Thursday, April 10, 2014

Coffee for Your Pre-Workout Drink?


You might be surprised by what some people are choosing as a pre-workout drink. Instead of fueling up with a sports drink or other supplement, they are opting for a simple cup of coffee. It can provide health benefits, but it also raises some concerns. That makes it understandable why there are those who recommend this and those who warn against it. At one point, it was even banned by the Olympics. So, is it good or bad to add caffeine to your pre-workout routine?


Let’s take a look at the positive things first. The more obvious benefit of caffeine is that it increases your heart rate and gives you more energy. This will also help you increase your metabolism and burn more calories throughout the day. This is especially true when consumed before exercise because it causes your body to use fat cells, instead of glycogen, as an energy source for your workout. In addition, it will act as an appetite suppressant and cause you to consume fewer calories than normal. All of these things together mean that it will accelerate fat loss.


Another benefit is that it has been linked to better athletic performance. It increases one’s endurance and allows you to train with more power for a longer period of time. It has even been shown to help with muscle pain. Those who consume coffee before exercising typically experience less pain so they are able to work out with more intensity. It also improves mental focus, making your workouts more effective. This is ideal for those who are looking for that extra edge with their routine.


Although it can provide such great benefits, there are some drawbacks that should be addressed. Because it increases energy, it can over-stimulate you and eventually cause fatigue. For those with underlying heart problems, consuming caffeine before a workout runs the risk of doing extra damage. Drinking too much caffeine or too late in the day can also affect one’s sleep. On top of that, your body will eventually become used to it and you will find yourself needing to consume more in order to get the benefits that you were previously getting.


Deciding if you want to take advantage of caffeine with your workout is up to you, and it’s helpful to make sure you understand the benefits and the concerns. If you do decide that it’s right for you, it’s best to let your doctor know you have made it a part of your routine. Try not to overdo it, as one cup of coffee may be all you need to give you that edge, and watch the time so it won’t interrupt your sleeping habits.



Thursday, April 3, 2014

Beat Treadmill Boredom


Some people love to hop on the treadmill, while others dread it and would prefer to be doing anything else but that. There are those who would rather walk or jog outside. Sometimes, because of weather, that’s not always an option. If it’s not too cold or snowy, it can be too hot or rainy. Fortunately, there are a few things that can be done to help make the time spent on a treadmill more fun and go by faster.


Walking, jogging or running at the same pace the entire time can leave anyone bored. The best way to beat boredom is by adding intervals. You can alternate between walking one minute, and jogging the next. Or, you can try running at a certain pace for two minutes, and then taking it down a notch for a minute. There are so many possibilities for changing up speed and time. Not only will it keep things more interesting, it will give you a much more effective workout.


Aside from alternating speed, you can also change the incline. This can help you feel like you’re walking or jogging through the hills. Many treadmills even have programs that can simulate uneven terrain to make the workout more challenging.


Keeping an eye on the time and speed can obviously come in handy with intervals. For this reason, treadmills are great because they offer you so much information that you can’t see outside. However, this display can also cause problems for some. There is nothing more boring than watching the time tick slowly away as you keep a steady pace. A good idea can be to cover up the console so your mind can focus on other things besides the clock.


Putting in the time is a great way to get in some cardio. If you’re short on time or looking to add variety, why not add strength training? You can sneak in some upper body exercises while you walk by grabbing a pair or 2 or 5-lb dumbbells. Just remember to be careful and watch your speed as you do this.


For simpler distractions that don’t require as much focus, there’s always technology. If you’re at the gym, you can use headphones, so as not to bother others around you. However, if you plan to invest in a treadmill, some are compatible with iPods so that you can plug one right into it. Putting together a playlist of great music that will keep you pumped can be extremely helpful. You can even create lists so that you increase or decrease your speed when certain songs are on. This works with television, too. Set your pace during the program and change it up when a commercial comes on. Return to your regular pace once it ends. A little technology can make intervals a lot easier.


As another option, you can always get in a little competition with a friend. You’ll find that when you incorporate a few of these tricks, it can help beat treadmill boredom and make your workouts more productive, all while making the time fly!



Thursday, March 27, 2014

7 Common Stretching Mistakes


It's often stressed how important stretching is. Hopefully, by now, you have heard this enough times to make it a part of your routine. Even so, are you doing it properly? Learn about the common stretching mistakes and how you can avoid them.


1.) Skipping the Warm-up - You're not alone if you think that stretching is the same as a warm-up. That's a popular misconception. However, a warm-up is the time for you to get your blood pumping and raise your body temperature to prevent muscle tears. Before you begin stretching, start your workout with a few minutes of activities like jumping jacks or slow jogging.


2.) Going Too Fast - One of the top excuses for not exercising is a lack of time. So, it should be no surprise that many people rush through the stretching portion. If they don’t do that in an effort to save on time, it's simply because people want to move on to the more "important" exercises. This can lead to not stretching muscles enough, or simply missing them. Be sure you work five main areas: shoulders, lower back, quads, hamstrings, and calves. Also, spend 15-20 seconds on each stretch.


3.) Displaying Poor Posture - Let's take bending, for example. This is often done all hunched over and without keeping the back straight. Just as it's important to use correct form with other activities like lifting weights, good posture is essential with stretching. Otherwise, headaches and unnecessary back, neck, or other muscles strains will follow.


4.) Improper Breathing - People frequently hold their breath while stretching, which can stress out the body, tighten muscles and cause inflexibility. This is exactly the opposite of what you want to achieve. Stay away from shallow breathing and remember to take steady, slow breaths for best results.


5.) Ignoring Pain - If the phrase "no pain, no gain" is your motto, it may be time to rethink that. While there is something to be said about pushing yourself to achieve success, you don't want to take it too far. It's normal to feel a little pulling during stretching, but you should stop if you're experiencing pain. It shouldn't hurt, and it's best to rest if that's the case.


6.) Skipping the Post-workout Stretch - After a productive session, a few minutes of limbering up goes a long way in preventing muscle soreness. Skipping this step can limit your range of motion and leave you feeling very stiff. Using a foam roller is an excellent way to finish off your routine and stretch out your muscles. It's an important part of the recovery phase.


7.) Only Stretching on Gym Days - Your body can benefit from light stretching any day, whether or not you have gym time scheduled. Keeping yourself limber will allow for better training days. Just remember the importance of spending a few minutes warming-up before you do.


Of course, the biggest mistake is not stretching at all. Don't fall into the trap of leaving this out. You'll find that stretching will increase your flexibility, prevent injuries, provide better workouts and relieve stress.



Thursday, March 20, 2014

Benefits of Doing Pull-Ups


One of the best exercises for the upper body is the pull-up, or any of its variations. Being able to complete a series of pull-ups demonstrates upper body strength and stamina. But how many people do you know who can actually do this? Even those who consistently spend time in the gym have a difficult time at it because they focus their training on other things. One of the main reasons for this is because pull-ups are difficult. That fact that it’s challenging only indicates how much this exercise can improve one’s overall physical fitness if it is routinely done. So, how does one benefit from it?


We always hear how important it is to have a strong core, so we tend to focus on our abs. However, developing a strong back is just as important for gaining a stronger core. Pull-ups can help that. Your lats, or latissimus dorsi muscles, will receive the most benefit from this exercise. These muscles run along the top and outside of the shoulders and down the back. The rhomboid muscles, also in the back, get a great workout. Strengthening these areas can provide balance in your upper body.


Another benefit to pull-ups is that they work several arm muscles at the same time, while other exercises only work one. This engages your forearms, biceps and triceps. It even builds grip strength because of the involvement of the fingers and hands.


Aside from being an obvious great strength training exercise, pull-ups also have cardiovascular benefits. You’re likely to increase your heart rate while performing them. One important thing to consider, though, is doing them as part of a series of other exercises. In order for cardio to be most effective, it should be performed for 30 minutes. Since no one spends that much time on pull-ups, moving on to another exercise with little rest in between can be part of a great cardio routine.


In addition, there are many variations to this exercise. For example, the reverse pull-up (better known as a chin-up) focuses more on the biceps. Simple adjustments to the exercise are easy and they all require minimal equipment. Apart from the bar, it uses one’s body weight to provide resistance. However, if you are advancing and want to take it to the next level, you can add weight with the use of a dip belt. The exercise allows for plenty of room to grow.


So, if the last time you found yourself attempting a pull-up was in your required high school gym class, why not give it another try? Even if you can only do one or two at first, it’s a start. Don’t let excuses get in your way of improving your strength and overall fitness!



Thursday, March 13, 2014

Staying in Shape on Vacation


Spring is around the corner and many people are preparing to vacation over their breaks. There’s no need to sacrifice your fitness routine while you are traveling. There are several things to keep in mind if you are concerned about working out while on vacation.


1. Plan Ahead – If you’re committed to sticking to your regular routine, do your homework before you leave. So many hotels offer free workout facilities. It’s best to know what’s available to you before you get there, in case you need to make any adjustments.


2. Pack the Right Gear – If you don’t have access to a gym, there are several pieces of equipment that can give you a great workout and can easily be packed in your suitcase. Resistance bands and jump ropes take up little space and are very light. A jump rope provides excellent cardio, while resistance bands give upper and lower body strength training. Plus, you don’t have to devote a lot of time to them so you can enjoy your getaway.


3. Go on an Adventure – Depending on your travel destination, there may be all sorts of new things to try out. Kayaking, hiking trails, and bike trails are just a few fun things to discover that will help you get in some added exercise.


4. Make the Most of it – There are little things you can do to sneak in some exercise if you don’t have time for your routine. If you’re on the beach, why not try going for a walk? You’ll burn more calories walking in sand than on flat ground. Or, if you’re lounging around near the pool or ocean, hop in the water every once in a while for a swim. These little things can help keep your level of fitness up while vacationing so you won’t feel out of shape when you return home.


5. Track your Fitness – Some vacations, such as those involving theme parks, usually mean a lot of activity. Taking along a pedometer is a good way to see how much walking you’re doing. Other activity trackers, like the Polar Loop, can measure your activity even while swimming. You might be surprised how hard you’re working during your break.


We all work hard and relaxation is definitely well deserved. After all, that is the point of a break. Even with the best intentions, keeping up with your full workout while away is difficult. So, adjust your expectations and set some realistic goals on what you will be able to accomplish. Most importantly, stay healthy and have fun!



Thursday, March 6, 2014

Common Post-Workout Mistakes


We all know how hard it can be to make time for regular exercise. Whether you’re someone who is consistent with this or a beginner just starting a routine, you want to make sure you make the most of your time. Not only do you need to be conscious of what you’re doing during your training session, it’s important to consider what you’re doing after it. Making some common post-workout mistakes can set you back in achieving your goals, and it can have negative effects on your health.


1. Eliminating the Cooldown – It’s important to gradually let your heart rate return to its normal pace. Stretching also helps prevent injuries and muscle soreness. Make sure the time you allot for your routine includes a cooldown portion.


2. Taking Improper Care of Equipment – Wiping down the machines after each use, especially if you’re at a public gym, is essential for protecting everyone’s health by preventing the spreading of germs. It’s important to do this with your home equipment, too. Don’t forget to let your mats dry. As soon as you’re done with a class, wipe your mat down and let it completely dry before rolling it up. This will stop bacteria from growing and keep you healthier.


3. Ending with a Sports Drink – It’s important to stay hydrated after exercising. For shorter workouts, or ones of average intensity, you may not need to reach for a sports drink. You’ll just be consuming extra, unnecessary calories. However, if your workout was intense, longer than 60 minutes, or out in the heat, then a sports drink is a smart choice to help replace electrolytes.


4. Skipping a Snack – In order to rebuild muscle after a workout, plan to eat a snack within two hours if you’re not having a meal during that time. Refueling with a healthy snack of carbs and protein will give you the best results.


5. Enjoying Big Rewards – You may be happy with yourself for the sweat you just worked up at the gym, but don’t go overboard with rewarding yourself. Indulging in a rich dessert or junk food will ruin all the hard work you just did. You don’t want to consume twice the amount of calories that you may have just burned off.


Learning from some of these common mistakes will help make your workouts healthier and more beneficial. Make sure you get the most out of all your efforts!



Thursday, February 27, 2014

Yoga vs. Pilates


If you are looking for a way to increase your flexibility and add variety to your strength training, either yoga or pilates would be a good option. They have many similarities and people often put them in the same category. However, there are also some major differences. So, how do you know which one is right for you?


Both practices recognize the connection between the mind and body, but yoga adds a third element – the spirit. Yoga incorporates things like meditation, or even chanting, to find one’s spiritual center. The benefit to this is that it can help you alleviate stress. This type of practice is not for everyone, so pilates might be a better option if you are not interested in that type of routine.


You can opt to try the workouts in your own home with some DVDs or you can take a class. There are so many different kinds of yoga and the classes vary greatly depending on what kind you choose, as well as the instructor. This can make it harder to know what to expect. Pilates is more structured so you’ll have a better idea of what you’re walking into when you head to class.


No matter what you try, both will give you a total body workout. However, the focus on pilates is to align the spine and strengthen the core. The exercises will emphasize strengthening the abdominal muscles, pelvis, buttocks and lower back. A class may incorporate machines to help you achieve this, or it may just have you working on a mat. While strengthening the core is an important part of yoga, it is only just a part. Yoga is more focused on creating balance in the body and working all your muscles equally. Aside from small items like blocks or straps, there is a minimal amount of equipment involved.


Both of them provide many benefits. The emphasis on breathing during yoga increases lung capacity, which can help manage chronic respiratory problems. Because of the spiritual aspect, it has positive effects on one’s emotional health. Yoga also aids weight loss because it boosts the metabolism.


Pilates is low-impact activity that’s safe for anyone, regardless of your level of fitness. It helps prevent injury, which is why it’s common for physical therapists to use it during rehabilitation. It’s helpful in managing arthritic pain because it increases circulatory and respiratory function. Since it has such an emphasis on core strength, pilates improves spine health and alleviates back pain.


To sum it up, yoga is better if you are looking to improve your spiritual health, as well as your physical health. Pilates is a better option if you want to ease back pain, improve your core, and condition the body without the spiritual element. If they both sound appealing, why not give both of them a try? They complement each other nicely so there’s no reason to pick just one. You can see which one you personally prefer or continue enjoying the benefits of both. Finding routines that you enjoy will help you stick with them. Plus, it’s always fun to try something new, and you’ll never know unless you give it a chance!



Thursday, February 20, 2014

How to Improve Your Strength Gains


So, you’ve been committed to putting in your time at the gym and the weight room has become your second home. If you haven’t been getting as strong as you think you should be, there could be several reasons for that. If you feel like you are limiting your potential, pay attention to a few key things.


Setting Goals – A lot of people set goals that have very little meaning. If you walk into a gym with the goal to get stronger, what does that really mean and how are you going to achieve that? You need to set goals on what you wish to accomplish with appropriate deadlines. Identify how much weight you want to be able to lift or certain exercises that you want to be able to perform and make a realistic plan that will get you there in the timeframe you want.


Training Environment – If you’re serious about lifting, having the right training environment can make a difference. If your gym doesn’t have the necessary equipment or you’re surrounded by people who take a casual approach to their fitness, it can have an effect on your performance. It’s likely that you will be more inspired to push yourself harder if you have others around you who are as committed as you are to challenge you. Train in an environment where others share similar goals and you will be able to feed off of each other’s drives.


Confidence – Loading a bar with more weight than you’re used to can be an intimidating experience for some people. Many times, the doubt causes a bigger issue than an actual lack of physical ability. Some people psych themselves out of lifts that they would otherwise be capable of handling. Don’t let a lack of self-confidence stand in your way. If you stick to gradually increasing weights, even if it’s just a small amount, your muscles will adapt.


Technique – Just spending time in the weight room is not enough. Doing the exercises over and over again will only get you so much strength. Seeing the results you’re after requires that you work on developing your technique. Make the most of your time by continually working on how you do them, besides just the number of times you do them.


Recovery Time – It’s a common misconception that strength is only going to come from the hours you put in at the gym. What you do during your recovery time is just as important. Getting proper sleep or resting, and focusing on your diet and nutrition is essential for your body to restore energy to continue to have productive training sessions.


Don’t get discouraged and stick with it. Keeping the above things in mind can help you move past the plateaus and gain the strength you’ve been working so hard to achieve.



Thursday, February 13, 2014

Train Like an Olympian


Have the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi left you feeling inspired to get in shape? Or, are you an athlete who wants to learn the secrets to training like an Olympian? Olympic athletes aren’t born with their skills. They train hard. There are a few tips to follow that can bring you closer to training like an Olympian and give you that extra edge in your workout.


Consider your body type and know your strengths. It still takes a lot of training, but knowing what you are best-suited for will help. Some people, for example, are built for endurance, while others are built for speed. Understanding what you can naturally excel at will send you down the right path and you’ll be more likely to stick with a program that boosts your confidence.


After you know the direction you are heading in, set some clear goals. Olympic athletes don’t just wake up each morning not knowing what they want or need to do. They develop a plan based off of where they are at now and what they need to do to get where they want to be. If possible, enlist the help of a personal trainer who can guide you with this. No one gets there alone. All Olympic athletes have trainers or coaches to support their efforts.


If you’ve decided you are best-suited for running, for example, you will need to spend a great deal of time focusing on that sport. However, you still need to add variation to your routine to work other muscles and drive off any boredom that may arise. No matter what sport you choose, it’s important to make strength training a part of your routine. Even if you only commit to a basic program, developing strength is an essential part of any sport and a little time in the weight room will do wonders.


The physical activity is not the only thing on an Olympian’s mind. Getting the proper nutrition is equally important. The body needs the right fuel to function at its best, especially during workouts. While the amount and type of food they eat wouldn’t be right for the average person, there are still a few things you can learn from them when it comes to eating healthy. Meal planning should be important for anyone. Skipping breakfast isn’t an option. In fact, it’s better to eat more meals closer together, but in smaller portions. A window of three hours in between meals is a good guide. When it comes to Olympic athletes, their concern is less on calories and more on the kinds of food they intake. Sugar is a bigger enemy than calories. Fruits and vegetables are, of course, a major part of their eating habits. Most meals should contain a mix of lean protein and carbohydrates. In addition, hydration is important and it should be no surprise that drinking plenty of water is imperative.


If you train harder and eat healthier, you’ll naturally want to look to the scale. Instead of paying attention to the numbers on a scale, use the mirror as your guide to view results. Measuring body fat is also a better way of interpreting your results.


With the help of a trainer or even just a motivated friend, you can put your exercise plan and eating plan into action. The other key thing that sets Olympic athletes apart is their mental game. Remember that they weren’t born with a gold medal, and they don’t take a break whenever they get bored or don’t feel up for it. They have a drive that keeps them focused and dedicated to their training. Having the right mindset gives them the extra edge. They give each session, day in and day out, the full attention that it deserves. No Olympic athlete would be where they are today without that consistency.


Just picture your favorite Olympic athletes. You don’t have to be standing alongside them on the podium to achieve your own level of fitness success. If you’re feeling inspired to take on that commitment, establish your goals, develop a plan, and stay dedicated!



Thursday, February 6, 2014

Beat the Winter Blues


This has been one of the toughest winters we’ve seen in a long time. Even those who live in areas that are typically warm have been experiencing much cooler temperatures. Unfortunately, it has been predicted that we are heading into several more weeks of this weather. As we’re all waiting for the temps to warm up, it’s not uncommon for many people to suffer from the “winter blues.” This can be a seasonal form of depression that includes a lack of motivation and an increase in fatigue. Thankfully, there is something you can do. One of the best ways to fight the “winter blues” is exercise.


Many people embrace the winter months by reducing their activity and hibernating. It’s easier to spend the dark, cold days all curled up on the couch. It’s also harder to find the time to exercise when the days feel shorter, especially for those who do outdoor workouts. A decrease in physical activity during these months can actually cause the “winter blues” to worsen. It makes it more important than ever to keep moving.


How does exercise help? It is widely accepted that exercise is crucial for more than just physical health. It provides many benefits for one’s mental health, as well. Exercise produces endorphins, which are chemicals that get released and improve our moods. The effect can last several hours after a workout. Exercise also plays a role in stress management and can have a positive effect on our mood by relieving some of the negative feelings associated with stress. In addition, exercise elevates one’s metabolism and raises energy levels. That extra boost of energy is vital for combating fatigue. As an added bonus, exercise boosts the immune system, which is important for fighting off a cold or flu.


While curling up on the couch with some warm comfort food may seem like the best way to pass the winter days, that’s just a temporary fix that will most likely make the situation worse. The best way to improve mood, energy, and overall health is to stay active with regular exercise. It’s important to be consistent to gain the most benefits. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your diet and spend some time outdoors if you can to get the Vitamin D that sunlight provides. Just make sure you use all the appropriate gear if you plan on exercising outside in the cold.


Enjoy the remainder of your winter! Stay active and you’ll be in great shape when those warmer temperatures arrive!



Thursday, January 30, 2014

5 Reasons It’s OK to Skip a Workout


You’ve heard how important it is to maintain a regular workout schedule. Especially after the New Year, many people have been trying harder than ever to stay consistent. We’re already a month into 2014 so be proud of yourself if you’ve managed to keep at it without fail. Although we always stress the importance of exercise, sometimes it is actually best to take a rest day. When is it OK to skip your routine without needing to feel guilty? Here are some legitimate reasons that don't count as poor excuses.


Illness – The middle of winter is usually the height of the cold and flu season. Exercising while sick can prevent recovery and cause you to get worse. A good rule is to take a break if you’re feeling any symptoms below your neck, such as chest congestion or queasiness. Also, don’t exercise with a fever, chills, or dizziness. It’s OK if you’re only feeling a few sniffles or a scratchy throat and you feel like you have the energy. You may want to lighten the intensity, although it’s best to simply rest. Don’t push yourself when feeling under the weather and always listen to the advice of your doctor.


Injury – If you experience an acute injury, you should consult your doctor for the proper treatment. It’s possible you may need to take an unwanted break from your routine. However, that may not mean you need to completely give up regular physical activity. You may be able to give your injured area a rest while still working other muscle groups. Try to take this opportunity to find other exercises that you might enjoy. It’s the perfect time to discover something new.


Loss of Sleep – There’s no need to skip your workout if you had one or two bad nights. If it’s been a week or so of sleepless nights, or you’re jet-lagged, it’s a good idea to rest and get that extra sleep. Exhaustion can put you at the risk of injuring yourself.


Chronic Injury – If you have a chronic injury that starts acting up, a day off is in order so you don’t aggravate it any further. It’s better to take care of the first twinges of pain, rather than let it become more severe. You could wind up sidelining yourself for a lot longer if you don’t take care of it at the start.


Finished a Major Fitness Event – Did you just complete a marathon or participate in a competition? That’s great! Your body may need an extra day to recuperate so you shouldn’t feel bad for giving yourself a break. You’ve been probably working overtime and it’s essential to allow for recovery time. Instead of doing your normal workout, you could use your day off for stretching to alleviate soreness from any extra training you've been doing. A foam roller works great for this.


If you’re experiencing any of the above, take the appropriate rest needed. There’s no need to feel guilty or let it discourage you. Get yourself healthy so you can jump right back into your routine!



Thursday, January 23, 2014

5 Workout Habits to Break


Embracing a healthy New Year is all about getting yourself into the right habits. Everyone is trying to eat healthier and work out on a consistent basis. But it’s not only about making the time for your workout, it’s about doing it well. While you’re probably aware of the things you should be doing to maintain a routine, what are the habits that you should have left behind in 2013?


Too Many Distractions – Whether you’re at the gym or at home, your focus should be on your workout. The best athletes get themselves in the zone to maximize the most out of their time. This doesn’t happen if you’re answering texts, wandering around, or chasing after kids in between reps. Make your workout a priority and eliminate distractions to stay focused throughout the duration of it.


All Cardio and No Strength Training – Cardio is an excellent way to burn calories, which is why many people hop on the treadmill and then call it a day. Incorporating strength training into your routine will also burn calories, as well as get your heart rate up and develop lean muscle mass. Why is it so important to build muscle? Those muscles will work more throughout the day to help burn calories even when you are not in the middle of an exercise session. The most complete routine will contain a balance of both cardio and strength training.


No Variation – It’s a great thing when you find a routine that you are able to stick to without fail. However, you don’t want to work yourself into a rut. Doing the same old exercises day after day and week after week without ever changing things up can cause your body to get used to it. If the routine becomes too easy, you’re not working your body as hard as you once were. In addition, you may be neglecting to engage other muscles by not performing a wide enough variety of exercises. It’s important get a total body workout and continual challenge yourself in order to progress.


Longer, Easier Workouts – This is tied into the previous reason of needing to challenge yourself. Walking for an hour at a moderate pace on the treadmill is not as effective as adding intervals of more intense periods. Adding more intensity can even cut down your exercise time, and who couldn’t use a little more time?


Improper Breathing – When focusing hard on performing a difficult move or lifting heavy weights, it’s so common for people to hold their breath. This is something you want to stay away from doing. Practicing regular breathing, especially during the most difficult portions of your workout, is essential for controlling your blood pressure. It also gives you a boost of energy that will come in handy during those tough moments.


Are you guilty of any of these things? Now is the time to kick these habits and make 2014 a more productive year!



Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Worst Foods for Weight Loss


If your goal is to lose weight and get fit for 2014, then you’re probably reevaluating your diet. There are certain foods you’ll want to stay away from to achieve success. Even if you’re only looking to maintain your weight, minimizing your intake of these foods will help keep you healthy. Making better choices will also give you the energy you need to fuel your workouts. So, what are the worst foods for weight loss? Here is our list, along with some alternatives for each one.


1. Fried Foods – Foods that have been fried are much higher in calories and may contain harmful trans fats. The fried food that wreaks the most havoc on diets is fried potatoes, either in the form of French fries or potato chips. It’s OK to have them for a treat once in a while, but if you’re looking to lose weight or stay healthy, they should not be a part of your regular eating habits.


Healthier Alternative: Craving a crunchy snack? Try munching on some veggies. If you still want chips, opt for those that are baked. When dining out, stay away from anything battered, breaded, or crispy, and try to select grilled items on the menu.


2. Fatty Meats – Taking on a full vegetarian lifestyle can be hard, but cutting back your weekly intake will provide health and weight loss benefits. Fatty steaks and processed deli meats are the worst culprits.


Healthier Alternative: For a good source of protein, opt for grilled fish or chicken. You can still enjoy red meat if you choose lean cuts and small portions.


3. Alcohol – While it may not be fun to hear, alcohol adds a lot of sugar and empty calories. Anyone trying to lose weight should greatly limit their intake.


Healthier Alternative: Even just cutting back the number of weekly drinks will help you see an improvement. For those who don’t want to permanently cut this out, Mimosas or Bloody Marys are your best bet. An occasional glass of red wine with your meal is also OK.


4. Soda – This is another beverage that gets in the way of good health. All of the calories from regular soda are a result of sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Diet sodas aren’t any better. Both drinks offer no nutritional benefits, and even come with increased risks of heart problems, weight gain, tooth damage, and weakening of bones.


Healthier Alternative: The importance of drinking water is always stressed. However, if you are looking for something to give you that effervescent feeling, try sparkling water with a little fresh lemon or lime.


5. Baked Goods and Candy – These popular desserts are high in sugar, fat, and calories. Just one candy bar can provide more than half of the recommended daily fat allowance. It’s no wonder these foods are often associated with weight gain.


Healthier Alternative: If you need something to satisfy your sweet tooth, fruit is always a great choice. It’s also not necessary to entirely eliminate chocolate. Keeping portions small and opting for dark chocolate with the highest cocoa content available can provide antioxidants.


6. White Flour – Breads, pastas, and anything else that is made from this refined grain have been stripped of important nutrients and are usually full of empty calories. They also can raise your blood sugar and make you hungrier a lot faster.


Healthier Alternative: Switch to foods that are made with whole grains. Grocery stores and restaurants are full of plenty of options.


7. Fast Food – This should be no surprise to anyone, as it combines almost all of the other items on the list. Most of the reasons why you should avoid this have already been addressed.


Healthier Alternative: Try making some of your favorite fast foods at home with healthier ingredients. Craving a hamburger? Grill a small lean burger and pair it with a whole grain bun. In the event you simply run out of time and need a quick meal on the go, the most important thing to watch is the portion sizes, skip the soda, and select a grilled menu item or one with a lot of vegetables.


Figuring out a healthier way of eating definitely takes some planning. It’s all about making little adjustments. It should be worth it, though, and you’ll gain more energy to complete your workouts. If you start to feel frustrated, just remember that moderation is the key. You don’t have to completely eliminate something. As long as you keep it to a limit and incorporate better alternatives, you can be on your way to a fitter and healthier new you!



Thursday, January 9, 2014

7 Fitness Trends for 2014


Looking for ideas on how to get fit for the New Year? Here are some of the top fitness trends that are expected to be hot in 2014!


High Intensity Interval Training – This type of training, also referred to as HIIT, has been around for a while, but it has recently seen a surge in popularity. This is all thanks to programs like CrossFit and P90X. HIIT involves alternating between intervals of high intensity and short recovery periods. It’s a great time saver and can usually be performed in 30 minutes or less. However, it’s not for everyone. Although it can be adjusted to meet one’s athletic abilities, it’s best for those who are accustomed to exercise.


Body Weight Training – It’s back to the basics with this simple and effective way of training. There’s minimal equipment as ones use their own weight for resistance. Examples of this are push-ups, pull-ups, burpees, and planking, along with some twists to the classic moves.


Small Group Training Sessions – One of the trends that we saw last year is still expected to remain strong throughout the coming year. These groups usually consist of 2-5 people sharing the help of a personal trainer. Receiving the benefits of a trainer can be an affordable option when you divide up the cost with others.


Yoga – Another item that frequently makes the list is yoga. Even though it’s based around a few ancient traditions, it’s seen a lot of changes over the years. It’s constantly being reinvented into many new types, which keeps it from getting boring.


Strength Training – A fitness program isn’t really complete without this element, which is why it continues to make the list. There are so many options with various machines, resistance bands, and free weights that it never gets old.


Programs for Seniors – The majority of people at the gym tend to be men and women in their twenties and thirties. However, that’s expected to change as more classes are being developed for the baby boom generation. It’s vital to one’s health and quality of life to remain physically active. More people outside of the typical demographic are recognizing the importance of staying in shape and there is expected to be a rise in classes targeted at these individuals.


Barre Classes - This is the latest trend to incorporate elements of dance. It uses a combination of yoga, pilates, and dance to sculpt the body. Barre classes are designed to create long, lean muscle mass like you’d see on a ballet dancer. While many dance studios have been popping up all over to support this growing trend, some gyms have been installing ballet bars to accommodate those who wish to give it a try. It’s surprising just how intense this workout can actually be.


Are you ready to make some of these activities a part of your fitness plan? Unique Fitness Concepts has all the gear you need to make this your healthiest year!



Thursday, December 26, 2013

Make Your New Year's Resolution Last


It’s hard to believe we are less than a week away from 2014! Have you thought about what your New Year’s Resolution will be? It is estimated that only about 20 percent of resolutions are successful. We’ve all seen it time and time again. We make our resolutions and then seem to forget about them by the time February has arrived. We have the best of intentions, but many of us fall short. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can easily find yourself among the successful group. So, what’s the secret for sticking with a fitness resolution in the New Year? There are a few simple things you can do to make your resolution a success.


One of the most important things is choosing a realistic goal. The most successful resolutions are maintained because they are within reason. It’s easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm and want to start strong. Some people might be so ready for a change that they resolve to hit the gym every single day, instead of several days a week. The problem with that is the fatigue sets in and they aren’t getting a proper recovery time. By staying physically and emotionally well-rested, you can avoid burning yourself out.


Aside from choosing reasonable amounts of activity, you want to make sure the results you are after are also within reason. So many of us want to see big results, and we want to see them fast. It’s important to keep in mind that it takes time to achieve our goals. They don’t happen overnight. However, if you are consistent, you will notice many changes over the course of the coming year.


It’s essential to have a long-term goal in mind, but it’s best to focus on the short-term goals. Start small and feel free to reward yourself for the little milestones you accomplish along the way. Why not treat yourself to some new workout gear when you reach a new goal? The rewards you choose can help further you along on your path to success. Taking it one step at a time will make it seem less intimidating, and noting your progress will help keep you motivated along the way.


In addition to setting goals, you also need to make a plan. The best way to succeed is to know exactly what you need to do every day. Write a personal plan that outlines your workouts, as well as any diet adjustments you may have.


If you’re feeling discouraged from failed attempts in previous years, don’t pick the same old resolution. There may be a reason why it didn't work, and it may not have been the right choice for you. If you’ve always resolved to completely eliminate sweets from your diet in the past, try giving yourself one cheat day instead. This all goes back to setting realistic goals. There’s no need to set yourself up for frustration and disappointment if it’s simply too hard. Instead of wanting to give up and feeling like you’ve failed if you have a bad day, you can be proud of yourself for sticking to a plan that’s been modified for real success.


Keeping all of the above in mind can make your New Year’s Resolution last the entire year. However, you don’t need to feel too overwhelmed. As long as you incorporate better eating choices and stay active, you’ll find yourself enjoying a much happier and healthier 2014!



Thursday, December 19, 2013

Five Tips for a Healthier Holiday Season


Now is the time that everyone is getting together for the holidays. All that celebrating usually takes place over a big meal, complete with plenty of desserts. This should be a fun time so don’t let it set you back in your diet or cause trouble with your fitness routine. Here are a five tips for making your holidays healthier, while still enjoying the celebration with loved ones.


Curb Your Appetite - On the day of a big party, some people think it’s best to skip breakfast to save those calories for later. However, this makes it harder to control your appetite. If you start your day with a healthy and satisfying breakfast, you won’t be starving and wanting to eat more than you can handle by the time you’re ready for the main meal. An egg and whole wheat toast or a bowl of whole grain cereal would be a good option. Taking the edge off your hunger will help you make better choices later in the day.


Stay Active - Don’t skip your workout routine. If you can’t stick to your normal activity, you can still get in some exercise. However busy your schedule gets, just make sure you fit in your workout or fill your day with activities that keep you moving.


Portion Control - Most people leave a holiday meal feeling stuffed and wishing they had eaten less. So, with all those delicious dishes, how do you keep from piling your plate? Luckily, there’s no need to pick between your favorite family recipes. Just a small taste of each will leave you feeling satisfied. Or, you can choose slightly larger portions and only sample a few items. Using a smaller plate helps keep you from piling on too much food. If you feel like you want seconds, take 15 – 20 minutes to relax and converse at the table before digging in for more. This will give your body a chance to digest some of the food you’ve eaten and you may find yourself reaching for much less, or none at all. Besides, having leftovers will allow you to have a hassle-free week of less cooking!


Make Smart Choices - There are certain dishes on the buffet that are simply healthier than others. It can be tempting to reach for the ones that will blow your diet. Try to opt for the healthier choices or limit yourself to cheat with just one of the unhealthier items that you’re looking forward to.


Watch What You Drink - It may also be tempting to keep a glass of wine filled at dinner, or have a few beers with the family. But it’s a good idea to keep it to a limit. Alcohol can increase your appetite. And when you consider that each drink is about 100 calories, they can add up quickly. Substitute some, or all, of the alcohol with water. Drinking plenty of water will keep you hydrated and leave you feeling fuller. It will also give you room to enjoy those calories in the form of dessert.


If you’re on a weight loss plan, don’t stress during the holidays. Worry less about losing weight during this time, and try harder to simply maintain your current weight. Above all, remember that the focus is not on the feast at the table. Rather, it’s the conversation that takes place around the table. The overall theme of the holidays is relaxing and enjoying the time spent with family and friends. Have a safe and happy holiday!



Thursday, December 12, 2013

Build Mental Stamina


We know that all the top athletes are in great physical shape and have plenty of talent that got them where they are today. However, it’s not all about their physical abilities. There is another factor that sets them apart from others – mental stamina. Building one’s mental stamina is just as important for achieving success. Here are a few simple tips to help you.


Think Positively - It’s essential to have self-confidence and believe in yourself. You don’t have to be in the best physical shape to be confident. We all start somewhere, and even top athletes lose their confidence and fall apart. Making a conscious choice to eliminate any negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones will make a difference in your athletic performance.


Allow for Setbacks - There are times when your performance won’t be at its best. Not everyone is perfect all the time. The important thing is not to let this get you down or let it affect you moving forward. The best athletes are able to regain focus and control.


Visualize
- Many athletes use visualization as a tool to prepare them for a game, competition, or workout. It’s a great way to focus the mind on the tasks you’ll be facing. Whether you’re a golfer or a power-lifter, imagining your performance over and over again can help you as you train.


Manage Stress - No one is immune to stress, so it’s key to learn how to manage it properly. Feeling stressed out before a competition can be overwhelming. Some athletes find stress amps them up and they are able to use it to their advantage. Be careful not to let it cause you to panic. Focusing on relaxing or mediation can prevent that from happening.


Add New Challenges - Constantly challenging yourself in your workout routine will build the mental stamina you need. Breaking out of your comfort zone and adding new goals is crucial for teaching yourself how to go the extra mile.


Get Proper Sleep - Your body needs rest to physically repair itself, but sleep also benefits the mind. Proper sleep will improve your alertness and assist with making quick decisions. You should aim for 8 – 9 hours of sleep, and even more if you’re in a period of intense workouts.


Building your mental stamina doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes time to learn how to focus your mind. But once you do, you’ll be following in the footsteps of elite athletes and you’ll notice changes in your performance. Your fitness level won’t be the only thing that sees improvement. Many other areas of your life will benefit, as well!



Thursday, November 21, 2013

Interval Training


The holiday season always has a habit of sneaking up on us. With it quickly approaching, you may find yourself having to deal with a shortage of time. If your fitness routine is the first thing in danger of being trimmed, you may want to think about interval training. It’s a great way to change up your workout while burning more calories, without spending more time.


What is interval training? That’s when you alternate between periods of high-intensity exercise and low-intensity recovery periods. You repeat short bursts of speed, followed by slow phases that allow you to recover. Research has shown this to be more effective at burning calories than completing your workout at the same pace for the entire time.


What does that mean for your workout? Let’s look at walking, for example. If you’re used to walking at a set pace for a specific length of time, you would add short periods of jogging and then slow it down to an easier walk as you recover. You can follow a similar pattern of increasing your speed and slowing it down while jogging, biking, or rowing.


What are the benefits of interval training? Burning more calories is one of the biggest advantages. Increasing intensity, even for just a short time, burns more calories. You’ll also build your endurance and improve your overall physical fitness. You’ll accomplish more during your session, or you’ll be able to shave off some time and burn the same amount of calories that you were before you started training this way. In addition, the variation will add excitement. You’ll experience less boredom than if you were doing any cardio activity at the same pace for an hour or so.


Since interval training involves higher intensity movement, it can be tough. This is great for seasoned athletes who need to kick their workout up a notch. Even if you’re a beginner, you can still make adjustments. Instead of a burst of jogging, simply try a brisker pace of walking. It’s also a good idea to start with shorter, high intensity bursts. Try just 30 seconds until you are able to work up to a longer time. This kind of training will definitely help you progress.


Whether you’re a novice or an elite athlete, there are a few things to remember. Set training goals that meet your needs and match your ability. Be sure to warm up before beginning intervals. Start slowly and progress over time. In general, longer intervals will yield the best results. The length of the intervals can vary, but an average athlete can expect to alternate between high and low intensity periods that last about 2 minutes each. To see improvement, increase intensity or duration, but do not to both at the same time. Take it slow as you make changes over time and build to doing more interval repetitions.


Interval training will give your workout the boost it needs, help you burn more calories, and improve your level of fitness!



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Benefits of Weight Lifting Gloves


There is no rule that says you need to wear weight lifting gloves. It’s a personal choice. There are some people who wouldn’t work out without them, while there are others who claim they get in the way. There are a few that think they are only necessary for those with injuries. Regardless of your gender or fitness level, gloves can provide a few important benefits.


A pair of weight lifting gloves will help to improve your grip on the weights. Without them, you run the risk of your hands slipping when you work up a sweat. This can be a simple annoyance if you slip while doing pull ups on a bar. However, it can be dangerous while holding heavy weights over your head or body. Lifting gloves provide safety, which is very important for everyone.


Those who are familiar with lifting know that calluses and blisters can develop over time. Some people opt for gloves simply to protect their hands from this unsightly problem. For others, it is more than just being concerned with appearances. Even the tiniest blisters can cause pain and interfere with a person’s ability to use their hands.


Some lifting gloves also provide support with wraps that go around your wrists, which is especially useful for those who lift heavy weights. It’s a key feature for preventing injury. Not all of them have this, so it’s something to look out for. Even if they don’t, the material of the glove still offers extra support as you bend back the wrist. That can also help with injury prevention.


In addition, the wraps on the gloves can increase your strength while lifting. Without them, your fingers carry the burden of holding more weight. The wraps distribute the weight to your forearms, which can be helpful during pulling exercises, like deadlifts. This allows you to lift more than you would be able to do with just your hands.


A good pair of gloves can also help absorb some of the pressure on your hands. They cushion your palms during exercises, such as push-ups or bench presses, which place a significant load on them. If your hands become too sore, you may be tempted to cut your set short. Gloves can give you greater endurance for working out the muscles you intend to, instead of your hands.


Gloves have even been show to boost confidence. Athletes who develop a routine while preparing for their training can experience a shift in mindset. They become more focused with what they are doing, and have a more productive session.


If you’ve never tried gloves, you may want to give them a chance. Safety, injury prevention, and an increase in strength and performance are worth it. Even if you’re already satisfied with your training session, they may help provide the maximum benefits!



Thursday, November 7, 2013

Make it a Morning Workout


There’s no correct time to exercise. The important thing is getting it done, so it all depends on when your schedule will allow it. If you’re not a morning person, you can opt for an afternoon or evening workout. However, if your days and nights are jam-packed with things to do, you may have difficulty maintaining a fitness routine. One way to change that is to wake up a little earlier and knock out your exercise session before you need to get on with the rest of your day. After a few simple adjustments, you can soon find yourself enjoying a morning workout.


The best way to get moving in the morning is to start by changing your way of thinking. If it seems like a daunting task, it will be. However, when you modify your thinking and remember that this will be a positive change for you, it will be a lot easier. Attitude has a huge effect on what we do. Sometimes the simplest thing we can do is adjust our mindset. Keeping in mind that you’re working towards a healthier lifestyle will push you if you feel the urge to hit the “snooze button” on your alarm.


Having the right motivation, along with the right attitude, is also a way to stay encouraged. Design your workouts to be something that will interest you so you’ll look forward to them. There are so many different activities and pieces of exercise equipment to choose from that there’s no reason it should be boring.


Planning ahead is another way to make it easier once you’re up and ready to go. Take some extra time at night to set out everything you’ll need in the morning. If you have less to do, you’ll have more time to devote to exercising, or even getting in a little extra sleep. Try to get your fitness gear ready the night before, along with anything else you’ll need for the rest of your day.


In order to achieve all this, start with small goals. This will make it seem less daunting. Begin by aiming to fit in a morning routine for one month. When you get through that time period, you’ll notice that it has become a habit and you should no longer have to think about it. If you stay committed, your body will adjust. You can also ease into it by gradually waking up a little bit earlier until you become used to it. Start by getting up just 5 minutes earlier, and then work up to 10 minutes, and so forth until you have enough time for your routine.


While you may be afraid that this will wear you out, it will actually give you the energy you need. If you typically feel like you’re dragging after you wake up, you’ll discover that you’re ready to tackle the rest of the day if you start with a workout. This is especially true since regular exercise promotes a higher quality of sleep. You’ll find yourself having an easier time getting out of bed after you experience better sleep.


There are several other benefits to working out in the morning. You’re metabolism gets a boost and you’ll be burning more calories. Your mental acuity will also get a boost and you’ll be sharper and more alert throughout your busy day. Add that to an increase in energy and better sleeping and that should give you all the extra motivation you need. After a few weeks of committing to your morning workout, you’ll notice the changes and look forward to getting up and getting fit!