Saturday, July 31, 2010

Don't forget to breathe!

As a personal trainer, I have to make sure that my clients do each and every exercise correctly. I watch them like a hawk, looking for misalignment and any signs of extreme struggle. Both of which can negate any potential benefits. I also have to make sure that my clients breathe. Sounds silly as breathing is somewhat natural, but when you struggle with a weight or any other type of exercise activity—the natural tendency is to stop breathing as you power through the move. And that, I do believe, is the one thing I'm constantly pointing out to my clients. "BREATHE," I shout (nicely) almost regularly.

And so, in a universal message to my readers and my clients, I say this—don't forget to breathe when you train! It keeps the oxygen flowing, without which your muscles wouldn't function. And you could even faint. Which isn't fun for you. Or your trainer. In addition, a held breath can elevate your heart rate. And yes, you want to raise your heart rate during exercise to achieve maximum calorie burn—but the goal is to raise it naturally via increased activity. Not because you're doing something unnatural like preventing your lungs from taking in oxygen. So remember to inhale when the effort is easy and exhale when the going gets tough. For example, inhale when your back is flat and exhale as you enter the crunch. Inhale as you squat, exhale as you return to standing. So on, and so forth. Now go forth, enjoy your workout. And don't forget to breathe!

Friday, July 30, 2010

What to Eat

When I was in college, I would rush to my mailbox after class with my fingers crossed. It was usually empty, except for the occasional catalog or some junk addressed to the student before me. But sometimes, oh sometimes there'd be a little slip inside that told me I had a package. A package! It was always a good day when that happened. What, you're wondering, does this have to do with fitness? Nothing really. Except that I got a package in the mail yesterday that contained a very important book—What to Eat, by Marion Nestle. (And yes, I had the book sent to myself. But it still made yesterday a very good day!) Marion is a public health professional and college professor who specializes in nutrition and food studies. I discovered her book at my local library, and have been checking it out at random for the past month or two.

But not anymore! Now it's there for you, that is, if you go to the same library I do. Otherwise, you'll have to discover it at your own library, or Borders. And I highly recommend that you do. It's an easy read with perfectly paced chapters that feature a lot of subheadings—which makes it a book you can pick up and put down at random (unlike the Tana French suspense/thriller I also ordered, slightly pictured above). Ok, but what's it about? The grocery store! Marion takes you on an aisle-by-aisle tour, dishing out equal parts politics and nutrition. Sample chapter titles include "Organics: Hype or Hope," "Yogurt: Health Food or Dessert," and "A Range of Meaty Issues." She's quick to tell you that it isn't a diet book, so don't expect recipes and rules. But she will help you understand the the food industry, which should then help you make smarter choices at the grocery store.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gatorade...or something like it.

You all know how much I like trying healthy alternatives to chemical-laden sports drinks, and you also know I like jazzing up my water. We talked about Crystal Light PureFitness, Metromint, and even coconut water. And now I'd like to discuss Gatorade. Wait...what? Yes, Gatorade. But not the brightly bottled version you find at the grocery or convenience store. I'm talking about the kind you can make at home. Intrigued? I was. There are about 67 cooking blogs bookmarked in my Firefox browser, and I check them all on a regular basis. Recently, Emily at The Front Burner referenced her homemade Gatorade recipe. Copy, paste and print for the recipe binder! And she so graciously allowed me to share it with you.

1/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 quart of water

Just mix and enjoy! The orange and lemon juices create flavor while providing additional water (among other nutrients like Vitamin C).

The sugar acts as both a sweetener and a carbohydrate. If it freaks you out, remember that sugar is better than high fructose corn syrup any day of the week. And the salt? Sodium is a natural electrolyte that helps keep your body hydrated. I feel as though you could eliminate it if you wanted to. In all actuality, this recipe is one that leaves room for interpretation. I'm interested in trying it with some lime juice—half a tablespoon each of lime and lemon juice instead of just one full tablespoon of lemon juice, perhaps. How would you tweak it?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dietary Advice

My back pocket is virtually empty right now. Being a newbie in the world of health and wellness, I haven't yet developed an extensive network of professionals that I can turn to for advice. Or turn my clients to if they need help beyond what I am trained to offer. Specifically, medical or dietary advice. Especially dietary advice because we all know that a good diet goes hand-in-hand with a great fitness routine. And while I'm comfortable giving the occasional diet-related opinion, expert I am not. Which is why, when a fellow trainer spoke very highly of a woman at a local diet center, I decided to reach out.

Never have I ever met with a dietitian or nutritionist, so when the owner told me she'd walk me through a typical orientation, I was equal parts excited and nervous. I like my weight, but would she? And wait—I have to fast for four hours before our meeting?! Oh, man. I might not survive.

To my great surprise, the diet center did not disappoint. I arrived to a very welcoming environment and was promptly asked to fill out their standard paperwork. (No, I don't have heart issues. Yes, I sometimes drink alcohol. Etc.) I also had to write down what I ate on Monday. She put this information into a computer, after which she weighed me. Then she said, "now it's time for me to assess your body fat." But the look she gave me while saying just that made it sound more like "now it's time for me to asses your body fat even though I'm sure that terrifies you to no end and I apologize ahead of time if you don't like the results but that's why you're here so get over it." It was comforting, to say the least. Turns out, a healthy 18.8% of my body is fat. She also calculated my resting metabolic rate. Or, the calories I need to take in every day simply to exist—1,547. If I were a true client at the diet center with realistic weight loss goals, we would have taken our discussion a step further to get a new metabolic rate that supported my weight loss goals. (I should have made something up, darn it!)

When all is said and done, every client walks away from their orientation with a chart that outlines three periods of activity. Reduction, stabilization and maintenance. All of which I recognized from my studies. Lose the weight, learn how to keep it off and then keep it off for good. And that's why meeting with someone at a diet center is so beneficial. They can talk you through each step and offer corresponding advice about food, nutrition and exercise. Though when it comes to exercise, they're more concerned with frequency and duration. They leave the details to the personal trainers they network with.

If you're in my area and want specifics about the diet center I reached out to, I've got it all in my back pocket now. I would feel completely comfortable recommending this woman and her business to to any of you. And if you're not in my area, I imagine there'd be someone just like her in yours. It really is worth it to reach out to a dietitian or nutritionist if you're struggling. Begone with fad diets, super shakes and pre-made, chemical-filled meals. Learn how to eat correctly and you'll truly make breakthroughs.

And I'd like to know, dear readers, if any of you have ever met with a dietitian or nutritionist for help? I didn't get the full experience yesterday, and I would love to hear what it's like beyond the orientation.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How long can you hold a plank?

Once again, your Daily Dose is a tidbit from Oxygen! Can you tell how much I love reading that magazine?

TIDBIT: If your abdominal muscles are fit, they should be capable of holding the plank position for at least two minutes.

Time counts only if your form is proper throughout, so keep your abdominal muscles tight as you balance on your elbows (bent directly underneath your shoulders) and toes. Don't ever let those hips or shoulders sag! Think long and tight. Keep your eyes on the floor and remember to breath. (That's always hard for me to remember as I reach failure.) I clocked in at three minutes and two seconds. And now it's your turn! Grab a friend, a stopwatch and some faith in your abdominal muscles. Report back with your results, even if you can't hit the two-minute mark.  You'll get there eventually.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Burn more calories with supersets.

In a recent issue of Oxygen, I learned that supersets can help you burn up to 33% more calories at the gym. I always knew they were superstars, but this number proves it. If you're like me, you'll take all the calorie burn you can squeeze out of a workout. Not sure what a superset is?

It's when you perform two different exercises in a row, rather than taking a 30-second break in between sets of one exercise. For example, you could do a set of chest presses before moving into a set of bent rows. As you work your back with the bent rows, your chest muscles would be getting their 30-second break. Make sense? Just let me clarify one thing—there's nothing wrong with implementing the 30-second break rule and doing all of your chest presses at once, but those breaks might bring your heart rate down just a bit. Supersets prevent that as they keep you going at a steady rate.

Give the superset a try next time you hit the gym. All you have to do is reorganize your current routine so that the different exercises you do are paired according to opposing muscle groups (chest/back, biceps/triceps, etc). Not sure you've got it right? I'd be happy to help.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Machine/Free-Weight Debate

The bicep curl machine or bicep curls using a set of dumbbells? The leg press machine or squats? The great machine/free-weight debate is perhaps one that will never end. Some swear by machines, while others avoid them. Why? The reasons, like the debate, are endless. And different, depending on who you talk to. If you were to ask me (we'll pretend you did), I'd tell you that free-weights are better. BUT—there is an appropriate way to combine both in your fitness regime. Variety, after all, is the spice of life.

If you are a beginner, I would recommend that you start with the machines as you venture through the learning curve. The machines will assist you with proper form and help you figure out your body's mechanics as they relate to exercises for specific muscle groups. But the machines do, generally speaking, only target specific muscle groups. That's why I prefer free-weights (and other toys like balls and bands). Even when I'm working with clients.

For example, in the case of the bicep machine, your biceps work especially hard with just a smidge of help from your shoulder muscles (which act as stabilizers). But as you progress in strength and comfort, if you were to stand up and curl a set of dumbbells, you'd rely on those shoulder muscles a little bit more because there wouldn't be a pad underneath your elbows into which you can dig, and your body (not the machine and it's fancy cables) would be in total control of the weight you've chosen to lift. In addition, your core muscles would be working overtime to keep your entire body balanced—which definitely isn't a factor while you're SITTING at a machine. But, like I said, sometimes boredom hits and it makes perfect sense to set the dumbbells down in favor of the bicep curl machine. Or any other machine, for that matter.

In the end, it's all up to you. Despite the fact that I prefer free-weights over machines, you have to do what's best for your body, mind and soul. And I'm curious—what is best for your body, mind and soul? Do you prefer one over the other, or do you mix it up? Not sure, send me a note. I'd be happy to help.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Tale of Two Smoothies

Hear the big news? McDonald's put "real fruit" smoothies on their McCafé menu. As a sucker for all things smoothie, I felt compelled to try one. And I had a coupon worth a $1.00 off the ticket price, so I turned yesterday's lunch into a taste test by comparing a small McCafé Strawberry Banana Smoothie to a similar version I concocted in my own kitchen. Needless to say, I prefer the latter.

Let's start with the ingredients. 

According to the document I downloaded from the McDonald's website, a small McCafé Strawberry Banana Smoothie contains a strawberry/banana fruit blend, low fat yogurt and ice. Sounds simple, but it doesn't stop there. The strawberry/banana fruit blend contains fruit puree, water, sugar, and less than 1% of concentrated apple juice, cellulose powder, natural and artificial flavors, xanthan gum, citric acid, fruit and vegetable juice (for color), pectin and ascorbic acid...still with me?...and the low fat yogurt contains reduced fat milk, sugar, whey protein concentrate, fructose, corn starch, kosher gelatin and active yogurt cultures. If you're like me, you don't know what half of those ingredients are. I kept it much simpler in my homemade version. One banana, four strawberries of various size and shape, a dash of skim milk and a small container of Chobani Vanilla Non-Fat Greek Yogurt (made of skim milk, cane juice, vanilla extract and active yogurt cultures). The biggest offender? Cane juice, which is a natural sweetener, so I wasn't too concerned.

Almost immediately, I could pick a favorite. The McDonald's version was incredibly sweet in a completely unrealistic way. Don't get me wrong, it tasted good. But my homemade version tasted real. And it was thicker, which I tend to like. I couldn't, however, taste the yogurt in the McDonald's version—it was fairly overpowered by the taste of banana. It was much more prominent in my homemade version, and even left a slight aftertaste as real yogurt tends to do. And while I could see bits of strawberry in both, I was a little unnerved by the unnatural pinkness of the McDonald's version. Perhaps I just didn't use enough strawberries in mine. But as I finished it off, I couldn't help but wonder—do the nutrition facts compare?

Yes, mine has five more calories—but the sugar difference makes up for it. McDonald's puts almost twice as much in their smoothie. And while the 22 grams of sugar in my smoothie may still seem high, remember that it's a completely natural form of sugar. Also note the protein. The more of it you get in a meal, the fuller you'll feel. And if you, like me, are a post-workout smoothie nut then you'll want that protein count to be higher.

To conclude, the McCafé Strawberry Banana Smoothie isn't a Daily Dose recommendation. However, if you're prone to indulging in the occasional Strawberry Shake found beneath the golden arches—consider the smoothie a better alternative on all counts. You'll get your icy cold kick, but save a significant amount of calories and fat. Now, what's your opinion? Have you tried a McCafé Smoothie yet?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Don't overtrain.

Are your muscles consistently sore?
Do you tire quickly and take longer to recover?
Have you reached a significant plateau?
Is your appetite different, perhaps with some gastrointestinal side effects?
Are you losing a significant amount of weight rather quickly?
Have you been getting sick, possibly even hurt quite frequently?
Are your sleeping patterns out of whack?
Did your resting heart rate increase?
Have you lost the desire and motivation to exercise?
Do you feel irritated, angry or depressed on a regular basis?

If you are currently participating in a fitness program and can answer "yes" to a few of these questions, you might be overtraining. While it's perfectly acceptable to train five to seven days a week, it's all relative. Volume (sets and reps) and intensity (frequency, length and/or weight) should be set according to your goals and individual body. If you can find a perfect combination of the two, you'll avoid some of the symptoms above. And yes, they can represent a whole slew of other issues—but if you're in the middle of a serious training schedule and one or more of them make an appearance in your life, it might be a good indicator that it's time to reevaluate your plan of attack. One can never be too cautious, right? Consider the following:

1) Rest and recover. It may be as simple as taking an extra day off in between sessions. But if you're really zapped, take a week off. When your body is sore and you feel completely fatigued, your time in the gym isn't worth crap anyway!

2) Talk to a fitness professional (hand in air) about what it is that you're doing. Tell them your goals and describe how you're feeling. They can look at your routine and tell you where it falls short, or what you might be doing wrong, and they can help you tweak it accordingly.

3) Variety is the spice of life...and your fitness routine! Make sure you aren't doing the same thing at the same time and at the same intensity every single same day of the week. Major bore, right? Try cross training or varying the intensity. Or just try something new.

4) Address your diet. Make sure calories in supports the calories you're burning. And make sure those calories are of the best quality. For example, acceptable carbohydrates are not found in beer and that lime loses its nutrients the minute you squeeze it down a bottleneck.

Bottom line—exercise is supposed to make you feel good, not consistently drained. Training hard is a step forward, but training too hard is two giant leaps backward.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Triceps Dips: Check your form!

Yesterday was an upper-body day for me, and as I busted out a series of exercises, I concluded the following: I love triceps dips! They burn, but it's a good burn that I've come to appreciate. As should you. Why? Because triceps dips really tone the arms and shoulders, and they can be varied greatly to avoid boredom. But proper form is essential, otherwise you put unnecessary strain on the upper body. I touched on triceps dips briefly in a previous post, however my newly discovered love begs me to revisit. Let's begin with proper form.

1) Start by finding a stable surface (like a bench) on which you can sit. I prefer one that puts my legs at a 90-degree angle, but lower surfaces are acceptable. What's the difference? The higher the platform, the less likely it is that your booty will touch the ground (and no, mine is not touching the ground in the picture at left). Allowing your booty to touch the ground creates room for relaxation and we want to keep those triceps engaged at all times.

2) Grab the side of the bench and slide your hips off it about an inch. Any further and you'll risk straining your upper body. As for your legs, keep them bent at 90 degrees to start (they'll bend even more as you lower into the dip).

3) Slowly bend your arms until they hit the 90-degree mark, then straighten them back to your starting position. That 90-degree mark is important! Go beyond that and you'll put unnecessary strain on your elbow and shoulder joints. Of course, lower benches might not allow you to reach that 90-degree mark. Totally acceptable, as long as your booty stays off the ground.

Easy, right? Master those moves, and you can really start having fun. For example, you can try varying your leg position:

• Straighten your legs.
• Put them on a bench or BOSU.
• Keep one bent at 90 degrees, the other extended in front of you. Alternate accordingly.
• Rest a weight on your knees.
• Have someone hold your feet.

The variations, however, don't stop at your legs. Isolate the burn in your triceps by holding that 90-degree bend for a few seconds. Or, start with both hands and feet on the floor and create a reverse bridge. Lower yourself using both arms, then extend with one as you reach the other toward the ceiling. Lower, then repeat with an extension of the other arm. Continue to alternate as you complete your repetitions. Then stretch. Always, always stretch your muscles after you work them.

Question: Is there a triceps dip variation that really gets you? Or do you avoid triceps dips like the plague? I'm curious! Do tell...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"What stationary bike should I use?"

When I'm working at the gym, if I'm not training someone, I can usually be found watching over the fitness floor. I keep an eye on everyone's form, pick up weights when people get lazy and answer questions about the equipment. One question I get quite frequently: "What stationary bike should I use?" There are, after all, at least three available options. Plus spin bikes, but we reserve those for spin classes. A bike is a bike is a bike, right? Well, not necessarily—proven by the fact that so many people get confused as to which one is the best one for them. To help alleviate some of the confusion, I thought I'd discuss each of the four different stationary bike styles in today's post.

NOTE: I pulled the following photos from Google Images simply to illustrate the specific bike style I'm speaking of. Please note that I'm not endorsing any brand shown, and that every brand features slight variations. Rest assured, the functionality of each style is generally pretty similar from one to the next.

That said, let's begin with a dual-action stationary bike. This is a great option for people who want to work the entire body in one fell swoop because the arms move. And despite the fact that many of these bikes are outfitted with computers, your pedaling usually controls the difficulty because the front "wheel" is a fan. So the faster you pedal, the harder it will be to pedal because of all the wind resistance you create. Going back to the computer for a second, if it's there, it usually just records your time, calories and distance. Less to fuss with, really. Just hop on and pedal your little heart out.

Upright stationary bikes are quite similar to the dual-action bikes, though slightly fancier. And, of course, your arms stay firmly planted on the handlebars in front of you as the lower half of your body does most of the work. The computers on these bikes also play a bigger role. If you forgo the "Quick Start" button, there are usually pre-programmed cycles that take you through intervals and hills. And a button, rather than your cycling speed, will adjust the intensity. If a spin bike isn't available, I usually go for these bikes because they feel the most like a real bike.
But, of course, nothing says "real bike" quite like a spin bike. They generally don't have computers, just a knob that lets you control the resistance. Kind of like the gears on a 10-speed. And the handlebars are positioned in line with the seat. Unlike the previous two bikes, you'll have to lean forward race-style instead of sitting upright. This makes it more intense, and you'll get more of a core/shoulder workout. And speaking of leaning, some spin bikes lean to the side in an effort to mimic real road turns and curves. I've yet to ride a spin bike that has this feature, but I imagine it would up the ante of an already challenging piece of cardio equipment.

Last up, the recumbent bike. If you have back issues to begin with, or if staying upright/leaning forward puts unnecessary strain on your back, this may be the option for you as it provides a more comfortable perch for pedaling. And also, a perch that's easier to balance on. Yes, you'll be able to relax, but you'll feel your abs working a little bit harder than you might initially think. And, of course, the pedaling is still a great challenge. 

Ultimately, you have to decide for yourself which stationary bike is right for you. Try them all before you pick a favorite. Remember to adjust the seat correctly. There should be a slight bend in the knee when the pedal is furthest away from you, and the seat should be positioned so that your back and arms aren't straining to reach the handlebars. Proper form is essential, as it always is. 

Once you've tested them all, or if you're already riding a stationary bike, do tell me which one is your favorite!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hydrate naturally with coconut water.

Coconut water seems to be all the rage these days, thanks to photographs of popular celebrities (like Madonna, taken from People) indulging themselves in boxes of Vita Coco. Though it's been around forever, coconut water is evermore available because the food industry has found a way to package it in convenient juice boxes. Yep—like the kind you drank from as a kid!

Some consider it to be yet another drink fad, but many agree that coconut water is completely legit. Coconut water (not coconut milk, that's different) is pure and natural, and contains a large amount of electrolytes for superb hydration. It contains potassium, too. Maybe even more than a banana, though I'm reading conflicting research as to how much more. Some say more than one banana, Vita Coco claims more than two. Either way, the potassium is there and it helps hydrate the body (as do the electrolytes) while preventing muscle cramps. The carbs are there as well, which makes coconut water an excellent addition to any post-workout snack. Drink it alone with some granola and fruit, or mix it into a smoothie. Sounds tasty, right?

And it is, though you have to like coconut. I've had plain coconut water and a version infused with real pineapple juice—they were both equally delicious and refreshing. My juice box of Vita Coco Coconut Water with Pineapple was the same size as Madonna's in the picture above. It had only 80 calories, none of which were fat calories. Sugar? 21 grams, all natural. I expect that would be less had I not chosen a version infused with fruit. In fact, I imagine the calories would be less, too!

I'm curious—have you ever had coconut water? If so, did you drink it plain or mix it with something? If you haven't had coconut water yet, you should give it a try. It's perfect for all this hot weather we've been having! Do everything you can to stay hydrated!

Monday, July 19, 2010

How good is your balance?

When I was little, I was on a competitive gymnastics team. My skills were decent, though they'd never take me to the Olympics. I won a few gold medals and blue ribbons, but never for my performances on the balance beam—I fell almost every single time. And it hurt. So I grew to be afraid of the balance beam. Silly, indeed. But who really wants to flip and flop on a surface that's only four inches wide and stands four feet off the ground? If only I had worked on my balance as much as my split leaps and handstands. Maybe then I would have stayed on the dang thing. Needless to say, I've noticed a drastic improvement in my balance over the years. (Though, admittedly, I haven't tested it on the balance beam. Those days are long gone.)

I chalk it up to all the core work I do at the gym because the core plays a very important role in your ability to stay balanced. (As does the inner ear, but I am no expert in that area.) Before I explain, let me discuss the concept of balance. Balance occurs when your center of gravity is directly above the ground. Because our bodies have a natural inability to remain completely still forever, it's not uncommon for our centers of gravity to shift without conscious effort. But it's easy to consciously counteract those shifts to restore balance. And that's where your core comes into play. The center of your body is partially composed of your core muscles (think abs, hips, lower back), and all movement originates in or is supported by the core. Hence, a strong core improves balance. If you've ever stood on a BOSU ball, you know the easiest way to stay atop the thing is to really focus on squeezing those ab muscles.

In fact, the BOSU is an excellent way to improve balance. Any time you stand on a wiggly wobbly surface, you strengthen that core. Tip #1—try completing your bicep curls (or any other standing exercise) on a BOSU. Or just stand on one leg at a time. It will change your activity ever so slightly while challenging your core to overcome an unstable surface. Conquer the BOSU or the one-leg balance over time, and you'll also start to notice a marked improvement in your everyday balance.

Tip #2—Work on your balance exclusively. Stand on one leg as you wash dishes or iron clothing. Alternate legs equally so that your balance isn't, balance. Even while you're watching a television show or talking on the phone, stand up and see how long you can stay balanced on that one leg. Really listen to your body as you figure out how to stop yourself from falling over. Tune into each and every muscle in your core as you work to counteract the slightest bit of movement. As you improve, try closing your eyes. If you can stand on one leg with your eyes closed, then you know you've really mastered your ability to balance.

Tell me, is your balance any good?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Power Balance Wristbands: Real or fake?

As a former advertising professional, I like to think that I am wise to the ways of marketing a product to create extensive profit. Sometimes I fall for the gimmicks and other times I say "yeah right" and walk away—which is what I ended up doing with my Power Balance wristband. Lucky for me, I got it for free at a Women's Health event I attended in Chicago.

Power Balance claims that the hologram embedded in the silicone wristband interacts with the body's natural energy field to improve balance and flexibility. Apparently the hologram is treated with "energy waves at specific frequencies." I'm all about improving balance and flexibility—good balance keeps you on your two feet in a variety of different situations, and excellent flexibility keeps the body moving smoothly during physical activity. But is a hologram really capable of making noticeable improvements?

I wore the bracelet during a Yoga session at the event to test the theory. I felt fairly balanced, but my balance is pretty decent to begin with so it's a toss up as to whether or not the bracelet was having any effect on me. So I poked around on the Internet in an effort to read up on the concept of individual energy fields.

The results of my efforts were all over the place. Sometimes I felt as if I was reading legitimate scientific research, and other times I felt as if I was reading something straight out of a voodoo tiki tent. I couldn't even paraphrase it all if I wanted to. But I did decipher one common thread—the body's natural energy field creates physical and emotional balance, and people have been trying to harness and control that balance for eons. Can one single product actually do it? I'm feeling a bit unconvinced at this point. Take a look at the following video and draw your own conclusions.

My gut reaction? The guy fakes it when he's being tested. Then again, maybe he isn't. You be the judge...or not. My honest opinion? There are plenty of  proven ways to improve balance that don't include questionable accessories. Save your dollars, folks.

Question: Is there a product or service you think is a total, money stealing gimmick? Tell me about it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Let's talk about your metabolism.

Whenever we see an incredibly skinny or fit individual, we tend to think that they A) don't eat, or B) have a fast metabolism. The former is worthy of an entirely different blog post, so I'd like to focus on the latter today. What exactly is this metabolism we speak of, and how is it affected by sweat sessions? Let's start at the beginning with a quick consult of the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Pronunciation: \mə-ˈta-bə-ˌli-zəm\
Function: noun
1 a : the sum of the processes in the buildup and destruction of protoplasm; specifically : the chemical changes in living cells by which energy is provided for vital processes and activities and new material is assimilated b : the sum of the processes by which a particular substance is handled in the living body c : the sum of the metabolic activities taking place in a particular environment

In terms of the living human body, the metabolism is a series of hormones that regulate the way the body burns calories to fuel movement. (And by movement, I do refer to both the internal and external types.) In other words, our metabolism takes the food we eat and converts it to the energy that pumps our heart, moves our muscles, and so on and so forth. This ultimately means that what we eat plays a very important role—quality in, quality out!

How we eat our food plays a role, too. If you don't eat enough, your body goes into starvation mode and holds on to everything for dear life. So yes, you guessed it—not eating drastically slows your metabolism because it thinks it has to be conservative. That's why so many people employ the breakfast/snack/lunch/snack/dinner routine. Eating smaller, healthier meals throughout the day prevents the body from entering starvation mode. It's not about being hungry, but about giving your body the fuel it needs to function.

Diet and nutrition, however, are not my areas of expertise so I shall continue this discussion with a piece of advice that I know is worth listening to—hit the gym! A healthy metabolism is yet another awesome side effect of working out. While aerobic exercise (think cardio) burns calories quickly, strength training builds your muscles—and muscles, in the long run, burn more calories than fat could ever dream of. That means your metabolism doesn't have to crank as hard to keep things in check. It runs smoothly, so to speak. And without physical fitness, muscle mass decreases and your chances of gaining weight increase. Believe it or not, this cranks the metabolism—but not in a good way. It essentially means that the body has to work harder to move itself because it needs so much more fuel to simply exist. (I actually learned that last tidbit just now after doing some supplemental research on WebMD. I always thought it was the opposite!)

Essentially, there's a happy place for every metabolism. Not too slow, not crankin'...just right. To help you find that happy place, I'll make this conclusion—eat healthy, well-balanced meals that complement an active, physically fit lifestyle. Your body will thank you for it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Granola Bars, Recreated

Well, I did it. I tried out my granola bar recipe with the tweaks I thought might improve it. (But I didn't test my parchment paper idea as I totally forgot to get some from the store.) As you can see, the bars are worthy of the "granola" adjective now. They're not as sweet, and they definitely have a lighter texture that tends to crumble quite easily, which I attribute to the lack of agave nectar. Perhaps it's best to go according to the recipe on that one. The oats are much drier than the coconut, so I'm thinking they need that much more help sticking together. (At least agave, rather than corn syrup, is the glue!) And honestly, I'm not that bummed that they're falling apart—I managed to keep a few together, and you can be sure I saved the crumbly bits for my Greek yogurt. Sounds like post-workout snack perfection!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Change your squats and lunges to maximize the burn.

I know, you love squats and lunges. And yes, I can sense your sarcasm. But squats and lunges are two of the easiest ways to tighten and tone your bottom half. No equipment required, and your own body weight is usually sufficient resistance. The biggest problem? Boredom. You can only do so many squats and lunges before you and your leg muscles begin to long for something more exciting. Consider the following suggestions:

• Lunge with a kick! Step back into a lunge, but instead of bringing your feet together again before repeating the lunge, swing that back leg forward into a kick before immediately returning to your backward lunge position. Continue until you've reached your desired amount of repetitions, then switch to the other leg.

• Hold that lunge. And then, let's say your left leg is forward, twist your torso to the left 15 times to activate your obliques. Repeat your desired number of times, then switch legs and twist to your other side.

• Switch quick. Get into a stationary lunge, then jump to switch legs. At first, try just ten in a row. Build on that as the sequence gets easier. Just make sure you're hitting a proper lunge every time to protect your knees.

• Lift your leg when you squat. You might feel like a dog at a fire hydrant, but it'll tighten and strengthen the outer muscles in your hip. Get into a comfortable squat, then lift one leg out to the side before lowering it to complete one repetition. Never let that foot touch the floor, and keep your kneecap facing forward. Repeat on the other side.

• Just wait a minute. Literally! Though not all at once. Squat five times, then hold the squat position for 15 seconds before completing another five squats. Continue until you've held the squat position for at least one minute total (as in, four 15-second squat holds).

• Call on your calves. Squat comfortably and hold it there as you lift and lower your heels to activate your calf muscles. Make sure you really sit into your squat—you want as much of your body weight over your calf muscles as possible. And, of course, you want to make sure your knees never cross the tips of your toes.

I really could go on and on with the variations, and I'm sure you've got a few up your sleeve, too.
Feel free to share! I love learning from my readers!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Short Pilates Routine

Skip the crunches and drop the medicine ball! It's time to challenge your abs with a short Pilates routine. I pieced together the following moves from my favorite Ana Caban video. In my humble opinion, Ms. Caban has some of the best Pilates videos on the market. I'm fairly certain you can find them at Target. I use mine twice a week in between my strength training/cardio days. Pilates is a very low impact, yet powerful form of exercise that really digs deep to strengthen, tone and stretch your core abdominal muscles—with little to no effort, I might add, which makes it an absolutely perfect form of exercise for those days when you really don't feel like working out. And I know you have those days. But I digress, so let's begin.

1) First and foremost, my favorite. THE PILATES 100.

2) ROLLUPS: Lie down flat. Keep your legs together, squeeze your abdominals and extend your arms above your head to create one long line with your body. Don't arch your back, and keep your shoulders relaxed as you inhale to roll up. Arms should stay at your ears the entire time—the goal is to use your abs to lift your upper body. Exhale and continue to roll forward toward your feet for a nice stretch. Keep squeezing your abs! Inhale and roll back down. Repeat eight times. Slow but sure.

3) TWISTS: Also known as "bicycle crunches." Lie down flat, put your fingertips on the back of your head with your elbows out, and bend your legs to 90 degrees. Lift your chin to your chest as you inhale, then exhale as you slowly rotate your shoulders, extending your left leg as you bring your left elbow and right knee together. Inhale again as you switch, exhale when your right elbow and left knee meet. This completes one repetition. Do four reps quite slowly, then another four at a much faster pace. If you keep track of the breathing pattern, you'll feel the burn. For sure!

4) CORKSCREWS: Lie down flat and extend your legs directly above your hips. Keep your legs as straight as you possibly can, and squeeze your ankles together. Place your arms by your side as you relax your shoulders and squeeze your abdominals. The goal is to draw a medium-sized circle with your toes, so inhale as you drop your legs to the right. Swing them down and around to the left as you exhale back to start. Repeat, but start toward the left. Draw eight circles, then relax.

Of course, these are just four of many Pilates moves. Consider them alternatives to crunches, but seek out a full video if you're looking for an entire Pilates workout. As I said before, Target (and stores like Target) usually have some to choose from. You can also look online, as there are plenty of sites that offer free videos. Any questions? Just let me know.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Are you game?

Call me crazy, but I killed two birds with one stone this weekend. Not literally, of course. Figuratively speaking as there were two really great fitness events in Chicago and I couldn't choose one over the other. The first, of course, was the L.A.T.E. Ride. The second event was the Women's Health Are You Game? workout at North Beach.

I know what you're thinking: Ride 25 miles at night, then get up and exercise? Pure insanity.

But totally worth it. I convinced my mom to join me because we had such a great experience at the Self Magazine Workout in the Park. We both subscribe to Women's Health, so it was really a no-brainer. Though our bags of goodies weren't as full, we still walked away with a few really cool items. Like a yoga mat and a balance bracelet. (What's a balance bracelet? I have no clue, but you can bet your britches I'll do my research and report back on that one.) And I must admit, the workouts were more intense.

We did Pilates Stride, then a surf-inspired toning class, and we ended the day with Power Balance Yoga. What's a surf-inspired toning class like? Think various lunges and squats for 30 minutes straight. I bet you can imagine how much fun that was after riding 25 miles less than 12 hours before. It hurt, but I pushed through it. And I loved the yoga class! It convinced me that I need to take the yoga classes offered at my gym. But first, I need to tell you about the delicious food we tasted in between the three workouts described above.

First up, Black Bean Tofu and Vegetable Stir-Fry. I don't usually eat stir-fry because it always seems so greasy, but this version was prepared in a way that totally rocked my taste buds. We also sampled some "bikini-friendly" burgers. Turkey Gorgonzola with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Lentil Quinoa with Sauteed Mushrooms. Both of which were absolutely fantastic. And good for you, which is always a bonus.

All in all, it was a good day. It's safe to say that I'm already looking forward to next summer when (hopefully) Chicago will host this event again. And if they do, you absolutely must join me! Oh wait, did I forget to mention there was a Special K cereal station? All you can eat...

Monday, July 12, 2010

The L.A.T.E. Ride

This past Saturday night, my dad and I joined 9,000 cyclists in Chicago to ride 25 miles in honor of the city's Friends of the Park organization—I've never seen so many bikes in my life! Was I intimidated? Yeah, a little. My dad is an avid cyclist. He rides as often as possible and I'm pretty sure 25 miles is cake for the man. I, on the other hand, am still barely a beginner and had yet to pedal beyond 17 miles at one time. I wasn't sure that I'd be able to keep up with Dad, and I was also concerned that I wouldn't be able to stay up—the ride itself started at midnight (if you do the math, that's 1:00 AM according to the clocks I'm used to). But I was determined. And determination is key when you have to achieve a goal, so I slowly developed the confidence I needed. As we waited for the ride to start, I got locked and loaded. For the most part. True lock and load would come when I started to pedal.

I installed a new set of toe clips for the ride because my feet were consistently slipping forward. They were the next best thing to official cycling shoes. Despite the fact that they took some getting used to, I think they made a huge difference. Not only did my feet stay locked into the pedal, I was able to pedal harder because I wasn't worrying about losing contact with the pedal itself. Instead, I could focus on catching up with Dad whenever he'd take off on a mad sprint down an open portion of the course. Show off!

Speaking of sprinting, I somehow managed to ride faster than I ever had before. I don't think Dad was riding as fast as he could, but he certainly reached a good pace. We went particularly fast down the bike path along Lake Shore Drive. Such a great place to ride! And we loved seeing the city lights at night. Always astonishing. As are the neighborhoods after midnight. We rode through a few areas where the booze had clearly been flowing. It made for some great on-course entertainment, though it also forced us to dodge taxis left and right. Not fun. I couldn't imagine riding around the city on a regular basis. At one point, I was literally a foot away from the side of a bus. Freaked me out!

Vehicle dodging aside, we had a great time. And we finished strong in under two hours! I thought it would take me longer. And I thought those 25 miles would be a lot harder. Lesson of the day—if you put yourself up to a fitness goal, don't listen to yourself when you feel as if you'll never achieve it. Set goals, work hard. Believe in all the steps you're taking (or pedals you're pedaling, in my case) to get to the goal itself. You really can achieve anything.

In the end, it's all worth the effort. I think we both want to participate again next year. Who knows, we may even make a run (ahem...pedal) for the "Best Lit Bike" and "Best Helmet" awards. Clearly we didn't make any effort at all this year. But we did wear lighted bracelets! Up next? Not sure, though I'm looking forward to pedaling beyond 25 miles at some point before the snow falls. Anyone in my area know of any rides?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Granola Bars, Dissected

After putting my new granola bar recipe into MyFitnessPal, having cut eight individual granola bars, I discovered that the nutritional information per serving wasn't quite where I wanted it to be. (Fouled by deceptive ingredients!) There's clearly room for improvement—although not in the taste department. They certainly were delicious!
Looking at the chart, you can see that a bulk of the calories are coming from the shredded coconut. Next time, I'll exchange it for 3/4 cup of oats to lower that calorie count while creating more of a traditional granola bar. I'll also use just 1/3 cup of agave nectar instead of 1/2 cup, which might also bring down the sweet factor. And last, but certainly not least, I'll switch up the nut mix to 1/2 cup of sliced natural almonds. Black Cocoa almonds were fun, but not the best option. (A girl's gotta have a treat on occasion!)

After implementing these changes in MyFitnessPal, the nutrition chart looked more like this. A marked improvement in my humble opinion. I'll make them later this week, so watch for "Granola Bars, Recreated." Here's to hoping they turn out just as deliciously as the first batch.

In the meantime, let me know if you come up with any other improvements to try.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Granola Bars

One of the chapters in my ACE Personal Training Manual is all about nutrition and the role it plays in physical fitness. We spent a week on the subject at Blue Heron Academy, talking in detail about deceptive "healthy" foods. To supplement the discussion, we were instructed to bring in a food label to scrutinize. A few of us chose granola bars—mine was a Quaker Oats Chewy 25% Less Sugar Granola Bar of the Chocolate Chip variety. According to my instructor, not so healthy. It contained a lot of processed sugars and preservatives that, when I actually looked at the label, I couldn't even pronounce. Sign #1 that it's not a healthy option. I've since learned to judge wisely.

Always read the list of ingredients. Not every granola bar is bad, you just have to hunt for the good ones. When they're good, they're really good. Especially post workout. Stay away from trans or saturated fats, and any additives like chocolate chips or "yogurt" coatings. They just add sugar. You want something with quality carb and protein counts. Remember that any post workout snack should contain a healthy portion of each. And if all else fails, make your own. So I did! I'm not completely satisfied with the recipe yet, but I'm going to share it anyway so that you can experiment with me. I scoured the internet for some healthy options and found a few that seemed promising. I took stock of what I had on hand and finagled the recipes until I had one that I thought might work.

1 tbsp. ground flax seeds
1 tbsp. wheat germ
1 tsp. salt
3/4 c. Black Cocoa Almonds, chopped
1/4 c. hazelnuts, chopped
1 tbsp. pecans, chopped
1/2 c. unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 c. dried cherries, chopped
1/4 c. dried pomegranate seeds
1/2 c. agave nectar

Preheat your oven to 350F, then prep an 8x8" pan with a nonstick spray. Combine all ingredients, except for the agave nectar, and mix completely—after which you can add the agave. Mix until everything is covered, then press into the prepared pan. Cook for about 25 minutes. Let the bars cool in the pan for a bit, but not completely as that might make them really hard to cut. When you do cut them, they'll be slightly warm and prone to falling apart. Just press them back together as you move the bars from pan to counter to finish cooling. Wrap individually with plastic to store.

Admittedly, these are less of a granola bar and more of a fruit and nut bar. And forget about the nonstick spray, I'm thinking parchment paper is the way to go. It should eliminate a few useless calories and make it easier to remove the bars from the pan. Speaking of calories, I put the recipe into MyFitnessPal and discovered that each bar has 282 calories, 37 carbs, 16 grams of fat and only 3 grams of protein. Not good, but better considering everything is somewhat natural. Still, I think I can change those numbers with a few tweaks. Tomorrow: Granola bars, dissected.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Your lats will like this.

The latissimus dorsi is the biggest muscle in your back. Actually, you have two of them—one on each side of your spine, just below your shoulder blades. Lats are bigger muscles, which means they burn a decent amount of calories when in use so it pays to make them work. And it pays to make them work hard because toned lats foster a bulge-free back. Many people turn to chin-ups, but those can be difficult if you're at a lower fitness level. Lat-specific machines and cable/overhead bar setups all work nicely, however they often make you sit down. There's nothing wrong with sitting, but I'm of the mindset that more of a challenge can be achieved when you stay on your feet. Why? Because you have to call on the lower-body muscles for support.

When I work my lats, I use a cable crossover machine like the one shown at left. (Thanks, Google Images!) And actually, this particular machine is set up exactly how you'd want it to be in order to perform the following:

To begin, grab one handle in each hand and center yourself between the two. (We want even lats, right?) Step back about a foot so that your arms are now slightly in front of your body. You may be leaning forward slightly so bend at the knees and hips to create a comfortable squat.

Maintain this position as you pull your elbows down to your sides, keeping your palms facing forward the entire time. Really focus on depressing those shoulder blades to help engage your lats. Control the weights as you straighten your arms again. Repeat as desired, but always take a breather in between sets. As you progress, try standing on a BOSU to further challenge that lower body. Trust me—it's so fun!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Target Heart Rate: An Updated Formula for Women

Back in April, I gave you an equation that could be used to determine your individual target heart rate. At right, you see the first portion of that equation. Recent research coming out of Northwestern University in Chicago suggests that the numbers need to be adjusted slightly to accommodate the difference between men and women. According to the team at Northwestern, women should replace the above with 220-(AGE X 88%). Why? The original equation is based on tests conducted solely on men, which means the original equation predicts a slightly higher-than-necessary target heart rate for women.

"Women are not small men," says a cardiologist in the article, and that is essentially what the team at Northwestern reiterated as they followed 5,437 healthy females in Chicago over a period of 16 years. Many of those females expressed having difficulty reaching their THR, and that's probably because it was actually a bit too high. So ladies, I suggest you take a minute to refigure your target heart rate based on the adjustment above. See if it makes a difference. And really, it never hurts to be as accurate as possible.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Work got you stressed? Just stretch!

When I worked in advertising, Wednesdays would always be one of two things—smooth sailing or utterly chaotic. Usually it was the latter as I worked to finish up the week's tasks in a timely fashion, hoping only to find time at the end of the week to prep for what's to come on the following Monday. If you work in an office right now, I'm certain you know what I am talking about. Quite simply, Wednesday can be very stressful. And stress never fosters a positive work environment. To keep from tensing too hard, I suggest you make time throughout your day for some office appropriate stretching. After all, relaxed muscles promote a relaxed mind. (You know what it feels like to stretch after a long workout!) So try the following, especially if you have an important meeting on your schedule.

1) WRISTS:  Clasp your hands together, fingers interlaced. Bend and flex the wrist for about 10 seconds, then roll them every which way for another 15.

2) SHOULDERS: Sit or stand up straight, then simultaneously lift both shoulders toward your ears. Hold for three seconds, relax and repeat two more times.

3) BACK: Interlace your fingers, then stretch your arms to the front as you rotate your palms to face away from your body. Push gently to feel a nice stretch between your shoulder blades. Hold for 10 seconds, relax and repeat two more times. Next, lift your palms to the ceiling. Push upward. Hold for 10 seconds, relax and repeat two more times.

4) NECK: Sit or stand up straight. Drop your right ear toward your right shoulder. Hold for three seconds. Switch to your left side, hold, and then drop your chin toward your chest. Repeat the sequence twice more.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Don't forget your face exercises.

When I conduct orientation training sessions at the gym, I always remind people to work on their calf muscles because they seem to be the forgotten muscles. But this weekend, my opinion of the "forgotten muscles" changed when my sister introduced me to the following video. As we sat around the kitchen table our pants because we were laughing so hard, I knew I had to share it with you.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Easy Ways to Override Overeating

Well, there goes another holiday! Perhaps you went to at least one party this weekend where the cocktails and cookies constantly called your name. And yes, you may have answered that call a bit more than usual which probably left you feeling somewhat...ugh. Am I right? It's a vicious, vicious cycle whenever those wonderful holidays roll around. We have fun, we indulge and then we regret. But don't worry, the reality of the situation indicates that you might not have completely wrecked your waistline. For example, I read in SHAPE that you have to eat an additional 3,500 calories in one day to gain a single pound of body fat. They equate those calories to six pieces of cake and eight glasses of wine, and that amount of food is probably way more than any of us could actually handle. Though you may not have really gained an additional pound yesterday, there's still a good chance you overate.

How to override overeating? I suggest you keep the water flowing over the next few days. Not only will it refresh your body, it will help you flush out any excess sodium. And we all know that excess sodium makes you feel bloated. (Oddly enough, it's because sodium makes your body hold on to water.) I also suggest you eat. Sounds counter intuitive, as most of us want to stop eating when we've eating too much, but you need to get yourself back on your regular schedule in order to keep that metabolism active. Choose healthy foods, especially those that contain a good amount of fiber. It kick your digestive system into high gear. And last, but certainly not least, get to the gym and burn some serious calories as you ponder the wonderful memories that you made this weekend.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Let's celebrate this country!

I think of two things whenever the 4th of July comes around: grade school and Bruce Springsteen. Let me explain. In grade school, we'd always start the day by standing up and placing our little hands over our hearts as we recited the Pledge of Allegiance. The principal would lead the entire school over the speaker system as each and every one of us proclaimed our love for this country. While I'm still very proud to be a part of this one nation under God, I haven't recited the Pledge in a very long time. When I'm feeling patriotic, as I am today, I tend to sing aloud to Bruce Springsteen instead.

I wish you all the best of days. Get out and enjoy the sunshine, and if you're headed to a party, make the best of it. Play ball with the kids, run around with sparklers, and consume whatever combination of blueberries and strawberries you can get your hands on.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Keep it clean!

Fitness facilities promote health and wellness, but they're also a great trap for bacteria that induce illness and infection. Think about it—if your gym is anything like mine, it's always filled with sweating people. And all that sweat has to fall somewhere. Like on the dumbbells, the bike seats and especially the yoga mats. While some of us pay our respects to etiquette by wiping down every piece of equipment we use, others don't. So I urge you to practice safe sanitation whenever you're in a fitness facility. Starting with the use of a towel. Instead of wiping the sweat off your forehead with your forearm, use a towel. To wipe sweat with a body part is to transfer sweat to a piece of equipment in the gym, which essentially promotes the production of bacteria that someone else eventually picks up. So that also means you should put a towel in between your body and the bench, mat or seat of whatever piece of equipment you're using. Catch your sweat, and protect yourself from someone else's.

Another note about towels—they can be used to wipe down equipment, but it certainly won't be an effective wipe. Towels pick up sweat, but they leave bacteria behind. What bacteria? Try E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus. It's why every gym provides an endless supply of cleaning wipes and sprays at various locations throughout. Use them, and use them often before AND after you sweat all over the equipment.

Which brings me to one last piece of advice for the day—keep your hands away from your eyes and mouth the entire time you're at the gym. It just makes sense, really. You're there to get healthy, not sick.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Delicious Nutritious Peach

It's fruit season! To celebrate, I bought two peaches at the store a few days ago. And yesterday, they were finally ripe enough to eat. Well, at least one of them—so I did! I turned a juicy little peach into a fairly substantial lunch with little to no effort.

1 ripe peach
1 carton of honey-vanilla Greek yogurt
Honey to taste (I used agave nectar.)
Cinnamon to taste

Heat a small pan on the stove over medium heat. Slice the peach in two and remove the pit. When pan is hot enough, place the peach halves face down in the pan. No oil or butter required! Flip after two minutes, repeating the process until the peach is heated through, then remove both halves from the heat. Place them skin sides down on a plate, then fill each pit indentation with a scoop or two of the yogurt. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with cinnamon to taste. And then—enjoy! Feel free to finish off the carton of yogurt, too. It'd be a shame to waste all that protein and calcium. And the peach itself is a great source of fiber, which means it'll help out your digestive system.

One quick note, as I enjoyed my peach, I couldn't help but wonder how it would taste with a sprinkle of chopped nuts or a scoop of granola. Or maybe some blueberries. Heck, I even wondered what they'd taste like with low-fat ice cream in place of the yogurt! There are just so many ways you could vary this tasty guy. And if you do, let me know how!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Concentration curls sculpt great biceps.

The concentration curl is one of my favorite exercises. It targets the bicep a bit deeper than a standard curl to create a nice, toned muscle. And who doesn't love a nice, toned bicep muscle at this time of year? I try to sneak in a few sets after hammer curls. Remember that hammer curls works a slightly longer portion of the bicep, while concentration curls really cut to the gut of the muscle for the ultimate in strength gains. Together, the two moves seem to create a fairly sculpted bicep muscle. But not without proper form, which begins with the right weight. (Remember that a heavy weight and lower reps build big muscles, while a lighter weight and higher reps tighten and tone.) Hold the weight in your right hand and sit on the edge of a bench, chair or exercise ball. Spread your feet and dig your right elbow into the side of your right knee. Lift the weight, lower it slowly and repeat before switching sides. It's that easy!


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