Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ba-Dunk-A-Dunk...How Much Junk in Your Trunk? -- Finding the Perfect Butt

It seems to me there is a lot of emphasis put on your tush, derriere, behind, rear, buttocks, gluteus maximus, bum, and well, let's just say it...your @$$. Or maybe more correctly the bums of women. If you listen to the tabloids the once reigning Queen of trunks may no longer be from the block but instead now trying to cross over from reality show diva to singer? Really, a singer was her next choice? But hey, I'm not judging and I'm as guilty as the next for upping their ratings.

But on to bums...personally I get that having a nice, firm tush is a major asset. (Had to slip it in there!) I get that having that nice shape is preferable over either a flat bottom or on the flip side a jiggly one set atop cottage cheese thighs. But, where I seem to differ from some is that I don't get the whole loving a REALLY big butt. Or I guess rather, I don't necessarily think larger is always better...if it's taut, tight, and toned, YES...but if it's only large because of excess fatty tissues, NO.

My butt hasn't really ever been my big 'body part' focus; instead that has usually been wanting to get a flat stomach and some abs definition. Thanks to running lots of miles in the past I naturally was able to build up a strong butt and get a firm shape that I was happy with. But, for people who do set out wanting to build up their butts, my suggestion is to do not only glute specific exercises but hit all those leg muscles in general. Though to be honest with one you usually get the other; for example doing squats naturally works all those regions. Some great butt and leg moves:
  • Standard Squats: Yes it may sound a bit obvious but there are plenty of variations you can to to keep it interesting and ALSO keep your muscles from just adapting to one exercise and not giving you the results you want. For a leaner look you want higher rep's and lower weights, so you may want to do sets of 20-25 with some light weights or even just your body weight. If you have a flat bum are looking to build muscle and get more of a POP, go for higher weights and lower rep's. Here you should test out that bar and load some plate weights on either end; go for an amount that gets you burning after only 8-12 rep's. For all of these make sure you get down into a deep squat and that you are balancing back on your heels and not your toes. 
  • Get Plyo: Plyometrics are awesome mass builders because they tap into those fast twitch muscle fibers. So do squat jumps, bounding, box hops at various heights, all those good things.
  • Get Climbing: Stair climbing is great and so is running hills. Play around with doing hill repeats and go for different distances; do shorter quick bursts that are more like sprints one time and then find a longer hill that gets you climbing for a few minutes at a time.
  • Squat Kicks: Taking the squat idea and making it more dynamic, go down into a squatting position and then on your way up lift your right leg up and into a forward kick. Lower back to the squat and then go up with a left leg kick. Do this faster and get your heart pumping at the same time.
  • Donkey Kicks: This one you'll get down on the ground on your hands and knees; lift your left leg up until it is even with your bum and bent at the knee, now kick it up towards the ceiling and do some sets of 15, repeat with the other leg. You can also make this harder by getting into a plank position first and then doing the donkey kicks.
  • Gettin' Isometric: Holding a squatting position is another modification; get into a deep squat and hold yourself there, balancing on your heels, for 30-45 seconds and do that for a few times. Make it harder by holding weights or again getting that bar with plate weights. For people with back trouble you may want to find a wall and a big fitness ball; wedge the ball between the wall and your back and then lower into your squat.
  • Choose Your Cardio Accordingly: For this one, if you've got the choice between say a rowing machine or a treadmill opt for the latter. Do leg heavier cardio and you'll be killing two birds with one stone...or rather two cheeks with one exercise. ;)

There are TONS of ways to get your butt the way you like and these are some top picks. Now, in getting back to junk in the trunk, just how much do you people prefer?

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Suit Up Right for Your Workout -- Sorry Gorton, No Fish Today!


So I had to stifle some laughs when I was on the elliptical and suddenly the Gorton's Fish Man stepped onto the treadmill next to me...I'm talking scraggly salt-n-pepper beard, super tall, and the full on bright yellow slicker jacket! Now, this is hardly the first time that someone's gym clothes attire has caused a double take. It sometimes mystifies me not only that they'd choose to run in a pair of jeans (can anyone say chaffage?!?!) but sometimes it amazes me that they can actually DO the activity. I do have to give credit to the person I saw running, and at a fairly decent pace, in a pair of flip-flops.

Some of my other favorites? The woman who was wearing peep-toe pumps in the weight room, I guess she must really trust her grip on those dumbbells. I've seen the runner in jeans a few times, but the best was the guy who had a huge belt and what had to have been a janitor's size ring of keys clanging around his waist; there was also a either a huge cellphone or wallet in his pocket.

But with all the headway sports clothing manufacturers have made in the last few decades, with all the technical moisture-wicking materials to be had...why choose to suffer unduly on account of what you're wearing during your workouts? Now, don't get me wrong, I'm by no means a person rolling in the dough and make it a point to sniff out deals when I can, but good exercise clothing and shoes is important enough to me that I make sure to suit up right AND something decent isn't always crazy expensive. If you shop off-season and go to the right places you'd be surprised that even though the labels boast of all this technical jargon you may not even fully understand, they aren't out of your budget. What's more is that if taken care of properly your gear will last a long time.

So, before I go off on too much of a little rant here, I'll just give a quick run-down (haha, yes a lame pun people, feel free to chuckle or eye-roll at will!) of what is real workout gear...and jeans, flip-flops, and stiletto's don't make the cut.

  • Let It Breathe- Okay, you should be sweating if you're doing your workouts right and that's a good thing. But choosing a standard cotton tee will leave you with big pit stains and by the end you could be weighed down with a few extra pounds of wet shirt! Opt for clothing made of a moisture-wicking and breathable materials, these will also help regulate body temperature and make your working out much more enjoyable. This can go all the way down to your socks, and high quality socks are also important to help stave off blisters.
  • Keep It Warm- In cold weather you want to think layers and be sure to keep those muscles warm to avoid an injury. Base layers will be of the same kind of moisture-wicking material because if you're left wearing a sweat soaked shirt (you still sweat even when it's cold out, even if you don't see it) you're going to get cold. Then if it's rainy and windy you need something breathable but also water resistant to keep out the elements and there are outerwear garments designed for just that.
  • All Hail Da'Feet- A big sticking point for me is proper workout shoes because many people are just unaware of just HOW important shoes are. If you're working out in a cheap pair of shoes, or ones that aren't for your foot type, you're begging for an injury. Now shoes are kind of expensive, but not getting good ones will leave you paying in different ways later: sorenesses, stress fractures, shin splints, days off, etc...so here we just have to bite the bullet. I will go into more detail on getting the best shoe specific for your foot-type in a later post, but generally look for something specifically noted as a fitness shoes, brand names are our friends here, and something with both support and cushioning. And what may sound dumb but a common mistake, is buy the right size; you want there to be about a thumb's width between your toe and the front of the shoe. When we workout our feet actually swell and expand.
  • Take a Load Off- To the janitor with his keyring, don't pack around more than you have too...it'll only slow you down. Okay, this may be just a common sense type of thing in saying that you shouldn't be slugging around a ton of excess items, but then again there ARE instances (you're out running but you locked your car and will need the key to get back in) when there are some little things you'll need. Quality workout gear will have places for that; there are these slim little pockets in the lining of most shorts, some shirts have the same sort of deal on them too. And if all else fails you can tie it on a shoelace.
  • Take Care Ladies- This is for the women; definitely make sure you're wearing a sports bra when working out. They are designed specifically for reducing excessive motion and especially if you're blessed with a chest you can actually do lasting tissue damage is you're not wearing something with enough support. The elastin and other skin fibers can be damaged and stretched and leave you fighting gravity years earlier than you'd like. Again opt for a moisture-wicking and breathable material...we're all about comfort!
Well, that's probably good for now. I'll leave you with this parting message...nobody enjoys a bad case of chaffing from their workout and the right clothes can help avoid that pain. Sadly, sometimes not always and in those cases I'd suggesting investing in some cool Bodyglide or, for the men who know this pain, there are even Nip-Guards. :)

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hey, who took my elliptical? -- Let routine and flexibility coexist!


To say I'm a creature of habit may be an understatement. Or I guess more that I like to have things a certain way...I like the middle elliptical because it has the best view of the TV, I like the bench that's a bit off in the corner, and mostly I like to get my workouts done in the morning. This last one is probably the biggest for me.

I don't feel right if I don't start my day off with my workout. If I am forced to move back my workout time, I find I'm more anxious or antsy for the entire time leading up. My mind keeps drifting off to when I'm finally going to be able to get my sweat on. Now, maybe this level of quirkiness crosses the line into full fledged obsession...I'm also the first to admit that if there is something to be addicted to, at least I chose exercise over some sort of drug! But even I do recognize that there are times when I just have to be more flexible.

If that 'usual' elliptical is being used, just take the next...if 'your' bench is taken, so be it. If you can't get that workout in when you'd like, that's okay too because there are 24 hours in the day and chances are you'll still be able to get it in. This is especially true if you are coordinating with another person...you've got to find something that works for both of you. So if they like to workout at night, us morning peeps have to meet them halfway. Maybe you workout in the evenings half of the time and then mornings the other half. Your partner hates to run, maybe you guys do sessions on the bike part of the time.

This need for flexibility also extends to your workouts. Many times it's very easy to slip into a routine, but a little variance can do a body good. I don't think you need to change your workouts EVERY time out, and I don't believe in that. But we should have at least some variety and also do try new things too. Our bodies are conditioned to adapt and look for any ways to 'cheat.' As you get better at one activity your body gets more efficient and actually stops responding as much to the same motion. You don't need to do an overhaul on your workout routine to avoid this, however, but just make some small changes. If you're doing standard squats as your go-to leg move, mix it up by doing single leg squats or lunges. Just the different motions will keep the muscles from slipping into their own little routine.

In your cardio the same thing applies; that's why we suggest doing intervals of different lengths or doing hill work one day and flatlands the next. You want to keep things varied enough so that you keep improving, and it also keeps things interested.

On a final note, our little routines aren't always such a bad thing. And on the opposite extreme, if you have trouble staying dedicated to your workouts you can benefit from a little rigidity. That's why I also suggest planning what you're going to do for your workout beforehand. Going in with a set plan makes it easier to stick to something than just coming up with it on the fly. This also can work if you write your planned workout time down in your agenda...make it an important commitment to yourself and don't blow off that date.

So, let all of us routine lovers and sultans of flexibility meet in the middle and also share with each other just a little bit of our prized traits. We will all benefit. :)

PS- On a related note, be on the lookout for an upcoming article all about what the time of day we workout says about us and the benefits those timeslots have!

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Burning More Calories All Day Long...Thank You 'After-Burn' Effect!

Now, if you've been following this blog for a bit (and of course I know you all are! hehe) you have probably come across a reference to the 'after-burn effect.' Usually this term will come up when we're describing the additional benefits of more intense workouts, lifting weights, plyometrics, or intervals, and what it refers to is how your metabolism is revved up in the hours AFTER you've already finished your workout. It's kind of like a double-perk, you can burn more calories during the workout and then long after you've showered off.

There are still ongoing studies into this topic, and the reasons for this kind of 'after-burn' effect are still up for debate...but what it comes down to is that those who exercise get the double whammy of health over those couch potatoes. Well, I came across another article related to this phenomenon and it seems that while the more intense kinds of workouts up the metabolic rate more, even those steady cardio sessions will do the trick, albeit to a lesser degree.

What's also interesting is that those who are in better shape reap the most rewards...yet another testament that it's best to be a REGULAR exerciser! The more efficient your body is, cardiovascularly and muscularly, you'll be able to make the most out of your workouts. That doesn't really come as much of a shock, though. Something can also be said that the better shape you are in the more likely you'll be be able to workout longer than beginners.

Now the article here touts that even a short bout of 10 minutes can give you lasting rewards in the hour after finishing your workout. That's great, and it should be motivation for people who claim they simply have NO TIME at all to workout...you can't find a measly 10 minutes?! Though you really should aim for more than just that; and if your workout is that short it better be intense. You can see some examples of awesome workouts that ARE designed short at the website, and those will get your heart pumping. My point is only that those minutes can't be leisurely strolls around the block.

The article wraps up though on a point that I'm not all too thrilled about, but it eludes to the fact that much of overweight America is looking for a magic bullet, or quick fix to their weight woes. It cites how scientists are using their findings to try to design a way to mimic the results of exercise. I know that research into such a pill is hardly new, or that there aren't already of plethora of 'fat burning' pills and such already inundating the market. But the whole thing is a bit of a sticking point for me. All the time, energy, and resources that people pour into finding the 'quick fix' for fatloss, couldn't it be better spent elsewhere? It may sound harsh, but being active and eating healthfully isn't exactly rocket science.

At any rate, I apologize for a bit of a rant there, but I think the couple points I'd like to get across are these:

  1. Working out has a myriad of benefits- for your health, your mind, your energy levels...and yea, there are the physical perks of looking hot too! :)
  2. The 'after-burn' effect- yet another awesome reason to not only workout regularly, but to do the kinds of exercises that ramp the metabolism up the most...even in the hours after you've finished.
  3. Don't bank on a pill- popping a pill couldn't possibly give you ALL the rewards of exercise. Even if they find one that does help burn fat, it cheats you out of the feeling of accomplishment you'd get after kicking butt in a tough workout and watching yourself improve.

On that note...who got it their workouts today?? :)

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Step Out of the Comfort Zone - Throw Down Your Own Gauntlet


Answer quick: What's your greatest fitness weakness?? No stalling, first thing to come to mind...hehe! Well, for me it's got to be my arms. (Or chicken wings if you were to listen to one of my past coaches who would, in good nature, yell to me down the final stretch, "Pump those chicken wings...GO!!!!") My upperbody strength is probably my biggest weakness; though since I was always a runner I figured it didn't really 'matter' all that much. However once I did start doing more weights and core exercises I realized it did matter.

The more strength you have overall the better athlete you are, and even if you aren't competing for anything it still means the better all around, fit person you are. More arm strength meant that they wouldn't tire as much over the course of a race and I could hold better form; that meant I'd be more efficient...faster...etc.

So what is YOUR greatest weakness? Maybe you are someone who HATES running or can't stand cardio in general. Maybe you shirk away from the dumbbells or think that stretching is when you bend down at the end of your workout to untie your shoes. Whatever it is, I'm going to challenge you to tackle it.

Sometimes we are forced into staring down those glaring weaknesses; an injury disables us from doing what we feel most comfortable in doing. We are pushed out of our comfort zone...personally that's the case when I had surgery on my leg and am limited in what I can do. I got creative and tested out an arm bike machine. Amanda discovered a passion for rollerblading after her injury and loved it so much she integrated it into her ongoing training regime.

But I admit, cranking along on that arm bike wasn't pretty at first...nor much 'fun.' Then I thought of ways to make it better: loaded up fun playlists, toyed around with intervals to keep it interesting, and looked at it as just as much of a mental challenge as a physical one. If I was going to be pushed to tackle my chicken wing arms and their lack of strength then I was going to come out the winner!

I won't say that I could, or would even, ever compete in some kind of arm bike Olympics but it gave me a sense of satisfaction that even though I was out of my element I was making the most of it and getting better. I did at least begin to feel stronger on my arm bike and could up the tension level. Improvement is perhaps the ultimate motivator.

So I challenge you to tackle your own beast of burden. You may not be forced into it, but give it a whirl anyways. You don't have to do it FOREVER, but it can be fun to try something new...and it will probably make you a better, more fit individual along the way. :)

Let's hear some some people take the leap and voice the challenge they set for themselves...

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Feeling Sluggish...Blast Yourself Out of the Funk!

We all have 'those' days...you're in the middle (heck, sometimes even before you even start!) and it seems like each movement, each footfall takes infinitely more effort than it should. That little voice in your head taunts you relentlessly, "Just stop...can it for today...that comfy sofa and ice cream is waiting!" You want to be a good fitness follower and NOT give up, but your will power is waning.

The first thing to do is look for a way to distract yourself from the seconds that are ticking by way too slowly and more importantly that voice in your head. So much of everything we do is mental and exercise is no different...sometimes it's all a matter of mind games. Another point to recognize is that EVERYONE has these kinds of days, you may know what the physical catalyst was for feeling sluggish (you didn't get enough sleep last night cramming to finish that big work presentation...you had a bit too much fun last night...etc.) other times they just happen. But as long as you're not overtraining yourself or battling a bad cold it's best to motor through them and here are a few tips to fight your way through a sluggish workout:

  • A Sudden Jolt: It may sound crazy, but sometimes blasting yourself out of the funk is the key. If you're doing a steady cardio session, do a quick blast at a higher intensity rate. By shifting the pace of your workout you'll tap into a different energy system (anaerobic vs. aerobic) and muscle fibers. The change in gears can sometimes act like a 'reset' button on your body; when you then go back to the steadier pace it will actually feel easier than before.
  • Change Focus: If your intended workout was to do long intervals but you're really struggling, turn the workout into one with shorter intervals to work on your speed and power. Having a planned workout ahead of time is always best, but also keeping it flexible enough so that you can tweak or modify it depending on how you feel is also important.
  • Break Down Time Chunks: That 30 minutes sounding really daunting? A mind game that works for me is to take it in 5 minute intervals, or sometimes even 2 or 3. Make it through the next 5 minutes and then only look ahead to making it to the next mini-benchmark.
  • Musical Chairs: If you intended to do all of your cardio on the bike but the time is slugging by, swap machines. Do 1/2 of your workout on the bike and then move to the elliptical. Changing machines midway can help as with the 'change of scenery' and the shorter time intervals your mind won't wander so much.
  • Envision the Finish: Sometimes, even after all of your tricks, getting your workout in can be a battle of wills. Your last 'secret weapon' however is to remember why you are dedicated to staying fit and exercising. Think of how great you'll feel once you finish and stayed true to your goals.
Finally, sometimes the workouts we are most proud of aren't the ones where we've run the fastest or lifted the most...it's actually the ones that we refused to give up, give in, and ignored that little voice in our heads! So, I hope you all are having a great one and getting those workouts done! :)

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Friday, March 4, 2011

The Plank - It Ain't Just for Pirates!


Happy Friday, Everyone! Today is all about one of the moves we love: The Plank. Why do we love this move so much, you ask? Well, not only is it an awesome ab-tightener but probably one of the best all around core exercises you could do. If done correctly (With your whole body in a straight line, abs sucked in, and NOT with your butt sticking way up in the air! hehe) it engages all of those important core muscles: abs, obliques, hips, back, butt, and even the smaller ones that are often neglected.

We all know that having a strong core parlays into virtually all other areas of fitness. (Having a stronger core means you will be able to keep better form while you tire during running and then will be more efficient and able to go faster. A stronger core for basketball will mean you will be more agile on the court..etc.) Further we all can attest to the fact that having a tighter middle is also something to envy. BUT, not only will you achieve all of these things but you will also be safeguarding yourself from a potential injury. The core is kind of like your body's powerhouse and if you make it as strong as possible, especially those tinier muscles, you'll make yourself more resistant to a strain, sprain, or other kind of injury.

So, without further adieu, let's walk the plank!

Your Standard: The most common form of the plank is to balance on your forearms and toes; gut sucked in, butt straight in line with the rest of your body. Many of our workouts have you hold this position for an extended amount of time, and while it may look like a breeze, those seconds certainly tick by rather slowly when you're actually doing this exercise!

Kick it Up: What's also great about the plank is that it has TONS of variations and ways to make it harder...and we are always up for a challenge, right??! Test yourself with this one: hold the standard plank position but then do leg lifts. Raise your left leg up and down 10 times and then do 10 lifts with the right leg; the tricky part here is to really focus on keeping that straight plank form.

An Issue of Balance: For this one we'll test your balance even more. Get in the plank and first lift your left leg straight up in the air and hold it there; now extend your right arm up straight in front of you. Hold here now for 20-30 seconds, lower, and then lift your right leg and left arm. This will also isometrically hit your glutes and further help give that tush a boost!

Reversing It: There is also the reverse plank where you will face up, balancing on your heels and forearms. You'll still want to keep yourself in as straight of a line as possible, so don't let your bum dip or sag towards the floor. Again you can do leg lifts (this is great to strengthening your hip flexors, which are oft a point of injury if they are too weak) and balance work.

Take it to the Side: The side plank is done when you stack your hips, balance on only one forearm and the outside of your foot. You want to keep things all neat and in a diagonal line, so don't let your hips sag towards the ground. Pick a side, hold this pose, and then flip in the other direction. You can do leg lifts for this one too; for example if you're balancing on your left arm and leg, you can then lift your right leg straight up and down.

Whew, actually we could go on and on, but that's good for now. As you can see the plank is a top move and if you aren't already doing it you should be! So master this move and soon you'll be able to show even Captain Jack Sparrow a thing or two! (Actually, I'd take Johnny Depp in any shape or form! ;) hehe)

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