3 Ways to Make Your Strength Routine More Efficient

I enjoy exercise. Moving and sweating and pushing myself. But that doesn’t mean I want to spend hours and hours on my workout. I’m busy just like everyone else so I need to create efficient exercise routines.

I’m not a bodybuilder or figure competitor so I have no need for dozens of exercises that hit every individual muscle. There’s nothing wrong with that type of training (I’ve used it at other times in my life) its just not what I need right now.

If you’re like me and need an effective and efficient workout too, follow these principles…

1. Compound Movements

Compound movements are exercises that involve multiple muscle groups. Working multiple muscles at once certainly saves time. These can all be done with or without added weight. Things like:

Squat Presses – after you squat down and return to a standing position, press the weight overhead.

 

Row to Stiff-Leg Deadlift – bend over at your hips with weight hanging straight down. Pull weight up to chest. Return to start. Contract glutes and lower back to stand up straight.

Walking Lunge with Alternating Shoulder Raise – step forward into a lunge position while lifting both arms to at least shoulder height. One arm at front and one arm to the side. On the next step alternate arm positions.

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Lunge with Shoulder Raise

Kettlebell Swings – start with the kettlebell between your legs in a slight squat. Contract glutes and hamstrings to thrust the weight forward and lift to about shoulder height.

I could go on and on but you get the idea.

2. Circuits

Circuits are a great way to get a quick workout in when your schedule is busy. Alternate upper and lower body movements and move from one exercise to the next without stopping. For example, squats, pushups, lunges, bent over row, etc.

3. Intensity Level

Adding more weight to your current routine (within reason!) can increase your intensity just enough to give your program a little boost. If you’ve been just going through the motions or doing a set number of reps without considering how challenged your muscles are, then maybe its time to increase the weight to make your workout more efficient and effective.

Happy Exercising!

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Kettlebells

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Need an effective, quick workout that only requires one simple piece of equipment? A full-body kettlebell workout to the rescue!

Kettlebells have been used for hundreds of years but they seem to be the trend right now. And for good reason. Kettlebells are compact and sturdy. They don’t take up a lot of storage space and they don’t break easily. They come in a variety of weights and you can do lots of exercises with just this one piece of equipment. Kettlebells are a great addition, or a great start, to a home gym. You can buy them at most local sporting goods stores or online.

If you have a kettlebell or plan to buy one, here’s a workout to get you started.

Deadlift 

Stand tall with core tight and feet hip width apart. Hinge at hips, knees slightly bent and back flat. Squeeze glutes to return to start.

Overhead press

Stand tall with core tight and feet about shoulder width apart. Lift kettlebell overhead, pause and return to start.

Squat

Start with feet wide and toes pointed out slightly. Hold the kettlebell close and squat down as far as comfortable keeping your toes in line with your knees. Press back to start.

Bent over row

Start with feet staggered and hand right hand on right knee for balance and support. Hold kettlebell straight down in left hand. Keeping core tight, drive elbow up to lift kettlebell. Repeat on other side

Swings

Start with feet wide, core tight and back straight. Hold kettlebell between your legs and back behind your hips. With a controlled motion, swing bell by contracting your glutes and pressing your hips forward. Use muscle not momentum!

Upright row

Start with feet shoulder width apart and bell down in front of you. Keep core tight and back flat. Lift the bell straight up in front of you leading with your elbows. Pause and return to start.

 

Happy Exercising!!

Is Your Butt Doing It’s Job?

Seriously…is your butt doing it’s job?

And, no, I don’t mean making a dent in your couch cushions. Your gluteus muscles help with just about every movement you make. Walking, running, climbing stairs, lifting everything from a bag of groceries to a 35 pound weight plate..all of these movements go through your hips and glutes in one way or another. Your glutes are part of your core and need to be active and strong just like your abs and low back.

Many people only use their glutes for one thing…sitting on them. You might think “But I exercise every day.” But if you exercise for 30-60 minutes and then sit at a desk the rest of the day, you probably still have lazy glutes. And if your glutes are inactive, they are less able to handle strenuous exercise and unable to properly distribute motion throughout your core.

Lazy glutes can lead to low back and hip pain and I don’t think I need to explain why that’s bad!

Glute activation exercises along with strength building exercises and some foam rolling will get those sleepy muscles firing.

Donkey kicks and clamshells will ‘wake up’ the glute muscles before a strength workout. Do these as part of your warm-up.

Start on all fours with your core tight. Lift one leg keeping your knee bent. Squeeze your glutes to lift your heel towards the ceiling. Focus on using your glutes for the movement and not your lower back.

Lie on your side with knees bent and legs stacked on top of each other. Squeeze your glutes and lift your top leg, keeping your heels touching. Your knees should open and close like a clamshell!

The two best exercises for building glute strength are sumo squats and hip thrusts.

Sumo squats will isolate and engage the glutes more than regular squats.

 

Begin in a wide stance with toes pointed out at a 45 degree angle, core tight and arms in front of you for balance. Squat down with your knees following the same angle as your toes. Press back up through your heels, squeezing your glutes on the way up. You can hold dumbbells for added weight.

Hip thrusts target the glutes to build strength and power by maximizing hip extension.

 

Begin by leaning on an exercise ball or bench with feet planted about hip width apart. Squeeze your glutes to lift your hips to parallel, pause and return to start. You can hold a dumbbell or barbell across your hips for added weight.

Get off that derrière and start working it!

Happy Exercising!

Is the Fat Burning Zone a Mythical Creature?

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Is the Fat Burning Zone a mythical creature?

It must be! Otherwise, all those people plodding along on the treadmills at the gym would be in great shape. Like a beautiful, sparkly unicorn, we want to believe that it exists but the concept of the fat burning zone has been regularly misinterpreted and misunderstood.

The fat burning zone theory is that lower intensity exercise, at about 55% – 70% of maximum heart rate, burns more fat. Basically, your body burns more fat at a lower intensity of aerobic exercise than it does at a higher intensity. This sounds good in theory. After all why work harder if you don’t have to, right?

The misinterpretation of this theory happens because there is a difference between percentage of fat burned vs. actual fat burned. In reality, you burn a higher percentage of fat at lower intensities but generally more fat overall at higher intensities. Your body draws energy from two sources, fat and glycogen or stored carbohydrates. The percentages of these two fuel sources vary depending on the intensity of your exercise.

At a lower intensity, you may burn 60% of total calories from fat. And at a higher intensity only 45% of total calories from fat. On the surface, that seems like lower intensity would be better. But at a higher intensity you burn more calories OVERALL which bumps your actual fat calories up even though the percentage is lower.

For example:

 

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The numbers above are just for example purposes but hopefully, you get the point. Percentage vs. actual are very different. Lower intensity exercise has its place in a workout program but if you’re relying on it to help you burn fat, it’s not the best idea. Circuit or interval workouts are efficient and help you burn more calories in less time.

Stop searching for the mythical creature! To truly burn maximum fat, focus on building muscle with a comprehensive strength training program and healthy eating habits. These will do far more to help you reach your goals then chasing the unicorn at the end of the treadmill!

Happy Exercising!

P.S. If you want help creating an effective exercise program, check out my monthly coaching services here.

Moderation…what is it?

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Moderation!

So many people promote moderation especially with regards to diet. But what does moderation REALLY look like? What SHOULD it look like? Moderation is a very subjective sliding scale for most people but I’m not so sure that it’s “sliding” in the right direction. I know some people who consider cutting their McDonald’s run back to once a week is moderation for them.

Ummm….that’s a good start but I believe most people think tiny, moderate changes are good enough to make a significant difference in their health and well-being and to be honest, it’s just not. I’ve known many people to make a small change or two and stop there. Again, a good start, but our wellness goals should not be to stop when it’s “good enough”. Shouldn’t we always be striving towards better health? Even if we’re not always good at it?

Moderation should be different for everybody because everyone is different but it’s not a license to eat like crap and then justify it with “everything in moderation”. It may seem like I’m being harsh but moderation is a slippery slope. Don’t let it be your excuse or your crutch.

Let it lead you to success. Make conscious choices to eat healthy foods AND to indulge. Just make your indulgences count for something. Choose them thoughtfully. Don’t eat random junk out of the vending machine or drink empty calories and then justify it with moderation. Choose to indulge on occasion in your favorite homemade dessert or a decadent meal for a special occasion and TRULY enjoy it. That’s real moderation.

Moderation allows you to be flexible which is one of the best indicators of success in leading a healthier lifestyle. Being too restrictive or constantly over indulging will not lead to long-term success. When used correctly, moderation leads to real balance in your life. And, hopefully, that’s everyone’s goal!

Happy Exercising!

P.S. Click here for a free download Healthy Eating On The Go!

Vacation Workout

I’m on vacation and yes, I have a workout plan. I know what you’re thinking, only crazy people workout on their vacation.

I’m not diligent about getting my workout in on vacation but if I’m away from exercise too long I start to not feel good and I get cranky. It’s better for everyone around me if I get some physical activity!

That being said, I fit it in when I can and don’t worry when I can’t. I don’t take away from family time and I don’t skip other activities that I want to do just to workout. My vacation is two weeks long and I maybe work out 4-5 times  at most.

If you choose to exercise on vacation don’t expect to make gains or lose weight. You may even lose a little strength and endurance but that’s ok…It’s a vacation after all, enjoy it!

A run, a long walk or even a stretching session can be good exercise and still keep you relaxed. Especially if you can do it early in the day before everyone else is up.

The following are 3 different workout plan options you can do anywhere. A hotel room, condo balcony, poolside or even on the beach. Do one of them, two of them or all 3 if you’re feeling really ambitious. Sorry if the pictures are a bit blurry or goofy… teenage photographer!!

Workout 1 – do each exercise for 1 minute with 30 seconds rest between and do the whole circuit twice.

Skaters – jump sideways from foot to foot

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Standing side crunches

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Pike shoulder presses – in a downward dog position, bend elbows to lower and then push back up


Sumo squats

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V-sit leg flutters

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Workout 2 – Do the whole circuit twice

Walking lunges x 20 reps

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Push-ups 10-20 reps

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Plank 30 seconds

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Squat with kickback x 20 reps – squat down and upon returning to start, press your leg back at your hip. Alternate legs.


Tricep dips 10-20 reps – these can be done on the ground if necessary but a bench or a chair makes them a little more productive.

Workout 3 – do each exercise for 1 minute with 30 seconds rest between and do the whole circuit three times.

Jumping jacks

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Side leg lifts

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Jog in place

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Heel touch crunches – in a crunch position, squeeze from side to side touching your heels with the tips of your fingers.

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Mountain climbers

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Happy Exercising!

Are You Warming Up Properly?

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Dynamic Warm-UP

What kind of warmup do you do before your workout? You DO warm-up, don’t you?!

Don’t worry, I’m guilty of not bothering to warm-up, too. That being said, as a fitness coach, I try to practice what I preach and a warm-up IS a good idea. However, it doesn’t have to be elaborate or lengthy. I know we’re all time-crunched and don’t want to waste the precious minutes we’re able to carve out of our day for a workout with a warm-up. But, here’s why its a good idea…

It gradually increases blood flow to the muscles and increases muscle temperature which in turn increases the oxygen available to the working muscles. This keeps the more intense exercise to come from being a shock to your system.
There is some evidence to suggest that a warm-up will help prevent injuries. As with many subjects, there is no definitive answer on this and there are people and studies on both sides.
A warm-up can help you mentally prepare for the workout or event to come. Especially if its going to be a tough one.

So what should your warm-up look like?

Forget everything you learned about warm-ups from your middle school phys. ed. teacher or your high school coach (unless they were very progressive and in-the-know :). Jogging for 30 minutes or more, bending over to touch your toes or contorting your body into odd stretches is not the best way to warm-up.

A dynamic warm-up is best. One in which you are moving at a low intensity ideally in the same types of motions as the workout. For example, if you’re going for a run, then the warm-up should be an easy run of just a few minutes. Your total warm-up only needs to be 10-15 minutes long, if that. You can, and should, incorporate other dynamic movements to loosen up your joints and gently stretch your muscles. Static stretching (sitting or standing and holding a stretch without moving) has been shown to not be a very effective warm-up.

The following are a few dynamic warm-up activities you can do. Just 30 seconds or so for each.

Bounding – This is basically exaggerated running. Leap from foot to foot with a long stride for about 10 meters or so.

High skipping – Again, an exaggerated exercise. Skip for about 10 meters, pushing off with force to go as high as you can.

High knees – Run, moving forward with small steps and bringing your knees up high so your thighs are about parallel to the ground.

Butt kicks – Run with small steps and bringing your heels to your butt. Try to maintain normal arm swing during this motion.

Hip swings – Stand with feet hip width apart. Hold onto something for balance if necessary. Swing your right leg forward and backward from your hip 5-10 times and switch legs.

Trunk twists – Stand with feet hip width apart and hands on hips. Twist your upper body from side to side to loosen up your low back.

Arm circles – Holding your arms at shoulder height, move them in wide circles to loosen and warm-up the shoulders.

Jumping jacks – This is a great full-body warm-up activity Everyone can do them and they can modified if necessary and don’t take a lot of space.

Let me know in the comments if you have a favorite warm-up activity I haven’t included.

 

Happy Exercising!