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.
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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.
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
If you are one of the many people who take care of your cardio needs on a treadmill at the gym or at home, I thought today I’d share a few tips that will not only shorten the time spent walking in place, but make your fat burn and muscle toning so much more effective! First, remember that you do not need to run to achieve an effective reduction of fat and a great toning of the legs and butt. Walking at a 4-8% incline while at a brisk and steady pace will get and maintain your heart rate into a fat burning zone, while lifting and toning your glutes. Second, do not – I repeat – DO NOT hold on! When have you ever walked up a hill holding on to something? I really cringe when I see people walking at a 15% incline while holding on to the readout panel. That’s a total waste of time and effort. Better to take the incline down to 8 or 9%, slow your pace down a tad (3.2-3.8 speed depending upon your leg length and stride) and walk without holding on. Third, try alternating your speed vs. incline every 1 minute. By alternating faster speed with less incline back and forth between slower speed and a steeper climb, you will confuse and thereby challenge your muscles more, while making sure to not plateau your heart rate. 20 minutes of this beats 40 minutes of straight walking or steep walking while holding on! Finally, if you feel confident and stable enough, try some more advanced moves, like side stepping (side shuffle), walking or trotting backwards, and lunge walks (at a very slow speed). If you need to hold on during some of these moves until you feel balanced, that’s okay. If you live in a climate where it’s too cold, wet, or hot to take your workout to the streets for many months, using these tips will transform the treadmill from a static boring machine to a challenging and fun exercise tool. Share with me your tips or successes on the treadmill!
Most large gym franchises (24 Hour Fitness, Golds, LA Fitness) as well as many small independent gyms offer what’s referred to as a “circuit” for your workouts. A circuit consists of a series of machines (usually 8-12) placed in an oval or circuitous line, designed to hit every body part. You start on any machine of your choosing (although some gyms actually have them numbered consecutively), then follow the machines around until you have used each one. Simple, right?
Yet I find that 99% of gym members misuse or simply do not understand how to effectively use the circuit. Members either follow the circuit in a robotic fashion still performing the exercises exactly the way they were shown in their sign up demonstration (which unfortunately is usually wrong), or they avoid the circuit completely. To many gym-addicts, the circuit carries a stigma of “for beginners only” and egos shy away.
But the circuit provides several great options to beginners and advanced lifters alike. There’s the obvious benefit that you can get a total work out completed in a relatively short period of time. But other perks include that you’re less likely to need a workout partner (a spotter if you’re lifting heavy), and less likely to get injured if you don’t have perfect form.
So how do you decide if the gym circuit is right for you, and more importantly, how do you effectively use a circuit to increase muscle tone and lower body fat? Well, here’s the skinny (excuse the bad pun):
The circuit is right for you if you are a beginner; if you are looking to do something very different than you’ve done the last several months; or if you want a total body workout in 30 minutes or less. A circuit of machines usually consists of the following:
- Chest press
- Pec Fly
- Lat Pull Down
- Back Row
- Shoulder Press
- Leg Press
- Hamstring Curl
- Calf Raises
- Ab Crunches
Performing 3-4 sets on each machine, one machine at a time, will allow you to hit every major (and some minor) muscle groups. If time is crucial to you, you can use the upper body machines one day, and hit the lower body on your next gym visit.
Being that the circuit is comprised of machines (vs. free weights) and that they have a limit to how much weight is available, your best approach is to start with lighter weights lifting for more repetitions. A great, and underutilized tool of machines is the easy ability to do “drop sets.” When incorporating a drop set into your routine, you start with the heaviest weight you can handle, then every 5-10 reps, you drop the weight by 5-10 lbs until you are down to a very low weight.
Example: Chest press 50 lbs x 12 reps
40 lbs x 10 reps
30 lbs x 8 reps
20 lbs x 5 reps
That’s one set. Do it again starting from the top 3-4 more times. By the end you’ll be pushing hard to do those last 5, but it’s a great way for beginners or people wishing to avoid bulking up to tone muscles fast. (You can also do reverse drop sets, starting with lighter weight and moving heavier.)
Form is of great importance with all resistance training, and this is where the most confusion and misuse of the circuit machines occur. Almost all of them have seats and/or backs that need adjusting to your height. How do you know where is the right placement for you? Usually the machines offer a diagram or a “spot point” where your knees or elbows should line up to. Use that as a guideline. Otherwise, make sure that your back is supported, and that when you perform the motion, your elbow, knees or shoulder joints are not feeling strained. You want to try and isolate the designated muscle (biceps, triceps, hamstrings, etc.) It may take you a few tries and adjustments but soon you’ll know exactly where to set the seats.
As for range of motion, the slower and fuller you can perform each exercise, the better. Take a biceps curl – if you don’t straighten your arms fully (i.e., you keep a bend to your elbow at all times) you will be cheating yourself out of toning the lower portion of the biceps. If you see a large muscle-bound man speedily performing a chest press where he only pushes the weights about 2 inches off his chest, he’s not only lifting too heavy, he’s not accessing all his pectorals have to offer.
As for what weight to pick, if you can perform 20 reps and it never gets hard, it’s too light. If you can’t even get through 8, it’s too heavy. Also keep in mind that you will gain strength over time, so you’ll need to adjust the weights (heavier by 5 lbs, etc.) about half way through a 4-week period.
Hopefully this will help you see the circuit in a better or less intimidating fashion. As always, you should never stick to the same routine for more than about 6 weeks, but give the circuit a try and I suspect you’ll become a fan. If you would like a personalized circuit routine created for you, please visit my website http://www.workouts247.com.
There are two polar opposite approaches as to how most beginners start exercising. One is to ease in – take it a little at a time, get off the couch, walk, stretch, maybe lift a little light weight two times a week. The other is to jump in – hire a trainer, join a cross-fit gym, take a daily class, sign up for a 5k or bike race, and then just go for it.
Which is right for you?
Which is right under what circumstances?
Here are the pros and cons to both approaches.
Pros of Easing In:
Starting off slowly allows the body time to adjust with much less muscle pain and strain. The likelihood of injuries is low, as is the likelihood of discouragement due to one’s inability to move their body without pain in the following days. Easing in also allows for limberness and strength to increase gradually but consistently, and the beginner is afforded the luxury of figuring out exactly what type of exercise is best suited to their temperament and lifestyle. (I.e., you might find that exercising at home to a DVD works better for you than going to a gym after work, or vice versa.)
Cons of Easing In:
Less chance of rapid fat reduction or muscle gain (change in how your clothes fit and your body looks) which lowers motivation and increases discouragement both of which translate into giving up before goals are met. Easing in is often a thinly veiled way to not really commit to your fitness goals, resulting in failure to change your body (this is illustrated annually in gyms crowded with new members only to see 75% of them disappear by March).
Pros of Jumping In:
Enthusiasm and motivation stay high as you quickly see results in your body quickly, energy is renewed, appetite is increased along with metabolism. Jumping in usually requires a larger monetary commitment (hiring a trainer, paying for a series of classes, buying home equipment). Monetary commitment, depending on how much money, often helps keep one focused as no one likes wasting money. Jumping into a new fitness regiment also allows you to quickly learn just what your body and brain are capable. There’s huge reward – joy if you will – in finding that you are able to up your level of fitness (i.e., being capable of doing more advanced fitness moves) which rockets you even faster towards achieving your goals.
Cons of Jumping In:
Obviously the biggest con is that of physical injury or pain, seconded by discouragement. I’ve seen trainers lose client after client because they jumped them in too quickly and the clients’ reaction to the subsequent muscle pain is to stop all exercise and not return. Jumping in without truly knowing how aggressive exercise will treat your body (and your brain), often results in a waste of money on DVD or home equipment that then gather dust. I advise clients who are hot for trends like P90X to see if they can borrow the DVD’s from a friend first and if they enjoy it after about a week, then go buy them. You can also, always get a free week pass at most gyms to try the gym out. Go at different times, even get a free training session – know what works for you before you plunge in.
No matter which approach you lean towards, take into consideration who you are, what your goals are, and what kind of condition you’re starting with. Most trainers will give you a free consultation to help you decide which approach is right for you, and I am definitely happy to give anyone a free consultation who fills out a query form on my websites.
When I was a child there were certain manners that we expected of me. I had to treat adults with respect. Everyone was to be addressed as Mr. and Mrs. or Aunt and Uncle (if they were family or close family friends). We did not talk back to our parents without severe repercussions, and we didn’t get to negotiate with them much either. Our parents weren’t our friends, they were the law.
Outside of the home, we were taught that being late was a sign of disrespect. Being courteous and kind to strangers was a given, and we were to treat each other as we would want to be treated (the old golden rule).
Now I am well aware that a lot changed to our society’s views on etiquette and manners as a result of the sexual revolution, women’s revolution, and the collision of drug exploration with esoteric philosophy experiments like EST. It left new parents in the late 70’s and 80’s making choices to be less strict with their children, allow for more creative thinking and a more “natural” (i.e., less structured) form of child rearing. Some went as far as to be on a first name basis with their children, and allow them to refer to other adults by their first names. In public, manners too seemed to disappear as we focused inward on ME.
Though I feel that many of these rule-loosenings weren’t a bad thing (especially where women’s rights are concerned), sadly the loss of treating and addressing each other respectfully is not one the changes that has benefitted us. I constantly remind several of my young niece and nephews that I am not their peer “Ariana,” I am their “Aunt” Ariana. Though my husband and I vowed we would not say “because I said so” to my daughter (feeling that teaching her with explanations and reason was a better choice), I now find myself using that phrase when her negotiations go too far.
But how does this all relate to Fitness you may be asking? Well it lands smack dab in the middle of gym politeness and etiquette – or lack there of — something I grind my teeth over every day. Dumbbells and barbels left lying haphazardly around the floor as if the last user had been simply too exhausted to put them back. Men using leg press machines racked with dozens of 45 pound plates on each side, leave them for us lovely ladies to unload before we can use the machine. Sweat, spit, and even gum left on benches, floor mats, and water fountains.
Then there are the young men who when asked (politely of course) if I can work in (share the weights or machine) stare blankly at me as if I’m a piece of meat – albeit a piece of meat they do not covet. The same request made by an overly endowed blond female may be met with a tad more courtesy, but only so that they can ogle her as she exercises.
If you’re wondering why I’m really on this soap box today, it’s because yesterday at the gym I approached the cross cables machine where a muscle-bound man was performing single-arm triceps pull-downs using only the right side of the cables. I set my stuff down on the left and started to change out the straight bar for the triceps rope. He rudely jumped in front of me and told me that he was using both sides. I questioned this and was told with contempt that he was here first and was working compound moves and I could not work in. I asked why he couldn’t just switch the handle for the bar and allow someone else to use this side. I received no answer, he plugged back in his headphones and proceeded to stand and exercise right in front of me.
Other people around cast me sympathetic looks and shrugs but minded their own business. I laughed and mumbled something about his manhood being small, then walked away. As I drove home ruminating (more like fuming) I got the urge to write a tirade over the loss of manners in society, and so, today I write…
Hopefully the next time you have an opportunity to exercise good gym etiquette (pun intended), be more polite, compassionate, or on time for a dinner date, you will think of this blog and act accordingly.