Be Well: Interval Training

Image via the Cody App blog

Today I want to talk about one of my favorite workout topics as of late: interval training. An article that was forwarded around at work today referenced this article about the rising popularity of interval training, which gave me my Workout Wednesday inspiration.

Back in my younger days, this is what my gym workouts used to look like: I would run on the treadmill at 6 mph until I had run three miles. I would then go do three or four weightlifting exercises. I would then leave, and never be sore, and never feel challenged, and never see much of an impact on my fitness level or my appearance.

But then I started to get a little bit smarter. First, I put more emphasis on weight training with heavy weights, lifting more weight for longer sessions. And then I embraced interval training.

Let's talk about the upside of interval training here: if you have a very limited amount of time to spend at the gym, interval training is your friend. It's got your back. You can do 20 minutes of cardio all-in (including warm-up!) and finish a full workout. You can feel good about getting in and out of the gym in half an hour.

The other major upside is that it challenges you physically in a way steady-state cardio never will. I'm not a scientist, so I can't explain why that is, but it will wear you out and increase your fitness level faster than you could have imagined. After all, no pain, no gain, right?

My absolute favorite interval workout is two minutes walking, one minute sprinting, alternating five to ten times. The concept is easy - work hard, then rest. Work hard, then rest. You can apply that philosophy to any standard cardio workout - swimming, running, biking, stairclimbing, jump roping, etc. etc.

So, give interval training a try the next time you're at the gym. Or, if you haven't been to the gym in awhile, try an interval workout to get yourself re-engaged. For a really easy introduction, try this easy interval workout that's set to the song Gentleman by PSY (it's catchy, but I will admit, it's no Gangnam Style)Remember - the hard parts of the workout should be REALLY hard. As in painfully hard. It will be uncomfortable at the time, yes, but I promise it will be worth it.

Be Well: Tricep Dips

DSC_2015

Today I'd like to introduce you guys to tricep dips, which may be the most convenient exercise ever invented. You can literally do them anywhere. Because they're so simple, I'd like to focus on how you can tweak your technique in order to make tricep dips as effective as possible.

Start by finding any flat surface that's stable and about 18 inches off the ground. I usually use box jump platforms or a weight bench when I'm at the gym, but the armrest on your couch or the edge of your bed can work just as well.

In order to make this exercise as challenging as possible, you want to keep your legs straight through the entire movement. Yes, it will feel a little awkward, but I promise it provides a better arm workout.

DSC_2014

Rest hands on the surface behind you with your arms about shoulder-width apart. Dip slowly, keeping your legs straight and your stomach tight and tucked in. Don't let your shoulders roll forward - press them back as you keep your head lifted. When you dip, keep your body as close as you can to the surface your hands are resting on without pressing the trunk of your body against it. For example, I try to keep my body about one inch away from the box jump platform. The farther my body is from my hands, the easier this gets (and we don't want easier!).

DSC_1996

Dip down until your arms form a 90-degree angle. It often helps to do this in front of a mirror so you can look and see if your arms have hit 90 degrees yet - I promise, 90 degrees is further down than you would think.

DSC_2016

DSC_2013

Slowly rise back up.

DSC_2008And finish where you started!

Remember, this is an exercise that should be done slowly. Feel the burn. Focus on keeping your shoulders back. And make sure that you make it all the way down to 90 degrees. Try 10 reps, rest for 15 seconds, and then try another 10 reps. If you follow the directions above, you'll have sore arms the next day!

How is everyone's week going so far? I ended up having a great night last night. First, we wrapped up an intense project with a short timeline at work, so everyone dashed out of the office early in order to enjoy our newfound freedom. I then headed over to a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation meeting, which went really well - I think we'll be putting on a great gala (and raising lots of money!) in May. Then, I walked up and over California Street, just enjoying the sight of San Francisco at night and listening to Motown the entire time. If I were to craft a soundtrack to my life, it would probably sound exactly like the soundtrack to Remember the Titans. In my own little world, everything I do is overlaid by a song sung by Otis Redding.

Have a wonderful 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.

DSC_8620

a. 1 minute of sumo deadlift high pulls

DSC_0718

b. 1. minute of plank walks

DSC_6208

c. 1 minute of squat to overhead press

DSC_5583

d. 1 minute bent over row

DSC_4332

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!

Be Well: Plank Walk

DSC_0708

I'm not a big fan of static hold exercises. Wall sits and planks just don't do it for me - I've never understood how holding yourself in a completely still position could possibly build a range of muscles. I want to get the maximum bang for my buck from every minute I spend in the gym, so I just don't have time to waste on static holds that strengthen only one part of my body (at best). I've discovered that exercises like plank walks, which I am demonstrating today, take the good parts of static holds, and then add a dynamic element to them by incorporating multiple other parts of your body. See below for exercise instructions:

1) Start in a push up position with your back flat and hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

DSC_0718

2) Put your first elbow down on the ground, like you were getting down to do a plank.

DSC_0711

3) Put your second elbow on the ground. Make sure your back stays flat, abs are clenched, and head is in line with your body.

DSC_0713

4) Push yourself back up onto your hands, one hand at a time.

DSC_0714

DSC_07175) End where you started. Repeat 20 times, trying to alternate which arm you put down first. So, if I start by lowering my left elbow to the ground, on the next rep lower your right elbow first. The more you keep your body guessing, the better the workout you're getting! This exercise should strengthen not only your abs, but your arms, back, shoulders, and obliques (sides of your body).

I had an unsettling experience yesterday, an experience which got me thinking about one of the many reasons why I am passionate about convincing women to incorporate weights into their workouts. I've never understood why so many people in our country think that the only way to be attractive as a woman is to appear weak and helpless. What's sexy about a girl who can't lift boxes of her own stuff? Will your "attractiveness" seem worth it if you are ever in an emergency situation where you need to lift something heavy off yourself, or, even worse, your child? And if someone decides to attack you, will you still be glad that you spent all that time avoiding the weight rack? I had a guy run across an intersection in the dark, and jump in front of me yesterday evening. I think he thought he was making a bold, romantic gesture by dashing over and asking me to stop and talk to him, but when three sentences later he was asking me where I lived, I knew it was time to get away from him as quickly as possible. Luckily for me, I think he was just an awkward guy trying to find a date before Valentine's Day (might want to check the ring hand first, buddy), but what if he had been a creeper? What if he had grabbed me? Let me tell you, that would be the moment in which I would be so thankful that I lift weights. There are way too many creepy guys out there, and way too many instances of women being abused. You owe it to yourself to put yourself in as advantageous a position as you can in this world, and part of that equation requires maintaining at least a baseline level of strength. So pick up some weights next time you're at the gym! And make sure they're heavy ones!