Saturday, January 11, 2014

Update on Saturday Night 45 Minute HIIT Tabata Total Body Toning Workout

While we've all heard of the importance of varying our workout routines periodically, recently I've been reading that it's important to actually perform the same workout several times for effectiveness. Of course, periodically changing your stimulus is important to keep from plateauing but what I hadn't read before is that switching your workout too often is not ideal for your muscles. I usually do certain types of workouts on certain days of the week and change my stimulus every four weeks within those set types of workouts. E.i. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday are strength days and Wednesday, Friday and Saturday are cardio days. I do the same workout for a few weeks (3-4) before changing my sequence/moves. Saturdays are usually my days that I don't have a prearranged/preplanned workout in mind. This is a day I usually wait until right before I work out to decide what I'm going to do. (Freestyling makes things fun and interesting every once in awhile if you get bored easily like me). So last Saturday I was thinking of finding a new Tabata workout on YouTube or selecting a workout posted on one of my favorite blogs to try ( or but based on my reading about sticking with a new workout a few times before switching it, I decided to redo the Tabata workout from the week before. I noted it wasn't as challenging as I anticipated when I did it the first time around but I thought, like with any new workout, I wasn't performing the moves to maximal effectiveness since I was focused mainly on following along. Maybe I could've pushed it harder. I was reading about AMRAP, a CrossFit acronym meaning as many reps as possible. In order to get the most from your Tabata intervals, it's really important to focus on performing as many reps as possible during those 20 second spurts. And if you really want to push yourself, aim for a specific number of reps (higher than your AMRAP and work towards that number of reps as a goal). So I decided to redo the 45 Minute Tabata Workout on YouTube from Fitness Blender with the idea of aiming for a specified number of reps on each Tabata interval and, failing that, I'd simply do as many as I could eek out. Talk about an effective workout! I didn't have my Polar heart rate monitor at the time to track my heart rate or calories burned but I can say the workout definitely felt challenging and the renewed focus kicked up the intensity a notch. Also, since I had done it once before, I was familiar with the moves and sequence so I was able to focus more on my form (and, obviously, the intensity) rather than simply following along as was my focus the first time around. I'm glad I stuck with it and made an effort to increase the intensity because this time I really felt the burn. I did that specific Tabata workout once more before putting it to rest, this time with my Polar FT7 on and I burned 499 calories.  Not bad for 45 minutes!

Friday, January 10, 2014

New Polar Heart Rate Monitor and Review of Zumba Toning Class

I just got my new Polar FT7 Heart Rate Monitor and it is awesome! I took it to the gym for the first time to do LesMills CXWorx, a core conditioning class (think planks, plate crunches with leg extensions, single leg squats with an exercise band, etc.) and Zumba Toning, a kicked up version of Zumba with light hand weights that focuses on keeping your heart rate high while performing loads of squats and lunges and using the weights for shoulder and bicep toning. Not to mention dancing!

I actually wasn't sure what Zumba Toning was before I tried it. I was on my last leg with Zumba itself due to two less than stellar instructors stopping between each track (which allows your heart rate to drop, reducing the effectiveness of the workout) and not properly demoing the choreography (which is the worst because you end up standing there looking like an idiot and your heart rate drops while you're trying to figure out the next move). I was thinking, Zumba is generally fun (well, at least the music is good!) and not hard or strenuous so I'll just enjoy myself. I had worked pretty hard the prior days so I was ready for something on the mild side. This was not it! This workout turned out to be way more than I expected! The instructor, who is obviously a huge factor in the kind of workout you will have, was high-energy and motivating. She demoed everything clearly, periodically critiqued our form on the toning portions to ensure we were doing the moves properly and had an all-around great attitude that made it easy to enjoy the workout while pushing us to work hard.

I was not expecting my heart rate to get as high at 193!! Nor was I expecting to burn 625 calories! Definitely a successful and fun workout. I was very pleasantly surprised to achieve such a great result from Zumba. Keep in mind, I did all the high options to keep my work at maximum intensity. (It's also a plus when the instructor personally tells you you did a "great job" at the end of class!) Factoring in the core workout I did prior to Zumba, I burned a total of 867 calories. Not bad for 90 minutes!

(Cxworx is held at 5pm on Wednesdays at New Jersey Athletic Club. Zumba Toning is held at 530pm on Wednesdays at New Jersey Athletic Club.)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Group Fitness and Motivation

I've mentioned before that I'm pretty into LesMills workout classes. First of all, group fitness in itself is a way of life for me. I participate in group fitness 4-5 days a week. For me it has multiple effects; primarily, group fitness pushed me harder than I wouldve pushed myself when I first got back into working out again, after having my son. When you're a new mom, there's various factors that make working out so difficult. Among other things, your body feels like jello (at least mine did) and you're extremely fatigued from lack of sleep. I didn't actually commit to a work out plan until Angelo was a year old (trust me, it was not a fun year going without it!). When I finally did, I felt isolated working out by myself- waiting for Angelo to fall asleep so I could squeeze in whatever workout possible in the time he stayed asleep (being home alone with the baby all day while my husband was at work added to the feeling of isolation).

When I first got back into working out, I went the traditional route and began running, which was my go-to workout for as long as I could remember. Unfortunately, jogging for 20-25 minutes per day, 2-3 days per week (that was all the time I could devote initially) was doing very little to change my body. I knew that my body was just different now and I needed to kick it up a notch to see results.

I started working out with Jillian Michaels dvds right before Thanksgiving 2011. I began with Ripped in 30. If you've never done a Jillian Michaels workout, she has a signature format: warm-up, 3 minutes of strength, 2 minutes of cardio and 1 minute of abs, three circuits of each (no recovery) and then a cool-down. The workout is short (20-30 minutes) but very intense. There are four levels on the dvd and they each get progressively more challenging. Although you're supposed to do each level for 6 days before advancing to the next, due to my work schedule, I could only allot three days per week so I did each level three times per week for two weeks before advancing. The workouts were hard but I felt so good after each and the time commitment was absolutely ideal for a new mom. By the time the company holiday party rolled around (less than one month later), there was already a distinct change in my body and I was so excited to be able to show it off in a new dress!

I continued with her workouts (I tried 30 Day Shred) and I mixed in running here and there and some soccer with my husband and friends on a club team (!) until summertime. By then, I had lost 14 lbs. and was so proud of my work.

But I found myself falling into the same rut again when soccer ended and I resumed fully working out by myself. I wanted to be around others and share the spirit of a hard, effective workout so my sister suggested I try group fitness. She told me about Gold's Gym, which she knew held group classes. I went for a tour and ended up joining.

The first class I tried was Body Pump. I was used to squatting (lots of squats with Jillian!) but I wasnt prepared for the amount of squats you do in Body Pump. 100 reps per body parts for a grand total of 800! I thought it was challenging, but fun and the music was awesome! The music, the fun instructor and the feeling of "wow, I just did 800 reps" drew me in and I was addicted.

The feeling of working out with others sometimes makes you feel like part of a team. When you attend the same classes on a weekly basis, you're greeted by the same friendly faces week after week. Arrive late? Your spot is still vacant if you're a regular. It feels nice to be a part of the group. (It's also a plus when the instructor knows you by name!) Another great benefit, for me, at least, is since I know others are around and can see me performing the workout, I try to keep my best form and do the advanced options. I like to pretend that I would be an example for others to follow on how to perform the moves correctly and most efficiently. If I keep that in my mind during a tough workout, it keeps me going at my best. I constantly think about the fact that others can see me (people I see on a weekly basis including the instructor) so I cannot slack on good form even if I have to reduce the weight I'm lifting at a given time. (This is actually really important since proper form prevents injury! I also have a hunch that improper form can promote asymmetry if, for example, like me your left arm is stronger, you're fatigued and trying to finish the last set of military presses, you're going to, by default, put more weight on the stronger side making it stronger and the weaker side weaker. Just a hunch, though, and I will discuss it more in a later post.)

The coaching cues help you keep going  when you're fatigued and the fact that the instructor and others are watching you, pushes you not to stop and, as I mentioned, to maintain proper form no matter what you're feeling.

In the past year and a half, group fitness has pushed me past what I thought my limits were and has changed my body completely. Since trying BodyPump, I've started doing CXworx, BodyStep athletic, BodyAttack, BodyCombat, Zumba Toning and I've even tried Spin a few times (not a regular. Unfortunately, I'm not a huge fan.)

Although I am now certified as a personal trainer and enjoy making up my own workouts and I also enjoy trying workouts I find online (actually, I just love to work out in general!) I truly believe consistently attending group classes has made me fitter and stronger and brought me to a level I probably wouldn't have attained on my own. It's a huge motivator in two senses: the anticipation of the enjoyment of your workout gets you in the door even when you're tired and don't feel like working hard and the prompts and cues of the instructor taking you through the workout keep you from resting when you're fatigued and motivate you to continue when you feel like you can't go on. I think I just defined frequency and intensity here, and those are two major elements that make us stronger.

Based on what I've learned in the past couple of years, I truly see the importance of having someone motivate you and push you whether that be a personal trainer in a one on one or small group session or a group fitness instructor in a large group setting. I've even heard group instructors say they would never work out so hard if they weren't teaching (benefits of the pre-choreographed program, I believe). I hope to have the opportunity to motivate someone else in that same way, whether through personal training, consulting/giving advice, writing this blog or perhaps group instructing some day myself.  I'd love to be able to share the feeling I experienced of working hard, smashing a major goal and getting in the best shape of my life and help others achieve their goals. It's totally possible to do it on your own but having a motivator may help you do it more intensely and more often leading to faster and better results. Of course, it's always important to listen to your body and progress at your own pace otherwise you risk getting fed up, giving up and not meeting your goals.