Category Archives: Fitness

Want a better booty and thighs? Try my favorite lower body builder.

squatfun

Sure, you squat. Or you should be squatting, because squats are crazy effective at defining muscle, making you strong, and will help you sculpt dat ass.  But hold the phone – because there’s one that you probably aren’t doing. But it’s my very favorite of all, and I want you to love it too. 

It’s a variation on a goblet squat. A squat that’s almost anyone can do. But I’m going to show you a “next level” squat that’s basically a souped up goblet squat. 

In case you don’t already know, to perform a goblet squat, you simply hold a dumbbell under your chin and skwat. Easy peasy. Just think about squatting between your legs, let your elbows brush your thighs, and chances are, you’re going to do a pretty bang up job. 

gobletsquat

Maybe you think you’re too strong/jacked/dope to goblet squat.

 Nope nope nope.

Changing up the kind of squat you do helps you build strength and stability in new ways, prevents boredom, and helps you work around injuries. That’s all good stuff. For me in particular, heavy barbell back squatting just didn’t play well with my hip, and at times my shoulders, very well. That’s where I began to use goblet squats way more frequently for lower body work. Not only for high rep fat burning workouts – but for sculpting more muscle too. 

So what’s the problem?

You see, I reached a point in my training where I wanted to use the squat to get stronger through my legs and glutes. Here’s where it sounds like I’m going to cry and complain about a “first world gym problem”.

crybabies

The heavy dumbbell. On the rack. It’s so big. So unwieldy. So annoying to get into position. Bleh.

Yeah yeah, maybe I’m being a big baby about it. But the act of dragging out a big dumbbell was off putting. Yet as some inventor-type person once said, “necessity is the mother of invention”. So it dawned on me that I could get around this issue and squat heavier weight more comfortably.

It’s the zercher squat.

Here’s the part of the article where anyone who’s ever done a zercher squat is going to silently say “Amy, are you high?”

No. I am not. I’m merely highly caffeinated. But I always get this look when I talk about zercher squats:

zercherface

That’s because they can be hellishly uncomfortable. But there’s a work around there too, so stick with me for a minute and I’ll show you.

“Zercher” is named after an old lifter named Ed, but the name now just refers to how you hold the bar. In the crook of your elbow. For the squat, most people set pins on a rack somewhere between waist and chest height, and scoop the bar into that sweet spot.

As you can imagine,  the big issue that people seem to have with this variation is that the thin bar, nestled into this tender spot, becomes terribly painful at higher loads, especially if you’re doing a lot of reps. So that’s why I get the look of dismay.

Photo credit wrestler power. This guy looks like he's feeling the pain.

Photo credit Wrestler Power. This guy looks like he’s feeling the pain.

Before you run for the hills, convinced I’m going to say “Suck it up, buttercup”, remember – I was just whining about being uncomfortable with the dumbbell. Instead, I want to focus on getting stronger without my work feeling needlessly awkward. You need only one thing.

This baby.

squat-sponge

Squat sponges get mocked regularly at gyms. I’ve heard them called “pussy pads”. Cue the snickering. It’s apparently the anti-badass gym accessory. 

And I don’t love them for barbell back squats: I feel more stable and better tension with the bar maintaining close contact with my back. But I wondered what would happen if I used the sponge as I had been doing for months already with hip thrusts. If now, instead of protecting my hips, I could create an elbow cushion. 

Then I gave it a whirl.

Magic, baby, magic. The Zercher squat remained stable and secure – even more so, I wager, than with just the bar. And I could load up more weight than I could with a dumbbell goblet squat.

Check mine out here:

The thing is, the two lifts have quite a bit in common:

  • They both encourage a more upright posture, which can be tricky for some who squat. 
  • Both variations are fairly friendly to the lower back.
  • Both zercher and goblet squats allow you to get down and dirty into a deep squat – good for building your butt.
  • Each lift require your body to maintain a metric ton of tension throughout your core. You don’t even have to try to engage your core. It’s going to happen if you like it or not. 
  • And both are safe to do without a spotter – at worst, you’ll dump the bar in front of you and feel a little embarrassed.

While I wouldn’t recommend the zercher variation to a brand spankin’ new squatter, I see it as a fine variation to use simply because you can load it more heavily, making it possibly appropriate for a “main lift” of the day.  And once the discomfort issue is out of the way, there’s no reason not to try.

Unless you’re like my friend Andy, who retorted “yeah but I could never Instagram that”. Get outta here. You’ll still be a badass even with a snuggly squat sponge. I promise.

So give Zerchers a try if you’ve avoided them. Just like dumbbell goblet squats, they’re a great tool in your leg day tool kit. 

 

Hate to run? You can still hit these high intensity interval workouts.

i dont run

Get more for less. I like that a whole lot. How about you? If that’s the case, try high intensity interval workouts, aka HIIT. They’ll give you a ton of bang for your buck. You’ll not only torch fat, you’ll make your heart and lungs stronger, improve your cardiovascular health, and even help yourself build and retain muscle. So read on with me if you want some workouts that’ll get you all that good stuff.

And why no running?

Because you don’t need it. If you like to run, rock on with that. But I don’t very often these days. Not because I hate it. I actually miss the zen-like vibe I got while doing long runs. But I hate how my hip feels every time I get sucked back into trying.

Yet even if you aren’t able to pound the pavement or jogging just isn’t your jam, you’re in luck: because there are about eleventy billion ways to get HIIT into your life, so choose what lets you work hard and have fun. But I’ve got some workouts to get you started.

What to know first.
HIIT is nothing complicated – you’ll just alternate periods of insanely hard work and easier work, or sometimes even complete rest. Take those easy intervals seriously– they refuel your energy stores so you can pour every bit of energy you have in you into your work. And then reap those delicious perks of HIIT conditioning.

So let’s do dis.
3-2-1
superman321

3-2-1 intervals work well on just about any piece of machinery. And the idea is easy to remember. I love that on days when I workout at 5 am and am still too sleepy to come up with a crazy, creative workout.

It just looks like this: do 30 seconds of “easy” work, 20 seconds of “moderately hard” work, and then 10 seconds of all out effort. You’ll do 5 rounds. Then rest a few minutes, and repeat. That’s it.

Try this on a bike, stair master, or rower. Just use resistance, speed, or a combination of both to get the job done.

Row Your Boat

ergpic

photo credit: Richard Greenspan

 

Have an ergometer? Then try this workout. Of course you could use the same idea for miles on a bike or treadmill, but chasing meters on the erg is fast, fun, and a full body blast. Try this descending ladder set:

tableforrow

Repeat once more if you’re up for it, or use it as a fast finisher after a strength workout.

Ride Like an Egyptian
Back in the day, I banked a ton of miles on my bike. When doing interval work, it helped my mental focus to play around with my intervals, especially during the winter when I was stuck on a trainer or spin bike. This set uses equal amounts of work and rest. If you’re a cyclist needing more saddle time, you can also sandwich this with some easy warm up and cool down miles.

This ride is a pyramid set: meaning you’ll work up in your timed intervals and then back down.

pyramid

The Hills Are Alive
funnysom

Use a treadmill to crank up your heart rate without jogging. Just do a steep mountain hike and take advantage of the incline setting. Here’s a leg killer to take to the gym. Feel free to change speeds or incline levels. They’re just a starting place. The steep climbs will be your high intensity segments – so choose an incline that makes your heart rate skyrocket. And then crank it down for an easy walk as you catch your breath.  

hillsalive

Mighty Metcons

photo credit: Tom Britt

photo credit: Tom Britt

Metabolic conditioning workouts use full body, “big” movements that crank up your heart rate quickly and use large muscle groups to build your work capacity, torch fat, and groove the same patterns you’ll use in your strength workouts. What’s not to love? They don’t always use timed intervals, but they can. Here are two to try. One uses active recovery moves peppered with high intensity metabolic moves. The other uses timed intervals.

Black Widow
Try this badass set. It uses only 2 exercises and takes only 10 minutes.

Instructions:  set an interval timer for 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest. Cycle between the following moves 4 times. Rest 2 minutes, then repeat once more.

The circuit:

Goblet squat to reverse lunge (alternate legs for time)
Spider pushups (alternating legs)

Bonus – Baller
Have a med ball? You’re set. Don’t go too heavy in your weight. You want to be explosive during your work.

Instructions: each med ball move requires focused, intense work. Complete your reps as quickly as you can. Your “recovery” isn’t total rest – it just lets your heart rate come back down so you’ll be ready to work hard again.

Complete 2-4 rounds, taking rest only when absolutely necessary and preferably at the bottom of a round. Rest 2 minutes between each round.

The circuit:
Med ball pushups x 12 (6 per side)
20 med ball glute bridges
Med ball rotational slams x 12/side
20 med ball glute bridges
Med ball squat thrusters x 12
20 med ball glute bridges
Med ball SHELCs x 12

There you have it. 5+ ways to fuel your fitness, fat loss, and fun at the gym. Have your own favorite HIIT workout? Head over to my Facebook community page and share that up, yo. We’d love to hear about it!

Three abs builders that also help your chin ups.

abs dogAre you including exercises that move you closer to doing things you’ve always wanted to do? Maybe you’ve never been able to do a chin up. Or you’d like to be able to do them better. Because chin ups are badass, of course.
 
There are a lot of factors that come into play when we pull ourselves up to a bar. A perfect chin up is a display of strength, mobility, and control over our bodies.
 

You might think that a chin up requires mostly upper body strength. You do need to have a strong upper body. Pulling your own weight isn’t easy.

There are all sorts of variations on chin ups. And they all get easier to do if you develop a powerful core. Your abs, your lats, and your glutes need to not only be strong. They need to be trained in a way that makes it easier for you to translate that stability onto the bar.

Strength + stabilizing yourself + proper positioning = better chin ups.

Today you’ll get a few big moves that will help your stability and positioning – and killer abs, of course.

Hollow Body Holds

Why you need them:  see that “hollow banana” shape my body is making? That’s the position that you’ll use on the bar. You can make this exercise easier or harder by how high or low you set your legs. 

Stick them in your workout: try 3-4 sets of holding as long as you can without your lower back kicking in. For me, 20 to 30 seconds is plenty.

Watch the video above to get a full tutorial on this one. Then set your abs on fire. 

Hanging Leg Raises

Why you need them: want to improve your chin ups? Spend time practicing perfect positioning at both the top and the bottom of the position. The photo above shows a flexed arm hang. It gives you more time holding the top of the chin up position, takes some pressure off your lower back, and helps you avoid stress to your shoulders if you tend to lose your position at the bottom while you crunch with your abs. 

You can do leg raises with straight arms too. Both versions require the hollow body position we talked about – avoid arching your back during this exercise and maintain tension through your abs and back. The link above will demo the flexed arm version. Or watch this full tutorial for the straight arm version of a  leg raise:

Make it easier by bending your knees. Make it harder by crunching with straight legs. 

How many: try 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps as one of your ab exercises for the day. 

 Deadbugs

Why you need them: for an amazing ab adventure, to learn to develop stiffness and control through your core, and as an easier alternative to the hanging leg raise. 

Think about what a hanging leg raise looks like. Now take that position back down to the floor. That’s essentially the starting point of the deadbug. I used to think this move was easy and dumb until I actually did it correctly. 

The most common mistake is bringing the knee too close to the chest. That lets your hip flexor do too much work and lets your abs off the hook. Instead, forcefully exhale your breath with every rep and make sure you feel your abs contract hard. Catch the demo above. And if you’re still not feeling your abs, it can help to try them with a band, as in the following demo.

As you can see, working your core stability translates to helping you do just about everything better – in and out of the gym. 

Want in on more training tips, nutrition nuggets, and workouts to make you more awesome? Sign up below to get more info from me on the regular.

 

 

The last minute holiday gift list for gym rats.

fitsantsaDo you have all your holiday shopping wrapped up and ready to go?

No? Neither do I. Let us pause for a moment and thank the shopping Gods for the biggest gift of all: overnight shipping. 

I’ve thumbed through plenty of magazine articles with ideas for fit gifts. Some of them are great – many of them are aimed more at “yoga chicks who like fancy mats” than what I’m into. Fancy mats are cool too. But I’d like to move into some other territory. 

From gym tools and bags to easy DIY treats, I’ve got the gifts to grab this season. 

Gym Tools
These aren’t shiny and pretty, but they are useful. And sometimes that’s the best kind of gift to get:

Slingshot Hip Circle  $25

slingshot-hip-circle

The slingshot hip circle is an odd little tool that may make your glutes scream. I slip it right above my knees and use it for hip thrusts and lateral band walks. The inward pressure of the band encourages you to press back against it. The result is you lighting up your hips and butt like a Christmas tree. You can choose different levels of stretchiness – so pay attention to the details on each band.

 

Serious Steel Resistance Bands – from $10 depending on size
serious-steel

If you work out at a gym without these, quit that gym. Ok, I kid – but these are staple gym tools. If you don’t have any, grab a few to use for everything from assisted chin ups, band pull aparts and banded hip thrusts to pallof presses and triceps press downs. I think I pull one out in every single workout.

Buy a whole set, or pick one that fits the exercise you’d like to do.

Schlep Your Stuff
I really need a new gym bag. Currently I use worn out backpacks and sometimes stuff my gym shoes into my purse. That’s sad. Everyone loves a new bag, especially one of these:

Adidas Squad 3 $45
adidas-squad-3
The colors on this bag make it fun to tote. It also has an outside compartment to isolate your stinky shoes and sweaty clothes.

Lole Deena Duffel $85.99
lole-deena-duffel
This would make a good weekender bag as well as a gym tote. I like that it has plenty of room. Yoga people will appreciate the mat keeper, and it has several pockets for stashing all your random stuff you take to the gym. Plus it’s cute. Cute is good.
Sometimes you should go outside…

Flipbelt $28.99 and up
flip-belt
You know what’s B.S. about tights? They feel so good and yet rarely have pockets. Or pockets big enough to actually hold anything. When I walk outside, I find myself shoving my phone and my keys into my bra. Then I have that weird lumpy boob thing, and a sweaty phone at the end. Did I just overshare? I know someone out there is nodding their head.

This thing is cool. I like that it has a lightweight look to it and isn’t really a fanny pack. Yet it’s totally a fanny pack: just a sleek one for sportsing.

Wearable Safety Lights $19.95
safetylights
My friend Emily jogs in a bright reflective vest for her early morning sessions. I tease her and call her “safety ninja”, but she’s smart: getting hit by a car while on an early morning run, bike ride, or walk is no joke. Plus I think these things would make me feel like a little kid with light up shoes. 

Being able to slip them on to whatever shoes you’re wearing is helpful: if you cycle some days and walk on others, you’ll be set for both. The company sells glow bracelets too and other light up pieces, in case you want to pile it all on and pretend you’re going to a rave during your workout.

Healthy cooking
Everyone likes to eat. And if you eat well, you probably like new cooking inspiration. 

Subscription to Cooking Light $9.95
cooking-light

This magazine has provided me with so many easy and delicious meals over the years that I have to mention it. I appreciate that the mag always provides calorie and macronutrient counts as well as clear cut serving sizes. There are plenty of kid-friendly recipes in each issue too.

The Skinnytaste Fast and Slow Cookbook $18.00
skinnytaste

I’ve been a long time follower of blogger Gina Homolka of Skinnytaste. She’s published a few cookbooks but this is the first I’ve purchased. After cooking many home run hits from the book I can safely recommend that you go out and buy this book – as a gift to a fit-minded friend or for yourself.

Many cookbooks labeled “healthy” don’t provide much detail for the nutritional content of each meal. Homolka does that for every recipe in the book. Nothing in here tastes like “diet” food, and she’s creative without diving into the territory of exotic and impractical. That makes for perfect weeknight cooking.

Eating in the Middle $17.49
eating-in-the-middle
I fell in love with this cookbook. Not just because the recipes are wholesome, satisfying, and creative: but because author Andie Mitchell weaves a narrative that feels so close to home. She struggled with obesity, lost weight, and somehow had to find her own sustainable, middle ground. She doesn’t demonize food nor ignore the importance of nourishing ourselves. She finds the happy place, and it shows in her foods and words.

 

Flavor Kit from Raw Spice Bar – as low as $6/month for 3, 6, or 12 month subscription.
rawspicebar

Raw Spice Bar sent me a flavor kit to try. I received three packages of fragrant, globally inspired spice blends. They came coupled with recipe cards to give me cooking ideas. One of their recipes was a bit of a bust, but the others were outstanding. I’d buy this for just the spice blends and cooking inspiration. It makes for an unusual and healthy gift for anyone who likes to play in the kitchen. Use code FLAVOR6 to get a $5 discount. 

Splurge worthy
Fitbit Charge 2 $129.99
fitbit-charge-2
Verizon sent me this Fitbit Charge 2 to test drive and I have to admit: I was completely prepared to hate it. I get most of my movement at the gym through strength and conditioning work. Using a tool to check calorie burn is short sighted. Goals like building muscle and burning fat have a lot less to do with how many calories you burn in your workout and more to do with the effectiveness of your work and your dedication to your nutrition.

Still, the Fitbit did a few great things for me:

-It showed me that on many days, I sit on my butt way too long before getting out of my chair to move around.

-It helped me see that I wasn’t sleeping all that well at night and gave me a shove to nail down better sleep routines. I’m already sleeping better.

-It created reminders for me with the use of an app that you pair with the phone. I can track my water intake, movement breaks, total steps, and more. I get to decide which things I want to work on and the FitBit reminds me to get on that.

You can check your heart rate, count your calorie burn, and more. The beauty of the FitBit is that you can use it for what helps you, and just ignore the other features. For many of my clients, tracking daily steps motivates them to move more. And I call that a win.

Other cool things: it looks like a sleek watch instead of a clunky sports tool. It also now has interchangeable straps to make it look like a pretty piece of jewelry. I’m a girly girl and stand behind this.

TRX Suspension Starter Kit – $130
trx
If you work out at home, I wouldn’t call this a splurge – I’d call it a smart investment. One of the biggest issues with home-based workouts is needing a ton of dumbbells to get going. It’s also difficult to find exercises to do for the back when you’re without much equipment. The TRX is one of my go-to tools for rowing variations as well as brutal core exercises.

Lululemon Fast as Light Tights – $118
fast-as-light-tight
I will never own enough “pants that aren’t really pants”. There, I’ve said it. I poo-pooed Lululemon for a long time because they’re expensive. But I haven’t found another pair of yoga pants that makes my butt look like theirs do. They have some kind of butt-lifting pixie dust inside them. Now you know the secret. They also last forever and feel comfy all day. Buy some for your best friend or yourself. Unlike some brands, I find that Lululemon runs a bit small, so size up.

Fun and fresh
Not Vodka Water Bottle Mini Bullet 17 oz. $25. 
notvodka

Larger sizes are available too but this smaller one makes a great gift for $25. It’ll keep your water (or notvodka) cold for 30 hours and hot for 12. Non-toxic, non-leaching, BPA free. I own way too many water bottles, but I keep this one with me the most. Mostly because it makes me smile. 

Cozy Leg Warmer by Hansel from Basel, Inc. $48.
cozy-leg-warmer
I have a bunch of crop length workout pants that I normally don’t wear in the winter because I’m a delicate freaking flower and my ankles get cold. Duh, why not wear leg warmers? Plus we can channel the 80’s. These are super luxe, but any pair will do.

Tank tops from Raygun. $21+
sunsoutraygun
This store is a Des Moines original but you can nab their rad clothes and accessories online too. Along with a mind blowing selection of t-shirts, Raygun carries fun tanks and hoodies. Pair with your “pants that aren’t really pants”. 

Homemade and heartfelt. 
Gifts don’t need to make you go broke. Some of the best gifts just require a little effort. Here are a few DIY ideas that won’t make you want to scream at your Pinterest app. 

Sure, you could make soothing salves, bath bombs, and scrubs. But most of us who work out hard also love to eat. So my picks are all things that are things to nibble – low calorie but also slightly indulgent. 

Meringues
meringues

These little clouds are only 8 calories per cookie. WHAT?? And they actually taste good. Make one batch for a friend and another for yourself. You can also easily change up the flavoring by subbing in other extracts. I think almond would be amazing. 

Southwestern Three Bean and Barley Soup Mix
beanbarleysoup-mix

Soup mixes make a pretty looking gift when layered in a mason jar. Yeah yeah, mason jars are so 2014. But they work here. Plus who doesn’t love a dinner that’s ready to go on a cold winter night? 

DIY Protein Puppy Chow Mix
protein-puppy-chow-pinterest

Alright. I’m just going to come out and say that if you put a bowl of the classic peanut butter and chocolate treat known as “puppy chow” in front of me I would demolish it. Why not make this slightly healthier, bro’ed up version – in a portion controlled package? 

Skinny Hot Chocolate
skinny-hot-chocolate

I love the creative smoothie ideas from Dashing Dish, so it’s no surprise that this blogger’s hot cocoa mix is wonderful too. Put this mix into pretty jars and give a toasty gift for a chilly day. 

Raspberry Orange Chia Jam
chia-jam
Chia does amazing things for jam – not only is it packed with fiber and nutrients, it gels up fruit to create a jam-like consistency. This lower sugar jam would make a perfect treat. 

Give back

photo credit: girls on the run

photo credit: girls on the run

One of the best ways to feel the holiday spirit is to make a donation or volunteer for a charity. One of my favorite experiences was coaching with Girls on the Run, an organization that helps young girls build confidence and life skills through weekly activities and running games. 

Have any fit gift ideas or things on your own list? Leave a comment below and share. Happy holidays!

 

Disclosure: a few links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you buy from them, I’ll receive a few pennies from your purchase. This will go straight toward my coffee habit. Thank you! xoxo.

Old school lifting techniques to build maximum muscle (with maximum fun).

titanicfunnybodybuildingBeing strong is empowering: exhilarating, even, much like Rose must have felt out there on the bow of the Titanic. Before it met its demise of course.

Getting strong makes you feel more confident and capable – for everything that life tosses your way, including sinking ships (probably). 

But I also like to look like I lift. Maybe I’m becoming a vain old lady. But I don’t care. Seeing my muscles get bigger and stronger is a reminder of all my hard work. Plus people don’t always realize an important truth: you can’t train only in that low rep, heavy range all year long.

First of all, it can be really hard on your body to train hard and heavy 100% of the time.
Second, it becomes really boring to do the same training regimen all the time. 

And finally… at a certain point, you need to grow your muscle. That means less of the big heavy stuff and more of the higher rep, lighter movements. You want hypertrophy – that’s muscle growth – to happen.

That’s how I’ve been working during the last few months. My own coach, Jordan Syatt, has been introducing me to all sorts of hypertrophy work. And I’ve shocked myself with just how much fun I’m having in the gym. My joints feel great. I’m building muscle and getting stronger. 

Like so many others who do hypertrophy training, I’ve been using several “old school” gym classics. The ones that bodybuilders have been using since back in the day, when Arnold and Lou Ferrigno went head to head to compete in Mr. Olympia. You can watch that play out in the movie Pumping Iron. It’s fantastic. It’ll get you pumped too.

pumpingiron

Which brings me to these muscle pumping tricks you should try. There are scores of techniques that bodybuilders use to maximize things that will help you sculpt lean and mean muscle.

Why do they work? Because they play on some of the big mechanisms that allow muscle growth to happen: mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage. Those three ideas are big enough that they deserve their own article.

But in short:

1. You need to be doing movements that maximize your time under tension. You’ll still include heavy enough lifting to exert large amounts of force.

2. You’ll do work that gets “the pump” – blood flowing into your muscle cells, will help your muscles grow.

3. Fatiguing your muscle fibers is a must. You wear them down – break them down, actually. And in repairing that damage you’ll grow them.

These techniques were used by lifters long before we even understood many of those principles that explain why lifters used them with success.

Serious lifters have tinkered and toiled with all sorts of  training variables. It’s key to remember that not everyone will respond the same way to them. But there are many tried and true ways of building muscle that may help you get over humps, maximize your effort, and invigorate your time at the gym.

Give these a try as you move through your training year: 

Pre-fatigue sets
I’ve been doing them before my main lift of the day. This seemed crazy to me at first. Why would I want to wear myself out on purpose?

When you’re building muscle, your goal isn’t to PR your bench press total. It’s to build your muscles that help you bench press. Pre fatigue sets help you break down muscle tissue more effectively when you work on that big lift. They also help me connect my mind to my muscle as I prepare to do the big work. This allows you to work your muscles even better during your lift.

How to do them:
Before one of your heavy “big” lifts: like a bench press or a squat, use an isolation movement at a fairly light weight first. Before I bench press heavy sets of 6 reps, I might do 2-3 sets of something to target my pecs: like the squeeze press or a pec fly. It lets me both fatigue my pecs and also get a good feel for those muscles, which helps me hammer them better during my main work. Try 2-3 sets of 15-20 reps.

 
Rest-pause sets
If you want to maximize intensity and fatigue, a rest pause set can do the job. It also lets you squeeze in some more reps, giving you the opportunity to spend more time stimulating your muscles over the span of a set.  These work especially well in slightly lower rep ranges. And they work great for not only building muscle but building strength. Particularly with moves that you feel limited to doing for only a few reps because they’re really difficult.

I used rest-pause training to get more quality reps done in my chin ups when I could only do a few at a time.

How to do them
:
Complete your reps for your set. Let’s take lat pulldowns for 8 reps.

After you perform your set, wait 10-15 seconds.

Do your lat pulldowns again for as many reps as you can do.

Wait another 10-15 seconds. Then do it again.

You can add another mini set to your one big rest-pause set. Wait a few minutes, and then do 1-2 more rounds.

Drop sets are not comfortable. But you'll love them anyway.

Drop sets are not comfortable. But you’ll love them anyway.

Drop sets
The Arnold called these “strip sets”. And no, you’re not stripping, though that would be quite something at the gym. But this technique allows you to fatigue your muscles like crazy, which is key to growth.

How to do them:
Use these as an accessory lift during your session. Start with a weight you can lift for 6-10 reps. Do as many reps as you can, then lower your weight. Either take plates off your barbell, grab lighter dumbbells, lower the weight on the cable stack… you get the idea.

Now immediately complete as many reps as you can at this lighter weight – which is usually 25%-30% lighter than what you chose the first time. It will be hellishly hard.

But wait, there’s more: lower the weight again. And maybe even one more time, for funsies. Do that. Now rest a few minutes, and do it all again.

Try 3 sets of drop sets the next time you frolic at the gym. I’m doing them this month with hammer curls and triceps press downs.

Eccentric sets
Create more time under tension to build more muscle. Eccentric sets slow down your movement during the eccentric, or lengthening muscle contraction. They also force you to maintain better control, which translates to better technique and bigger gainz.

How to do them:
Pick any move that you want to improve or focus on for more muscle building. I’ve used them on the lowering phase of a lying hamstring curl; the lowering portion of a pushup; the second phase of a lat-pulldown as I control the rise of the bar to its starting position. And an eccentric squat is a particularly brutal way to build strength and control by taking a full 4 to 5 seconds to lower yourself into the bottom position.

Keep the reps on the lower side for these, as you’ll already be spending more time on each rep. Anywhere from 5-10 reps is a sweet spot.

firegirl

AMRAP
Training coach Bridget Schmitt of Guns and Poses Fitness is also a figure pro and powerlifter who loves (and loves to hate) AMRAP sets. AMRAP means “as many reps as possible” and it’s a tool for not only building strength and muscle: it allows her to test her limits. 

“I like to be competitive with myself every time I lift. Mentally I have to push everything else aside when I AMRAP”.

How to do it:
Schmitt doesn’t always use AMRAP in her training, but when she does, she uses them after completing a few working sets. On her final two sets she pushes herself to take them to their limits – AMRAP. 

Finishers – the final burn. 
Want to make sure you REALLY fatigue and burn out a muscle group? Try a sweeping, final flourish using light weight and a ton of reps.

Jenny Leonard, aka “JennyB”, a nutrition/wellness coach with Guns and Poses, also competes as a bikini competitor in bodybuilding. She finds that many popular hypertrophy techniques like drop sets don’t work as well for building her physique. But she loves high rep finishers for building her glutes. Jenny uses banded hip thrusts, glute bridges, monster and lateral band walks, and body weight frog pumps to set her glutes on fire – and help them grow.

How to do it:
Pick a move to tack on to the end of your main strength work. I’ve been doing 1 set of 50 bent rear delt raises at the end of my upper body workouts. For glute work, I often do 2-3 sets of banded hip thrusts in an AMRAP, or create a mini finisher circuit of several moves that all target one muscle group. 

If using additional weight, choose a load that is light enough to make these hard but completable. You may have to pause for a few seconds during the work, but try to keep it going with little to no rest.

Century sets
Fit pro Tanner Baze shared one of his favorite variations for a final flourish: century sets. Perform them alone, or better yet, with a partner.

How to do them:
You complete 100 reps with light weight, and then your partner does the same. I imagined that you’d do this only one time, but gym crazies may actually do a few of these. The partner will definitely help keep you going because you may want to quit the gym about halfway in.

weight-rack

Run the Rack
Tanner also reminded me of another of Arnold’s favorite moves: running the rack. This is another workout finisher that turns that brutal, fatiguing work you do into a game of sorts.

How to do it:
Choose a dumbbell exercise for your last move of the day. Pick up some dumbbells that are heavy enough that you will only be able to do around 6 reps. Complete those reps, then put them back and immediately grab a pair that are 5 pounds lighter. Complete another 5-6 reps. Keep “running the rack” down until you hit a weight that is so light that you can easily do more than 6 reps.

All of these moves have the ability to boost your muscle building mojo. Many of them will feel hellishly hard. But your mind will stay engaged and I’m willing to bet you’ll have fun.

For the long haul, enjoying what you do and staying present during your workouts is going to help you make just as much progress as following a solid program. Stay present, work hard, and enjoy the process. Then go flex.

Want to talk workouts, healthy eats, and how to build a body that feels and looks fiiiiiine? Sign up below to get my emails delivered right into your inbox. I’ll send you Fat Loss on a Budget plus other fit goodness on the regular. 

 

 

Straight talk about how you gain and lose belly fat.

photo credit: smoking hot

photo credit: smoking hot

Why are we so obsessed with our midsections? Take a peek on any drugstore shelf. The one that has all the sketchy yet slightly seductive fat burners and diet products. Blast belly fat! Get six pack abs! Wander over to the magazine rack and you’ll see the same headlines.

When new clients begin working with me, they often want to know how to lose some weight around their midsections. 

That’s because people tend to store excess fat in a few common places. We lose and gain weight over time all over our bodies. I lost a huge amount of weight over the years and even lost fat in my feet. Yes, that was weird.

Our mid sections are just one spot where we tend to store extra fat.  Every one has (and should have) some abdominal fat. But sometimes we have more than we’d like or more than we should have for good health. 

Today I’ll show you what you need to know – about how we get it, when we might need to manage it, and even how six pack abs actually happen. Read on. 

1. You can’t spot reduce.
belly-fats

“Give me some exercises to work on my abs,” my client Pam asked as she gestured to her belly with a frown.
 
The bad news is that you can’t spot reduce your fat. You can strengthen your abs. That’s a smart idea for functioning better as a human. But you don’t get to choose where you lose fat. I know, that sucks.

But the good news is that you can still lose that fat through smart dieting and exercise. What’s that look like? 

Briefly: 

  • Regular strength training. 3-4 days of lifting weights each week will shape your muscles, help you burn fat faster, and keep your body healthy for life. Plus you’ll feel awesome. 
  • Extra conditioning work. To move better, burn some extra calories, and keep your heart healthy. Do short, intense sessions 1-2 days per week. 
  • A nutrition plan for fat loss puts you in a calorie deficit. It also prioritizes plenty of lean protein to keep you from losing precious muscle, healthy fats for hormonal health, and carbohydrates to fuel your mojo and muscle growth. 

2. The times, they are a changing: menopause.

photo credit scarymommy.com

photo credit scarymommy.com

One of the things Pam noticed was how much weight she packed on around her belly. She is in her late 50s and has been through menopause. There are a few things that can lead to weight gain, especially around the belly, when our bodies go through the hormonal typhoon known as perimenopause and menopause.

  • Dipping estrogen levels. Lower estrogen may favor storing fat in the belly area.
  • Poor sleep. This screws with your hormones that regulate appetite.
  • Less muscle mass. This may slightly decrease your metabolic rate. It’s not so much that you lose it because you’re getting older. It’s that many people aren’t as active as they were when they were younger.
  • More insulin resistance, which can lead to weight gain. 1

These factors can all make it harder to lose weight as women age. And If you’re going through perimenopause or menopause, doing a few key things may make a difference:

  • Eat a nutrient rich diet. This will help you feel better as you transition and help regulate your weight too.
  • Be willing to decrease your calorie intake. You may require less to maintain your weight now than you imagined. 
  • Lift weights. Preserve your muscle mass and improve your bone density.
  • Make sleep and stress management a priority.
  • Consider hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) if you’re struggling. Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons. HRT may decrease how much fat you store around your mid section. 
  1. There is a kind of belly fat you should actually worry about.

    photo credit: live fit

    photo credit: live fit

Doctors talk about “visceral adipose tissue”. If you just blinked, read that again, because it’s important. This is a different kind of belly fat. One that does impact your health more profoundly. When someone has a very big belly but not a lot of “pincheable” fat, it may indicate that they have a lot of fat around their organs. This is a risk factor for metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of serious health issues ranging from diabetes 2 to heart disease 3

 Doctors worry if they see three or more red flags:

1. A waist circumference over 40″ for men and 35″ for women.
2. Fasting blood sugar levels > 100mg/dl 
Triglyceride levels > 150mg/dl
3. HDL (the good cholesterol) <40mg/dl for men, <50mg/dl for women
4. Blood pressure > 130/85

Fortunately, there are many lifestyle related changes you can make to not only decrease your belly fat. You’ll also improve those other numbers.

  • Eat plenty of lean protein.
  • Get fiber through fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Lift weights.
  • Move your body often. Get more overall activity.
  • Sleep at least 7 hours per night – or more if you need it to feel well rested. 
  • Keep communicating with your doctor. 

4. Is it fat, skin, or something else?
 If you’re like me and have had some babies, you might have some extra skin waving at you too. That’s very normal – after all, our bellies expanded to grow a person. Sometimes our skin doesn’t bounce back after all that change. 

I have a lot of extra skin in my abdominal area – both from those pregnancies and losing a significant amount of weight. I remember asking my doctor about how I could get rid of it. She told me I could either sling it over my shoulder and learn to love it or have plastic surgery. So far I’m slingin’. 

If you’ve had a baby, give yourself time. Sometimes a diastasis recti is to blame. You have tissue that connects the two sides of your rectus abdominus. During times of rapid weight gain and especially pregnancy, that tissue can thin.

As a result, you may see a little pooch. You may also have some back pain. Head to a physical therapist or your doctor to get a diagnosis and treatment.  

5. The six pack fantasy

photo credit: Heath Cajandig

photo credit: Heath Cajandig

I can count on one hand the number of clients who have asked me to get them a six pack. I work with a lot of working parents, most of them in their 30’s-50’s. I think at some point we realize that we don’t care nearly as much about having chiseled abs as we might have when we were younger.

That’s a perfectly okay position to hold. First of all, a six pack isn’t really a measure of health or athletic prowess. It’s a sign of having both very low body fat and also well trained ab muscles. If you want one, you’ll need to train hard and diet down to a point where you can see them. 

abs-are-cool-but

That means a very low body fat percentage. And a whole lot of saying no to cheesecake, especially as we get older and don’t lose weight as easily as when we were young pups. You have to decide if those abs are worth what you need to sacrifice to get them.

But is a six pack a bad thing to want? Nah.

“A six pack is a symbol”.

I heard that the other day. This is worth thinking about.

We all have personal symbols of the work that makes us feel good. Day in and day out. For some people their symbol is the deadlift they pull off the floor. Or their bulging bicep. Or a six pack.

If you do want to see some actual muscular definition in your abs, you can do that. But a more realistic goal, especially if you’re a woman in your 30s or 40s, is to aim for definition and not an actual six pack. If you get relatively lean AND keep after your training you’ll see your abs peeking out at you.

Have another question about your belly or beyond? Leave a comment below or hit me up with an email at fit@amydix.com and I’ll be happy to chat! 

Notes:

  1. Proudler, Anthony J., Carl V. Felton, and John C. Stevenson. “Ageing and the Response of Plasma Insulin, Glucose and C-peptide Concentrations to Intravenous Glucose in Postmenopausal Women.” Clin. Sci. Clinical Science 83.4 (1992): 489-94. Web.
  2. Ohlson LO, Larsson B, Svardsudd K, et al. The influence of body fat distribution on the incidence of diabetes mellitus. 13.5 years of follow-up of the participants in the study of men born in 1913. Diabetes. 1985;34:1055-8.