The more reps, the better. True or false?

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A buddy tells you that during her last workout, she performed 100 crunches and 75 bent over dumbbell rows, in record time.  Impressive?  Well yes, you have to admire this person’s mental and physical stamina.

At the gym, you notice a guy going 100 miles an hour on the leg extension machine.  But is this the best way to train?

There’s good reason to say that the answer is no.

If your goal is to burn fat and increase cardiovascular fitness, it’s very important to get the heart rate up, and there are plenty of good workouts that achieve this.  However, performing quick, excessive repetitions to failure greatly increases the likelihood that you’re sacrificing form and relying too much on momentum.  And if your form isn’t correct, not only isn’t the exercise very effective, it also isn’t real safe.  There must be good form, above all else.  Should you never perform reps to failure?  Well, I didn’t say that….Perhaps use heavier resistance for fewer reps.  And perform them at a pace where you can focus on the muscles you’re working, to make that mind-body connection.

Excessive repetitions increase the probability of muscle imbalance in the body, inflammation, and excessive joint stress.  Performing 100 crunches may add strength to your abs, but I can think of many other core moves that are way more effective with way fewer reps, and target your total core, including your back.

To sum up:  It’s great to want to ramp up the effectiveness and intensity of your workouts, but excessive reps aren’t necessary.  In fact, they are less effective and less safe.  Also, make sure your speed isn’t compromising good form.

Make Your Own Tasty, Simple Hummus

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I just recently made my own hummus for the first time.  Prior to that, I bought tub upon tub of the store-bought processed stuff, assuming there was no other easy option.  Then a cousin of mine explained to me how simple it is to make your own, and I felt a little stupid for never trying this before.  I never even thought about it! 

If you’re a hummus-lover like me, consider making it yourself.  It is so much fresher, less expensive, so easy, and, of course, healthy.  Pair it with your favorite veggies or spread it on a sandwich.  It’s a great last-minute party food.  It really is worth the extra few minutes.  And that’s literally all it takes–a few minutes. 

You just need a food processor, a can or two of chick peas, and a couple of other ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen.  I don’t use measurements or put tahini in it, and it still comes out great.  I’m totally hooked.  Here’s what I do to make a large basic batch of the stuff, but you can add whatever you like–whether that’s roasted peppers, spinach, herbs, spices, etc. 

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2 cans organic chick peas

the juice of 1 lemon, or more if desired (can add zest also)

olive oil, to taste

garlic or garlic powder, to taste

salt and pepper, to taste

Blend in a food processor and…voila.  If it’s too dry, add small amounts of water until it reaches the desired consistency.

I used ground-up garlic scapes (the “flower stalks” of hardneck garlic plants) that my mom gave me, in my latest batch.  Very tasty!  It gives your hummus some pretty green color, while also adding a nice garlic taste. 

 

Ground garlic scapes…..IMG_1946

 

 

The Do-Anywhere Workout

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Going on vacation?  Bring this workout with you.  It can be hard to squeeze in exercise when you’re out of town, but this one is short, intense, and to the point.

You can do it pretty much anywhere–Just grab your beach towel and you’re good to go!  It’s cardio and strength rolled up into one workout, targeting your whole body while simultaneously getting the heart pumping.  Do 8-20 reps of each, depending on your fitness level, and repeat the circuit for a total of 2-3 times through.  Don’t forget to spend a few minutes warming up/cooling down.

Focus on maintenance while on vacation, trying for at least three short workouts within the span of a week (if you can do more, all the better!).  This may include a beachside jog, a visit to your hotel’s fitness center, or an intense 20-45 minute circuit workout like this one.

 

 

Burpees

With your feet together, squat down and put your hands on the ground just in front of your feet. Keep your feet together and jump them back so you land in a push-up. Bend your arms and do a single push-up. Jump your feet back in and under your body and then leap up and into the air. Land on slightly-bent legs and repeat. (modifications–No push-up, no jump)

 

burpee

 

 

 

Floor Dips

Sit on the floor with your knees bent, one foot raised, hands on the floor behind you with fingers pointing toward body. To begin, lift hips off floor.  Slowly and gently bend your elbows and lower your body close to the floor. Keep abdominal muscles tight. Extend arms through the elbows and repeat.

 

floor-dips

 

 

High Knees

:30 to :60, at a moderately high/high intensity

Stand in place with your feet hip-width apart. Drive your right knee toward your chest and quickly place it back on the ground. Follow immediately by driving your left knee toward your chest. Continue to alternate knees as quickly as you can.

 

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Lunge Twists

Hold the ends of your towel.  Lunge forward and rotate your torso in the same direction as your front leg lifting your arms diagonally above your head, then stand and return to center. Perform reps, then repeat on other side.

 

lunge twist

 

 

Pistol Squats

Stand on left leg. Hold right leg out in front of you so that your heel is just off the floor.  Using leg strength and balance, lower yourself down to the floor, keeping your right heel just above the floor the entire time. Keep your hands out in front of your body to help balance.  Go down until your hamstring touches your calf. Your right heel should still be about an inch off the ground.  Then stand back up.  Perform reps, then repeat on other side. (This is a very challenging move.  Don’t go down as far, if need be.  Do as many as you can, which may only be 1 on each leg.)

 

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Donkey Kicks With Pushups

Get into plank, with wrists aligned under your shoulders.  Perform a push-up, then jump feet toward hands.  Kick feet into the air, and bring heels toward the butt.  Jump feet back to starting position.  Repeat.

 

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Towel Bicep Curls

 Put the towel just right under your knee and use the towel to elevate the leg. Keep your elbows at your waist and do a bicep curl. You’re actually lifting up the leg. Go half- way down. Exhale when you come up.
Keep your elbows at your sides when you do this.  Perform reps, and repeat on other side.

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Tuck Jumps

Jump up bringing your knees as high as you can.  Land softly with feet under hips.

 

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Plank Press-Outs With Towel

On all fours, place folded towel under feet. Draw belly button into spine to engage abs and slightly lift knees off ground (don’t let hips lift up in the air). Press out through heels, sliding legs out into a full plank position (avoid sagging or lifting hips—body should make a line from heels to head). Brace abs in tighter and slide legs back in to start position (knees still hovering).

 

Sliding-Plank

 

 

Towel Boat Pose

Put your towel around one foot as you go into a boat pose.  Hold 15-30 seconds, breathing evenly.  Switch legs and repeat.

 

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8 Monday Get-Back-On-Track Moves

Originally posted on equilibrium fitness:

Ah, Monday.  Time to get myself back on track after a weekend of slacking, and hard-core circuit-training always does the job.  It provides me with the swift kick in the pants that I need to start my week off right.  These workouts break up my usual running/gym routine and are extremely efficient–working multiple muscle groups, strengthening and burning fat simultaneously.

Here are some of my favorite moves. See how many reps you can do in 20-30 seconds.  Do as a circuit, if you like.  Go through all moves once, rest for two minutes, then repeat.  Most of these are typically regarded as more advanced and may not be appropriate for those new to exercise. 

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Push & Reach

Start in pushup position, feet at hip width, and perform pushup.  At the top of your subsequent pushup, simultaneously extend right arm so that it’s parallel to the floor and raise left leg about eight inches, also parallel to the floor.  Hold this…

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Why You Need Carbs to Lose Weight…Really!

 

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I’m sure at least someone you know is on, or has been on, a low-carb or no-carb diet.  Maybe even you have.  And you know what?  People have lost weight this way, for a variety of reasons.  But is this necessary?  No.  In fact, cutting out carbs could not only make you miserable like the girl in the picture, it could negatively impact your health.  Many people don’t know this, and authors of best-selling no-carb diet books certainly don’t want you to.

Carbs are not evil.  Well, some of them kind of are.  Not all carbs are created equal.  The good carbs can actually be used to help you lose weight.  And not water weight or muscle weight, but fat weight.   The key is learning which carbs, and how much of them, to eat.

We need carbs to function.  Carbs are nutrients that break down into glucose, our bodies’ primary source of energy.  They’re in milk, fruits and veggies, rice, potatoes, bread, chocolate, and many other foods.  We need 130 grams a day just for our brains to function.  And if you cut them out, you could be sabotaging your weight-loss efforts, especially if you’re active.  If you’re carb-depleted, your body won’t have the fuel necessary to get through the kinds of workouts needed to burn fat and be the fit person you want to be.  For this reason, dieticians recommend that active people get 45 to 65 percent of their calories from carbs.

Carbs in vegetables, legumes and whole grains take longer to digest and give you a steady supply of energy to keep you full longer, not to mention tons of nutrition that your body needs.

Other carbs, like sugar that is added to foods and refined (white) grains are empty calories.  Our bodies break them down quickly and the energy they give us is quick, but fleeting.  Try to limit these.

Natural sugar that is in milk (lactose) and fruit (fructose) is also “quick” energy, but these sugars aren’t considered empty calories like the above, because milk and fruit have protein, fiber, and many good-for you nutrients that will fill you up and help you lose fat.  Fruit (like a banana) is an awesome pre-workout snack because it gives you the natural, fast-digesting sugars you need to kill it during your work out.  (Just remember to eat it 45-60 minutes beforehand so you don’t interrupt the digestion process.)

Pay attention to portions and labels.  Some carb-rich foods can also be high in calories, and manufacturers sometimes sneak added sugars in with the “good” carbs.  For example, whole wheat bread can be high in added sugar.

If anything should be considered evil, I’d choose added sugar.  In fact, it’s very possible to become addicted to all of those sugary carbs, according to recent research in t the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  And while the occasional sweet treat or white carb certainly won’t hurt you, making most of your grains “whole” grains will keep you healthier, and help you achieve your weight loss and fitness goals.

So what’s a serving of carbs look like?  Here are some examples:

Starches/Whole Grains:

1/2 cup peas or corn; 1 potato; 1/2 cup chickpeas or lentils; 1/2 cup whole grain pasta; 1 slice whole wheat bread; 1/2 cup brown rice

Veggies/Fruits:

1/2 cup broccoli; 12 baby carrots; 1 banana; 1 cup berries

Dairy:

1 cup low-fat yogurt; 1 cup low-fat milk; 1 1/2 oz. reduced fat cheddar

 

Some Sample meals:

breakfast:  whole wheat English muffin, 1 egg, 1 slice low-fat cheese, 1 serving fruit

lunch:  turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with veggies & avocado or hummus, plus 6 oz. plain yogurt with fruit

snack: 1 serving fruit and low-fat cheese stick

 

 

Add Some Power to Your Push-Ups!

I love moves that mix cardio and strength conditioning, and this one has got to be near the top of the list!

Try the push-up jack.  This super-effective plyometric move gets your heart racing and works your whole body:

 

1-Start in a plank position. Your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are in one line and your core is activated so that you have a flat back, pushing through your heels to create length in your body.


2-As you take an inhalation, lower your chest towards the floor and jump your feet away from each other about two feet, like you are doing a jumping jack.


3-On your next exhalation, push your chest back up to the starting position as you engage your lower abs to hop your feet back together.

This is one repetition. See how many reps you can do in :60.  You can do it.  Really!!

The Best (and Worst) Moves For Awesome Abs

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Everyone pines for a six-pack.  People love to work their abs, and that’s good.  Your core is the foundation from where all your power originates.  Keep in mind that the core includes not only the abdominal muscles, but those of the back, glutes, spine, and hips (pelvic floor).  Keeping all of your core muscles strong also helps to prevent injury in athletes.

Before I continue, let me first say that you cannot spot reduce body fat on your waist, or anywhere else, for that matter.  You can strengthen your ab muscles with all of the exercises in the world, but without getting your heart-rate up through cardiovascular exercise, you won’t be able burn off the fat needed to see those strong abs you worked for.  So do your cardio!

People who want that flat tummy often gravitate toward crunches, because that’s the most well-known ab move.  However, research has shown that crunches are one of the worst ab moves in terms of how hard the obliques and rectus abdominus are worked.  The crunch only works a small part of the core, repeatedly bends the spine, and burns few calories.

The plank, a stabilizing move, works your whole core, as well as the transverse abdominus and your upper body.  It’s one of the best ab moves you can do.  What’s more, the possibilities with plank variations are endless!  Let’s first start with how to do a simple plank, because form is key:

With your forearms and toes on the floor:

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  • Keep your torso straight and rigid and your body in a straight line from ears to toes with no sagging or bending.
  • Your head is relaxed and you should be looking at the floor.
  • Hold this position for 10 seconds to start.
  • Over time work up to 30, 45 or 60 seconds.  Don’t forget to breathe!

You can also do a plank with your arms fully extended, which works more of the upper body:

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If you are a planking pro and can hold the pose for more than a couple of minutes, the simple plank is really no longer very effective for you.  It’s time to ramp it up a little!  Aside from the regular push-up, which is a great move, try one of these other variations below.  Happy planking!

Dolphin

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Plank Reach

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Single-Legged

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Reach & Raise

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Lateral Walking Plank

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  • Simultaneously cross your right hand toward the left as you step your left foot out to the left. Then simultaneously step your left hand and right foot to the left, returning to the plank position. Your hands move together as your feet step apart. Take two more steps in this direction, keeping your abs pulled toward your spine and your pelvis level. This completes one rep.
  • Reverse directions, taking three steps the right.

 

Plank Up-Downs

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Plank on Bosu Ball

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Side Plank

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Plank Rows

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Sliding Plank

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Plank Walk-Out

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Oblique Crunch Plank

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Bonus: Jack Knife on Stability Ball

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