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The first thing Elisabeth Hasselbeck wants you to know is that she could never have done this on her own. "This" being an eye-popping transformation from postpartum mom to chiseled-abs cover model. "The night before my photo shoot," she says, "I wrote thank-you notes to everyone at La Palestra who helped me reach this point. I feel amazing." La Palestra is the New York City center where Elisabeth worked out for her FITNESS body-after-baby debut. It's more than a gym -- the company practices "total integration," says CEO Pat Manocchia of his team of nutritionists, psychologists, and trainers. "We treat the whole person. It's as much about your childhood and eating habits as it is about your biceps."
For Elisabeth, it was also about redefining her relationship to exercise. Though her initial goal was getting in shape for her first-ever bikini cover shoot (just 14 weeks after giving birth!), she now says she's got bigger things in mind. "I'm in it for the long haul," Elisabeth says. "The program has a clear mind/body approach. It's completely changed how I work out."
This coming from a woman who's no newbie to the perks of exercise: As a supporter of the Women's Sports Foundation's GoGirlGo! program, which encourages young women's involvement in athletics, she's seen firsthand the difference an active lifestyle can make in girls' self-esteem. She sat down to talk with FITNESS about her healthy body -- but more important, her healthy attitude.
FITNESS: You're in amazing shape after a seven-week program. What was the most surprising part?
EH: Working with Pat was a hate-to-love relationship. I had done the same workout for years -- I was fixated on getting in my six-mile run every day. When he told me he was changing my routine, I freaked out. I e-mailed him and said, "If you don't let me do it my way, I'm going to go on 'sneaky runs.' And he e-mailed me back, like a drill sergeant on the first day of boot camp, and knocked down every preconception I had about fitness. He told me this program was about working from the inside out, that it was quality of movement, not quantity. He said I had an exercise-dependency issue and that we were going to change that! I was resistant at first.
FITNESS: Exercise dependency?
EH: I am an overscheduled mom. I would think about that six-mile run every day with fear. More than looking forward to it, I dreaded not fitting it in. I used to hate my days off. I'd feel guilty, like I was lazy for not doing anything. I'm finally learning to enjoy exercise because of how it makes me feel, not because I'm afraid of how I'll feel if I miss it.
FITNESS: So you did a lot of cardio. What did you think of the program's weight-training element?
EH: I was worried that I'd bulk up. But Pat designed a routine that mixes cardio, core work, and weight training every other day, in a way that's made me really strong. My runs are broken down into fewer miles, with a long run on Saturday. It used to be that when I'd go for a run, I'd feel it in every bone in my body. That pain is gone.
FITNESS: You also worked with a nutritionist.
EH: My choices are limited right now. I have celiac disease -- which means I'm allergic to gluten, the protein in barley, wheat, and rye -- and I'm breastfeeding. I stuck to about 2,000 calories a day and e-mailed my nutritionist, Sydney Foster, a log of what I was eating. Breakfast was usually an egg-and-four-egg-whites omelet with spinach, a bowl of grapes or an apple, and a Think Thin or BioGenesis bar. At work, I'd snack on a small bag of almonds and have another bar, then eat tuna, salad, and fruit for lunch. For dinner, I love having meat: either steak or ground turkey that I throw in a pan and cook with veggies, then serve in a corn tortilla.
FITNESS: The program included a psychology component. What was that like?
EH: At first I didn't want to do that part. I just wanted to look good in a bathing suit! But I learned so much about the relationship between the body and the mind. Deborah Yamin, the therapist, had me do objective-thinking exercises. One of them was to describe myself, from head to toe, as a child would describe me. The idea is to use neutral words -- like "I have long hair or blond hair?-- not "My hair looks really bad today." It makes you realize how many critical things we say about our appearance that children would never say. It helped me see what I really wanted from this program, which was to do something so one day my daughter, Grace, can look at these photos and say, "Wow, my mommy is strong."
FITNESS: Do you ever have moments of self-doubt about your body?
EH: I used to have them all the time -- "I feel fat" or whatever. Depending on whether I got my run in that day -- or if I indulged in something I ate -- I'd think of myself as perfectly fine or perfectly not. No matter how big or small, women have those thoughts. Body image has nothing to do with scale numbers, it's how you feel inside. This is the first time I've felt free from that, because I am working out in a way where I feel so strong that there's no room for those doubts.
FITNESS: Which body part has your new routine made you most proud of?
EH: Oddly enough, my back. I'd had back spasms for two and a half years. I thought it was because my back muscles were too big and too tight, but Pat showed me it was the opposite. He gave me a series of exercises to do, and I've seen a real change; the pain is gone. Also, I came to grips with my bum. Before, I always tied a shirt around my waist when I went for a run. It was ridiculous. Here I am trying to wean my daughter from her blankie, and meanwhile I'm hanging a shirt around me to cover my rear like my own security blanket. I finally told myself, "I'm not doing this anymore -- I have nothing to hide." I've got some curves, I've got a bubble butt, but I don't mind, because it's what powers me forward when I run. And, of course, being a new mom, I'm proud of the work we did toning up my tummy.
FITNESS: Who is your body icon?
EH: I look at athletes like the Williams sisters, Mia Hamm -- women who have pushed themselves to a place where they are so strong. Growing up, my dad was a mentor. He was incredibly physically fit. He'd get up first thing in the morning and run five miles and do push-ups before breakfast. I thought that's what everybody did. His commitment to taking care of himself and his body is just ingrained in me. Now, I look at my husband [professional football player Tim Hasselbeck] and how hard he works out. He never complains. His motivation helps me during the times when I need a push.
FITNESS: Should TV shows and movies provide more realistic body ideals?
EH: To expect that anything put out by Hollywood is going to be realistic is a bit naive at this point. But that's me, a 31-year-old woman, talking. If you're a 15-year-old girl, you look at these bodies and think, How am I going to attain this? I believe we have a responsibility in terms of disclosure about what's touched up. More and more actresses are saying, "Look what they did to my waist on that photo shoot!" That is powerful because at least it gives women a chance to express their imperfections. We owe it to girls out there to portray a healthy and true image of ourselves.
FITNESS: Are you more confident in your body now than, say, 10 years ago?
EH: Definitely. Somewhere in my mid-20s, I lost a bit of my body confidence. I stopped vocalizing any negative thoughts about my body when I had Grace. I didn't want my worries to affect how she thinks about herself. But just because I stopped saying them didn't mean I stopped thinking them. This program has helped me find that confidence in my own body again, because I'm not training like a woman who wants to fit into her jeans -- I am training like an athlete who wants to get strong. I feel renewed, strong, and determined.
GoGirlGo! is an initiative launched by the Women's Sports Foundation to encourage girls ages 8 to 18 to develop active, healthy, and fit lifestyles as a way to combat eating disorders, obesity, and low self-esteem. Key elements include Open House Weeks across the country that let girls try fun, free activities; a guide to life featuring pro athletes; mentoring programs; challenge races for moms and daughters; and scholarship opportunities for the economically disadvantaged and underserved.
La Palestra's method focuses on health, not weight, explains founder and trainer Pat Manocchia. "We're building habits that last." He designed Elisabeth's postpartum program with the goal of increasing cardiovascular and strength levels while addressing new-mom issues of little time and uneven energy. Use Elisabeth's program as your guideline, aiming for core and cardio workouts three to four times a week and strength training twice weekly.Warm-Up
10 minutes of easy cardio. (Elisabeth did the stationary bike, elliptical, or stairclimber.)Core Workout
The goal: To get deeper levels of abdominal muscles and stabilize her spine, says Manocchia.Running
Form is very important, as is varying moves to prevent injury. Cardio workouts switched between quarter-mile sprints, two-mile runs, then quarters again. Once a week Elisabeth did a longer run of four to six miles.Strength Training
"We split up muscle groups for maximum impact," says Manocchia. "One day was legs and shoulders; the next, back and biceps." She started with 2 sets of 10 reps and worked up to 3 sets of 20 reps, mostly doing exercises that use her body as resistance.The Playlist