Tough Mudder New England 2014

This experience was by far the hardest physical endeavor I have ever attempted and accomplished. Last July, my little brother and I rolled up to Mount Snow and seriously questioned our judgement and sanity. We were decked out in our best workout gear and covered in war paint.

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The race began with a pump-up speech on camaraderie, teamwork, and our veterans. Then BANG, it all began. Up and down, and up and down the ski slopes of Mount Snow till we felt as though our legs would collapse beneath us. The obstacles were challenging and truly required help from each other as well as the teams around us. Complete strangers were more than happy to help any and everyone that needed it.

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Water

The entire time I was saying “never again.” Now, I can’t wait to do another!

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Scarlett Johansson’s Superhero Bod

I’m not one to believe in one hit wonders, especially when it comes to a workout plan, but this move does make a big difference. Doing it alone won’t be very effective, but adding it to your workout will show some incredible results. The following article and pictures are courtesy of Self. 

Get Scarlett Johansson’s Superhero Bod in One Move

ScarJo Superhero

Scarlett Johansson rocks that magic combo of curves, confidence and fitness that somehow inspires a we-can’t-help-it obsession in us all. I mean, girl is gorgeous. As femme fatale Black Widow in The Avengers — which is in the running for an MTV Movie Award this weekend! — she looks so damn comfortable in that skintight body suit (not to mention this to-die-for burgundy gown), she got us jonesing get a bodacious superhero body, too.

To the rescue: L.A.-based trainers Bobby and Alicia Strom, who worked with Johansson while she was prepping for the role. “She really puts 100% into getting ready for whatever role she needs to play,” says Bobby. “When she was going to be in The Avengers, she wanted to be more athletic and toned.”

So, what’s the first thing you learn in Action Star 101? You need to get a core hovering in that “rock solid” zone. “She was being shot around in a harness, doing kicks and jumps,” says Bobby. “She [needed] to be strong enough not to get hurt doing stunts.”

The trainer had Johansson strengthening her core with a tough super move that combines the Inchworm with knee tucks. Check out this totally homemade but insanely awesome how-to video featuring Alicia Strom (who’s sporting super-chic Victoria’s Secret VSX Sport Line, btw). Once we nail this move like Scarlett did — watch out world, cat suit here we come!

Inchworm with Knee Tuck

See video here.

Standing straight up, bend to touch your toes, keeping knees straight. Crawling out with your hands, keeping your knees stiff, so that you’re stretching glutes and hamstrings. Walk your hands out to a plank position. Do a knee tuck by crossing your right knee toward your left shoulder. Do one knee tuck with each leg, then walk your hands back slowly, stand up and stretch toward the sky. Do the entire move 10 times for some fat-blasting results!

Work Your Abs Without Getting On The Floor

An article on abdominal exercises standing up recently posted by FitnessOverSitxy caught my attention. The article is below and you can find the complete text here.

By DualFit.com

If you think you need to get on the floor to work your abs, you’re wrong. The majority of the abdominal exercises in the fitness world require you to lie on the floor, mainly on your back. But this can be a problem for people who have back injuries or someone who has a problem getting up and down from the laying position.

You can work your abs standing up just as much as you can lying down. Standing ab exercises may actually be even more beneficial for you. They are a great way to start out if you are a beginner exerciser. Many people who are just starting out find getting down to the floor to perform crunches a bit difficult. If you begin by working your abs in the standing position, you can give your abdominal muscles a little time to warm up and get stronger before getting to the more advanced level. Now, this isn’t to say that standing ab exercises are just for beginners. They are great for everyone.

Benefits Of Working Abs While Standing
The biggest benefit of standing ab exercises is a lower risk of injury. Ab moves that are performed on the floor are not always done correctly. The basic crunch, for example, requires you to lift your neck and shoulders up off the ground. Unless they have a trainer, the majority of people do it wrong. They hold on to their neck and pull it up to get themselves off the ground. This isn’t going to work the abs and it will strain your neck. During standing moves, you don’t have this problem. It is much easier to control your neck and shoulders in a standing ab move then it is on the floor.

Another big benefit is the effectiveness of each exercise. When you are performing moves on the floor, you can only go so far. Exercises that are done on the floor sometimes involve the legs way more than they should. A lot of people tend to use their hip flexors rather than their abs. (Hip flexors are located in the front of your thigh.) Many people also tend to use their hands as well to perform some moves. During a sit-up, a lot of people swing their arms out in front of them to get their body off the floor. If you are doing that, you’re not really working the abs because you are using your arms to get up. While performing a reverse crunch, people tend to press their palms down on the floor. This also isn’t going to work the abs effectively.

So you can see that there are many downfalls to working your abs on the floor. Working your abs standing will make sure you do a safe and effective workout. If you aren’t convinced that you can get a successful ab workout standing up, perform these moves the next time you work your abs.

1) Knee Cross Crunch
This move is going to work every muscle in your stomach. To perform this move: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in one hand. Extend the arm with your dumbbell over head and put your other hand on your hip for balance. Now lower the arm that was in the air as you simultaneously bring the opposite knee up across the body so that your elbow and your knee meet. Hold this position for about a second and perform the desired number of reps. When done with one side, complete the same thing on the other side.

It’s important to make sure you are getting your knee above the hips during this move. This is what is going to target your lower abs. (The dumbbell is optional. If you are just starting out, you can perform this move only using your bodyweight.)

2) Standing Bicycle Crunch
Think you need to perform bicycle crunches on a mat? Think again. This move works the same muscles that the bicycle crunch does — all of them.

To perform this move: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows out and back in line with your shoulders. Bend one knee up across the body making sure it comes at least to hip height. Keeping the knee in the air, bend the opposite side of your upper body toward the lifted knee so that you can feel the crunch. Return back to the starting position and perform the desired number of reps, alternating sides. After you do this move, you may never do bicycle crunches on the floor again.

3) The Repeater
This move, derived from a step aerobics class, awesome because not only is it a killer ab exercises but it also provides a bit of a cardio and leg workout. Since this move is used mostly in a step class, you can use a step if you’d like but it’s not necessary. It’s just as good a move on the flat floor.

To perform this move: Stand with your body on angle with one leg in the front with the knee slightly bent and the other leg in the back straight but not locking the knee. You are going to place both of your hands up above your head (your body should be on an angle, you shouldn’t be standing up straight.) Bring the knee in the front up as you pull your arms down to put the knee. Pretend that you are holding a coconut in your hands and you are trying to break it using your knee. Perform this move a pretty fast pace. When you are done doing the desired number of reps, repeat the same move on the other side.

Progress and Naming Conundrum

After a full two months of professional training at Mirabella under head trainer Vanessa Karlewicz, my horse is doing fantastic!

During the first few weeks of riding, our initial concerns were teaching him how to properly move out off the leg. He developed a liking for poking along and breaking to a walk whenever possible. Now that he is past that, the current strategy is to pursue more supple gaits and teach him to understand softening and trotting and cantering at various speeds and levels of collection.

As the title of this post notes, I am having some difficulties in the naming department. I purchased my gorgeous 4 year old Friesian Holsteiner Cross with the name Cornelius, barn name Junior. I am not a fan of either. I did not pursue changing it right away as I was waiting for his papers and the bill of sale from the owner. Now that I have all the paperwork required for a formal name change, I am lost as to the name.

Initially I was leaning towards Ozymandias, after Ramses the Great and the poem by Percy Shelley. I would call him Ozzy. As there is already an Oz at my barn, that presents a small problem. Other names that I have been considering are Movado, Leonidas and Oberon.

Please let me know what you think. I’ve a few friends leaning towards Leonidas with the nickname Leo. It seems to suit him well.

Eyes Set on Horses

I bought a horse…

I may have lost my mind entirely.

But it is so worth it.

However, it is bankrupting me.

I have always been obsessed with Friesians. They are STUNNING. Gorgeous long flowy manes and tails, solid black coat, and incredible movement. Ever since I first laid eyes on them I have dreamed of owning my own one day. I actually added it to my bucket list – raising a horse, preferably a Friesian.

I came across a breeder’s website located about 1.5 hours from my home. She had a beautiful filly posted on the site, but when I called, the filly had already been sold. However, she had a 4 year old Friesian(75%) / Holsteiner(25%) gelding named Cornelius “Junior” currently for sale. Without any true intention of purchasing, I decided it could not hurt to take a look.

Unsure of what to expect, my mother and I drove up to her property to find an old backyard barn surrounded by fields with a handful of stunning Friesian horses grazing. Cornelius took my breath away. Solid black, full mane and tail, huge expressive eyes, sweet disposition, perfect. He was young, frisky, with practically no training. I fell in love.

Within a week I had him trailered to a stable in upstate New York for a week long trial with a very talented trainer. Here is a video from our first session:

After an interesting first week with my trainer working with him, I decided to take the leap and make a purchase of a lifetime. It was a quick decision for a very long and expensive commitment. I may have acted rashly and during a time of despair (death of my cousin), but it is something I have dreamed about since I was a little girl and it was finally becoming a reality.

Look forward to more pictures and videos! He is doing very well, solid at the walk/trot and catching on quick at the canter as well as with ground poles.

Top 10 Female Strength Training Questions (and Answers)

by Melissa Hinkley
Date Released : 26 Jan 2012

The female body. Why is there so much confusion when it comes to building the ideal female body? Perhaps it is because many fitness professionals are just as confused as their clients. Should you use female specific programs, or just grab a program out of Men’s Health? And where does resistance training come into the picture? Is cardio better than lifting weights when trying to drop a pant size?

As an educated fitness professional, you are in the perfect position to clear up the confusion. It is no surprise that most women are not content with their bodies. They hear celebrities claim that lifting light weights is how they stay thin. Women see advertisements showing thin yogis saying that Pilates and yoga will give them the “long” and “lean” muscles that are so desirable. Then they read magazines stating that cardio is the only way to burn those extra pounds hanging around the mid-section. But what does research say about this dilemma? The solution goes by many names: resistance training, lifting weights, strength training. Whatever you choose to call it, one thing is for sure: it works.

Let’s look at the 10 most common strength training questions asked by female clients, so you’ll be ready to answer them when they inevitably arise.

Question #1 – How much weight should I use?

Oh, the dilemma between light and heavy weights. Some celebrity trainers swear by using only very light weights for a ridiculous number of repetitions. What does research say about this? There are hundreds of studies showing greater strength improvements in men when using heavier loads, but the literature on females is much more scarce. However, there are several studies examining the difference between using light and heavy weights with women. The results are clear: heavier weights increase muscular strength and decrease body fat more then light weights, even in women (Tsourlou, 2003). To explain this to a client, just tell her that the more work she does, the more calories she will burn.

There is a very easy way to help your clients understand this: Have doubtful clients perform a set of step-ups on a box holding a 2 lb. weight in each hand, and then perform another set using 20 lb. weights in each hand. The heavier weight will obviously be harder, meaning it requires more work. More work, more calories burned, equals better results. Does circuit training do the same thing? Yes, if done properly. But studies have shown that performing three sets of each exercise is more beneficial than performing just one set (Schlumberger, 2001).

The real problem with circuits is that many people only perform one set of each exercise.

Question #2 – Won’t I get bulky?

Absolutely not, unless you train specifically for that. Girls were not created to get bulky. Hormones start flowing when puberty begins, and that is the turning point where boys start getting manly and girls become more womanly. Guys develop their muscular physiques because they produce more testosterone and growth hormone, which plays a large role in increasing muscle mass and strength. Females get their curvier physiques because they produce estrogen and limited amounts of testosterone and growth hormone. In fact, women produce less then 10% of the amount of testosterone that men produce (Haff, 2008). Estrogen plays an important, and slightly annoying, role of storing fat.

These hormonal differences are the biggest reason that men are able to hypertrophy to a greater extent then women. Hypertrophy (gaining muscle size) happens when contractile elements enlarge and the extracellular matrix expands in order to support more growth (Schoenfeld, 2010). This happens in both genders, but studies comparing strength gains between men and women on the same resistance training program have shown that men increase strength more then women, especially in the upper body (Kell, 2011). This is mainly due to their higher levels of fat-free mass.

In summary: no, women are not going to get bulky from lifting. An increase in muscle size will occur after 6-8 weeks of resistance training, but this will not lead to bulkiness.

Question #3 – Should I include yoga and Pilates in my training?

Both are fine forms of exercise. However, take a look at the typical female client. Most often, we see female clients who are on a tight schedule and are looking to lose a few pounds. If they have a few hours a day to spend in the gym, then I’d say yoga and Pilates are a great addition to strength training. But if your clients are strapped for time, then those forms of exercises are not optimal. Any type of exercise where you spend more time lying down then standing is not going to cause major weight loss. Have you ever met someone who lost significant amounts of weight doing either yoga or Pilates? Thin people tend to do these forms of exercises, so they stay thin and get slightly stronger, but there are some drawbacks from these types of exercises, the biggest being the lack of axial loading, meaning performing exercise with weight on your back.

As women age, osteoporosis and decreased bone mineral density (BMD) is inevitable, so women must work hard to maintain their BMD. The only way to do so is to perform weight-bearing activities. Walking and jogging are considered weight-bearing activities, but they only increase BMD in certain areas. In order to substantially increase BMD, females must perform things like squatting, lunging and deadlifting with a significant amount of weight.

Question #4 – Won’t I get tight and inflexible if I lift?

No, training with a full range of motion during your lifts will actually increase flexibility (Morton, 2011). Many athletes in the mid-1900s used to stay away from lifting because of the belief that their performance would be hindered from being musclebound. That belief is long gone and has been disproved by research. Just compare pictures of Larry Bird (chicken legs) to LeBron James (tree trunk legs). The point is that resistance training can actually increase flexibility, which is great for typical female clients and also female athletes (Haff, 2006).

Question #5 – How hard do I have to work?

Research has shown that intensity is likely the most important factor to stimulate muscle growth (Schoenfeld, 2010). A repetition range of 1-12 reps has elicited greater muscle hypertrophy then a high repetition range. More specifically, some research has suggested that 6-12 repetitions is the optimal range, when performed at greater than 65% of your 1 repetition maximum (1-RM). This doesn’t mean that you need to train your female clients to failure, though. Training to failure, or the inability to perform another repetition, has been linked with psychological burnout and overtraining (Schoenfeld, 2010).

As a personal trainer, how do you do this practically? Unless you are working with female athletes, it may be impractical to test your client’s 1-RMs in every lift. Experience will allow you to estimate and give your clients the proper weight. If a client easily performs 10 squat and presses, give them more weight the next set.

Question #6 – What if I have been lifting for years but haven’t seen results in months?

The simple answer: periodization. Many clients and trainers make the mistake of performing the same amount of reps with the same amount of weight for weeks and weeks. If your clients perform 3 sets of 12 in every exercise each and every week, then this would be considered a non-periodized program. Research has shown that periodized programs can elicit greater strength gains then non-periodized programs (Kell, 2011). Periodization is planned variation to a program. A periodized program can consist of changing volume and intensity daily or weekly. Don’t miss this part. This is your golden nugget as a personal trainer. You can take your clients stagnant routine and transform it into a program that gives results.

To incorporate this into your client’s routine, first decide if you are going to use linear or non-linear periodization. Linear means that you will gradually decrease training volume and increase intensity over a period of 4-5 weeks, while nonlinear means you will change volume and intensity each week (Prestes, 2009). The table below is a simple example of various programs to help guide your exercise programming with female clients.

Program Non-Periodized Linear Periodized Nonlinear Periodized
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
3×12  M/W/F
3×12  M/W/F
3×12  M/W/F
3×12  M/W/F
3×12  M/W/F
3×10  M/W/F
3×8    M/W/F
3×6    M/W/F
3×12 M – 3×8 W – 3×10 F
3×8   M – 3×6 W – 3×10 F
3×12 M – 3×8 W – 3×10 F
3×8    M – 3×6 W – 3×10 F

Question #7 – Don’t the elliptical and treadmill make me stronger?

To fitness professionals, this question sounds ridiculous, but you would be surprised how often it is asked. It’s amazing how many females chose to tediously watch the calorie counter on the elliptical until it clicks to 1,000 calories.

First of all, do you really think you are burning 1,000 calories in less than an hour? Second, do you really think it is increasing strength? And on a side note, there have to be more enjoyable ways to exercise!

There are cardiovascular benefits to these types of exercises, but research has shown that similar gains can be achieved more quickly through high intensity interval training (HIIT), sometimes called Tabata training (Tanisho, 2011). Essentially, HIIT consists of short intervals of all-out effort, followed by short recovery times. The cool part is the workouts are very short, but very effective. Even better, these shorter workouts could have more cardiovascular benefits then long, slow aerobic exercise (Schoenfeld, 2009).

Tell your clients to forget about the “fat burning zone” because research shows that more calories are burned with HIIT then traditional aerobic exercise. It is true that more fat is burned during traditional aerobic exercise, but studies indicate greater overall fat reduction with HIIT programs (Tremblay, 2004).

Question #8 – What about taking group weight training classes, such as Bodypump?

A group weight training class typically lasts 50-60 minutes and separates muscle groups by tracks lasting approximately 5-6 minutes (Stanforth, 2001). Each track incorporates around 100 repetitions for each muscle group. From strength training literature, it is evident that untrained individuals will see strength and cardiovascular improvements following almost any type of exercise. However, most of these improvements occur in the first 4 weeks and then this is where the dreaded plateau makes its appearance. As discussed before, much of the benefits of strength training come from intensity, periodization, and adequate amount of resistance. None of these factors are seen in a typical group training class. However, participants in this type of class will still expend calories, learn basic weight training form, and could be motivated to stay more active. A group weight training class can be used in conjunction with typical strength training, but it should not replace it.

Question #9 – Why should I want to get stronger?

Building muscle takes work. Work takes energy. And what is energy? Calories. In order to build muscle, our bodies must go through a complex process of sending in hormones, regulating satellite cells, assembling amino acids, and finally synthesizing proteins.

And how about sheer confidence gain? Carry a 100 lb. bag of sand half a mile, do 50 push-ups, and sprint back, then see what happens to your confidence level.

Question #10 – What kind of strength training exercises should I do?

The literature on female strength training programming can be misleading, even for fitness professionals. The limited studies with women use training protocols with exercises such as leg extensions, hamstring curls, and hip extensions. These are not optimal exercises. The typical weight loss client needs to get the most “bang for their buck.” That means full body, compound exercises.

If you are a personal trainer, then this is good news for you because any average Jane can sneak into the gym and do a few bicep curls, tricep extensions, and leg extensions. But very few female clients have the confidence to walk into a weight room full of musclebound, grunting men and claim the squat rack. That’s where you, the personal trainer, come into the picture. If you have an arsenal of full body, calorie-scorching exercises, then you will be the most sought-after trainer in the gym.

Structuring a lifting workout for women is fairly simple. Emphasize the compound lifts, and add in the accessory lifts if there is time.

For example, below are some of your bigger, more important lifts:

  • Single arm snatch
  • Lunges
  • Renegade rows
  • Sumo squats
  • Push-ups
  • Squat and press
  • Rows
  • Romanian Deadlifts
  • Pull-ups
Renegade Row Side Lunge
Deadlift Liberty Lunge Front Squat

These are your extras (if you have time):

  • Bicep curls
  • Tricep extensions
  • Lat pulldowns
  • Lateral raises

References

Abe, T, Dehoyos, DV, Pollock, ML, and Garzarella, L. (2000). Time course for strength and muscle thickness changes following upper and lower body resistance training in men and women. European Journal of Applied Physiology 81:174–180.

Haff, G., Jackson, J., Kawamori, N., Carlock, J., Hartman, M., Kilgore, J., Morris, R., Ramsey, M., Sands, W., Stone, M. (2008). Force-time curve characteristics and hormonal alterations during an eleven-week training period in elite women weightlifters. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 22(2): 433-446.

Haff, G. (2006). Roundtable discussion: flexibility training. Strength and Conditioning Journal 28(2): 64-85.

Kell, R. (2011). The influence of periodized resistance training on strength changes in men and women. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 25(3): 735–744.

Kistler, B., Walsh, M., Horn, T., and Cox, R. (2010). The acute effects of static stretching on the sprint performance of collegiate men in the 60- and 100-M dash after a dynamic warm-up. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24(9): 2280-2284.

Linnamo, V., Pakarinen, A., Komi, P., Kraemer, W., and Kiknen, K. (2005). Acute hormonal responses to submaximal and maximal heavy resistance and explosive exercises in men and women. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 19(3): 566-571.

Morton, S., Whitehead, J., Brinkert, R., and Cane, D. (2011). Resistance training vs. static stretching: effects on flexibility and strength. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 25(X): 1-8.

Tanisho, K., and Hirakawa, K. (2009). Training effects on endurance capacity in maximal intermittent exercise: comparison between continuous and interval training. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23(8): 2405–2410.

Tremblay, A., Simoneau J., and Bouchard, O. (1994). Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism. Metabolism 43: 814–818.

Schoenfeld, B. and Dawes, J. (2009). High-intensity interval training: applications for general fitness training. Strength and Conditioning Journal 31(6): 1-3.

Schoenfeld, B. (2010). The mechanism of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24(10): 2857-2872.

Schlumberger, A., Stec, J., Schmidtbleicher, D. (2001). Single- vs. multiple-set strength training women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 15(3): 284-289.

Scott, C., Leighton, B., Ahearn, K., and McManus, J. (2011). Aerobic, anaerobic and excess post exercise oxygen consumption energy expenditure of muscular endurance and strength: 1-set of bench press to muscular fatigue. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 25(4): 903–908.

Tsourli, T., Gerodimos, V., Kellis, E., Stavropoulos, M., Kellis, S. (2003). The effects of a calisthenics and a light strength training program on lower limb muscle strength and body composition in mature women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 17(3): 590-598.