Ask Amanda: Armed & Ready

My grandmother once told me that it’s your hands that show your true age – so many women are concerned enough about sun damage and wrinkles to put expensive products on their faces and decolletage, but the hands bear the brunt of years of constant sun, water, and daily-life activities that can’t be hidden or faked.

Similarly, I have a lot of (mostly) women remarking on the fact that while their legs stay somewhat toned as they age, and their stomachs can be corralled into Spanx, it’s the arms that really start to show the telltale signs of getting older – floppy underarms, a lack of muscle tone, and that squishy chest-shoulder area are common concerns I hear from ladies “of a certain age.”

swoll.jpgSo what can we do here, people?

The single most crucial solution for flabby, loose upper bodies is exactly what you think it is: exercise.  So many women lack adequate upper body strength (and resultantly, muscle in the upper body) due to a hyperfocus on abs, thighs, and rear ends, which makes for a rather unbalanced bod and disproportionate weakness from undertraining.

When I train women with upper body weakness, the first thing I do is help them get a proper push-up.  Push-ups are the do-anywhere, go-everywhere exercise that you need zero equipment to perform and that attack the chest, biceps, triceps, and shoulders in one beautiful movement.  A few weeks ago I wrote a full primer on how to get the perfect push-up, so if you’re one of the folks that needs this skill – go check it out!

In addition to push-ups, weight training the upper body is crucial – and I don’t just mean tossing in a few triceps kickbacks with 5-pound weights every now and then.  Bench presses, chest flys, shoulder presses, shoulder raises, biceps curls, overhead triceps presses, pull-ups, bent-over rows, rear flys, plank-rows, and lat pull-downs are a few of my favorite exercises to build upper body strength in clients – and they should all be performed toward maximum weight, for 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions, twice weekly.

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Other than weight training, there are some more superficial strategies to help reduce the appearance of loose skin, dark veins, and generally “older” looking features of the arms.  I personally like to use a self tanner to enhance where my natural triceps “cuts” would be (see pics below for how this works) and spray a luminescent body oil on my arms (this bronze-tone NARS one from Sephora is great) to make them look tighter.

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And finally – perhaps it goes without saying – but what’s good for the goose is good for the gander – so take those fancy products you save for your face and commit to using them on your arms (especially upper arms), too.  Retinoids, emollient moisturizers, sunscreen, and exfoliators work wonders on rough, loose, or otherwise tired-looking skin, and they shouldn’t be contained to one specific part of the body.  Try going half-half on your regular lotion with a dollop of Retinol, or use a dose of your face scrub to smooth out bumpy rear arms.  Treat your arms with the respect those hard-working guns deserve!

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I live in a place where “tank top season” is year-round, so having great arms is on my (and my clients’) mind all the time – so we don’t mess around with building strong upper bodies, and you shouldn’t either.  Pick up those weights and never look back…

What are your favorite upper-body exercises?  Do you like to show off your guns?

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Ask Amanda: Breaking Up Is Easy To Do

Welcome back, loyal readers – as always, I’m here on Wednesday talking to you straight about your pressing health, fitness and wellness issues.  Today’s questions are two of the most common ones I get as a personal trainer, and they’re definitely related:

  • what’s the best time of day to exercise?
  • it is more effective to do one longer workout session or break it up into pieces throughout the day?

The answer to these questions, respectively, are: whenever, and whatever.  But I fear that may be a little vague for the general population, so let’s dig a little deeper on these.

As for the best time of day to exercise, the best time truly is the time that you will consistently make part of your life.  I used to have a client that wanted to train at 6am because she’d heard that exercising first thing in the morning spikes your metabolism (sort of true, but whenever you exercise will speed up your metabolism, FYI) but four times out of five, she’d oversleep and cancel.

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Clearly, this was not doing her metabolism nor her fitness level any favors.

What I tell all of my clients is to schedule your workout like you would a doctor’s appointment – something that you value for the sake of your health, that you feel guilty canceling on, and that you don’t have to justify to anyone else – you just go.  Whatever time of day it is, pencil PEN it in, prep your stuff (workout clothes, water, mat, etc.) and do it.  Don’t ask questions, don’t make excuses, just get it done.  #toughlove

As for the second question – breaking up a workout into smaller parts versus doing one longer session – I am a HUGE fan of tackling a workout in pieces if it works for you.   The key here, which you may sense is a theme for me, is to make sure you actually commit to those pieces – for example, if you say you’re going to do 10 minutes HIIT in the morning, 10 over lunch, and 10 before dinner, then do it – if you’re only going to do the first one and then kind of “forget” about the rest, I’d rather you take it in one 30-minute dose instead.

Make sense?  You know yourself, you know your habits, be honest about what you will and will not do.

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For some people, facing the gym for a full hour feels overwhelming – but somehow, fitting in a half hour of gentle yoga to wake up and then kicking out 30 minutes of boxing drills once you’re wide awake after work feels doable.

For others, the idea of getting sweaty twice in one day is nearly unbearable, so they’ll stick to a solid 45-to-60 minutes that combines a progressive warm-up, weight or resistance exercise section, core stability training, (see one idea below!) and an easy cooldown, all in one complete package.

Science will tell you that breaking up a workout into bite-size pieces (caveat: bite-size pieces that are VERY INTENSE every time) is more effective than a single session on markers like lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and improving aerobic fitness, while for certain types of athletes (think marathoners, triathletes, or long-distance swimmers) it’s the LSD (long, slow distance) workouts that really makes the difference.

The key point of all of this is, as I said at the outset – you need to choose the workout time and type that works for your lifestyle, not the one you think you “should” do or that your friends are doing or that even your trainer told you to do (hey, we’re professionals but we’re not with you 24 hours a day, either).  Trust your body, trust the process – and know that there is never just one single path to reaching your fitness goals.

Are you a morning exerciser or a post-work warrior?  How do you use your workout time?

Ask Amanda: The Push-up Problem

If I were to generalize the one single movement that the majority of my clients struggle to do correctly, it would be the push-up.  I have clients that can squat, pull, and jump like champs – but when it comes to push-ups, their form literally collapses.  And as much as I hate to say it, the problem is more common in women than in men (due to biological differences in strength distribution, to be sure, but still it’s just a reality).

Last week I had an #AskAmanda reader (and former client!) ask me about the chaturanga specifically – a yoga-inspired style of push-up (below) where the elbows are kept close to the sides and the body is lowered in a controlled motion (not unlike a push-up, but not exactly the same).  Please note: a chaturanga is wayyyyy harder than a push-up, so I’ll address that movement in a bit.

chaturanga.jpgAs for the perfect “regular” push-up, it all starts with the perfect (full, on your hands) plank.  You need to get used to supporting your body weight on your arms, utilizing your core for stability, and setting your basic alignment in place so that when it comes time to actually drop into the push-up, the basic foundation is already strong.  I suggest starting with 10 seconds of planking every morning and evening, then adding 10 seconds (to each morning/evening effort) daily until you reach a full minute – you can then begin working toward your push-up.

plank.jpgOnce the full minute plank is easy, it’s push-up time – but don’t worry, I’m not dropping you to the floor yet.  I start all of my clients on incline push-ups, which means putting your hands on something elevated (like a chair, bench, or box) and moving your chest toward the edge of that thing.  Unlike doing push-ups from the knees, which I only recommend in case of injury (like lower back strain), doing incline push-ups trains your body in the same position (i.e. on the toes) as you will eventually maintain on the floor.  Start with 3-5 push-ups where you can actually touch your chest to the surface, then work your way up to a set of 8-10.

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Once you can drop your chest to the bench every single rep with full contact, you’re ready to try push-ups on the floor.  There are various ways to start here – you can try negative push-ups, positive push-ups, or bottom-up push-ups, all of which are covered in great detail here – until you can complete one full, beautiful, perfect form push-up (hurrah!).  And believe me – all that work is worth it, because the push-up is actually one of the most effective, comprehensive, and efficient upper-body exercises you can do – and it requires no equipment of any kind and you can do it anywhere (#winning).

Now, onward to the chaturanga – the “real” topic of today’s #AskAmanda.  Let’s be real – if you can’t do a perfect push-up, you probably won’t have a half-decent chaturanga.  And that’s ok – because here, dropping to the knees is a great modification to learn how to perfect this yoga staple – just make sure the upper body is still perfectly aligned, like this:

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In the meantime, while you’re keeping your knees down on chaturangas during class, work on developing the “right” muscles outside of class – namely, the chest, triceps, shoulders, rear delts, and rhomboids.  Great exercises for these include chest flye, triceps dips, rear flyes, and seated rows, as well as combination movements like – you guessed it – regular push-ups.  Strong muscles build a structure onto which you can refine movements – rather than trying to “force” challenging movements onto a weak foundation.

If you are looking for more specific guidance on the chaturanga itself, check out this comprehensive article on form and function of the pose – very helpful even for us more seasoned yogis!

Thanks again to my readers who keep suggesting GREAT #AskAmanda topics – and keep ’em coming!  What health/fitness conundrum would you like solved?  Ask away  in the comments!

Workin’ in a Winter Wonderland

Ok guys, it’s crunch time.  Christmas is next week.  The holidays are here.  And I know everyone is pressed for time, energy, and sanity.

That’s why I’m popping in with a quickie post – to share a quickie workout! – that you can do anywhere you are, without equipment, in just 20 minutes.

winterwonderworkout

Don’t say I never gave you nothin’, readers.  Here’s to a happy and healthy holiday season with friends and family!

What are your favorite indoor exercises?  How do you stay healthy during the festive season?

The Idiot-Proof Functional Fitness Workout

I was looking up some different workout ideas today and all of a sudden I stumbled upon what I believe to be one of the most awesome summaries of all things exercise that I have ever seen (and paraphrased):

When in doubt, squat, hinge, press, pull, do something for your core and/or carry something heavy.

This is such a useful answer to the question I get so often as a trainer:

What should I do in the gym?

Functional fitness for 100, Alex.  Planning your workout isn’t brain surgery; it’s simply putting together the most effective summary of parts so that you aren’t (a) wasting time or (b) about to injure yourself.

Case in point: I, like many women, used to spend time on “little muscles” – think triceps kickbacks, biceps curls, or thigh abductions.

go hard

You can go hard, or you can go home.

Sure, muscles are muscles and they all need work to function optimally.   But consider a complex movement like the deadlift-row – where the body must hinge, pull, engage the core, and lift something heavy – and you see why 10 reps of dead-rows versus 10 reps of arm-kicking makes a lot more sense.

dead row

The deadlift row. Please use larger weights, ladies and gents.

So what does a squatting, hinging, pushing, pulling, core stuff and carrying things type of workout actually look like?

I know, it sounds like some sort of complicated version of Mouse Trap, but honestly, these fundamental movements are some of the easiest to put together on your own when faced with a gym and a half hour(ish) to work out in it.  Here’s one example:

SQUAT – why not just um, squat?  Or add weights?  Or jump?

squat

Drop it like a squat

HINGE – you know I love a deadlift.  Or heck, a kettlebell swing.

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NOT a squat. #hiphinge

PUSH – don’t discount the humble push-upPush-press?  Chest fly too.

push press

My fave Crossfit move.

PULLpull-ups are hard.  Seated rows aren’t.  Or how about cables?

pullup

Ripped dudes make it look easy.

CORE – so many planks.  Crunches.  Lower back work.  Twists.

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CARRY – pick up a sandbag.  Drag something behind you.  Farmers walk.

darg

This workout is a drag, man.

As with most things in life, the best answer is often the simplest one.

What do your functional workouts look like?  What are your fave moves?

Small Space Circuits: The Vacation Workout

As a trainer, I am constantly combating excuses about why a client “can’t” work out.  I don’t have time, they say; I’m not a member of a gym, they wail; I never know what to do on my own, they claim.

What if I could solve all of those issues with just one simple (but tough!) workout?

I recently had the opportunity to go on a river cruise down the Mekong from Cambodia to Vietnam with AmaWaterways.  The cruise itself was amazing (and highly recommended), but being a river vessel, the gym space was limited – as was my time, since part of the reason one goes on vacation is to experience another culture, not to spend hours working out.

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The beautiful cruise ship AmaDara

Because I had the benefit of traveling with a fitness-minded friend, I recruited her to partner up with me and we committed to 20 minutes of exercise on “most” days.  I designed a short, high-intensity workout to keep both of us active and strong without wasting our precious cruising hours.

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Ready to work out!

Get ready – this one’s a toughie, as there’s not much rest and there is much running/cardio.  Feel free to modify the workout if you have access to equipment (i.e., run on at treadmill if you have one, jump rope if you brought one, add weights to your squats if you have some) – but know that you don’t need a speck of stuff to get your sweat on with this routine.  Let’s go!

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Fitness room onboard the cruise ship AmaDara

SMALL SPACE CIRCUITS

Warm up with 1-2 minutes of easy cardio, like jogging, jumping jacks, or cycling.

Next, alternate 2 minutes of high-intensity cardio (like sprinting, jumping rope, or burpees) with 2 minutes of full body exercises (listed below), continuing for 5 rounds.

Rest 30 seconds between each 4-minute round, finishing with a 1-minute plank after the fifth round.

Cool down and stretch for 1-2 minutes.

2 MINUTE RUN / 1 MINUTE PUSH-UPS / 1 MINUTE STEP LUNGES

REST 30 SEC

2 MINUTE JUMP ROPE / 1 MINUTE TRICEPS DIPS / 1 MINUTE SQUATS

REST 30 SEC

2 MINUTE MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS / 1 MINUTE BICYCLE CRUNCHES / 1 MINUTE PLANK-UPS

REST 30 SEC

2 MINUTE JUMPING JACKS / 1 MINUTE KNEE-TO-ELBOW PLANKS / 1 MINUTE SQUAT-KICKS

REST 30 SEC

2 MINUTE BURPEES / 1 MINUTE SUMO SQUATS / 1 MINUTE V-UPS

REST 30 SEC

1 MINUTE PLANK

One more step – pat yourself on the back for having a) worked out on vacation and b) made it through a really tough 20 minute effort.  Now bon voyage!

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Vietnam ahoy!

Workout Wednesdays: Mountain Biking Spin Class

Hey there fit readers!  It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time for yet another superfun playlist that I’m working on in my Spin classes this week.

This week’s theme is mountain biking – lots of technical work and one long, continuous hill (yep – it lasts for FIVE songs!).  Check it out:

MountainRideWe take off (after a warmup song) on a long flat path (double time seated) to the mountain – then proceed to hit some rollers (single beat / double beat) and a standing quick steady into a stand / aggressive / sit combo (8 beats in each position, dropping to 4 beats after the first 2.5 minutes of song 5).

From there, the hill begins – we start with a steady standing build and drop into a “power climb” (on beat with bursts of tempo running) for song 7 – then reverse it and build in the saddle and stand into a “power climb” on song 9.  Song 10 is the longest – and also the last – so we use it to push to the top of the mountain in three 1-minute tempo pushes – with resistance adds to max.

Sound like fun?  This is what’s happening in at least one L.A. gym this week…

What are your favorite tunes right now?  Leave me a comment!

Workout Wednesdays: Triple Play Spin Class

Hey guys – happy Wednesday!  Remember to check me out over on FB today for #AskAmanda (where you can ask me anything about health, wellness, and nutrition – and if I don’t know myself I will find you the answer!).

For now, I just finished putting together my weekly Spin class playlist – and it’s a triple play!  I like to segment my classes into manageable parts so my students feel like they’re going on a journey – and making progress throughout the class.

Before I go further, check this week’s song list:

TriplePlayWhat I’m doing here is building sets of three songs (after the warmup) that start with rolling hills, go into the “flats” (double time pace), and then build back up into a hill climb (third song in each set). 

At the end of the ride, I offer a 3-minute (get it? triple play?) riders’ choice sprint where students can choose whether they want to work on tempo or resistance for three bursts of 40-second maximal efforts – heart rate bonanza!

I can’t wait to ride this one out with my class on Friday and next week!

What are your fave workout songs right now?  Anything you’re Spinning to?

Workout Wednesday: Spin Class Playlists

A student of mine came up to me after class and asked me if I post my Spin playlists on my blog.  I realized that I didn’t….but I easily could!

And so a new TFB tradition has been born.  Each Wednesday (which, by the way, is ALSO #AskAmanda Wednesdays on my Facebook page!) I will feature a recent playlist I’ve been working on with my Spin classes, along with some notes on the ride.

This week’s theme?  BOOTY WERK.  Check the tunes:

BootySpin

As you can imagine, this ride gets HEAVY toward the end to emphasize the “pull” part of the pedal stroke and increase activation in the hamstrings and glutes.  I like to start off with some double time running in the saddle and out (songs 2/3) and then hit it into a steady climb to build resistance (song 4).

From there I go to power climbs (starting students on beat, asking them to pick up tempo for short bursts, then add more resistance; songs 5-6) and a single/double (aka uphill/downhill; tempo AND resistance changes; song 7).  Song 8 is low resistance recovery, followed by a 2-song build to finish with full turns, all-out power pushes, and one-minute sprints (songs 9-10).

The full ride is 45 minutes long and turned my class into a sweaty, legs-burning mess this past Monday – and we’re ready to do it again on Friday!  Who’s with me?

What are your favorite songs to Spin to?

Flex Friday Workout: Luck O’ The Irish

Ok, I get that “lucky sevens” and “Irish luck” refer to two very distinct and separate forms of luck.  But just throw me a bone here; I’m trying to do a cute little workout thing, okay?

Small sets can be beneficial tools for building fitness using heavier weights.  For example, if you are plateauing by lifting 10-pound dumbbells 10 times, this workout would suggest you lift 12 or 15-pound dumbbells 7 times to try and “max out” your lift.

As always, progress only at the level you are comfortable with – and always make sure your form is mechanically correct (or ask a trainer to help!).  Do the best you can to make it through the workout staying strong, active, and motivated to finish.

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Here’s the basic deal – you choose seven exercises (I chose these exercises based on efficiency – you work the upper and lower body as well as the core and cardio, using weights and body weight alternately), complete seven reps of each, and complete the whole set seven times – a total of 49 reps per exercise.  The exercises I chose are:

SQUAT-PRESS / BURPEE / LUNGE-CURL / V-UP / SUMO SQUAT-RAISE / SIDE LUNGE / PUSHUP

Don’t forget to warm up with 5-10 minutes of low-intensity cardio and finish with 5-10 minutes of targeted stretching and/or foam rolling.

Do you have a circuit or interval workout planned for next week?  Tell me about your burn!