Strength-Training

We're Going to be Live on Facebook!

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Hi all! I've talked before on the blog about our monthly open house events, where you can stop by the studio and we'll answer your fitness-related questions, demonstrate exercises and stretches and just generally try to help you make your exercise experience safer, more effective and more fun.

This month we're doing something a little different. We're going to Facebook Live our open house! So if you don't live anywhere near us, you can still participate. Submit your questions to us on Facebook, or by leaving them in the Comments section below and we'll answer as many as we can.

The event is from 5pm-7pm, tomorrow, May 16th.  We'll check-in on Facebook Live periodically during those hours--whenever we have a handful of questions to answer and we can step away from the open house for a few minutes. You can find us on Facebook by clicking here.

We hope to see lots of you on Tuesday night!

When to Up What You Lift

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I was out with a friend recently and the conversation turned to working out. She asked me how to know when it was time to increase the amount of weight she was using in her workouts and by how much. I thought other people might be wondering the same thing, so here goes. (These are general guidelines, but everyone's body is different. Listen to yours and don't do anything that causes you pain, dizziness or nausea. Consult a physician if you experience any of those things during exercise and before beginning an exercise program.) 36_nikki_2016

There are formulas that they teach you when you study to become a trainer that are supposed to help you answer this question. But if you're anything like me, math is not your strong suit and you want a simple, practical method for figuring out when it's time to bump it up. Also, increasing weight by a percentage doesn't always correlate to the weights in which dumbbells or kettle-bells are available. So if you're lifting 5 pounds and want to increase by 10%, good luck finding a 5.5 pound dumbbell.

When I'm watching a client lift a weight, I can usually tell when it's too light or too heavy. There are universal facial expressions for too heavy :-) and I can tell a lot by how easily someone is swinging a dumbbell up during biceps curls, for example. There are also form cues. If a weight is too heavy, the body will often compensate by breaking form.

But if you want a general bit of advice here it is: when you can complete 12-16 repetitions of an exercise and you know you could knock out several more, it's probably time to increase. Another way of thinking about it is that when you're about 3/4 of the way through a set and you aren't feeling fatigued (like, "I can only do a few more" kind of tired), then it's probably time. I know my muscle is fatigued when I get to the point that I could not do one more rep in good form.

Other ways to know it might be time to lift something heavier is if you've been working out for a long time and never have done so, or if you have stopped seeing gains in strength. Muscles adapt to the demands you place upon them. If you want them to get stronger, you have to ask them to do more. Even if that means that instead of doing 12 repetitions of something, you can only do 8 in good form at the higher weight. Do 8 for a while and then add one or two more reps until you can do 12-16 again.

The experience of increasing the weight you lift can be a really empowering one! If you're working with a good personal trainer they know how to help you do that safely. But if you're on your own: research good form for the exercise you're going to try with the heavier weight. The American Council on Exercise has an exercise library with photos and cues for lots of exercises. You can access it here. And the first few times you do the exercise with the heavier weight, stand in front of a mirror and watch your form. Sometimes it's difficult to "feel" whether you're doing something right, so being able to see yourself can help.

See you here next week!

 

 

When Change is Good

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A while ago I wrote a post about recovery days, aka active rest days and how important they are. And they are. And then...I promptly ignored my own advice.

I did it because I loved my workouts and didn't want to miss an opportunity to move.

Part of the fun of being a personal trainer is that I can play around with my workouts and see what my body can do. But I also know how to keep myself safe and the signs to watch for that indicate that a particular exercise or program isn't working for me.

Which leads me to the subject of this post.

Good Morning Sunshine

Several weeks ago I started to notice that I didn't feel right. I had trouble sleeping and was tired all the time. My muscles were sore constantly. I was irritable. I had been sick a couple of times in quick succession. My knee, which I had injured last year and recovered from, was starting to hurt badly again. My appetite was often nonexistent.

And I was starting to dread my workouts. Workouts that I normally loved. Exercises that used to be challenging but doable, now often seemed impossible. I wasn't feeling stronger. I wasn't having fun.

I suspected that I was overdoing things. Big time. So, I decided I needed to scale back. A prospect that in some ways I didn't relish, but in other ways was desperate to do.

Relax

I'm two weeks in to an 8-week scaled down, moderate-intensity program at this point and I gotta say...I'm feeling really good. My energy level is up, I'm sleeping well, and I'm enjoying moving through my workouts again. I'm following a program designed by another personal trainer that I really like, so I also freed myself from the responsibility of putting together my own workouts. I'm tracking things like my energy level, sleep, appetite, mood and how my body feels, which has been really helpful.

When the 8 weeks are over, I'll see how I feel and may bump up the duration or intensity of my workouts a bit. Maybe. Or maybe I'll change them up in some other way. I'm not quite sure yet. There are some classes I'm thinking about taking and they're a bit longer than my current sessions. If I take them, then I might decrease the intensity on other days. I'm just going to play around with different things until I find something that challenges me enough, while not draining me.

Keep Exploring

I encourage you to check-in with your body on a regular basis too. How are you sleeping? What's your energy-level like? How about your appetite? Your mood? Are you in pain?

How are your workouts working for you? Are you giving your body a chance to recover from activity? If you generally like exercise, do you find yourself looking forward to it each day or dreading it? Are you doing the same kind of workout, but not with the same amount of enjoyment? Have the gains you were making in strength, endurance, flexibility or balance slowed or plateaued? Are you bored? Are you feeling overwhelmed or too challenged?

We often stick to routines out of habit, or out of the fear that if we change things up whatever the new thing is won't be as effective as the old thing and we'll lose whatever gains we've made. And we very often don't pay attention to the signals our bodies are sending us that it's time to scale down, scale up or just change our activity.

When you've done your own self-assessment, feel free to change anything that isn't working for you. There are tons of great personal trainers who can help you figure out a great plan, and I'm always happy to share the name of the program I'm doing now with anyone who's interested, with the caveat that every body is different and what works well for me might not work for you and vice versa.

There are so many ways to move your body, that finding something that works for you is a matter of trial and error. And, in case I haven't said it here before, you can always break up your exercise time into manageable chunks. If your goal is 30 minutes a day, you can do three 10-minute sessions instead of one 30 minute block. Do what works for you, both in terms of content and time.

Take care all. Until next time...

Favorite Things: April

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New month, new list of favorite things from the Lean Body Lifestyles team! As always, none of the people or products below compensated us for singing their praises. Strictly things we've found that we love. A hot bath could have similar benefits to exercise. Not a reason to scrap working out, but good to know.

The Motiv Ring Activity, Heart Rate + Sleep Tracker. It's a FitBit in ring form!

These gingerbread muffins. I swapped out the coconut oil for canola, replaced the yogurt with pureed pumpkin and used nutmeg instead of cloves. I skipped the sugar on the top.

I held off on including this one until I'd been using it for a while and could attest to its effectiveness. I've tried every brand of "natural," aluminum and paraben-free deodorant but have never found one that actually worked for longer than a couple of days. Native deodorant is amazing. It smells great and I rarely have to re-apply. It's way better than the drugstore brands I've used. And their customer service is great.

Roasted brussels sprout chips. Roasting vegetables totally changes the flavor and makes them delicious. These are no exception. I break apart the sprouts into individual leaves; wash and dry them; toss them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper; then bake them at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes.

This list of 11 health-related documentaries on Netflix. I've seen numbers 1-6, and those were definitely worth watching. Can't speak to the others...

For any of you looking for some at-home strength training dvd ideas, this one, by Jessica Smith, was recommended to my mom by a nutritionist and is my current favorite. Good information, scale-able exercises and quite effective for building strength. At one point, Jessica's co-star (and mother) makes a comment about a particular exercise making her waist look smaller, and Jessica is quick to jump in and say that it's really about feeling strong in your body and getting and staying healthy. That focus on health and strength over getting skinny is often lacking in workout dvds, unfortunately.

I found the Minimalist Baker blog through Pinterest (I think...) Anyway, everything I've made has been easy and really tasty. The recipe's all have 10 ingredients or less and can be ready in under 30 minutes. This is definitely not the case with all food blogs! Oh yeah, and the recipes are plant-based and gluten free. But even if you aren't vegetarian/vegan/gluten-intolerant, you'll get great ideas for healthy recipes you can add to your repertoire.

Avocado toast. I probably have some form of it for lunch several times per week. My current favorite is super simple. Sourdough toast, mashed avocado on top, sprinkled with some sea salt and red pepper flakes. Yesterday I piled on some bruschetta we had leftover from a party. So good.

You know how I love Ulta, right? Well, my one complaint lately is that they stopped stocking Philosophy's lip shine product. It's the only thing that keeps my lips from drying out and cracking at night. It's a little too sticky for daytime use (at least it is for me), but I need it at night. So, I'm getting it from Amazon lately, but you can also get it straight from Philosophy's website. My favorite flavors are: Fresh Cream, Coconut Frosting and Vanilla Birthday Cake. Would you ever guess that I have a sweet tooth? Didn't think so :-)

Okay, that wraps up April's favorite things! See you here again in a couple of days.

5 Things to Love About Barre Workouts

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I LOVE barre workouts. I got certified as an instructor last year, and while I don't teach classes at the moment, I do incorporate some elements of barre into my own workouts. There are some misconceptions about barre, which might be stopping you from trying it. I can tell you that you don't have to be a dancer (or graceful) in order to love it and be good at it. Goodness knows graceful is not a word anyone has EVER used to describe me :-) People of all shapes, sizes and ages take these classes and rock at them. You don't have to wear toe shoes or a tutu, although you could if you wanted to.

Here are 5 reasons why I love it. Maybe you'll be inspired to give it a try too.

The Mind-Body Connection. Because form is so important and because you have to use lots of smaller, supporting muscles, you must develop strong communication links between your brain and your body. You pay attention to it in a way other kinds of workouts don't necessarily require. There are mirrors everywhere in a barre studio and they help with this. You can actually see what you're doing; you can see the shape your body is making. Incidentally, this mirror time is actually beneficial in other ways. Many of us (women especially) are uncomfortable really looking at ourselves in the mirror. We avoid it, or we use it as an opportunity to catalog faults. Looking at yourself in this context is good practice for viewing your reflection as simply information. In this case, information about safe exercise form. It's not about judging imperfections. It's just about looking at what's there. It's actually very freeing.

It's always challenging, no matter how many times I go. The equipment is minimal, the weights are light, and you do the same movements every time. BUT...somehow, it's always challenging. A little change, like lifting your heels during a plie, totally changes how it feels. There are tons of ways to modify everything, either to make it more challenging or to give yourself a bit of a break while you build up the strength and flexibility to do more.

The stretching. You're working your muscles but stretching them at the same time. I imagine my muscles getting longer and leaner with each repetition. It's one of the things I loved about Pilates as well.

The focus on core work. In barre you work your abs throughout the class, mostly in an upright position, which is how your core muscles are designed to function. There is usually a floor segment at the end of the workout where you do some more focused ab work, but not the traditional kind.

I'm a ballet-class dropout, but barre let's me feel like a kid again. I know I said that the tutu is optional, and I've never worn one to class. But it does take me back to when I was five, sporting my fluffy pink tutu, plie-ing and releve-ing my little heart out. You should never discount the power of fun in exercise. Anything that hearkens back to play is a workout we are more likely to stick with.

If you've never taken a barre class, but would like to, the good news is they are almost everywhere now! I encourage you to try barre, or whatever exercise sounds like fun to you. Keep trying different things until you find something you like--something you look forward to each week. Classes can be a great addition to your workout schedule, and you don't need to be intimidated by them. (Check out this post I wrote about group classes.)

What are your favorite kinds of exercise? What do you love most about them? Share in the Comments section below.

 

Inside My At-Home Gym

I'm not currently working with a trainer or taking any exercise classes anywhere, so my workouts are exclusively home workouts at the moment. The good news is that you actually don't need much in the way of equipment to get a great workout in at home. There are lots of exercises you can do using your body weight, or common household items for resistance. When I was really new to exercise I used canned vegetables as weights. No joke. And they worked.

However, at a certain point you'll want to invest in a few items. Some will allow you to add challenge to your workouts, which is important if you want to continue to see improvements in your strength. But, the right equipment can make your workout life easier too.

So here's what I've got.

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Dumbbells. Generally speaking, you want a weight that's heavy enough that somewhere between repetition 8 and 12, you are feeling challenged but can maintain proper form. I'm using my 5-pound and 8-pound dumbbells for my current workout.

A mat. I have a couple. This one is a thicker foam mat that I use for floor exercises. IMG_1027

This one is a yoga mat. It's stickier and good for...you guessed it. Yoga.

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Some resistance bands and stretchy bands. I use the resistance bands for upper body stuff primarily, and the stretchy bands (the wider yellow and green ones) for leg work.

A ball. I use this to add challenge to some leg and glute exercises, such as bridges and heel presses.

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And that's about it for the necessities.

Now on to the splurges.

This is a BOSU. BOSU stands for both sides utilized. That's pretty self-explanatory. The BOSU is a piece of equipment designed to provide you with an unstable surface on which to stand, jump and/or complete exercises. Balance is such an important component of fitness. If you've worked out at our studio, you may have done biceps curls, rows, lunges, squats or push-ups on the BOSU. I liked it so much when I used it at the studio, I bought one for my home gym. It's fun and bouncy, but man-oh-man is it a challenge.

A stability ball.

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I love this for crunches and some upper-body exercises. Like the BOSU it adds a balance challenge to whatever exercise in which you incorporate it. But it's also a great substitute for your normal chair. Just sitting on it forces you to engage the muscles of your core.

If I had to guess, I'd say that all the items above (necessities and splurges) cost me a couple of hundred dollars. The BOSU was half of that, at $99.

So, that's it. That's what I use on a daily basis. I've had most of it for years and it's showing no signs of needing to be replaced. Pretty good for a $200 investment, I'd say.

Let me know if there's a piece of equipment you're thinking about buying, but aren't sure whether it's any good/necessary. I'm happy to give my two cents. I've tried all sorts of fitness equipment over the years. Some good (the BOSU). Some bad (anyone remember those belts that shocked your abs into shape? I sure do.). Even if I haven't personally tried it, I can probably tell you whether the claims have any basis in fitness fact or not.

Okay, that's all from me today. See you here again later this week!

We're on YouTube!

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Hi all! Just a quick check in from me to day to share that we have uploaded our first video to the Lean Body Lifestyles channel on YouTube! Yay! Cue the confetti and trumpets, or whatever celebration images you want to conjure up.

You can access it here.

Because our blog is about fitness, sometimes it just makes more sense to make a video than it does to write a long post. Especially when we're trying to describe an exercise or a stretch. A picture is worth a thousand words, right?

And, honestly, sometimes we just feel like chatting. So we'll probably have some video posts that are more social than instructive.

Anyway, we're aiming to do at least one or two videos each month. We'll see how it goes.

Push-ups are the focus of this first video. Some of us have a love-hate relationship with them. Push-ups are tough, but they are also a fantastic exercise. Here are the three things I love most about them.

They work many muscles at the same time. Lots of exercises incorporate more than one muscle, but push-ups? They are multi-tasking powerhouses. Done correctly, they can work your chest, biceps, triceps, back muscles, abdominal muscles, legs, glutes and shoulders. This appeals to my love for efficiency :-)

They can be modified to match your individual fitness level. That's the topic of our video, actually. By controlling how much of your body weight you are lifting up and down, you can make the exercise more or less challenging as needed.

You don't need any fancy equipment. All you need in order to do push-ups is you. No weights. No resistance bands. You can do them at home, at the gym, in your office. Anywhere, really.

Okay, on to the video.

You'll see Nikki demonstrate three variations of push-ups, in order of intensity. If you're first starting out, try the wall push-ups first. If those aren't challenging enough, move on to the bench/stairs version and so on. No matter which version of them you do, here are a few things to pay attention to form-wise.

  1. Place your hands about shoulder width apart.
  2. Keep your body in a stiff, straight line throughout the movement. The only things moving should be your arms. Keep the rest of your body stiff as a board and moving as one piece.
  3. As you bend and straighten your arms, keep them close to your torso. One of the most common push-up mistakes is flaring the elbows out to the sides instead of keeping them close to the body. More difficult, but safer and more effective.

Let us know what you think of the videos! We're taking requests, so if there are exercises you'd like to see demonstrated let us know that too.

Here's the link to the video again: Push-Ups

5 Fitness Myths

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I wrote last month about the myth of spot-training, and then I realized that there were a bunch of fitness myths that deserve to be exploded. So here are my Top 5 Fitness Myths De-Bunked. Myth 1: If I stop working out, my muscle will turn into fat. Very, very much untrue. Scientifically impossible, in fact. Muscle tissue and fat tissue are two completely different kinds of tissue. One can no more turn into another than I can turn into, I don't know, a cute, fluffy kitten at will. If you stop training a particular muscle, you will lose muscle mass. That loss can cause your metabolism to slow, thus you are burning fewer calories overall. That can lead to fat gain. But it isn't your muscle transforming.

Myth 2: Crunches are the only way to strengthen my abs. Not only is this not true, but floor crunches aren't even the best way to strengthen your abs, in my opinion. Your abs are designed to engage when you are upright, so there are tons of great standing exercises you can do to strengthen your core, which includes your back muscles, incidentally. Here are a few from PopSugar. It's not a standing exercise, but planks are great for your core too, as are squats. Really, you can and should engage your abs throughout your workout to support your back.

Myth 3: How much I sweat is directly proportional to how many calories I burned. Sweating is the body's cooling system. How much you sweat is dependent upon a number of factors, but the lack of it is not an indicator that you aren't burning calories or vice versa.

Myth 4: If I'm not sore the next day then the workout was too easy. This is closely related to Myth 3. While soreness in the days after a workout indicates you stressed that muscle, the absence of soreness doesn't necessarily mean you didn't. Sometimes your recovery protocol--what you ate, how much sleep you got, how much water you drank--impacts how sore you are later.

Myth 5: No pain, no gain. This one has the most potential to actually physically harm you. Exercising can be uncomfortable. Sometimes your muscles burn. Sometimes they get a little shaky when they're fatigued. You may also experience soreness in the days following your workouts. But, exercise should not be painful. If you are in pain during an exercise, don't push through it. Stop and find an exercise that isn't painful, and possibly go see your doctor depending on the severity of the pain and/or how long it lasts. Pain is your body's way of telling you something isn't right. So, discomfort is okay. Pain is not.

Are there other things you've heard about exercise or health that you want to know whether or not they're true? We're happy to address them, so please submit them as a Comment and maybe you'll see them mentioned in a future post!