Now that we’re clear of the final summer hurdle – the three day Labor Day Weekend – many of you feel it’s time to buckle down and really work hard on leaning up your body composition, especially before the high-caloric holidays hit us between November and December. So today I thought I’d share with you one of my favorite ways to torture my clients (probably how I got the name “Priestess of Pain”) – the Playing Card Workout.
This workout is so versatile and customizable it can be used with kids or adults, at a gym, or at home with as little as resistance bands and/or just body weight exercises. You can also decide whether you’re going to “play” this workout for as little as 10-minutes, up to 30 or 60-minutes, it’s your choice.
The concept is simple: you assign a type and quantity of exercise to each of the cards Ace Through King (1-13) in a deck of playing cards. Then you shuffle them up, and take one card at a time, perform the exercise designated for that number (or face card), and then go back and pick another. I change up my exercises regularly but here’s one I’ve used on beginning fitness clients who have just some basic gear. Remember it doesn’t matter the suit, just the number of the card:
- Ace (1) 10 Burpees
- Two 25 Jumping Jacks
- Three 15 Push-ups
- Four 10 Single Leg Touch Downs (each)
- Five 25 Biceps Curls (dumbbells or resistance bands)
- Six 30 Crunches
- Seven 10 Incline Push Ups (against a bench or chair)
- Eight 50 Air squats
- Nine 3 30-second planks
- Ten 15 Triceps dips (using bench, chair or counter)
- Jack (11) 30 Mountain Climbers
- Queen (12) 20 Crab Walks
- King (13) 15 Shoulder presses (dumbbells or resistance bands)
It doesn’t matter if you turn over the same numbered card numerous times (i.e., you turn over two 6’s in a row – you’ll be doing 60 crunches). Keep the pace fast if you’re only working out for a short period (10-20 mins). For longer (30-60 mins), every 10-minutes take a 2 minute break for water and to slow your heart rate down.
There’s an even simpler option, assign only 4 exercises, one for each suit, and then perform that exercise for the amount of times of the numbered card you pick (i.e., Clubs = Push ups, a 5 of clubs is 5 push ups). But either way, you’ll achieve great results and it’s hard to plateau with this workout.
This workout routine will keep boredom at bay as it stimulates your brain and challenges your body, and it has effective cardio with simultaneous muscle fatigue all built in to one fun routine. I challenge you to try it with your whole family, and encourage the kids to assign the exercises. For those of you who are excited that Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back at Starbucks for the season, you’ll need to work of those calories for sure, and this is a quick easy way to do it. Cheers and good luck!
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.
Cardio wimps, take heart, you’re not alone!
I’ve admitted this before in my blog, but in case you missed it – I’m a cardio wimp! Every time I hop on a treadmill, stair climber, or elliptical I start with an enthusiastic committment to plow through 45 minutes of heart strengthening, fat burning cardio, and every time I get to about 20 minutes and my brain says stop this insanity, stop right now! I try to ignore my brain and usually make it about 30 until my all I can focus on is my aching knees, or how winded or light-headed I think I am. Sadly, though I know my brain is lying to me, I succumb because I just don’t like cardio.
I truly envy all you people who can mindlessly run, cycle or climb stairs for ridiculously long periods of time, enjoying the surge of endorphins that result from sustained anaerobic activity which allow you to keep on moving and reap the rewards of lengthy cardio. I especially appreciate the fact that one’s ability to sustain cardio is not directly affected by a person’s external shape. In other words, there are many people carrying extra body fat that can perform cardio exercise for much longer than other lower-fat bodies. It’s all about your body’s internal set up (i.e., slow twitch muscles vs. fast) and how your brain operates and handles different movements.
For those of you who feel like I do – you just can’t turn off your brain and run – I felt like I should remind you of certain truths that I have been needing to remind myself of lately. Cardio exercise is all about getting your heart rate to a certain level and keeping it there for a certain length of time. The key here is to remember that you can achieve “cardio” without actually “running” or performing the same monotonous exercise at a set speed for a sustained period of time (i.e., 30+ minutes).
My approach to cardio therefore, is to perform a wide variety of specific exercises in a specific manner for an hour. In this way I not only train my heart to stay in a specific fat-burning range (HRT=heart rate zone) but I’m also working my muscles and core to be stronger and more toned.
So if that sounds like your kind of work out, here’s the gist of how you can do this for yourself (or request a customized workout routine from me via http://www.workouts247.com). Follow the sample workout noted below, all the while maintaining your target heart rate to the levels noted. This means you’ve got to keep a pretty quick pace throughout the resistance training portion, so all rests between sets should be no more than about 30 seconds.
Try this entire workout at least 3-4 times to build up your stamina and you will definitely see better results than 60 mins of boring, non-stop cardio! Your cardio vascular system will be improved, your muscles will see more tone, and your brain will be at east!
THR GOAL = 130-150*
10 mins Cardio equip of your choice
15 mins Cluster of 5 lower body resistance exercises repeated 5x**
10 mins Different cardio equipment
15 mins Cluster of 5 upper body resistance exercises repeated 5x**
10 mins Different cardio equipment w/cool down last 2 mins
*I’m offering up a generic target heart rate that will still be effective for most, but if you really want to be fully effective for your fitness goals, you need to have the THR established that works for you and your body. Any personal trainer can tell you this very quickly, and of course I would supply you with this if I made a workout for you.
**Clusters are 5 exercises performed in a row, one after the other, with no rest, followed by a brief rest, and then repeating the exercises back from the top, etc.
One of the keys to successfully achieving your fitness goals through resistance training (weight lifting) is to have proper form and tempo. I find that many of my clients have very limited body awareness when it comes to either isolating a muscle/muscle groups, or knowing where their body’s limitations truly are.
To help someone achieve better body awareness, and thereby better body toning and fat loss (through resistance training), I often coach my clients to exercise using senses other than visual (eyes/sight) or kinetic (touch). The way to do this is simple, you close your eyes, and breathe!
Okay, it might not be quite that simple, but allow me to clarify. As you perform any exercise – let’s say standing dumbbell biceps curls – you make sure both feet are evenly spaced and that you are balanced in your disbursement of weight to both feet (i.e., not having one foot placed in front of the other, or leaning slightly to bear more weight on one foot).
Then you close your eyes, and slowly curl the dumbbells up (by bending the elbow) and then slowly back down to starting position – al the while breathing in with the up, and out with the down. Repeat this for the requisite amount of reps (i.e., 10-15 repetitions). As you conduct the exercise in this manner, it is essential that you pay attention to how your body feels, what muscles are contracting, what muscles (if any) are straining, how your spine feels, and when your muscles feel fatigue.
By keeping your breath to a slow and even pace, there should be less tension within your core and your focus can easily stay on the muscles that are supposed to be utilized in the exercise. Also, by keeping a slow and steady pace, while having your eyes closed so you have to FEEL instead of SEE your form, you’re more likely to have better form which will result in quicker results and less risk of injury.
I recommend trying this approach with at least one standing exercise, one seated exercise, and one supine exercise (lying on your back) all of which conducted with dumbbells (vs. machines). This way you can fully benefit from better body awareness and control as you move the weights without assistance and without visually watching your form.
So next time you’re at the gym or at home with your dumbbells, give this a try and note any new understandings you experience about your body and how to use your muscles. Your fitness goals will thank you!
Spring is here and along with warmer weather and flowers blooming, I see an onsalught of commercials and social media posts all focusing on weight loss in preparation of summer. It’s a silly marketing ploy that so many fall prey to, you know, “bikini season” and “summer ready body” kind of stuff.
It makes me sad because as you know if you’ve read my blog for any period of time to me fitness is a life-long pursuit to be practiced daily, in moderation, so that life can be lived to it’s fullest. I also strongly advocate that we ALL realize and accept that every BODY is different and what is a sign of beauty or sex appeal today is likely the antithesis of tomorrow, not to mention not everyone’s taste.
So for those of you getting sucked in to the taunting that your summer life just wont be satisfying unless you transform your body right now, I offer these gentle reminders to love yourself, not give up or give in, but be smart about how you prepare for summer.
DO NOT DIET
Dieting simply doesn’t work and it’s a waste of your time and money. Stop eating strange concoctions or restricting calories or fats or sugars. You have probably learned by now that the body fat simply returns once your old way of eating is resumed. Instead, eat 6 small meals every day, composed of healthy lean protein, veggies, fruits, grains, and fats, allow yourself a day or two of higher caloric meals or drinks and remember daily that you love your body and care about what you put inside of it.
VARIETY IS KEY
For those of you who do not love time spent in a gym or in front of a video or class – just remember that an hour here and an hour there WILL make a huge difference, and if you keep your workouts reasonably intense while maintaining a variety of styles, you will see results which in turn will stop making it seem like such drudgery. The key is to keep boredom at bay while maintaining progress. Start by working out 2-3 times a week with weights (ideally with a plan created by a trainer like me), each workout being different from the last. Then add in some fun outdoor activities on the weekends, maybe a dance or body pump class with a friend in the evenings, and/or a DVD at home once in a while. Variety will keep you entertained, and as you see results you will need far less convincing to stay diligent.
REMEMBER TO REST AND SLEEP
Taking a day every 4-5 days to allow your muscles and cardio system to rest is hugely beneficial to your metabolic system becoming more efficient and thereby burning more fat. Sleep, likewise, is essential to the body recovering and allowing a change in composition (i.e., more lean muscle, less fat) to occur within (which then shows up on the outside). So tweak your schedule and make sure you’re getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Your body will thank you.
STOP STRESSFUL THINKING
Clearly stress is not good in any areas of your life, but it’s especially hard on the body. While you may not be able to reduce the stress of your circumstances, you can reduce the stress you place on your body when you fret over your physical condition. Negative thoughts about your body, and beating yourself up for being “fat” or “out of shape” will not help your body relax and embrace the change you seek to make. Emotional stress will also force your body to hold on to fat as fat is an insulator and protector of organs, and has hormonal properties which are ignited when under stress. So lighten up your thought process and your body may just lighten up as well.
* * * * * * *
Now get ready to enjoy the warmer weather and the summer vacations, and by following my advice you’ll hopefully be in better shape AND happier at the same time.
If you’ve followed me for any length of time you know that I despise the word and concept of DIET as it means a temporary change in nutrition to achieve a single (and misplaced) goal. Along with my aversion to the word diet and dieting in general, is the commonly associated word CHEAT.
I often hear people say I cheated and ate something bad. The problem with using the word “cheat” (and bad) is that it implies a negative behavior and sets your brain up to rebel against your goal and therefore leads one to failure. Since no one can deprive themselves of the things they enjoy eating indefinitely (nor should they), diets always fail because the aftermath of a temporary nutritional change is to regain the lost weight/fat as the subject usually resumes eating they way they had before the diet.
So today I offer this advice to those of you who still insist on dieting – do not say that you’ve cheated or been bad when you eat or drink something not “allowed” on your diet. Food is not your spouse, you’re not married to it, lying to it, on trial, or in school – the only areas where the word cheating applies. You will be far more successful in your fat loss goals if you just acknowledge that you want to eat something that gives you pleasure and consume it, albeit ideally in a small quantity. Then resume your diet and get on with it.
The other area of “cheating” that I want to address is that of your workouts. This time of year newly motivated fat-loss seeking customers flock to gyms or sign up with personal trainers to institute new workout plans in conjunction with their new diets. Although I never hear a client state I cheated on my workout and skipped a day, the altering of their fitness plan does occur on as regular basis as the diet-cheating, just without the self-inflicted negative chastising of calling it cheating.
If you are committed to following a workout and meal plan to lose fat, then even if you’ve chosen to do so for a short and temporary period of time – don’t cheat. Workout out to the limits of your strength and endurance, and keep your nutrition focused. Again, if you veer off the diet for a meal/day, or skip a day/week of workouts, just get back on track without any negative shaming of yourself.
Ultimately you will only succeed at permanent fat loss if you change your approach to nutrition on a long-term basis, while still keeping the less “lean and healthy” foods to a smaller and more moderate level (quantity). Eat 6 times a day and drink lots of water. Simultaneously prioritize and schedule high intensity workouts (both cardio and weights) 3 times a week at a minimum. Remember to change up your workouts (increase intensity and/or time spent) at least every 6 weeks so you do not plateau. Also remember that if you start building more muscle mass you might actually need to eat more — but eat smart!
This is the only sure-fire way to reduce your body fat for good! So don’t cheat – just make a health plan and remind yourself that it’s okay if the plan changes or your get off track briefly. It’s all about the long haul.
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!
There’s long been a debate in the fitness industry as to whether rapid fire or slow paced workouts are better. As a Personal Trainer I know that both styles have pros and cons in their affect on our bodies, and in fact I employ both styles with my clients and my own workouts. There’s a time and place to perform high intensity, light weight, heart-rate racing routines and the same for heavy weight, slow, low muscle fatiguing routines, and a lot depends upon your body type and goals.
But despite having already written herein about the benefits of HIIT-high intensity interval training (see Sometimes Less Is More), and marketing my practice on 30-minute high-results routines, I still find many people unsatisfied with how long they have to spend exercising. They want to change their bodies for the better in as little time as possible. So the fads continue, whether gear or groundbreaking new approach — each one is designed to make workout quick and painless, and each one fails.
It started with 6-minute abs DVD’s and now there’s 2-minute workouts all over the internet (2-minute arms, 2 minute glutes, etc). At this rate I should create the 1-minute workout DVD’s and retire a year from now off the proceeds. Humor set aside, there’s only so much you can do to trim off time while speeding up the workout and still see results (and avoid injuries). The reality too is that whether you spend 2 minutes or 60 on your abs, unless healthy lean nutrition is involved and consistent workouts with proper techniques you will NOT have washboard abs.
But in the interest of exploring new levels of fitness, I offer you speed-minded peeps (or exercise hating folks) who want to fire off a super-fast workout and then get on with your life, an opportunity to try my new Fast Five Fitness Workout! Get the job done in only 5 minutes!
I have created four routines – the idea being that you would exercise four times a week, each one delivering slightly different assaults on your muscles and stamina. So here’s the first. If you need a detailed explanation of these exercises or more importantly if you want all four routines customized to your specific fitness levels and goals, then contact me. (My blog followers will receive a 10% discount.)
You’ll need a little walking room (enough to do a few lunges forward and back), a yoga or cushioned mat, and a pair of dumbbells ranging from 8-15 lbs. Keep the pace as fast as you can with NO rest until completion (should take ONLY 5 minutes depending upon your speed). Good luck!
- 20 jumping jacks
- 20 DB lunge walks with shoulder presses
- 20 jump squats
- 20 DB biceps curls combo’d with prone DB alternating arm rows
- 20 Running mans
- 20 Alternating Leg Up DB biceps “hammer” curls (10 on each leg)
- 20 Prones to Planks (10 right lead, 10 left lead)
- 20 v-sit side-to-side DB taps
In the last couple of weeks, at least three people (ranging from acquaintances to friends) have shared their frustrations with me about still “being fat” despite strictness of diets and/or hours of cardio and resistance-based workouts, wearing Fitbits, parking further away, taking the stairs, etc.
I too would be frustrated if I was that diligent with my nutrition and exercise and didn’t see a difference. But (no pun intended) what I know that they do not is that there’s no one-size-fits-all formula to successful reduction of body fat. Further, there’s more to it in many cases than just restricting and/or burning more calories. One must factor in emotional stress, sleep-deprivation, physical stress, illnesses, food allergies (that you may not be aware of), thyroid malfunctions, etc. etc. etc.
A more important concept to me is that our society on the whole needs to look at fat differently. The World, and especially America, considers FAT unattractive. However, a huge majority of our population is visually fat and many have successful careers, happy marriages, are physically active, and live long lives despite their physical condition so what does that tell us?
Fat in foods is still widely misunderstood by most people – if avocado and peanut butter is okay, what’s wrong with butter and cheese? Sugar is still not really acknowledged as being one of the largest culprits in epidemic obesity, yet it is. Carbs are considered evil, yet I challenge you to get through a workout without them.
Internally, there are obese people who do not have high blood pressure or diabetes. Conversely there are “skinny” people who have dangerously high cholesterol or digestive issues that cause them to not absorb essential vitamins and minerals from their nutrition.
So in answer to everyone who has ever lamented why am I still fat I say look at your life as a whole entity, one in which every nuance plays a part in your physical health and body composition. There are so many negative “life” aspects that can affect your body:
- High stress levels at work
- Emotional stress at home
- Illnesses, injuries, digestive or auto-immune disorders, cancer
- Lack of sleep
- Eating too fast
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Not drinking enough water
- Over-exercising (yes that’s a thing)
- Not exercising enough or effectively
- Eating out too much
- Yo-yo dieting
- Worries about money
and the list goes on! Take stock of what’s going on in your life that might truly be sabotaging your efforts to be healthy inside and out. Then try to improve as many of these aspects as you can, or at least improve your perspective.
What ultimately should be your focus is: (1) are you able to do what you want physically (strength and endurance)? and (2) are you surrounded by people who love you and find you beautiful from the inside out? If the answer to both is yes, then who gives a hoot about the fat?! If they’re no, then work on fixing that (i.e., focus on building strength and endurance, not fat loss, and surround yourself with more appreciative and quality people).
In the end you’ll either successfully reduce your fat levels because your life isn’t fighting you on that goal, or at least you’ll realize that you’re healthy and happy so who cares about the rest.