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The Importance of Rest

On this Motivation Monday, I send a hearty congratulations to the tens of thousands of FITASTIC men and women who laced up for the 47th TCS New York City Marathon. As my repeat readers know, despite my love for exercise and endorphins, I never became a runner. So I remain forever in awe of anyone who can run for any length of time – especially 26.2 miles.

In addition to some well-deserved celebrating, I hope the more than 50,000 runners are also taking a well-deserved rest day after pushing their bodies to the ultimate extreme. While the rest of us may not have clocked 26.2 miles on our fitness trackers this weekend, it’s important to remember each and every one of us regardless of our fitness level needs at least one rest day each week. If you don’t allow your body to rest and recover, you’re simply putting yourself at risk for overtraining. That can lead to a gamut of problems ranging from stress fractures and joint pain to sleepless nights.

To put it simply, too much of a good thing – even exercise – can be bad. Why? Because working out, especially at high levels with high impact, breaks down your body tissue. Resistance training actually breaks down muscles causing microscopic tears and it is on rest days when the muscles, nerves, bones and connective tissue get the needed time to rebuild.

So if this Motivation Monday turns into a rest day, don’t sweat it. Sometimes your body and mind need a nap or an overdue chat with a loved one more than a heart-pounding workout. If you’ve made the commitment to exercise and watch what you eat, you also owe it to yourself to give your body time to rest and recharge. It’s all part of the winning formula to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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Here’s to Another Workout Wednesday!

Happy Workout Wednesday!

Photo by Leslie Hassler

This week I offer some new exercises for your stabilization endurance routine. There’s something important to note about this level of training: it’s not just for workout newbies and those returning to exercise after a hiatus.

NASM teaches it’s also crucial for exercise veterans to re-visit the stabilization level after periods of strength or power training. Why? Because performing exercises that challenge the body’s proprioception is a surefire way to maintain your core and joint stability. I don’t care how much weight you can push with your chest muscles on a bench or curl at a seated machine with your biceps. After intense strength or power training, keeping your body in a bridge while performing a couple of sets of ball dumbbell chest presses offers a good reminder of how important it is to maintain your core strength!

Don’t forget to warm-up before jumping into this routine and cool-down when you’re done. For each exercise, aim for two sets of 12-15 reps.

Core:

Balance:

I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but you need to visit and re-visit this training level throughout your year-round workout cycle to keep your muscles the way they’re supposed to. If you’re a “regular” here at LauraLovesFitness.com, you may know the following chain reaction by heart: when your muscles don’t work properly, your body makes compensations to keep moving. Those compensations eventually lead to muscle imbalances which lead to increased stress on the joints which can ultimately lead to injury.

As with the other workouts I’ve presented, your goal should to perform today’s program two to three days each week, but don’t perform the same routine on back-to-back days. Your muscles need time to recover and repair, which is accomplished through rest. So you could perform this program on Tuesdays and Thursdays and get your cardio on the in-between days. Whatever you do, never skimp on the stretching! 

So, what are some of your favorite stabilization exercises? You know I’m always looking for new ideas to help all of us on our quest to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Workout Wednesday: Another Stabilization Endurance Routine

Stabilization Before Strength! Photo by Leslie Hassler

Happy Workout Wednesday!

As I received some positive feedback on the total-body workout I posted last week, I thought I’d post another one. Just like last Wednesday’s plan, these exercises provide a total-body resistance training workout for what NASM calls the stabilization endurance phase of training. If you’re new to the gym or returning after a break, this is the type of plan you should follow.

Don’t forget to warm-up before jumping into this routine and cool-down when you’re done. For each exercise, aim for two sets of 12 reps. (If you’ve never worked out before or starting again after a very long break, one set is just fine.)

Core:

Balance:

I cannot stress enough the importance of the stabilization training phase being the correct starting point  for an exercise regimen. Without stabilization, your muscles don’t work the way they’re supposed to and your body will make compensations to keep you moving. Those compensations lead to muscle imbalances which lead to increased stress on the joints which in the end can eventually lead to injury.

Aim to perform this program two to three days each week, but remember not to perform the same routine on back-to-back days. Your muscles need time to recover and repair, which is accomplished through rest. So perhaps you perform this program on Mondays and Wednesdays and get your cardio  in on the in-between days. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t skimp on the stretching!  I will be eager to hear more feedback on whether or not this program helps you on your journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Confused About Muscle Confusion?

Photo by Leslie Hassler

I kick off this new work week addressing a great question from Ally.  She asked about “muscle confusion,” a key concept in the workouts you see all over TV that promise to get you “ripped” in 90 days without going to the gym.

First, I have to admit due to space limitations in all the apartments I’ve lived in since getting out of college, I’ve always worked out at the gym. So, I’ve never bought or used any of these 90-day surpreme workout programs. However, I do know many people who use them and love them.

Second, from an exercise science perspective, muscles can’t technically get “confused.” What they can do is grow stronger through a process called volume overload. Another phrase you often hear when people describe their fitness goals is a desire to “tone up.” Again, this is technically an incorrect statement as sticking with an exercise program won’t “tone” muscle, but it can help you improve your overall muscle definition. Basically, whether you’re working out at the gym or in front of the TV, if you increase the workload placed on your body, you burn more calories than you store, which leads to a loss in body fat and an improvement in muscular definiton.

Ally also asked me how often I change my resistance training routine. What I learned through the National Academy of Sports Medicine is that whatever phase of training you’re in, you should stick with a current routine for a minimum of four weeks before moving on to the next level. This gives your body time to adapt to the stimuli you’re placing on it.  That doesn’t just mean changing the exercises you’re doing, but adding to the workload you’re demanding your body to perform. When it comes to resistance training, that workload increase comes in the form of reps x sets x weight.

Remember, change doesn’t have to be drastic. It can simply involve cutting back on the amount of rest between exercises to push caloric burn to the max.  Change can also involve filling your schedule with group boxing class on Monday, group body conditioning  on Wednesday and a solo weight machine circuit on Friday. Want another reason to mix up your routine?  It’s simple: too much of a good thing is never good.  Doing the same exercises every day is a surefire way to increase your risk of overuse injuries.  Which brings me to another important reminder: your body needs adequate rest to make adequate gains. So, be sure not to work the same muscle groups on consecutive days.

I want to wrap up with what could be most important: in a world filled with instant everything, you need to be patient when it comes to reaching your diet and exercise goals. Anything done in an extreme fashion may produce fast results, but these results are often unsustainable. Drastically restricting your calorie intake and working out for 90 minutes, seven days a week may get you into that dress for the reunion. Chances are once you go back to your normal lifestyle, the weight will come back and any gains you made will be lost.

In the end, the choice is yours.  Whether you try a 90-day DVD exercise program, join a gym or start taking tennis lessons with a friend, the key is to find what works for you so that you stick with it and don’t stray from the path to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Cross Training

I hope you enjoyed some rest and recovery time over the weekend. As you outline your attack plan on how to fit fitness into the week ahead, I offer this bit of advice: mix things up a bit.

Whether you’re a fitness novice, getting back to a routine or have been exercising for years, variety can make the world of difference when it comes to sticking with a fitness regimen and also preventing injuries. Doing the same routine day after day causes repetitive stress and can lead to overuse and stress-related injuries. Some of the more common ones include:

  • Chondromalacia patella (often referred to as “runner’s knee”): An overuse injury causing pain in the kneecap. Pain can occur from weight-bearing knee flexion activities like squats or sitting for long periods of time with bent knees. Symptoms may also include swelling or grating noises.
  • Stress fractures: Microscopic fractures usually to a weight-bearing bone like the tibia in the leg or metatarsals in the feet.
  • Tendonitis: Inflammation in the connective tissue that joins bone to bone. (One common form is “tennis elbow”)

If you love group exercise classes, one of the easiest ways to avoid overuse injuries is to mix up your schedule. For example, the twisting, dance-like movements executed in Zumba classes put extra stress on your knees and can be damaging if the surrounding muscles (e.g. the quadriceps) are weak. The same can be said of cardio kickboxing. Repetitive high kicks and other movements places stress on the hip region. If any of the above mentioned exercises are not performed in proper form, the risk of injury is even greater.

I am not saying you can’t take your favorite group ex class multiple times during the week, but try to give yourself a day in between to allow the muscle groups to repair and recover.  If you’re a five-day-a-week-group-ex “addict,” here’s a possible schedule:

  • Monday: Cardio kick
  • Tuesday: Pilates mat (Followed by 30 minutes of cardio)
  • Wednesday: Zumba
  • Thursday: Pilates mat or Yoga
  • Friday: Cardio kick or Zumba

The same can be said for strength training.  Most beginners should aim for a resistance training workout of two days per week and not on consecutive days.  If your schedule forces you to strength train on back-to-back days, split the muscle groups over two days.

Stretching is one activity you can do every day of the week. One of my personal fitness goals this year has been to incorporate more flexibility training into my routine. If only I had made that goal a priority earlier in my life, I’m sure I could have avoided many trips to the doctor along with multiple X-rays and MRIs.

That being said, we can all push ourselves a little too hard at times. However, if a couple days of rest, ice and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories don’t alleviate the pain, you should talk to your doctor. Preventing injuries is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your body and mind are working together to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Fast Fitness

Welcome to another fast and furious Friday installment of LauraLovesFitness! As I anxiously await the end of what has felt like a marathon week at the office, I thought it was the perfect time to offer an idea for those days when you just don’t feel like you have enough time for a good workout at the gym.

As a member of New York Sports Club, I have access to something I really love called the “XPress Line.” It is a separate area on the gym floor consisting of eight machines that work all your major muscle groups. (NYSC claims you can do it in 22 minutes, but I contest that depends on how many sets you do of each machine.)  Even if you don’t belong to NYSC, these are eight machines that you can search out in your gym and create your own express workout wherever you go.

  1. Leg press – quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals
  2. Leg extension – quadriceps
  3. Seated leg curl – hamstrings
  4. Lat pulldown – biceps brachii, latissimus dorsi and serratus anterior
  5. Overhead press – deltoids, triceps and upper trapezius
  6. Vertical chest press – pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, anterior deltoid, triceps
  7. Bicep curl – biceps brachii, brachialis, forearm flexors
  8. Tricep extension – triceps

For my “quick” workout, I will do 30 minutes of cardio on the elliptical either before or after making my way through the eight machines listed above. To keep my general fitness in check, I aim for three sets of 10-12 reps on each machine. (Beginners should aim for one set of 12-20 reps on each machine.)  After the machines, I’ll find a spot on the floor to do crunches and planks to get my core burning.  I wrap up the program with static stretches and using the foam roller for self-myofascial release. (A future blog topic.)  So, in about an hour, I get the heart rate up, break a good sweat and feel really good about getting all my muscle groups moving.

If you are new to the gym, I can’t stress how important it is to asking a trainer or other gym staff member about the proper way to use the machines.  If you’re the shy type, then bring a friend along who can show you a thing or two on the gym floor.  You don’t want to risk getting injured and sitting on the sidelines. It’s much more fun to experiment with all the ways you can have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

I Got Myself to the Gym. Now What?

You took the plunge and signed up for a gym membership. You change into your workout wear, turn on the iPod…and find yourself completely overwhelmed surrounded by a sea of equipment.  Don’t worry, you’re not alone.  One of my best gal pals from Northwestern University, Molly, recently posed the following questions:

“My problem with getting/staying fit right now is not knowing exactly what to do with myself once I’m at the gym. Should I just focus on cardio? (I’d like to lose a few pounds.) If so, do I stick with one machine like the treadmill and work on building speed and endurance, or switch it up and try the elliptical sometimes? Should I start again with the weight machines, which I haven’t done in a while? (I’d also like to tone up and gain strength.) Take a class?”

Two important points to address right away:

1) They key to losing weight is burning more calories than you take in. That can be done through cardio and/or resistance training. Whether you’re an exercise novice or seasoned gym-goer, your body will benefit most from a combination of the two.

2) Find what you like to do at the gym, and you will stick with it. Then with some help from perseverance, self-discipline and motivation, you can get the results you’re looking for.

Reminding myself how good I feel after a workout fuels my perseverance and self-discipline.  As for motivation, if you’re new to the gym, I strongly recommend meeting with a personal trainer at least once. Aside from helping you get familiarized with the gym, a personal trainer will also conduct fitness assessments to determine if you have any postural distortions that need correcting as part of your routine. In the simplest terms, you will learn what areas of your body need to be stretched and which need to be strengthened.

Many gyms welcome new members with a complimentary training session. If your gym doesn’t offer this service and a personal training session is not in your budget, then recruit a friend who does know his or her way around the gym to be your training partner.

Group exercise classes can also be a great source of motivation. With classes ranging from cardio kickboxing to Zumba, there is something out there for everyone. To avoid boredom at the gym, I’m a big fan of mixing up group exercise classes with your own program during the week.

Cardio is a topic that warrants its own blog post. For now, I recommend newcomers try the treadmill, elliptical and stationary bike for 10 minutes each. Determine which one you like best, then work on being able to run, stride or cycle for up to 30 minutes where you notice a moderate increase in your heart and respiratory rates.  Doing this five to seven days each week with two days of resistance training is a good workout plan to strive for.

One final note: it takes six weeks before something becomes a habit.  So, your first trip to the gym is the first big step in making exercise part of your routine to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Music That Makes Me Move

We made it to Friday! As I continue to navigate my way through this new blogging adventure, I’m toying with the idea of keeping Friday’s posts short and sweet with a quick hit list regarding some fitness-related topic.  For the first of these installments, I offer some of my favorite workout tunes that keep me moving either on the elliptical machine or as I hit the floor for some resistance training and core work.

Laura’s Top 10 Favorite Cardio Jams:

“On the Floor” Jennifer Lopez (feat. Pitbull)

“Chemistry” Velvet

“Around You” Jes

“Blow” Ke$ha

“Shut It Down” Pitbull (feat. Akon)

“Inner Sanctum” Blue

“Alright” Red Carpet

“Sorry” Madonna

“Judas” Lady GaGa

“I’m Into You” Jennifer Lopez (feat. Lil Wayne)

Laura’s Top 10 Resistance Training Tunes:

“Wherever I May Roam” Metallica

“The Fire” The Roots & John Legend

“The Game” Disturbed

“Let It Rock” Kevin Rudolf & Lil Wayne

“Shake That” Eminem

“Four Minutes” Madonna (feat. Justin Timberlake)

“Do What’s Good For Me” 2 Unlimited

“Bumpy Flight Home” Oakenfold

“Stagefright” Def Leppard

“Crazy on You” Heart

Obviously, I like a wide variety of music. (Note: these are only a handful of songs featured in my “Workout Mix” playlist.) You may love or hate any or all of the songs listed above, but I figured you could at least give some unknown titles a search and a listen and decide if they’re worthy to be a part of your iTunes library.

On a low-energy day, sometimes just turning up the right heart-pounding beats can help kickstart your adrenaline and get you into the right mood to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

The Benefits of Group Exercise

Boxing? Yoga? There's a Class Out There for You!

Every Tuesday night for the past six years, unless I was sick, on vacation or on the road for work, you’d find me in the front right corner of the group exercise studio in the New York Sports Club near my office sweating it out in my favorite class of the week. “Club Strength” utilizes free weights and weight plates for a total body workout of resistance training. Add the kick-butt choreography and music selections from fitness instructor Wayne Sims, and you have all the makings for a class that gets the heart rate going and brings on the burn in all your muscle groups.  I absolutely love how I feel when I leave this class.

Of course, even Wayne has to take a vacation or sick day now and then and a substitute instructor fills in.  Unfortunately, the sub who filled in tonight just didn’t do it for me.  I’m not here to name names or bad-mouth anyone, as everyone has their own teaching style and technique. Maybe some of the other class regulars enjoyed tonight’s workout.  For me, it was simply disappointing to leave the gym without my normal Tuesday night rush.

While this let-down won’t prevent me from going back to the gym tomorrow, I realize one not-so-hot class experience can wreak havoc on your fitness goals if you’re just getting started on a workout routine.  You decide to take the plunge and join a gym, you try a class and then you simply hate it.  Well, here’s what I say about that predicament: don’t despair and don’t give up!

There are so many different classes available today that it would be hard not to find something you like. Whether it’s “old school” aerobics, spinning, boxing, core conditioning, Pilates or yoga, there really is something for everyone at every skill level. Group classes can be intense, but between the heart-pounding music and the contagious energy of your instructor and classmates, it’s a fun way to get a great workout – sometimes in less than an hour.  Enjoying all these benefits for so many years and wanting to spread the fun to others is what led me to study and become a Certified Group Exercise Instructor with the Aerobics & Fitness Assocation of America (AFAA).

Like many other activities in life, when it comes to exercise, you need to find something you like doing so you can stick with it. Participating in group exercise classes can be a great way to find your own groove on how to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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