4 Rules for a Successful Personal Challenge

PHOTO: Quoc Ngo.

PHOTO: Quoc Ngo.


I love 3-day weekends. They're ripe with opportunity to see friends, spend time outdoors, and eat as much guacamole at as many meals as is possible. Unsurprisingly, I often end these weekends feeling a little loose in the cage and needing to reel myself back in to a clean, balanced lifestyle. And to get back into go-mode, this has many times parlayed itself into some kind of personal challenge.

Personal challenges work for me because it gives me a goal, a very defined timeframe by which to achieve the goal, and the satisfaction of saying I CRUSHED something (note: I like to win things). Personal challenges have also resulted in some huge changes in my life.

When my college girlfriends challenged me to a biggest loser competition 6 years ago, it set me into an I-love-you-but-I-am-going-to-crush-you-in-this-competition tizzy of trying a host of different workouts. I ended up falling in love with barre and a few months later, started training to teach. Adopting the life of an instructor had elemental impacts on my overall health and fitness regimen that I maintain to this day. Bottom line, I am a big fan of personal challenges and have found a few key strategies in making sure they stick.

If you have a specific end goal in mind or want to finally adopt the healthier lifestyle you’ve been aiming for, here’s what I’ve learned about creating a challenge that will set you up for success.

  1. Focus on inputs, not results. 
    When it comes to health and fitness goals, the adage 'it's not about the destination, it's about the journey' is as hard to swallow as a shot of wheatgrass. The journey might be rich with life lessons, but is that going to get me into the bridesmaid's dress that I need to fit into next month? The best aim for a challenge is not to focus so much on the bridesmaid's dress, it's to focus on a behavior that ultimately becomes a habit. Whether that's logging miles or meals, think primarily about your daily inputs and focus your sense of victory on having accomplished those, not on what a scale says 48 hours in.

  2. Keep it simple and concrete.  
    It’s tempting to say, "Tomorrow, my new life begins. I'm going take 6 Avant-Barre classes a week, eat only clean, home-cooked meals, drink water until I turn blue, and sleep 8 hours a night." Changing everything at once is a
    likely recipe for un-success and even quitting altogether. The human body hates sudden change. So keep it simple, and choose ONE. Yes, ONE. The aim here is to get a win under your belt. Then, once this challenge is over, choose another and carve another shiny new notch on your I-am-going-to-crush-these-challenges utility belt.
  3. Write it down: keep track of your inputs.
    Writing things down makes them real. While there are myriad fitness trackers and apps, I encourage you to go less digital: put it on paper. Seeing your hard work in ink gives you a tangible sense of progress. One of the best gifts a friend of mine got me was an old school wall calendar. I ended up posting it right next to my desk, and every morning I logged what workout I did for the day, how many minutes, and therefore how many glasses of wine I would be able to have at Friday dinner. Looking at each week with the scribbles of 'yoga (90)', 'run (30)', 'weights (40)' in each box on that calendar gave me a real sense of accomplishment. It fueled my drive to keep those boxes full post-challenge.

  4. Key into your true motivation.
    The critical word here is 'true.' If it's to run a marathon, awesome.  If your end goal is to lose weight, own it. You are not doing yourself any good by saying your challenge is to PR on your sprints when really you're trying to drop a pants size. It is more than likely that one begets the other, but being honest with yourself about what you're really trying to accomplish keeps you focused and authentic. Key to a personal challenge, key to life.

I recommend 10 days for a personal challenge to start. It’s digestible, finite, and enough to whet the appetite of someone who is hungry for a change in lifestyle. At that point, you can decide to keep going or redirect; remember it usually takes 3 weeks for a habit to form and become daily practice.

Try it, be social with it and invite your friends to join you, and choose a challenge that gives you joy.

What's the most important lesson? The best way to turn goals into habits is to make them fun!

Avant-Barre + Pregnancy

Happy Mother's Day to all our badass ballerinas! There was something in the water last year, when we met a ton of new moms and moms-to-be. One of the most frequently asked questions is "Can I take Avant-Barre while pregnant?" The answer is YES.

"Avant-Barre is one of the few workouts that I've ever been able to stick with thanks to the great teachers, music and challenging workout. I've seen great results even before pregnancy so I wanted to continue with it as best as I could even during the pregnancy," says Jaimie, an Avant-Barre enthusiast since 2013. 

Read on for her experience taking classes during her first pregnancy, plus find exercises to pay special attention to in class to strengthen and prepare for labor. 

AB: What other forms of exercise did you use to supplement? 

J: Lots of walking -- at least 20 minutes a day, two to four days a week. I also found prenatal yoga videos on YouTube that I did once or twice a week to supplement Avant-Barre workouts.

AB: Does anything from class translate to the delivery room? 

J: Breathing! Focusing on my breathing helped me stay focused during delivery and kept my mind off the pain. Overall, from class I've gained a good sense of how my body moves and find different positions that can alleviate pain and pressure. Understanding how to position myself and continue moving during delivery helped me work through the pain and get the baby out quickly. 

AB: You've been attending class twice a week since you had your baby. How is Avant-Barre helping you post-delivery?  

J: I immediately started going back to Avant-Barre as soon as I was cleared by the dr. I've been going 3 times a week as often as possible and I'm starting to see that extra weight melt off. It's a work in progress! It's also helping me keep a positive outlook and gives me something else to focus on aside from the baby. As much as I love spending time with the little one, I do enjoy the break I get from mom duties to focus on building my strength again.

AB: Any health tips or lessons learned in the past 3 months? 

J: Be smart about indulging in cravings. Find healthy alternatives to sweet cravings -- my weakness!

Avant-Barre instructor and fitness veteran Lex shares 3 exercises that help mommies-to-be prepare for labor. 

  • Squats (Upright or Pullaway): to 90 degree bend at hips and knees only. It's good to strengthen your squat position so that it's available to use comfortably during labor. But be sure not to go deeper than 90 degrees until labor is underway! Once labor has started, a full, deep squat can be beneficial. 
  • Forearm Plank (on Toes or Knees): is an exercise that can usually be performed comfortably throughout most of pregnancy. It's excellent for core strengthening, especially if combined with Kegels... and good preparation for laboring in a hands and knees position. 
  • Puppy Stretch: can provide back relief late in pregnancy and during labor. 

How has Avant-Barre helped you during your pregnancy or after having your child? Share below!

*Avant-Barre reminds you that every body is different. Check in with your healthcare professional before starting a new exercise regimen during pregnancy. Please bring a doctor's note clearing you for exercise to your first class! 

Coachella 2016: 6 Artists to See

PHOTO: Quoc Ngo.

PHOTO: Quoc Ngo.

If you didn't catch on, we badass ballerinas live for music. Many West Coasters think you haven't celebrated music until you experience your first Coachella. If you're making your way to the desert for weekend 1 or 2, meet us at these acts.

If you aren't, scroll down for your consolation prize.


Day 1 | 

With artist collaboration varying in sound from Justin Bieber to AlunaGeorge, 2 Chainz to Kiesza, Jack Ü's set is sure to have something for everyone. Avant-Barre not responsible for the desire to break into impromptu pliés.


Day 2 | 

You know that one friend who says they don't enjoy live music? Put them in front of a Matt & Kim set, and dare them not to have a great time. This duo lit up the Twin Peaks stage at Outside Lands 2013, and we haven't gotten them out of our minds since. Their set promises to take FUN to a new level.

3. ZHU

Day 2 | 

If you came to dance (and what other reason is there to devote three days to a music festival?), get your booty to Zhu. Body rolls, running man, hip shaking... all fair game at this dance floor!


Day 2 | 

Last year's critically acclaimed Straight Outta Compton brought a resurgence to 90s hip hop and especially to the music of N.W.A., the subject of the film. If you haven't seen it yet, add to your list immediately. And, regardless, catch N.W.A. member Ice Cube live at Coachella to pay homage to one of the originators of West Coast rap.

5. Alessia Cara

Day 3 | 

We love a sassy, talented female performer, especially one who's coolly casual and not afraid to be silly. Fresh-faced YouTube star-turned-professional Alessia Cara is sure to BRING IT.

6. Sia 

Day 3 |

Anyone heading to Sia's set is in for a unique treat. Notorious for her stage fright, Sia will likely stay in her own little corner of the stage. Regardless, this women put funky modern dance choreography on the map with her haunting "Chandelier" video, so there will be no shortage of visual appeal. Watching her will be like sighting a unicorn. Do Not Miss.


Not Coachella-ing this year? Feed your FOMO by joining Nini for 2 special Coachella-themed classes at Avant-Barre: 5:15pm on Wednesday 4/13 and Wednesday 4/20.

Have you set your 2016 intention?

PHOTO:  Quoc Ngo.

PHOTO: Quoc Ngo.

We blinked, and it's 2016! So many of us start each year with a list of resolutions that we throw out by spring. This year we're trying something different: focusing on the present instead of setting a goal to maybe attain later. Head over to Well+Good to learn more about setting an intention.

Once you set yours, share it with us on the studio board!

10 Healthier Holiday Cookies

'Tis the season of indulgence. A common conflict: Staying on track with your fitness goals... OR really celebrating. We have good news. You don't have to say "no" to every festive cookie. Check out Well+Good's round-up of 10 cookie recipes that utilize the abundance of super ingredients available these days (think coconut oil, ginger, and maple syrup instead of refined sugar). Bon appetit!