Jen Mueller (SPARK_COACH_JEN)

SparkPeople Community Director and Fitness Coach

Jen Mueller left her first career in corporate finance to earn a master's degree in health education. She is a busy mom of four and holds a number of fitness certifications (including ACE's Health Coach, Personal Trainer, Medical Exercise Specialist and Behavior Change Specialist). She is passionate about helping people reach their health and fitness goals. In her spare time, Jen loves running, kickboxing and spending time with her family. Jen enjoys blogging about raising healthy children and how small behavior changes can impact health and quality of life.


Read More of Jen's Blogs:

Can 'Good Enough' Be Enough?

I freely admit that I'm a perfectionist. I like things done a certain way and sometimes get frustrated when things don't go as planned. I spent many years putting too many items on my daily to-do list, then easily discounting all my daily accomplishments when a few things on the list weren't completed.

The past few years, I started getting tired—not just the tired like you feel at the end of a long day, but a really worn down kind of tired. I blamed the fact that I'm a busy mom with lots of responsibilities, but deep down I knew that some of what was happening was totally under my control. The expectations I was setting for myself were too high, and I was constantly struggling with falling short. I was trying to be a superstar in all areas of my life and it wasn't going well.

My husband encouraged me to think about my daily tasks and whether or not they all really needed to be on the to-do list. Did the house need to look spotless every day? Did I have to make a complicated dinner every night, or were sandwiches okay sometimes? Did I have to be the first one to volunteer for every project, or could I take a backseat and let others step up?

Posted 9/10/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 71 comments   8,971 views

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7 Super Exercises for Shapely Shoulders

Whether your goal is to rock that new sleeveless dress or just perform everyday activities with ease, training the shoulders is an important part of any well-rounded exercise routine. Defined shoulders are a sign of strength, help to improve posture and can boost self-confidence, but strong shoulders are about so much more than just appearance.

Most upper-body activities involve your shoulders to some extent. Every time you lift a heavy bag of groceries out of the car, pass a tray of food across the dinner table or put a box on the top shelf of the garage, you're engaging your shoulder muscles. In order to prevent injury and optimize functional ability, you need to train the shoulders for mobility, stability and strength.

The shoulder is comprised of four joints and can move in all three planes of motion. As a result, the shoulder is one of the most mobile but least stable joints in the body. This contradiction explains why shoulder injuries are so common and why focusing on developing and maintaining strong shoulders with proper mobility becomes so important. Years of poor posture, decreased range of motion as we age or even a simple fall can all lead to shoulder pain and chronic discomfort.

It's important to include a variety of shoulder exercises in your workout program to develop stability and mobility, while simultaneously getting you ready to show off your shapely arms in your favorite tank top. Add a few of these exercises to your full-body strength routine, using an amount of weight that's challenging but still allows you to complete the last repetition with proper form. Start with one to three sets of each exercise, eight to 12 repetitions per set, and after a few weeks, swap in a few different moves for variety and a continuous challenge.

Posted 6/20/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 87 comments   55,404 views

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How Yoga Taught Me Not to Fear New Things

I am a creature of habit. I eat the same breakfast and lunch every day, I do certain household chores on the same days each week and my workout schedule basically follows the same structure no matter what (strength training on Mondays, running on Tuesdays, etc.). Part of this is due to my personality—I like structure and predictability—and part is out of necessity—I have four kids in a lot of activities, I work and I exercise daily. It wouldn't be possible to get as much done if it weren't for a routine.

Although this structure allows me to be very efficient, it's also made me very hesitant to try new things over the years. I either convince myself I don't have time, or the anxiety of stepping out of my comfort zone is more than I wanted to deal with. That is until three years ago.

Posted 5/8/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 50 comments   17,495 views

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Upcoming Changes to SparkPeople.TV

Hello, everyone!

We're making some changes to the website and, as with anything we do, we like to give you a heads up to what's coming. Beginning this week, the "Videos" tab in the navigation bar will be going away. Effective May 15th, SparkPeople.TV will no longer be available. Don't worry, you'll still be able to access all our SparkPeople-produced videos. This change only affects the availability of our partner's videos.

We work hard to offer a wide variety of features on the site, while keeping a close eye on the ones that are most popular and resonate with members. Based on your interaction with SparkPeople.TV, we know our SparkPeople-produced videos are some of your favorites, so we wanted to be sure to  keep those around for everyone to use.

Although this feature is going away, we have lots of other exciting projects in the works! In the coming months, be on the lookout for enhancements to SparkChallenges, the simplification of some features to benefit both current and new members, and new features to help you focus on your goals and maximize your potential for success. We're exciting about what's coming in the near future!

Thanks for your continued support of SparkPeople's mission to SPARK millions of PEOPLE to reach their goals and lead healthier lives!   

Posted 4/25/2018  9:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 67 comments   8,011 views

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8 Workouts for Anyone Who Hates Morning Workouts

You're well-aware of the benefits of morning exercise—it gives your metabolism a boost, helps you stay in a consistent routine and gets your day off to a healthy start. But despite your best efforts, this morning workout thing just isn't happening. You're not the type whose feet hit the floor bursting with energy and ready to get the day going. Mornings are not now, nor have they ever been your most productive time of day, and past attempts to convert to a morning exerciser have been met with frustration and exhaustion.

Does this mean that if you have any chance of creating a regular routine, you'll have to find space in your day sometime after the clock strikes noon? Not necessarily. Lots of people who never thought it was possible have found a way to make exercise a regular part of their morning routine. For some, the secret has been to prep the night before so the morning routine is as smooth and easy as possible. For others, weaning themselves off of the snooze button and getting to bed earlier has made getting up less difficult. Here's something to keep in mind: Most morning exercisers don't do it because they are bursting with energy as soon as the alarm goes off. They do it because they remember what it feels like to finish a morning workout and feel that sense of accomplishment. Feeling good about yourself will always drive you to come back for more.

Maybe part of your problem has been that the activities you pick aren't ideal for someone who doesn't hit their stride until later in the day. Some exercises are better suited to ease you into the day, so consider trying a few of these to convert you into the morning exerciser you've always dreamed of becoming.

Posted 4/25/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 68 comments   32,560 views

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6 Places to Find Cheap, Healthy Groceries

My sister is a thrifty shopper. She knows where to find deals and is constantly comparing prices, especially when it comes to groceries. When I mentioned that a new Aldi store opened near my house, "You have to check it out!" was her immediate response. "You'll be surprised how many healthy foods you can find there at a fraction of the cost you're paying at the regular grocery store."

Skeptically, I decided to make the trip, assuming I wouldn't find any of the foods I normally purchase and it would likely be a wasted effort. I was completely wrong. For example, the bags of nuts I buy almost every week were two dollars cheaper. The organic apples I pay $2.49/pound for were $5 for a five-pound bag.

Eating healthy on a budget doesn't have to be more expensive than a diet full of processed foods. By planning ahead and comparing prices, you can incorporate inexpensive, healthy foods into your diet for less than you might think. You've probably heard money-saving tips like "buy in bulk" and "shop in season," but are there really certain stores that provide deeper discounts than others?

Posted 4/10/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 120 comments   36,592 views

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A New Workout Challenge With Limited Mobility in Mind

Whether you've been sidelined due to injury or a permanent disability keeps you from being as active as you'd like, it can be frustrating to try to modify workouts to meet your needs. How do you keep moving and motivated when your joints and muscles hurt? What if you want to try an activity but it's not an option right now, or you don't even know where to begin? If you can't get up and down from the floor, or running and other traditional forms of exercise aren't possible, does that mean you're destined to be a couch potato? Certainly not!

The term "limited mobility" covers a wide range of situations. Your activity level could be limited due to a chronic condition such as arthritis or multiple sclerosis, a temporary injury or your size. The new 30-day Limited Mobility Challenge has something for everyone: tips to stay motivated, seated workouts, information on how to deal with specific kinds of pain and advice on how to modify workouts to meet your needs. While every day of the challenge might not apply specifically to your exact situation, you'll still get good ideas to get moving and stay moving on your journey to a healthier you. As an added bonus, you'll get SparkPoints for each day of the challenge you complete!

Posted 4/2/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 54 comments   34,917 views

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It's Time to Stop Feeling Guilty About Relaxing

My days start early and are full of activity, whether it's working, getting my four kids to and from where they need to be, or squeezing in daily chores and errands. Most of the time, I like it that way. I prefer to be on the go instead of sitting at home with nothing to do, but it has gotten to the point where I find it hard to remember how to really relax.

I know I'm not alone. When I ask moms at school, "How are things?" the answer I typically get is, "You know, busy as ever!" Life can be really stressful when you're trying to juggle commitments to family, friends and work. Often, the commitment to yourself takes a backseat—but does it always have to be this way?

Posted 2/28/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 82 comments   21,941 views

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Change the Way You Snack With Our New Challenge

When it comes to healthy eating, the focus is almost always on your three square meals of the day. Meal planning revolves around them and your day seems to be planned around eating at certain times of day. But who actually eats that way? If you're like most, you likely find yourself craving nourishment in between meals, and a misunderstanding about how to satisfy that craving is often responsible for derailing an otherwise healthy diet.

Without a strategy, snacking, mindless munching and emotional eating can quickly ruin your day of healthy eating. We see members struggle with salty and sweet cravings that threaten to end their best intentions, leaving them feeling like they've failed.

Snacking doesn't have to be a struggle, though, which is why we're excited to announce SparkPeople's 28-Day "Smart Snacking" Challenge. Designed to educate you about how snacks can be beneficial to a healthy diet, you'll learn how to find healthy snacks, understand when to incorporate them into your day and challenge yourself to create your own delicious snacks right at home. In just 28 days, you'll have a snacking strategy that works for you while earning SparkPoints for each day of the challenge you complete! When you're ready to reexamine this important healthy eating factor, invite your friends and join us for a challenge that will change the way you think about snacks.

Posted 1/1/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 89 comments   32,413 views

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100 Amazing Reasons to Start Losing Weight Today

You've been talking about losing weight for a long time, but it always seems like something—the assumption that you'll have to change everything about your lifestyle, a fear of failure, lack of motivation to get started—stands in your way. The good news is that even small changes can add up to big results when done consistently. All it takes is one final straw, one life-changing "a-ha!" moment where you decide that now is the time to take charge of your life.

If you've been looking for that extra kick in the pants to get moving in the right direction, why not look to your peers for inspiration? We asked SparkPeople members why starting the weight-loss journey today is a better idea than putting it off until tomorrow and here are their 100 best responses. 

Posted 12/8/2017  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 125 comments   50,540 views

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6 Stretching Routines for 6 Different Workouts

Is there anything better than a good stretch after a tough workout? Taking the time to cool down and help your muscles relax as you reflect on your accomplishment for the day is second to nothing when it comes to exercise. Although it can be tempting to skip the stretch if you're short on time, stretching has some great benefits you can't ignore.

One reason some people neglect their post-workout stretch is that they aren't sure what exactly to do to help their body start to recover. Wonder no more: These six stretching routines are specifically designed to target the muscles you just worked in six of the most common workouts. Each will leave you energized and ready to tackle the daily challenges that lie ahead.

Current recommendations are to stretch after a workout when your muscles are warm, but not before.  Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds in a static position (no bouncing). Release, then hold again for another 15 to 30 seconds. You should stretch to the point of mild discomfort, but never pain. If you are unable to perform any of the suggested stretches in the routine, SparkPeople's Exercise Library has a number of variations from which to choose.

Posted 11/27/2017  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 88 comments   29,127 views

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Stay on Track With Our 4-Week Healthy Holiday Challenge

Whether you're new to the healthy lifestyle journey or a seasoned veteran, the holidays are a challenge for all of us. Between cookie exchanges, holiday parties, potlucks at the office and bags of candy the kids bring home from school, even the most dedicated meal planner or calorie counter might see their willpower waver. Does that mean you're destined to pack on the pounds between now and January 1st, though? Believe it or not, with a little planning ahead and some determination, you can enjoy the holiday season while still going after your goals.

Think back to how you've felt after the holidays in years past. Was there disappointment that you overindulged? Did you feel discouraged that you undid a lot of the progress you'd made earlier in the year? Did you experience the feeling of "Oh great, here we go again"? You can't change the mistakes of the past, but you can learn from them. Instead of giving yourself a mountain to start climbing again on the first day of the new year, what if this year was different? Could this be the year that you keep moving forward, regardless of the temptations life (and Grandma's apple pie!) throw at you?

Posted 11/13/2017  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 94 comments   42,735 views

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The Power of a Boring Exercise Routine

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • You eat the same breakfast every day because it gives you one less thing to think about on busy mornings when you're trying to get out the door.
  • You drive the same way to work each day because you know the route and the traffic routine is fairly consistent.
  • You exercise every day on your lunch hour because you know that time of day works best for you.
  • You eat snacks and meals at the same time each day because you know that's when you'll be hungry.
There's nothing wrong with being a creature of habit, especially when those habits are good for you and your overall wellbeing. Habits help you get through the day productively so that you aren't constantly having to make complicated decisions.

With so many fitness trainers and experts insisting on the importance of "mixing things up for maximum results," though, you might feel pressure to constantly change your exercise routine. While it's true that you don't want to do the same exercise routine exactly the same way every single day for months and months, does that mean everything about your routine has to change? If you walk regularly, do you need to stop walking and do something completely different?

Posted 10/30/2017  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 94 comments   26,191 views

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Are You Cheating Yourself Out of Greatness Due to Fear?

"No matter how slow you go, you're still lapping everyone on the couch." Susie Miller

I've always joked about the fact that I'm a slow runner. I remind my kids that even though they can beat me in a sprint, eventually my endurance will win out and I'll catch them. Just as the tortoise eventually caught up to the hare, it just takes me a little while longer.

Have you ever been intimidated to try new activities because you know there's a chance you'll finish last or can't keep up? Are you worried that people will judge you because of it? Perhaps there's a class at the gym you've always wanted to try, but you're not sure if you're fit enough. Maybe you'd love to take a walk or jog around the neighborhood, but don't want everyone to judge your form or pace. Have you ever stopped to think that maybe you're too focused on other's opinions when you should just be focusing on yourself?

Posted 10/17/2017  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 66 comments   21,600 views

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8 Life-Changing Health Lessons I Learned in My 30s

Earlier this year, a major milestone happened in my life, an event that I'm still working to fully process. Crazy as it sounds (to me at least), I turned 40.

I had a wide range of emotions leading up to the day, the biggest being disbelief since I clearly remember when my own mother celebrated her 40th birthday. Didn't I just graduate from high school and college a few years ago? Apparently not.

When I think back to my 30s, a lot of it is a sleep-deprived blur, best summarized by just a few words: kids, kids and more kids. I had my first child just before I turned 30 and three more within the next six years. I spent most of my time being pregnant, taking care of newborns and learning to juggle the needs of four children. I'm still working on that juggling act every day, and I don't think that will ever change. Don't get me wrong: My children are wonderful and I wouldn't trade them for anything. But it was a big adjustment to go from focusing primarily on myself for 29 years, to putting myself completely on the back burner within such a short period of time.

Posted 10/9/2017  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 117 comments   30,503 views

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