Everyone seeking to enjoy more tone to their arms, thighs and mid-section loves a fitness challenge at the beginning of summer. But by now, as August and the back-to-school dates approach, most inconsistent exercisers have forgotten about challenges or diets and are gearing up to resume hectic lives that spiral downwards towards the holidays where everyone over-eats and then laments in January that they need to lose weight by summer!
To those of you guilty of the above cycle, I say get off the hamster wheel and try an end of summer challenge – or as I prefer to call it Fall Fitness Challenge. So if you’re ready to get in-shape and/or want to stay in-shape even though summer is waning, here’s my recommended challenge, in 5 simple steps:
1. Drink 8 LARGE glasses of water starting with first thing in the morning and ending with before bed.
2. Spend 1 hour 4 x a week getting and maintaining your heart rate between 135-155 bpm. It’s your choice how you do this, it can be cardio classes, videos at home, a rapid-paced weight routine at the gym, swimming laps, riding a bike (outside or stationary), walking up hills (treadmill or outside), or even playing a sport. It’s one hour per day people – I guarantee you can find the time!
3. Set a goal of one of the following choices and work your way up to achieving the requisite number in one consecutive session: 300 crunches; 100 push ups; 100 squats; 50 pull ups, 50 burpees, etc., or two or more of these options for a more aggressive fitness challenge. Frame the goal(s) in one-two month increments. In other words, decide how long you’ll give yourself to be able to perform the required number work daily/weekly at increasing your strength and stamina until you achieve the goal.
4. Commit to eating 5-6 small meals a day, within little to no processed ingredients (i.e., cereal, crackers, cookies, chips, etc.) . Practice weekly menu and food prep, and allow for one or two meals where you do not over-eat, but allow yourself to enjoy more caloric and/or processed foods & liquids.
5. Spend 10 minutes a day practicing slow meditative-style breathing, and if you average less than 6 hours a night of sleep, commit to adding at least 30 more minutes. Your body will need the extra rest if you’re doing items 2 & 3.
I recommend starting on the target date of Tuesday August 1st to begin this challenge, and keep me appraised of your results.
Three years ago I published the following article concerning the daily mantra of many of you — “why can’t I lose weight?” Despite all my efforts, as well as an increase in National awareness and marketing about how to maintain a healthy body composition, I still hear this lament on a daily basis from prospective clients. So I decided it was time to reiterate my answer.
The eternal question why can’t I lose weight is uttered hundreds of times a day – at least in my profession I hear it from almost every prospective new client. The answer is simple – you’re not doing what you need to do to achieve your goals. The power lies within you. So the real question is what’s wrong with your execution?
Successful weight loss (which is really successful fat loss) is achieved with the following 3-steps:
1. Set an achievable goal for your body type and lifestyle.
2. Create and FOLLOW a nutrition plan that provides enough calories, protein and yes, even carbohydrates and fats to allow for burning of fat and building of lean muscle;
3. Exercise regularly – or more accurately – burn more calories on a daily basis than you consume!
That’s it. If you follow those three steps you WILL succeed. Now you may be saying I do, I am, I have – but I guarantee, if you are still not losing weight (fat) you’re missing one or more nuances to one or more of these steps.
1. GOALS: if you are over 40, in a sedentary job, have lots of stress, have injured body parts (back, legs, shoulders) or weakened joints – any or all of these issues – you MUST take those issues into consideration when setting your goals. With any of these issues you are likely to burn calories at a slower rate than others (age, lifestyle), if you are under stress you may in fact gain weight, and all of these issues greatly impact your ability to successfully follow step No. 2.
2. NUTRITION PLAN: First off, you’ll never succeed if you follow a diet – which implies a temporary change in how you eat (one in which you will cease when you’ve reached your goals). Second, you need to cater your meal plans to your schedule, taste preferences, and budget. Trying to eat what worked for one person who has a different set of criteria is a sure fire way to not succeed.
3. EXERCISE: You’ll note I really addressed this issue as calorie burn. Whether high-impact or low, 10 minutes or 45, resistance training or group classes, your success at embracing and maintaining a consistent exercise (calorie burn) regiment hinges upon you enjoying what you’re doing. If you hate the gym, but love to hike – make it so. If you prefer DVD’s at home rather than working with a personal trainer then do that. The key to remember is BURN MORE CALORIES THAN YOU CONSUME.
That being said, please heed this important note: eating less calories is NOT the answer. The more you burn calories – especially in a proactive way such as resistance training (the fastest way to lose fat) – the more you’ll actually need to eat. You’ll still be at a deficit, but beware of eating too little calories. Your body will hoard what you do eat and you’ll not see a change!
Last word: YOU MUST DO THE WORK!
SHAMELESS PLUG: I would be remise in this page of advice if I did not take advantage of a place to make a shameless plug for my services. I have a website where you can purchase specifically customized workout routines and meal plans that will take into consideration all of the issues I’ve detailed herein and if followed will help you achieve your goals!
Okay, so the kids are back in school and everyone’s weekly routine is quickly settling in for the Fall season. What that means in the fitness industry is a large segment of clients drop off because the “summer-skin-showing” motivation has waned, while another segment of clients ramp up as they frantically seek to work off the extra fat calories gained during vacations and time off with the kids. It is those of you whom I am targeting in this week’s blog (and if some of you summer-bums are seeking renewed motivation this will work for you as well).
Rather than go back to the same old routine you’ve been following all summer (or dare I say all year) – try changing things up and shocking your body into a fast burn of calories with the REPS TO EXHAUSTION method. This type of resistance training is highly efficient at burning fat calories (especially 24-48 hours after) thereby toning muscles rapidly (i.e., you’ll see fast results).
Here’s the gist: for each muscle group choose any exercise (with either free weights or machines) and find the weight amount that is light enough for you to perform 10 reps, but too heavy for 20-25 reps. Then perform that exercise, doing your best to isolate the targeted muscle(s), and continue lifting (or pushing/pulling) the weight until you absolutely positively cannot possibly lift/push/pull any more (ideally somewhere around the 17-22 rep mark). Then rest for 1 full minute and repeat. You should perform 3-5 sets for each exercise.
If you want to keep your workouts to 30-minutes, you can choose just one or two muscle groups per day (like biceps & triceps or quads & hams). In case you need a body-breakdown reminder, here are your targeted areas, all of which you should perform at least 2 different exercises per muscle group, hitting each muscle group 2x per week:
- Biceps (front of arm)
- Triceps (back of arm)
- Deltoids (shoulders)
- Traps & Lats (upper and lower back)
- Quads (front of thighs)
- Hamstrings (back of thighs)
As always, abs are best hit without weights involved. But here too you can choose to perform all exercises (whether crunches, leg lifts or v-sits) until your ab muscles are crying! Don’t forget to always through in several prone-iso-abs (planks) which will strengthen your core from bellybutton to back – and if you’ve been holding them for 30-seconds (the average) – now push yourself to hold until exhaustion.
Keep in mind that this method of lifting requires you to ignore your brain screaming “stop, you’re exhausted“ and listen instead to your muscles. When you simply cannot lift/push/pull anymore because your muscle is truly fatigued – that’s when you rest!
Try this method for the next several weeks, and then switch it up again. If you’re not sure what to do at that point, you know who to contact. Now go get exhausted!
The most valuable tool in your fitness arsenal is motivation. One of the best ways to stay motivated is to see and feel results. The fastest way to see and feel results is through resistance training (weight lifting). I’ve already discussed in my blog that women need to lift weights more often and heavier than most do – that you won’t look like a muscle-bound German swim team member, and that you’ll burn more fat calories than cardio. So the beneficial reasons are clearly well stated and proven – now you just might need a little more help getting and staying motivated to keep pushing and pulling those heavy weights.
Therefore, my advice today is to work your strengths. Everyone, every body type, has one or two muscle groups that are their strongest muscles and/or the ones they like to work the best. For me it’s my biceps and triceps. For you it might be your quads (thigh muscles), pecs (chest), or deltoids (shoulders). Regardless of which muscles they are, playing to your strengths will deliver quick results which in turn garner huge increases in your motivation to work harder.
Despite having long thin arm muscles, I am unusually strong in my biceps and triceps and can lift way more than others my size. Therefore, my ego gets a huge boost which drives me to lift more, and I see quick growth (tone and definition) in my arms which makes me very driven to see more results.
Back when my best friend and I were workout partners, she, who is five inches shorter than me, had huge arms (shorter muscles get larger quicker), but couldn’t curl as much as I. Conversely her chest was her strongest muscle group, and she could bench press twice as much as I could. Consequently she loved chest and back days, while I preferred arm days. But together we kept each other motivated. (Hint: there’s another tip if you missed it … workout out with a spouse or friend and keep each other accountable and motivated.)
I guarantee each of you have one workout day or one body part is that is your favorite and that you can willingly (and enthusiastically) push yourself to do more with. I challenge you to do so, while not forgetting to push a little harder on your other muscle groups until all your workouts are challenging and enjoyable.
Now go lift!
I have been surprised lately to find that there’s still a bit of confusion surrounding how to properly choose and utilize weights when people engage in resistance training to tone muscles and lose body fat. On almost a weekly basis some woman will approach me and say that they only do cardio because they don’t want to bulk up, yet they’re frustrated at the lack of downward movement of the scale.
As I’ve stated many times here in my blog – resistance training (weight lifting) is the key to successful fat reduction. While cardio burns calories, unless you are a career marathon runner, or at the least pay close attention to stay in the fat-burning zone with your cardio as well as what, how, and when you eat, cardio will only trim off a small percentage of fat before you plateau.
Now the confusion about resistance training is in the idea that if a woman lifts heavy weights she’ll turn into “he-man.” Well I’m here to tell you first hand, that it takes a lot of very heavy lifting, and ingesting a massive amount of protein, for most women to really bulk up muscularly. However, if your frame is already large, and there’s a lot of fat surrounding your arm and leg muscles – heavy lifting could definitely make you appear bulky – but once again, its all about understanding how and what to lift.
Most people with any fitness awareness already know that heavy weight + low repetitions = increase in muscle size vs. light weight + high repetitions = toned and trimmed muscles. But there’s a bit more to it. First of all, using only one of these equations can still cause you to plateau (i.e., if you do not switch up your weight levels and lifting patterns you will cease to see results). Secondly, your specific body type and your body’s inherent muscle type (fast twitch or slow twitch) directly affects how your body responds to different types of lifting.
So at the risk of confusing anyone further, let me just state things simply:
Lifting heavy weights will NOT make you bulk up
Lifting light weights a lot of times does not always help you to loose more body fat
“Then what do I do” you ask? The answer is you can either consult a trainer (like ME), or do some experimenting. Change up your routine weekly: lift light, fast and repetitive for one week, followed by heavy, slow and lower in reps the next.
The most important element that makes resistance training actually work is to fatigue and breakdown (not injure) your muscles on a regular basis. No matter how much weight you work with, you’ve got to find the right recipe of repetition vs. intensity vs. weight to successfully exhaust your muscles. Then feed them well (lots of water, protein, and rest), and do it all over again. This is truly the best and most efficient way to lean up your total body.
Please please please believe what I scream to the world almost every day — do not judge your goals by a scale! (You could lose 2 lbs of fat and gain 3 lbs of muscle and if the scale is your focus, you’ll be discouraged at the 1 lb gain!) Remember that muscle weighs more than fat.
Now go lift!
By now most of you know that it is highly beneficial to incorporate resistance training (lifting weights) into your weekly fitness routines. Toning, trimming and/or building muscle burns more fat calories than cardio, increases bone density, and keeps a body looking good and functioning efficiently. What’s important for you to understand is that form is the most important aspect of resistance training. We trainers say “lift smart or go home.”
The problem with so many people finally embracing the weights, is rampant incorrect lifting via poor posture, using over-heavy weights, and lack of proper muscle isolation. The results from this bad technique range from postural distortions (rounded shoulders, tightened leg muscles) to muscle strains. In other words, lifting incorrectly can create neck strain, chronic headaches, sciatic pain in legs, hips and glutes, spine-misalignment, knee strain, ankle weakness, and more.
Therefore today I will offer three easy tips that if followed will help you avoid some of the painful postural distortions. (Should you desire specific exercise instruction, contact me directly.)
1. BALANCE YOUR WEIGHTS:
Even if your goal is to have huge muscles, lifting heaving is not the necessarily the way to achieve that goal. The key is to find the balanced amount of weight that challenges your muscles without having to over-tax adjoining muscle groups just to get the lift (or push) conducted. Example: Dumbbell Biceps Curls performed with too heavy a weight can overly-engage your delts (shoulders) and traps (lower neck). This in turn, stretches those muscles out while shortening your pectorials (chest muscles), which causes forward-rounded shoulders that pull on your neck and spine.
Performing repetitions of 8-12 where your muscles are being exhausted through the repetitions while still bearing at least 85% of the actual weight will result in fast and visible benefits while not wrenching your muscles or spine of out whack.
2. START WITH GOOD POSTURE:
This tip works in tandem with the tip #3 below as you cannot have good posture without limber and flexible muscles. This is not to say that you have to be “gymnast-limber,” but you do need to have enough flexibility to execute the moves listed below. Performing moves while standing in a neutral position with head, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles aligned (or sitting with torso aligned) will allow you full range of motion on all exercise, better isolation of the targeted muscle(s), and again, less incorporation of unnecessary muscle groups.
3. STRETCH CORRECTLY:
Before any resistance training workout I always recommend at least 5 minutes of non-aerobic cardio (i.e., elliptical or walking at an incline). This gets blood flowing evenly throughout the body and warms up the muscles making them more supple for flexing and contracting. Equally important is a post -workout stretch of your entire body. A lot of people tend to only stretch the muscles they have just worked, but again if you are prone to improper lifting form, you will have undoubtedly worked other muscles that would benefit from stretching as well. You do not need to be a yoga-master, but a well-stretched body should be able to perform the following stances:
Standing in a deep, stationary and stable 90-degree lunge (each leg);
OVERHEAD ARM STRETCH:
Able to clasp your hands above directly over-head without your head sticking forward in front of your arms or your arms forward in front of your face (arms directly in-line with ears)
SUPINE OVERHEAD ARM STRETCH:
Able to rest arms comfortably over-head while lying in a supine (face-up) position on the floor. (If your arms are not able to comfortably rest on the ground above your head, your shoulder-girdle is too tight.)
WIDE-LEG TOUCH DOWN:
Relax into a wide-leg toe touch – legs in wide stance, bent at waist, fingers or palms hands resting comfortably on the ground.
* * * *
In closing I continue to encourage everyone to resistance train – weight bearing exercises are so beneficial for all adults – but please, take care, take your time, tell your ego to be quiet, and lift smart!
In the 12 years that I have been a Certified Personal Trainer, my approach to training and designing of routines has changed as has the fitness industry itself. There’s always newer, faster, more efficient exercises or equipment that changes how we approach workouts. But I have consistently utilized one favorite technique throughout these 12 years – that of the combo moves.
A combo move is a combination of 2-4 exercises that target either the same muscle group (i.e., biceps) or agonist + antagonist muscles (chest + triceps). The beauty of combo moves, and hence the reason they are still so relevant a tool in workout design, is that they can give you twice the benefit in half the time.
With everyone wanting to spend less time exercising, while simultaneously seeing quicker and better results, combo moves should be in everyone’s repertoire. Now before you go combining moves on your own, there’s a few things you should be clear on.
First, and foremost, is form. Form is essential to the success of your workouts – good and proper form gives you the most effectiveness in the least amount of time. Often I see a client (usually a man) who is lifting too heavy a weight with too little range of motion, and incorporating multiple muscle groups to help him lift (contraction of the muscle) all of which results in less gain and potential strain. I come in, lower their weight sometimes by half, and see to their proper posture and execution of the exercise. Lo and behold, suddenly they start to see huge results (huge muscles that is) though remarkably they can barely get through a set of ten with the “little” weights I’ve given them. They may not understand it, but they’re always happy with the results.
Second, the combinations themselves do matter. While a combination of three different biceps dumbbell curls is an effective combo, six weeks later, what will you do? The answer may be agonist/antagonist combos – but do you know which muscle groups are which? (That’s where a trainer comes in!)
Think about it this way, when you bench press, on the push of the weights you are relying upon the pectoral muscles (agonist) to support the weight you are holding above you. But when you reverse and bring the weights back to starting position, you are actually using more triceps (antagonist) to support the weight. So a good combo move would be chest press + triceps ear busters.
Clearly I’m not going to give away all of my bag o’ tricks, but you should get the gist enough to make your workouts more effective than they’ve been. If you are interested in getting a customized routine full of combo moves, please check out my website www.workouts247.com.
N o one likes to be isolated – except for muscles! Isolating muscle groups when you work out can make a HUGE difference on the quality of your results and how quickly you achieve them.
Having a dance background (studied Ballet and Jazz from age 3-18), I have to remind myself that I have a skill many people at the gym lack. I understand isolations. Isolation is the ability to focus on only the muscle(s) needed for a particular movement. Dancers routinely run through a series of isolations in their morning warm ups to ensure that each muscle group is properly warmed and stretched prior to dancing.
Isolations is very important when it comes to resistance training as it will help you gain the most benefit from the least amount of lifting. But I have found that most people do not understand how to isolate their muscles. Therefore you see a lot over or under extension, swinging other body parts, and bad posture incorporated when people lift weights. This can cause injury, but more importantly it is an ineffective and inefficient way to work out. You’ll spend more time, often lifting heavier than you need to, and see less results. Who wants that?
So the next time you hit the weights, try the following the ideas. I’ll use a standard biceps curl as my example:
1. Ascertain exactly what muscle group the exercise is designed to affect (i.e., curls=biceps).
2. Position yourself (whether sitting or standing) in a way that will allow the rest of your body to stay relatively still, and any secondary muscles needed will only contribute about 25% of the exertion. In other words though your forearms are utilized they should not carry the brunt of the weight, and your shoulders should stay out of it completely.
3. Perform the exercise (the curl) slowly and precisely, maintaining a consistent contraction of the biceps (a squeezing) as you lift, and a slight relaxing and stretching of the muscles on the lowering (lowering all the way down, not half way as many people do).
4. Lift enough repetitions to exhaust the muscles and make them burn. If you start to swing your body or feel your shoulders pulling, or your forearms fatiguing, redirect your efforts back exclusively to the biceps (relax your hands, forearms and shoulders). Then do 5 more reps!
After 3-5 sets performed in this manner, you will have torn down and exhausted the muscles effectively, and now you can move on to another body part and do the same. Focusing on the quality of your form also helps you stay motivated as you will see more rapid results which always begets fresh enthusiasm to continue with your fitness goals.
So take the time to watch your form and learn to isolate each muscle group. Your body will thank you!
It’s almost summer, and the gym is packed. Every year gyms enjoy the “seasonal” membership cram session from March through August as everyone attempts to put their bodies into pool-side shape.
Some of you clearly enjoy your daily hour spent strolling on a treadmill (at a steep incline while holding on is a stroll not a workout) while reading a magazine or catching up with friends on your cell phone. Then a quick 20-minute saunter through the resistance machines circuit and you are out the door, certain you have done your part to lean down and tone up.
Conversely, there are those who begrudgingly speed through a haphazard routine of machines and cardio equipment, all the while looking discouraged and bored. But still, you persevere because as we have all been told, and now believe, exercise is the road to body perfection, good health, and long life.
There are also a handful of dedicated “gym-rats” who love their 1-2 hours of daily assault to their muscles and challenges to their cardio-vascular system. But for the most part, the majority of gym members say they force themselves to workout, but wish they could obtain their exercise another way.
Now depending upon where you live, there are a myriad of wonderful choices that take or keep you outside having fun while exercising (biking, hiking, rock climbing, swimming, running, etc. But for those in Cities/States where outdoor activities are limited in the 100+ heat of summer (Arizona, Nevada) or the -10 degrees of winter (Alaska, Minnesota), the gym is often the only choice. Whether you view it as friend or foe, the gym is an easy, self-contained, climate controlled environment to help you change your body, so embrace it and get it done – quickly, efficiently, and enjoyably.
Below are a few points that will hopefully make the gym a friend to you all:
1. Exercise in your target heart rate. Everyone has a different Target Heart Rate (THR) depending on their Resting Heart Rate and their age. You may have noticed each piece of cardio equipment has a THR chart broken down by age (in increments of 10 years). These charts show percentage zones, the lower being the “fat burning zone,” the higher an “endurance zone.” Understand that these charts are very generic and only slightly helpful. Most trainers who work at your gym should be able to give you a more precise THR for you to aim to achieve proper fat burning.
If you perform cardio at a rate too low, i.e., you can carry on a conversation or easily read a magazine, you are doing nothing but burning a few calories which you will regain upon your next meal!
If you are performing cardio at too high a rate, i.e., you cannot talk without gulping for air, and are panting profusely. This means you are likely out of your fat burning zone as well, and therefore, defeating the purpose.
2. Effective Treadmill usage. How many of you walk on a treadmill for 40-60 minutes? How many of you are noticing only slight changes to your body from this activity (or no further changes after an initial weight loss)? Consider that after 3 weeks of the same activity, your body’s progress plateaus. Also consider that you could spend half that amount of time, and be twice as effective in seeing results! Wouldn’t you prefer that? If so, here’s a tip:
Keep the treadmill on manual mode. Every 1 minute change either the speed or incline (or both). Once you have reached your THR goal, yo-yo the speed and incline to maintain that THR within 15 degrees (i.e., if your THR is 150, stay between 145 and 160). Next, most importantly: do NOT hold on! If you have balance issues, or are briefly checking your heart rate, then please grab a handle. But all other times, holding on is a huge crutch and wastes your time.
Twenty to thirty minutes of walking at a steep incline (not holding on) at a speed that is slightly challenging but comfortable, combined with moments at a much lesser incline, but a faster walk, and even throwing in a few 1-minute sprints (as fast as you can run with no incline) is the best way to make the time fly, (and be effective too). This approach also has great toning effects to the back of your legs and buttocks.
3. Ellipticals. Aside from monitoring your THR, the only change I might suggest for your elliptical use is to alternate backwards and forwards every other minute. If there is tension or angle that can be changed, change them as well – continuing to alter something and your direction, every one minute.
4. Stationary Bikes. Pick a different pre-programmed mode each time you ride, and try standing up while you pedal for brief periods (on an upright bike), or changing seat distance on a recumbent.
5. Weight Lifting/Resistance Training. Change your routine every 3-4 weeks. Alter the order in which you perform your exercises. Make the weight lighter and perform more reps, or heavier with less reps. Increase your sets. Always, make sure you are challenging yourself to complete your reps and sets. Fifteen minutes of muscle exhausting focused work beats 30 minutes of exercises where you barely break a sweat.
If you can commit to one hour, five times a week, you may indeed see the results you crave. Needless to say, a personal trainer is a great way to get proper focus, direction, and instruction but if you are motivated enough, you can do it yourself.
Also, do not forget that your approach to exercise is only as successful as your nutritional intake (remember five meals, small quantities of good quality foods, less sugar and fat, and lots of water, etc.) Healthy nutrition (what and when you eat), management of your stress, and the proper amount of rest/sleep will also help you achieve your weight loss goals (nutrition alone plays a 70% role of body fat reduction).
If you incorporate these tips, your gym visits may be shorter and more satisfying, not to mention more effective! Once you see/feel changes to your body, it becomes easier and more satisfying to go to the gym.
(If you would like to have a customized workout routine designed for you by a trainer, visit www.workouts247.com where for a fraction of the cost of working with a trainer, you can receive a personalized routine catered to your tastes, time availability, and equipment preference, as well as a customized and easy to follow menu plan.)