Archive for the ‘Fitness Articles’ Category

A Story about 100% Caffeine Free Living

This is a Guest Post from Patrick: An active triathlete with multiple Ironman and marathon finishes on his resume, Patrick writes weekly on the power of integrating life and sport into a sustainable lifestyle of fitness. Learn more at http://www.patrickjohnmccrann.com.

For many of us, coffee is an integral part of daily life. From artesian roasts to grand goodness to just your plain old cup of joe, odds are you are one of the 112 million Americans who drink a cup of coffee a day.  But it’s not all flowers and gumdrops — a significant portion of coffee drinkers use caffeine to power through their days on minimal sleep. As an appetite suppressant, caffeine masks hunger. And as a diuretic, coffee can make us dehydrated as well.

In the digital age of the 24/7, more-is-always-better lifestyle, caffeine is an alluring (and legal) way to push our bodies beyond their natural limits. But what goes up must come down; eventually that coffee-fueled high becomes harder to obtain. We become irritable without enough sleep, and erratic eating combined with poor hydration is a recipe for physical misery.

After a season-ending bicycle crash broke my hip, I began to re-evaluate how I was managing my diet and overall nutrition. I resolved to quit caffeine and even went on a 30-day cleanse (that’s another story).The biggest outcome is now I now am leading a very simple daily life free of caffeine. The transition wasn’t easy, but it helped me to achieve new levels of balance in my day, overall wellness and improved productivity. Here’s how it all went down.

My Caffeine-Fueled Decline

As an Ironman athlete and online entrepreneur, I spent the better part of the last five years chasing excellence on a steady diet of minimal sleep and ever-increasing amounts of caffeine. What started as a cup a day became three, became five or more.

It quickly became an integral part of my existence, allowing me to plow through any obstacle (real or imagined). Of course, I didn’t have any super-powers…I just felt that way. Here are some of the tell-tale troubling signals that I ignored…

The Training Effect… I sought out other forms of caffeine in my day. In classic addict fashion, I wouldn’t count it as caffeine as it wasn’t another cup of coffee…but I was deceiving myself. My classic midday Ironman workouts was a 4,000 yd pool swim with a 2-liter bottle of coke in my locker for fuel pre- and post-workout. On bad days I put it in my water bottle on the pool deck!

The Work Effect… I began to associate coffee with work. Every time I was going to start a new big task, I’d make more coffee. Making the pot of coffee became a work-related ritual. It certainly didn’t help things when I launched my own company and started workout out of various coffee shops.

The Physical Effect… My breath smelled awful. My bag and laptop smelled of coffee. I was habitually dehydrated. There was almost no way for me to keep up given the constant flow of coffee. Drinking all that water just seemed like a lot of work!

The Nutritional Effect… Outside of dinner I practically had no regular eating schedule.  I wouldn’t be hungry in the morning (thanks to coffee) and I could get by with a quick meal (plus some coffee) after a good workout. Dinner was with the family, but late at night the hunger would catch up to me, leading to some seriously bad food choices made staring at the fridge in my PJs.

The Nature of the Addiction

Unlike many of the other things that we have come to rely upon, like our cell phones and computers, coffee contains the addictive substance of caffeine. Even though there’s just about 200mgs of caffeine in a typical cup of coffee, it’s enough to alter how our brains and bodies act on a fundamental level.

In retrospect I was after something more powerful. Sure the coffee tasted good, but it wasn’t the jolt of coffee that drove me.

…It as much Behavioral as it is Chemical!

In my case the caffeine enabled me to do more for short (and increasingly shorter) periods of time. I’d say that my true addiction was to feeling super-powered. I could get up at 4am and work for a few hours before the kids got up. I could stay up late…as late as I wanted, because I could use caffeine to control when I was actually tired.

I wondered aloud if I could get by on just 4 hours of sleep a night. Less sleep meant more time to do stuff, and my next big idea was always only a cup of coffee away. I was a few steps removed from feeling invincible.

My (Sudden) Wake Up Call

I crashed my bike in mid-May of 2010, fracturing my hip and collar bone. In an instant, I knew my life was going to be different. This was confirmed mere hours later after repeated painful Xrays and MRIs of my pelvis. In a split second I went from climbing up mountains on my bicycle to being in a wheelchair for 3-4 weeks with my biggest workout goal simply being to try and walk.

Without exercise to offset my coffee habits, I quickly had tons of extra energy with nowhere to burn it off. I saw that:

Coffee actually made me agitated and jumpy.
Coffee disrupted quality eating.  I could almost go a full day without feeling a need to eat b/c of coffee, only to binge later. My weight ballooned and I was relying on loose-fitting sweatpants and shorts.
I used coffee to chase fatigue away, but I couldn’t eliminate that fatigue entirely.  This just led to a vicious cycle of blood sugar highs and lows, a self-perpetuating roller coaster of euphoria/energy followed by disabling fatigue.
Taking the No-Caffeine Pledge

I was clearly becoming a liability and knew something had to change. I am not one to pick the easy road — it’s not sexy enough to work hard for — and the best path seemed simple: no more coffee for 30 days. Go.
It wasn’t easy, but I was able to do it. The first two days were the worst. I was irritable and grumpy. I had a headache to die for. If you told me pushing that baby deer off a cliff would have stopped my headache…well, let’s just say it wasn’t good. I hear that most folks experience a headache, become irritable and find it hard to concentrate. That said your symptoms will depend on just how much caffeine you consume on a regular basis, and could become more severe. Some people report depression, nausea, vomiting or muscle pain.

Typically, symptoms began 12 to 24 hours after stopping caffeine, with peak intensity lasting one to two days. But researchers have found that withdrawal can last up to nine days in some cases.

I had two powerful change agents helping me out during my 30-day journey. First, I signed on to do an overall cleanse with my wife. This meant I was not alone in making sacrifices and looking to improve how I was treating my body. Caving to coffee would have meant going back on what she and I were doing together. Second, I drew a very black-and-white line: no coffee for thirty days is pretty clear. No half way steps of half-caff drinks from Starbucks. I had to go thirty days (a time line helps), and I could drink no caffeine. Coke was bad, but I could drink non-caffeinated teas, for example.

The most important thing was that even though I felt like junk, even early on I could see positive signs of change.

Right away I had the best damn night of sleep in over a year. I literally slept for nine straight hours, the first time I had done that without being sick since I was about 17 years old. It was as if I was getting over a time-change from a big trip…and in some way I totally was. This continued for about six weeks; only recently have I been able to get by on a more reasonable six hours sleep with no ergogenic aids.

I actually began eating breakfast again, and I don’t mean Chocolate Frosted Kibble Bits. A real breakfast meant my workouts were better (I had energy!), it meant I could skip my morning snack and head right into lunchtime looking for another substantial meal. A huge step for me.

My writing and other creative work exploded. Turns out that all the coffee I was drinking kept me working more, but not any better. By unplugging from my 24/7 energy source, I had time offline to process ideas and engange new concepts. My writing became more enriched, my concepts were more complete right from round one. This was the biggest “gotcha” from the no caffeine move.

I was better able to manage my time. I began single tasking (a topic I explore in my forthcoming new book), as I could focus really well for a short period of time. Gone were the coffee-power, twenty simultaneous tabs open in Firefox, ricochet-like work sessions where I would skip to the next task because waiting for a page to load was often too long.

That I saw a performance improvement in my training almost came as no surprise. Sure folks talk about caffeine as an ergogenic aid, but in my case it prevented me from doing the daily things required to be able to train at a higher level. Now that I was getting real sleep and eating on a proper rhythm, my workouts took off. I was able to consistently workout at higher intensities. I needed less recovery time and performed better in group workouts. Most importantly, the real effects of a hard training session were immediately apparent to no-coffee me; I could now address them with improved protein-focused intake, better hydration and sometimes even a quick nap.

Within six weeks of my crash I was riding my bicycle again, and running at ten weeks. In just three months after I hit the pavement I was riding at the same level of fitness as I had before the crash and my running was almost there. It’s now been four months, the time where my doctors told me I should be ready to begin working out again, and my bike and run are entirely “back” where they were before the crash. My endurance fitness has taken a hit, but I can ride 22mph on the bike and run sub-7:00/miles multiple times a week.

Building a Caffeine-Free Routine

I am 100% confident that this would not have been possible without my new caffeine choice. On zero coffee, I had to find a way to focus or redirect myself when I came to the places or situations I normally associated with coffee.  Here’s the actual daily steps I took (and continue to take) to keep the need for coffee out of my life.

1. No morning coffee meant implementing a morning yoga / flexibility / core strength routine.  I would routinely wake up at 4am, coffee waiting for me, and work for four straight hours before the kids got up. Without coffee, I could no longer jump in at full speed. Instead, I needed a way to warm up mentally and physically for my day. My solution was a small circuit that included light stretches, a few key yoga poses with deep breaths and some crunches and push ups. I let my mind wander during this consistent routine and am amazingly awake and refreshed by the time I am done. Side one: I have been notoriously bad at self-care considering all the exercising I do; it’s amazing what 5-6 days a week of 15 minutes of work can do for your body. Total Time = 15 minutes.

2. No midday coffee meant a new work flow to combat the early afternoon slump. When times got tough after lunch and I started typing “k” for ten straight pages as I dozed off, I would usually turn to coffee. Now I use this downtime as an opportunity to complete tasks that require movement and/or interaction with others. I have a short list of manual tasks such as chores or errands; a simple change of environment is very effective and getting my blood flowing helps eliminate fatigue. Another option is to pick some interactive to-do items–such as phone calls–as this will stimulate your brain as well.

3. No afternoon coffee meant that when I was really truly tired, I had to do something about it. If my change in work flow doesn’t do the trick, then it’s time for a 15 to 20-minute power nap. Given that my fatigue is real, dozing off in a comfortable chair (or even in my car) isn’t hard at all. Just don’t forget to set an alarm to wake up!

A (Powerful) Sample of One

I know the results I give above are unique to me; but the depth to which the no-coffee choice has improved my life across the board is so stunning that I simply can’t not share it with my readers as part of how I recommend you reach your personal and physical endurance best. My work has improved; my workouts have improved. I am in bed at a reasonable hour and wake up refreshed. No more late night work sessions means I have rediscovered the joy of reading and even spend more time with the family.

I can’t guarantee you’ll experience the same benefits as I have outlined above, but I can assure you that your life will certainly change for the better with no (or at least less!) coffee. Have you considered quitting coffee? Have you successfully done so? Please share your story–and advice for making the change stick–in the comments below. Good luck!

Tricks to Get the Most from Your Workout

Tricks to Get the Most from Your Workout

Great men are known not only by what they do, but, more important, by when they do it. So it is with your workout. All of us live by the clock, and in order to succeed with style, we need to sweat by it as well. We consulted the timeliest experts to help you set your agenda. Because the best time to look great and build muscle is right now.

 

Work in a Workout When You Feel the 6 p.m. Burn

The American Council on Exercise recommends working out between 4 and 6 p.m., when your body temperature is highest, making your workouts more productive. But that’s not an ironclad rule, says MH fitness director Lou Schuler. “It’s much more important to exercise consistently than to focus on a particular time of day,” he says. “Some guys can’t get motivated in the morning, and others are too burned out after work. So pick a time that’s right for you and stick with it.”

 

Warm Up 15 Minutes Before the Main Event

Researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Otago in New Zealand found that a 15-minute warmup at an intensity of 60 to 70 percent of your full capacity improves your range of motion and enhances your anaerobic performance.

 

Wear Cross-Trainers When You’re Walking the Dog, Lifting at the Gym, or Hanging Out on Weekends

But when you hit the long road, opt for running shoes instead; cross-trainers are too heavy and don’t provide enough cushioning to keep runners injury-free.

 

Listen to Your MP3 Player When You’re on the Treadmill

Music will motivate you and keep your mind off the monotony of running indoors. The editors of Runner’s World recommend that you never wear headphones outside, even on running paths, lest your groove distract you from potential dangers like rottweilers, traffic, and Ned Beatty.

 

Replace Your Running Shoes Before You Log 500 Miles

After that, the midsoles are bound to have deteriorated, says Runner’s World deputy editor Bob Wischnia. Most quality running shoes will last anywhere from 300 to 500 miles. Heavier guys should replace shoes more often. Lighter guys can let the mileage run up a little more. And since shoes don’t come with built-in odometers (yet), write the date of your first wearing somewhere on the inside with a permanent marker. It’ll make it easier to figure out when that pair’s reached the end of the road.

From Men’s Health

 

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You can do that by clicking on the title of this piece. ‘Post a comment’ is at the article end, right under the ’share this’ and ‘related posts’ options.
 
 
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HOT NEW STUDIO OPENS THIS MONDAY IN BELLEVUE…

The new FITNESS FORWARD STUDIO opens on Monday, February 1st, 2010 with the newest group TRX Suspension program!  

The new larger fitness studio is located in the Bellevue Plaza building suite 118 (first space on the south end of the lower level).  Watch this video to see a group TRX workout in action… soon to be at Fitness Forward Studio!!    We will soon have a massage treatment room as well as a room for semi-private yoga or used as a room for kids (with movies or WII FIT!) to play while the parents workout!

To view the video, please click the link below:

http://www.trxtrainingcenter.com/

How to get started in all new GROUP TRAINING FITNESS classes:
1.  Please see the attached new group fitness schedule, class descriptions and times! 
2.  Register for the classes (this weekend if possible) of your choice for the month of February by email or contact Debbie.  Five people minimum per class and twelve maximum in all group fitness training circuit style classes.

3.  Online registration begins March 1st, 2010 (using www.mindbodyonline.com) via a link on www.fitnessforward.net.

4.  Check out the new schedule at www.fitnessforward.net.  First class FREE! 
 

NEW CLASSES and NEW INSTRUCTORS:

  • Clay will begin teaching an athletic circuit for the Tennis players and golfers on Wednesdays and Fridays 12:15 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. starting the week of February 15th as well as 8:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays!

 

  • A new early bird circuit training will be added with me (Debbie) on Mondays and Wednesdays 5:10 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (if 5 people register!) 

 

  • Another new early bird class added to Tuesdays and Thursdays 5:30 a.m. to 6:20 a.m. with Debbie (TRX CORE CIRCUIT)

 

  • NEW class on Fridays 7:00 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. with Debbie

 

  • Connie will be teaching Mondays 12:15 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. circuit training

 

  • Annelise will be teaching Mondays and Wednesdays 6:15 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. for beginners.

 

  • Dana will begin teaching new classes in March on Mondays and Wednesdays (8:30 a.m. and 5:15 p.m.).

 

  •  BOOT CAMP MONTHLY SPECIAL….$250 for unlimited classes!!  Includes all circuit type of classes, yoga and pilates plus bonus monthly measurements, body fat testing or posture assessment!

SAVE THE DATE: 
Fitness Forward Open House
Saturday, February 27th
4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

 
Fitness Forward Rates:  Sign up for monthly classes at the beginning of each month and pre-pay.  Add 9.5% sales tax.

 

Semi private Yoga flow or Pilates Mat : $25 per class

 

One  circuit class per week: $25

 

SAVE and Pre-pay two circuit classes or more per month (if 6 or more per class registered): $20 per class. 

 

BOOT CAMP!  Unlimited group fitness classes per month plus bonus monthly body fat testing, measurements or posture analysis:  $250

 

Drop in circuit class rate: $30

 

Run group drop-in rate: $15 per class by the month.

 

Run group workouts for the month:  includes Wednesday night track workouts, Friday tempo hill workouts, additional organized run workouts and more. 

 

Monthly Coaching program:  $125-$150 includes online coaching, educational articles, online “Training Peaks” coaching program or basic schedule and one group run workout per week (Track night or Friday trails)

 

Body Fat Testing: $15 per 20 minute body weight, body fat test (via skin fold calipers) and circumferences.  Recommend getting your body fat tested every 8 weeks to monitor progress.

 

New Leaf Metabolic Testing:  ask for rates.

                Resting Metabolism test:

                Exercise Metabolism test: treadmill or bike

 

Group Personal Training:

Group of 3 people all pre-pay for month:  $45 (if two or more times a week)

Group of 3 people paying per time: $55 per session

 

Private personal training:

60 minutes$105

45 minutes: $75

30 minutes: $60

 

 

Fitness Forward, LLC  

Director & Owner: Debbie Smith-Potts

118 105th Ave N.E.

Bellevue, WA 98004                

(425)466-3653              

www.FitnessForward.net

Rise, Shine, and Get Some Exercise

Rise, Shine, and Get Some Exercise

Learn the benefits of morning exercise. Find ways to stay motivated and avoid hitting that snooze button.

We all know that exercise is good for us, but when faced with the choice of a little extra shut-eye or breaking a sweat first thing in the morning, who wouldn’t choose the snooze button?

Not so fast, say experts. Before turning over and pulling up the covers, consider the fact that exercise — and morning exercise in particular — has special benefits that can last all day.

Morning Exercise: The Benefits

The advantages of exercise are obvious. It can do everything from decreasing the risk of certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity to improving sleep and lessening feelings of depression and anxiety. And yet, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 45 percent of adults fulfill the surgeon general’s physical activity recommendation of 30 minutes of intense aerobic activity three times per week.

Exercise at any time of the day is better than no exercise at all, but the benefits of a morning fitness routine are plenty.

“Morning exercise revs the metabolism and jump-starts energy levels, actually accelerating your ability to burn calories,” says Amy Burleson Sullivan, PsyD, clinical health psychologist in the primary care section at the Dayton VA Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio. “It gets the endorphins flowing so that when you’re finished you have greater acuity, less anxiety, improved mood, and increased ability to concentrate, all of which contribute to a better day,” explains Sullivan.

Practically speaking, people who exercise in the morning are more likely to keep up with their routine, as there is less chance for other responsibilities to get in the way as the day gets busier. Exercising in the evening can make it more difficult to go to sleep, whereas morning exercisers are free to relax with their workouts complete.

Morning Exercise: Tips to Stay Motivated

There are easy steps to help you stay on track.

  • Get in the right mindset. Realize that exercise is hard work. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results. Set small goals and remember, slow and steady wins the race.
  • Get organized. Lay out shoes, socks, and workout clothes the night before to make the morning as easy as possible.
  • Make a playlist. Don’t forget an iPod, and make sure it has a variety of songs to prevent boredom.
  • Rise and shine. Plug in your alarm clock across the room so that it can’t be turned off without getting out of bed.
  • Exercise with a friend. It’s tempting to skip a workout when it’s just you, but if someone is waiting for you, you tend to feel guiltier about letting them down.
  • Have fun. “Make your workout enjoyable so you don’t dread it,” says David M. Williams, PhD, assistant professor at the Miriam Hospital and Alpert Medical School at Brown University in Providence, R.I.
  • Adapt when necessary. “Set yourself up for success and schedule your workouts, but if something comes up, be willing to be flexible,” says Stephanie Ramones, personal trainer and group exercise instructor at the Boston University Fitness and Recreation Center.

Morning workouts may be great for jump-starting the day, but if a conflict arises, try working out at night instead or adding time to the routine the next session. Remember, the most important thing isn’t the time of day, but that you are finding time to exercise.

  By Kristen Stewart Everyday Health, Inc.

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7 Easy Stretches to Do at Work

7 Easy Stretches to Do at Work

Strengthen your body, boost your brainpower, and increase your productivity—without ever leaving your office

Tightness in the shoulder, neck, and back often leads to fatigue, injury, soreness, and lack of mobility. It’s a casualty of the modern desk job. Good flexibility allows a muscle to lengthen and the joints to operate through a full range of motion. When muscles are elastic, your posture improves and you breathe deeper. Using more lung capacity sends more oxygen-rich blood to your brain to keep you alert and productive.

 Employ the 20-20 rules… Every 20 minutes, stand for 20 seconds and stretch or shake things out. “Just 20 seconds away from your computer screen reduces fatigue and increases blood circulation,” says Alan Hedge, Ph.D., a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University. Now you’ll have the power to sit up straight.

Every 2 hours, try to the following series of postural correction moves and rejuvenating stretches that will make tight muscles feel great and improve your oxygen efficiency.

1. Chest Elevation

Sit in a chair with your arms at your sides and your feet flat on the floor. Gently raise your chest toward the ceiling, but don’t look up. Keep your chin level with the floor. Hold this position for 10 seconds, then relax, and repeat 5 to 10 times.

2. Scapular Retraction

Get into the position for the chest elevation stretch while sitting, but this time place your hands on your hips. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, feeling the stretch in your chest. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax, and repeat the sequence 5 to 10 times.

3. Chin Tuck

Assume the chest elevation position while sitting. Keeping your chin level with the floor, pull your chin, head, and neck inward (not down). Hold for 10 seconds, then relax and repeat.

Tip: Placing your finger on your upper lip may help guide your head through the proper range of motion and correct any mistakes.

4. Upper Cervical Spine Flex

From the chest elevation position while seated, dip your head forward slightly as if you were nodding “yes.” Feel the stretch in the neck at the base of the head. Pause for 10 seconds, then relax and repeat 5 to 10 times.

5. Upper Back and Neck Scapular Strengthening

To strengthen the rhomboids, try this version of the scapular retraction. Stand upright. Clasp your hands behind your head. Flex your elbows back while pinching your shoulder blades together. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax, and repeat 5 to 10 times.

6. Rhomboid Range of Motion

Stand upright. Clasp your hands behind you at the small of your back. Pinch your shoulder blades together. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax, and repeat 5 to 10 times

7. Corner Chest Stretch

Stand facing the corner of a room. Raise your hands to shoulder height, and place your forearms, elbows, and hands against each wall. Lean inward to stretch your chest muscles. Hold for 15 seconds (or until you feel loose).

Tip: By raising or lowering the position of your arms, you can alter the stretch to focus on different parts of the pectorals.
By: Jeff Csatari at Men’s Health

If you’re a regular reader – I want your involvement, your feedback, and your questions! So why not make this the day to leave a comment before you go – if you’re reading from RSS or email you’ll have to enter the blog to do this. You can do that by clicking on the title of this piece. ‘Post a comment’ is at the article end, right under the ’share this’ and ‘related posts’ options.

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10 Great Ways To Makeover Your Cardio Routine (And Finally Get Lean)

10 Great Ways To Makeover Your Cardio Routine (And Finally Get Lean)

I’m not the hugest fan of cardio. This is not because I think cardio is without benefits, but because I so often see it performed in the wrong way. The result of which more than speaks for itself – I’ve literally watched people grow fatter on the cardio machines in my gym since it opened 4 or so years ago. The long and short of it is that most cardio junkies do things completely wrong. And they have the saddlebags to show for it.

If you’re not sure whether your cardio routine is up to scratch then it’s probably not. And if you can’t understand why the weight simply won’t shift despite all the time and effort you put in, then it’s a safe bet that you’re stuck in a faulty cardio routine.

In which case it’s most definitely time to change your approach before you end up with chunky fat aerobics instructor syndrome. Here’s how – and trust me, this one’s worth a read even if it’s just for a refresher:

1. Cut out endurance cardio. Unless you’re a marathon runner in the making, there’s no call in your life for long bouts of low-intensity cardio. Many fitness experts will still tell you that low-intensity cardio is the best way to stay in the fat-burning zone, but I’m far more interested in the hormonal effects of that slow steady session. And the truth there is that although you may burn fat during the 40 or 60 or 90 minutes you work out for, your metabolism hasn’t been affected in any lasting way. Furthermore, your body adapts after about 6 weeks and then starts to store extra body fat as a means of being prepared for the predicted upcoming sessions.

2. Introduce (true) interval training. If you’re an avid exerciser you’re familiar with interval training – alternating periods of high intensity with periods of lower intensity or recovery. It’s a great idea in theory – interval training allows you to work much harder in a shorter period of time, burning off twice or more as much energy as you would with endurance cardio, and possibly even elevating your metabolism beyond the workout (if the resistance is high enough). The problem? Most people don’t know how to push themselves. Ideal interval training should last no longer than 20 minutes, and the high intensity part should be so extreme that you feel like you’re going to collapse as you watch the last few seconds count down. Your recovery should be true recovery – either a complete standstill, or very slow and relaxed. If you’re able to keep up a ‘decent’ pace then you definitely didn’t work hard enough earlier. Finally, it’s important to make sure you vary your approach. If you usually alternate minute to minute, try 30 second changes. Or 45 hard, 30 recovery. Variety is crucial if you want to achieve lasting results.

3. Try some sprints. Have you ever compared the body of a sprinter to a marathon runner? I’d say it’s a far prettier sight, wouldn’t you? We typically think of sprints as being running-based, but you can definitely use the bike or cross-trainer for sprints. While interval training can allow for increases in speed OR resistance (or both), sprint training is purely speed-based. And typically performed either over a set distance or for a given period of time, before being followed by a complete rest. The rest period should be around twice as long as the work period in order to continually perform at your best. I like to do sets of 10 sprints, timing myself for each. If you’re working with a treadmill it’s pretty tough to measure things precisely as it takes time for the treadmill to build speed and you’re forced to run as it does so. For this reason you may prefer outdoor runs (mark out a distance and then time yourself), or using the indoor bike. Aim to include sprint training at least once a fortnight for variety and a truly revolutionary lung burn.

4. And a few hills. Hills are a great way to build lean muscle on your gluts and legs, and to increase your overall metabolism. Most cardio doesn’t have a lasting effect on your metabolic rate (unlike weight training), but hills are a great exception to this rule. And definitely an excellent way to shake off some cardio cobwebs! Either set the treadmill to a decent incline (at least 8), or find a handy hill in your local park. You can start with brisk walking to begin with, but try to include some light running as well. Unless you really want to punish yourself use an interval or sprint based approach to hill training rather than just running straight uphill for 20 minutes. Mind you, that’d be a workout your body wouldn’t let you forget in a hurry!

5. Make cardio the supplement to real training. It’s one thing to smarten up your cardio routine, but have you ever thought about whether you should be including the stuff at all? If you’re a very busy or stressed person, then cardio does little more than activate a deep-set stress hormone reaction, one result of which is increased fat storage. Pretty counter-productive, huh?! But even if you’re not overly stressed, excess cardio becomes a source of stress, causing the same hormonal activity. Excess is anything more than 2-3 times per week, and for any longer than an average of 20 minutes true work-time. The ONLY exceptions are if you’re training for an endurance event, and even then some experts insist that weight training has a greater effect on your long-term energy. Real training is training replicating movements that our bodies were designed to do. Bending, squatting, twisting, lunging, pushing, pulling. Usually involving some kind of heavy object.

6. Pay attention and make your workout count. I can’t tell you how common it is to see people ‘workout’ on cardio machines with their head in the clouds and their body barely following commands. I sure hope that if you’re investing your precious time into hitting the gym you’re actually paying attention and pushing yourself to the point where you know you’re alive. And sure, occasionally it might be okay to just go through the motions, but if that’s the norm you’ve got problems. It’s a pretty safe bet that if you’re watching TV or reading a book, you’re not working as hard as you should be. Ditto for carrying on a conversation. I say make the choice – either train for results, or go home and relax.

7. Mix it up in the great outdoors. There’s no rule that says cardio training has to involve a specific machine or a set movement. Sometimes the best workouts are the ones that involve spontaneous activity, or some sort of sport – casual or organized. If you’re bored with doing the same thing over and over again, or if you’ve had enough of the gym, it could be time to mix it up in the great outdoors. Grab a frisbee, or some blades, try rock climbing (even if it’s indoors!), or get a group of like-minded friends together for some backyard football. I’m sure you can think of your own ideas. Who knows? You might even discover a new skill!

8. Turn your weight session into cardio. This is probably my favorite approach to cardio. Ever since I discovered how much more effective weight training is for keeping my clients and myself lean, I’ve looked for ways to avoid the stuff in its purest sense. Which is why I absolutely love love love circuit training. It’s time efficient, it sculpts your body, it gets you sweating like nothing else, and it most definitely takes care of cardio training without having to actually hit the cardio machines. The concept is very simple – just choose 3-8 weight-training exercises (I find bigger movements work best, as opposed to isolated), and perform them back to back, one set of each. Pause for 90 seconds (or don’t if you really want to challenge yourself), and repeat 3-5 times.

9. Use your upper body. Sometimes your legs just need a break. Or it could be that you’ve become such a ‘machine’ that traditional cardio has been well and truly conquered and no longer forces you to really get that heart rate climbing. This is the perfect time to include some upper body cardio. The most obvious choice is the rowing machine. And let me tell you – if you’ve never used this baby for more than a couple cruisy minutes than you’re not going to know what hit you. Even 5 solid minutes on the rower can be a killer if you really work at it. Personally I love to use the rower for sprint or interval training – 100 meters flat out, followed by 100 meters total recovery is probably my fave. If you can’t go flat out in the 20 or so seconds it takes to get through 100 meters, increase it to 150 or 200 to give yourself more time to work into it. But for truly exceptional fitness and a lasting fat loss effect, shorter and harder is better.

10. Just stop. Here’s a thought. What if you were to cut out cardio training altogether? Maybe not forever (don’t panic!), but even for a couple of weeks. Wouldn’t that be a great way to revolutionize the rest of your training? I’d even be willing to say that circuits could be kept on the agenda, but that’s it. Everybody needs a true break now and then from their standard activity(s), and by cutting out cardio altogether you will notice your performance in other areas improve dramatically. I can’t tell you how often people have told me they don’t give it 100% in the weights room because they know they need to save energy for their cardio – talk about shooting yourself in the foot. And believe me, I totally get how scary it can be to cut back or give up cardio. I was a cardio queen for years. But if there’s even the slightest chance that you could improve your overall training and your physical success by just saying no, then isn’t it worth it? I’d suggest at least three 2-4 week ‘no cardio’ periods each year for maximum results.

I’ll let you decide . But in the meantime, get to work on the other 9 points. And do it right away – I guarantee you’ll feel the benefits within just a week or two, and the visual results will soon follow.

By Kat Eden of Body Incredible

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6 Reasons to Add Strength Training to Your Workout

6 Reasons to Add Strength Training to Your Workout

If you knew that a certain type of exercise could benefit your heart, improve your balance, strengthen your bones, and help you lose weight as it made you look and feel better, wouldn’t you want to get started? Well, studies show that strength training can do all of that and more.

Strength training is not just about bodybuilders lifting weights in a gym. It can benefit people of all ages and may be particularly important for people with health issues such as arthritis or a heart condition.

Strength Training: The Benefits

Yes, strength training will add definition to your muscles and give men and women alike more fit and toned bodies. But working out with weights does so much more:

1. Strength training protects bone health and muscle mass.

After puberty, whether you are a man or a woman, you begin to lose about 1 percent of your bone and muscle strength every year. “One of the best ways to stop, prevent, and even reverse bone and muscle loss is to add strength training to your workouts,” advises Troy Tuttle, MS, an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston.”

2. Strength training makes you stronger and fitter.

Strength training is also called resistance training because it involves strengthening and toning your muscles by contracting them against a resisting force. There are two types of resistance training:

  • Isometric resistance involves contracting your muscles against a non-moving object, such as against the floor in a push-up.
  • Isotonic strength training involves contracting your muscles through a range of motion as in weight lifting.

Both make you stronger and can get you into better shape. Remember that with strength training your muscles need time to recover, so it should only be done on alternate days. Always take some time to warm up and cool down after strength training.

3. Strength training helps you develop better body mechanics.

Strength training has benefits that go well beyond the appearance of nicely toned muscles. Your balance and coordination will improve, as will your posture. More importantly, if you have poor flexibility and balance, strength training can reduce your risk of falling by as much as 40 percent, a crucial benefit, especially as you get older.

4. Strength training plays a role in disease prevention.

Studies have documented the many wellness benefits of strength training. If you have arthritis, strength training can be as effective as medication in decreasing arthritis pain. Strength training can help post-menopausal women increase their bone density and reduce the risk of bone fractures. And for the 14 million Americans with type 2 diabetes, strength training along with other healthy lifestyle changes can help improve glucose control.

5. Strength training boosts energy levels and improves your mood.

Strength training will elevate your level of endorphins (natural opiates produced by the brain), which will make you feel great. As if that isn’t enough to convince you, strength training has also been shown to be a great antidepressant, to help you sleep better, and to improve your overall quality of life.

6. Strength training translates to more calories burned.

You burn calories during strength training, and your body continues to burn calories after strength training, a process called “physiologic homework.” More calories are used to make and maintain muscle than fat, and in fact strength training can boost your metabolism by 15 percent — that can really jumpstart a weight loss plan.

Strength Training: Getting Started

“Please don’t limit yourself to thinking that lifting weights, expensive machines, or gym membership is the only way to do strength training,” says Tuttle. “Pushups, jump squats, lunges, and mountain climbing are all examples of exercises that provide strength training.”

If you have any health issues, ask your doctor what type of strength training is best to meet your needs and abilities. You can also work with a fitness expert to design a strength-training program that will be safe and effective for you.

Who doesn’t want to look better, feel better, and live a longer, healthier life? So what are you waiting for? Get started now with a complete workout program that includes strength training.

By Chris Iliades, MD at Everyday Health

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