Be Well: Lunges

DSC_2146_2No one likes lunges. It's a fact of life. Just like burpees, lunges were used as a form of punishment when I was in high school, and I've had a bad association with them ever since. However, as my dedication to exercise and strength training has increased, so has my appreciation for the power of lunges. Although they are no fun, they are a great workout for your legs, and they're easy to pair with arm exercises in order to craft a great full-body workout. See below for a demonstration of two of those arm exercises. But first, here's Lunges 101 for those of you still struggling with form:

As with almost all exercises, start in a normal, comfortable, standing position. When I do lunges, I almost always try to add weight (ups the difficulty [and calorie burn] on everything!). There are two ways you can add weight: first, by holding dumbbells in your hands (what I am demonstrating here, which is an easy segue into a few arm exercises) OR by placing a weighted bar across your back like you would when doing squats. Your workout, your decision. DSC_2104_2

Step forward with one of your legs, keeping your arms at your side. Make sure you step pretty far forward so that bending at the knees isn't uncomfortable a few seconds from now. Try to keep good posture, with your back straight and shoulders back.

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Sink down into the lunge while you continue to keep good posture. Your front knee should be directly over your front ankle (absolutely NO pushing your knee past your ankle - you will really hurt your knees) and your front thigh should be parallel to the ground. You have to dip down pretty low to get your thigh to that level - don't cheat it! See below for a closeup:

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Now step back and repeat on the other leg. If you're using heavy weights, do three sets of 10 reps per leg for a great lower body workout.

Now, let's take it up a notch by adding arms. The first option is a simple bicep curl when you're in between lunges. It goes a little like this:

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As you rise up out of the lunge, step your feet back together, keep your back straight, shoulders back, and abs tight, and do a normal bicep curl:DSC_2140_2

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Continue doing a bicep curl in between each lunge in your set. You legs AND your arms should be burning by the end (don't forget that heavy weight)!

Second arms option: the overhead press.

Start with a single dumbbell cupped in your hands under your chin, with elbows at your side: DSC_2201_2

As you lunge forward, slowly push the dumbbell up and towards the ceiling:

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Make sure to maintain good posture throughout the motion. Do not arch your back. The effort should be concentrated in your arms, shoulders, and abs, NOT your lower back. DSC_2178_2

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End with your front knee directly over your front ankle, just like in a regular lunge, with your arms extended all the way to the ceiling.

DSC_2207_2Repeat, pressing the dumbbell overhead during each lunge in your set.

Yesterday was a big day for me on the fitness front - I cancelled the gym membership that I've had for the past year and a half (the gym I currently go to is in no way convenient to my new office) and I signed up for the introductory program at a local CrossFit gym! I'll be spending Monday, Wednesday, Friday of the next two weeks learning how to do Olympic lifts, jumping on boxes, climbing ropes, and doing all the other crazy things CrossFitters do for exercise. I have no idea if I'll love it or hate it, but I'm excited to shake up my workout routine by trying something new!

Whether your workout routine is feeling new or old, I hope you'll spend some time today lifting heavy weights. Do yourself (and your skeleton) a favor! And have a wonderful day.

Be Well: Full Workout #2

This week I'm back with my second full workout! Many of the exercise pairings below have been inspired by the workouts I've been doing in the gym lately, so I hope you like them!

As I said last time, start with 15-30 minutes of cardio. You can skip it if you're short on time (since this workout is designed to keep your heartrate up when done correctly) but if you do have time, it's always good to put your heart to work. Again, opt for cardio exercises that will challenge you - sprint workouts are always good. Try to stay away from the elliptical machine.

After you're done with your cardio, complete the following circuit for a full-body workout:

Set 1: Deadlifts and Walkout Pushups to Twist

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Start with 10 deadliftsYou should be lifting a heavy weight. Yesterday I did 5-6 sets of 5 reps of deadlifts with 115 lbs. And I could have gone heavier. You should be lifting at least half of that. And I would strongly consider doing more. The more you do, the stronger your legs and glutes will be - that means slimmer, firmer legs!

DSC_6305Next, do 10 walkouts to pushup with a twist. You should go straight from the deadlifts to these pushups - resting in between sets will only let your heartrate drop and therefore make your workout less effective. Remember to keep your abs tight, back flat, and lower yourself until your arms are at 90-degree angles. This should be a great complement to the muscles you used in your deadlifts.

Now rest for 30 seconds, then repeat this circuit two more times - 10 deadlifts, 10 walkout pushups to twist, 30 seconds rest.

Set 2: Bicep Curl to Overhead Press and Squats

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After the 30 seconds of rest on the tail end of Set 1, go straight into 10 reps of bicep curls to overhead presses. Remember, keep your abs tight, don't arch your back, and you can always balance on one foot to make the reps more difficult. As always, using heavy weights is key! DSC_4300_2Next, move directly into doing 10 squats. Choose a heavy weight (I never do squats with a body bar as pictured above; that was unfortunately the only bar that was available back when I took these pictures) and keep your weight in your heels and your back flat and strong.

Now rest for 30 seconds. Then repeat Set 2 two more times - 10 bicep curls to overhead presses, 10 squats, 30 seconds rest.

Set 3: Kettlebell Swings and Bent Over Rows

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Last set! First, start with 10 kettlebell swings (I'm guessing I don't need to reiterate the importance of a heavy kettlebell?). Don't forget to bend through the knees and lift with your legs!

DSC_5583Next, do 10 bent over rows. Advice on these is pretty much the same as the advice on everything else - keep good form, don't hurt your back!

Now rest for 30 seconds.

Finally, repeat Set 3 two more times - 10 kettlebell swings, 10 bent over rows, 30 seconds rest. And there you have it! You should feel good and tired by this point.

Has anyone else watched this SNL sketch over and over since it aired on Saturday night? (Here's hoping that NBC doesn't force them to take down that video between the time of me writing this and the time of you reading it.) I'm kind of obsessed. I wish I was a good enough dancer to make dancing in a tofu outfit look good.

Have a great Wednesday!

Be Well: Full Workout #1

As promised, I have my first full workout to share with you guys today! Here I've combined five of the exercises that I've already demonstrated on this blog into a 30-45 minute workout. Instructions and links back to the original demonstration posts are below. Give it a try, and let me know how you fare!

1) Start with 15-20 minutes of challenging cardio. Running or the stairmaster are generally my cardio activities of choice. Try an interval workout for a more effective use of your 15 minutes. If you like to get your cardio workout in on a stationary bike, definitely try an interval workout - when I bike, I alternate between two minutes of riding at a normal pace and one minute of sprinting. It really brings your biking cardio workout to another level. Finally, do me (and yourself) a favor and stay away from the elliptical (unless you have a recent/healing knee injury). There are very, very few instances when getting on the elliptical isn't a giant waste of your time. It's much too easy to slack off on them, and the elliptical calorie counters are flat-out lying to you.

2) Repeat the following circuit three times. Exercises should be done back to back with no rest in between.

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a. 1 minute of sumo deadlift high pulls

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b. 1. minute of plank walks

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c. 1 minute of squat to overhead press

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d. 1 minute bent over row

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e. 1 minute bicycle crunches

f. 1 minute rest

To recap, that's 1 minute sumo deadlift high pulls, 1 minute plank walks, 1 minute squat to overhead press, 1 minute bent over row, 1 minute bicycle crunches, 1 minute rest.

In all of these, you should be lifting heavy weights. I recommend (for girls) at least a 20 lb. kettlebell for the high pulls, at least 12 lb. dumbbells for the squat to overhead press, and at least a 20 lb. bar (or 10 lb. free weights) for the bent over rows. And don't be afraid to go up in weight! If your body isn't completely tired by the end of the first circuit, you need to add more weight.

Well, there you go - I hope you enjoy my first full workout. Have a great Wednesday!