C. the majority of his students are women — that’s pretty much the norm in the West. In Kenya, he says, yoga is a guy thing. Men like the physical nature of it. But the Africa Yoga Project is training female teachers and persuading girls to take classes.

While some Western practitioners don’t want to be touched by their teacher to adjust a pose, that’s not a problem in Nairobi: “People love to be touched in Africa,” Mugbe says.

His family is doing well now. His older brother is a safari guide. His younger sister just graduated from high school. His younger brother is, like Walter, a yoga teacher.

In classes he talks about “the magic moment” a pose can bring. Even now, secure in his career as a yoga teacher, happy that his family is flourishing, he finds comfort in his favorite pose, half-pigeon. It still makes him feel “free — and flexible.”

Sweeping Or Skydiving? When Counting Calories It’s All The Same – ALYSON HURT JULY 02, 201512:09 PM ET

Skydiving and vacuuming burn the same number of calories. So what'll it be, thrills or a clean carpet?

Skydiving and vacuuming burn the same number of calories. So what’ll it be, thrills or a clean carpet? Mary McLain/NPR

Sure, playing in the women’s World Cup burns a lot more energy than watching the women’s World Cup. But the number of calories expended in sports and daily activities isn’t always so obvious.

To figure it out, we dove into this database compiled by Arizona State University. It charts the energy expenditure for hundreds of activities, from mainstream (“bicycling, leisure, 5.5 mph”) to obscure (“caulking, chinking log cabin”).

As part of our sports and health series and poll with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, we’ve picked a few of our favorites.

Calories burned by a 200-pound person in 30 minutes:

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Science, American legal system confirm barefoot shoes are bullshit – Updated by Sarah Kliff on May 9, 2014, 7:30 a.m. ET

Are you a runner who shelled out $100 or so for a pair of those funny-looking barefoot shoes, the ones with the individual toe-holders? Were you swayed by claims that your shoes were scientifically proven to “make your feet stronger” and healthier”?

The bad news: you were duped. The silver lining: you’re entitled to a partial refund.

Vibram, the company that manufacturers FiveFinger shoes, settled a multi-year, class-action lawsuit brought by customers who were, to put it mildly, dubious of the company’s claims that barefoot running shoes could improve health. The shoe manufacturer will pay out as much as $3.75 million to anyone who purchased a pair of their finger-shoes since March 2009.

Perhaps more significantly, Vibram will have to hugely dial back the health claims it’s made for years about the benefits of running in its minimalist shoes, which are meant to mimic running barefoot.

“Vibram will not make…any claims that FiveFingers footwear are effective in strengthening muscles or preventing injury unless that representation is true, non-misleading and is supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence,” the federal settlement says.

The reliable scientific evidence they require? For Vibram’s barefoot shoes, it doesn’t exist.

Americans have purchased more than 70 million pairs of barefoot shoes

Sales of Vibram’s shoes have skyrocketed lately: one court filing notes that the company has seen an average of 300 percent annual sales growth over the past six years. In 2012, total sales of their FiveFinger shoes were approaching 70 million.

Some of that growth was likely driven by a book that came out in 2009 called Born to Run. There, Chris McDougall wrote about a little-known Indian tribe in Mexico who seemed to have an unusually strong ability to run exceptionally long distances. They also happened to run without shoes.

Thus McDougall’s book became a so-called “barefoot manifesto” for runners — although he now says that wasn’t totally the point. “People refer to it as a ‘barefoot manifesto,'” McDougall told Deadspin in an interview yesterday. “It’s not that at all. It’s not that I’m championing bare feet; it’s just that I’m questioning running shoes — because really the burden of proof is on the running shoe.”

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Science Says FitBit Is a Joke – —By Jenna McLaughlin | Tue Feb. 10, 2015 4:44 PM EST

Your smartphone is much more accurate and consistent than wearable devices.


Recently, bands in assorted colors began appearing on the wrists of everyone from young athletes to old lawyers. FitBits, FueldBands, and other wearable fitness trackers promised to enhance the health of the wearer by accurately monitoring every step, calorie, and sleep pattern. But, according to a new study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association(JAMA), the apps on your smartphone do the job just as well, or even better—at least in terms of measuring your steps and your calories.

“There is strong evidence that higher levels of physical activity are associated with weight loss,” says Mitesh Patel, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor of medicine and health care management at the University of Pennsylvania. “For most adults that want to track their general activity, smartphones will meet their needs.”

Penn researchers compared 10 of the top-selling smartphone fitness applications and pedometers with wearable devices, tracking 14 healthy adults as they walked on the treadmill.

According to the results, the smartphones were just as accurate and consistent as wearable devices. Wearable devices had as much as a 22 percent variation in the range of step counts compared to the observed number of steps taken. There was only a 6 percent difference in the range of the step counts from smartphones in comparison to observable steps. The number of steps is important to accurately estimate the number of calories burned, which the apps and devices track by detecting the shifting position of your body.

If smartphones are just as accurate, why spend $100 or more on a fancy tracker bracelet?

“Smartphones may be harder to carry with more vigorous activity such as running or biking, and that might be one reason an individual chooses to use a wearable device,” explains Patel, pointing to an obvious objection for people who might reject smartphones as fitness trackers.

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