Step(mill) It Up!

The stepmill tends to be one of the most utilized (yet least in number) machines in a gym. They are in pretty high demand … and for good reason. For the most part, the only times I’ve ever seen more than one of the seven we have at XSport in Alexandria are when it’s either early in the morning on the weekend, or when one is out of service.

So, why the appeal? Because it’s freaking hard.

I spent 30 minutes at the end of my workout tonight doing the routine I try to do on the rare occasion that I either 1. actually find one open, or 2. convince myself to hop up onto that beast. Which got me thinking … I found my topic for today.

The great thing about the stepmill is that you can get one heck of a great workout, and it really doesn’t take that long to start sweating buckets. Because of the sheer difficulty of extensive stair-climbing, your heart rate gets up quick and stays there (meaning major calorie burn) – and it’s great work for the lower body (you’ll feel those legs and glutes burning after just a few minutes).

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your time on the stepmill:

  • Stand up straight. One of the absolute worst things you can do on any machine, but especially the stepmill, is cling for dear life. Leaning on the machine will cut your calorie burn by as much as 40% (yikes!). Don’t be afraid to gently hold the bars – it will help you with stability (especially if you’re climbing doubles) – but make sure your body remains upright.
  • Vary your speed. Go fast, go slow … you can do some seriously tough intervals. You’ll find as you get stronger, you’ll be able to climb quicker … though you’ll find even if you’re moving slow, you’ll still be working harder than you expect!
  • Switch positions. Don’t just climb single stairs facing front. You can take doubles, or climb sideways (single or double stairs).  Mix things up, and you’ll hit different muscles in your thighs and butt – meaning greater toning opportunities.
  • Hours aren’t necessary. Trust me, you aren’t going to want to do more than 20 or 30 minutes on this baby. You’ll torch lots of calories, and it only takes a couple minutes to start dripping sweat.

Bottom line? The stepmill looks incredibly intimidating, but it’s absolutely a challenge worth taking on. So get climbing!

Make Sure Your Snacks Are Healthy … Not “Healthy”

I feel like I’m constantly having the conversation with my parents about foods being actually healthy, or just appearing that way. My dad is usually the main offender – he’ll be convinced something is “healthy” because the front label is screaming “low fat” or “only XX calories.” What I always need to explain is that low fat doesn’t necessarily equal healthy … especially when there is extra sugar and empty carbs used to make up for the taste.

Keep in mind that a little fat is not bad for you – as long as it’s the good kind of fat – and that sugar (often used to replace the fat to keep taste), though naturally fat-free, is like any other calorie – if it doesn’t get used, it will be converted to fat. And let’s be honest … as a society, we eat WAY more sugar than we should (and yes, I’m guilty of that one, too … you’d be AMAZED how quickly you consume more sugar than you should eat in a day). But sugar isn’t the only culprit: there are plenty of chemicals, food dyes, and empty, stripped down carbs that contribute nothing to our diets, but potentially do contribute to our waistlines.

Here are a few things to think about as you’re doing your weekly grocery shopping. Bottom line? Make sure to actually read the entire label to see what you’re actually eating … without the flashy marketing trying to convince you that junk is actually good for you.



Elite Athletes Don’t Give Up – Why Should You?

With the NFL Draft kicking off last night, I got to thinking about the excitement and anticipation that each of these NFL-bound college stars are experiencing this weekend. Listening to some of the stories these men shared – personal health scares, parents’ illnesses, poor upbringings – and having read about the sheer volume of tragedy that Clemson’s own 2013 first-rounder (in case you missed it, DeAndre “Nuk” Hopkins was the #27 pick, chosen by the Houston Texans) – it hasn’t always been an easy road to success. The one thing that I find so impressive about these men, that rings true with so many elite athletes: their positive attitudes and their incredible determination to be the best at their position and at their sport.

Though most elite athletes are born with an innate and natural talent, they have to put in the same time and hard work that us “normal” people do to find success. But the one component that both the elite athlete and the weekend warrior do have in common? The mental element. It really does play a big part in not only wanting to succeed, but envisioning yourself as a success. Not only thinking you can be stronger, or faster, or better … but knowing you will be.

By this time of the year, many a casual exerciser has thrown in the towel. They got bored. They got busy. They weren’t seeing the results they wanted. They did see the results they wanted (just a heads up on that one: putting the weight back on is easier than taking it off … again). If you met your goals, great. It’s time to start working towards a new one. If you didn’t, why did you give up? Elite athletes don’t stay elite by being satisfied by what they’ve accomplished – they find the little things they can make even better. They don’t give up because they miss a catch, or come in last, or lose a game – the pick up, dust off, and think about what went wrong, and how to make it right next time.

It’s easy, too, to let the “stuff” of everyday life get in the way. But if you pay attention to sports, you see the struggles and the tragic stories that many of these elite athletes – people many grown adults admire and children look up to, even idolize – and they still come out on top. It’s not because they are lucky (for the most part). It’s not because they are rich (some of the greatest players have come from nothing). It’s because they recognize their talent, and they do what it takes to help ease the pain in their lives. Though many of the wrongs in life can’t be righted, and many of the struggles can’t be forgotten, and disease and injury doesn’t always go away, they don’t let their misfortunes bring them down. They use them as motivation. A source of fire. A reason to be not only the best they can be – but the best, period.

Bottom line, if you’re in a rut, or on the brink of giving up (or already have), check your attitude – a little positive thinking goes a long way. Check your head – it will try to tell you that you can’t do something your body is very capable of doing … so don’t let those negative thoughts hold you back. And perhaps most importantly, let the bad situations fuel you. A good workout should be a release … and on those worst days, the harder you push, the better you will feel when you’re done.

Now, on to the second and third round today … and the question being, where will Andre Ellington end up playing next fall (we should – hopefully – find out this evening)?

Spinning Playlist – April 25, 2013

Happy Draft Day Thursday! I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited to see where our favorite college stars end up on Pro rosters this weekend. But on to the more pressing issue of the moment … tonight’s ride. I introduced one new song tonight, and I have to say (yes, I know, I always say this), I am absolutely in love with it.

Straight off the saddle, here’s tonight’s Spinning playlist:

Warm-up (Start Flat Road; Resistance 3-4 on a Scale of 10)
Can’t Hold Us – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis ft. Ray Dalton

Building Block #1 (Start Resistance 5, Build to 9)
Feel This Moment – Pitbull ft. Christina Aguilera
Part of Me – Katy Perry
Feel So Close – Calvin Harris
Uprising – Muse

Building Block #2 (Start Resistance 4-5, Build to 9+)
Turn Me On – David Guetta ft. Nicki Minaj
The Other Side – Jason DeRulo
Rest of My Life – Ludacris ft. Usher and David Guetta
Airplanes – B.o.B. ft. Hayley Williams
Funhouse – Pink
Find Your Love – Drake

Building Block #3 (Start Resistance 4-5, Build to 7+)
Scream – Usher
When Love Takes Over – David Guetta ft. Kelly Rowland
Forever Now – Ne-Yo
Desert Rose – Sting

Wanted – Hunter Hayes
Heartbeat Slowing Down – All American Rejects

Now go home and turn on ESPN. Draft starts at 8, but undoubtedly, they’ve been covering it all day. I’ll be keeping tabs on where Nuk Hopkins ends up (he could be the 23rd player in Clemson history to become a first round pick – the most recent being C.J. Spiller in 2009). Have a great weekend and we’ll see you back here next week for the first class of May. (Already??)

Tank Tops Are Coming! (a.k.a. Arm-Toning Exercises for Beginners)

My cousin Julia tweeted me (@StrongFitSarah) earlier with questions about some good exercises to tone up your arms, and I got to thinking … with summer just around the corner, surely this is something everyone could use! That said, here are a few ideas (with descriptions and pictures pulled from Women’s Health) – all of which I do myself –  to help get you in tank top shape before Memorial Day. As I always tell my Pilates classes … you may not like me today, you probably won’t like me tomorrow, but stick with it, and you’ll love me in about six weeks!

Here are a few basic ideas you can add into your routine to help do away with some of that jiggle:


Triceps Dip

Sit on the edge of a bench or chair with your knees bent and your feet on the floor in front of you. Place your palms facedown next to your thighs and, keeping your arms straight, scoot forward until your hips and butt are in front of the seat (a). Bend your elbows to lower your hips until your upper arms are parallel to the floor (b). Push back to start. That’s one rep. Do as many reps as possible until you have to pause or can’t maintain form. (Can also be done with straight legs)


Triceps Kickback with Rotation

Stand with your knees bent and lean forward slightly, with a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your right elbow to bring the dumbbell to your side, making your upper arm parallel with the floor. Press the dumbbell back, and as you straighten your arm, rotate it so that your palm faces the ceiling. Rotate it back so that your palm faces in, and return your arm to the bent position. Do 12 to 15 reps with each arm.



Tricep Pushdown

Attach a straight bar to the high pulley of a cable station and grab the bar with an overhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart. Tuck your upper arms next to your sides and bend your elbows more than 90 degrees. Without moving your upper arms, push the bar down until your arms are straight. Pause, then return to the starting position.



Hammer Curl

Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them next to your thighs, palms facing each other. Raise the dumbbell in your left hand as high as you can in front of you by bending your elbow and curling the weight toward your shoulder. As you lower the dumbbell, curl the weight in your right hand.



Bicep Curl (Dumbells)

Grab weight in left hand. Curl weight to left shoulder, then lower. Do reps on each side, then more with both hands holding object. To add intensity, stand on one foot during single-arm curls.



Bicep Curl (Barbell)

Stand while holding a barbell in front of you, palms facing out, with your hands shoulder-width apart and your arms hanging in front of you (A). Curl the weight toward your shoulders (B). Hold for a second, then return to start.

 Remember, these should be challenging … STEP AWAY FROM THE 5 LB. WEIGHTS. Seriously, these are pretty basic-level exercises, so you want to make sure you are challenged. If you get through 12 reps and you feel like you could keep going, you’re too light. Perhaps most importantly, make sure to maintain control of the weights and your body positioning at all time. I’m a sucker for good form – you’ll save yourself from injuries and see greater gains the more in control and in tune with your body you can stay.

Want even faster results? Time to bump up your cardio and take a good look at your diet. The cleaner you eat and the harder you push, the greater results you’ll see throughout your entire body, not just your arms. Good luck and bring on summer!

Hot Yoga Saturday … I Think I Lost Five Pounds.

I think I lost 5 lbs. in the span of 75 minutes on Saturday morning … my first hot yoga class in probably five years. Last weekend, I got a massage at this new spa/yoga and Pilates studio near my apartment called Mind Your Body Oasis. The massage was AMAZING. I’ll definitely go back (when they have another special, because they are a little pricey). But onto the hot yoga…

I completely forgot exactly how HOT hot yoga is. I’m a sweater to begin with, so I was soaked within about three minutes. And kind of regretting the eight miles I ran earlier that morning within about 15. The thing I always loved about hot yoga in the past was the way it makes your muscles so much more pliable, which is definitely great for those of us, like myself, are pretty flexible to begin with. It kind of takes things to another level of flexibility. Also on the plus side? The class was only me and one other lady, so plenty of personal attention.

The one thing that I really didn’t like about it was that though it was listed as a Flow class, I didn’t really feel that it was like any of the other Flow classes that I’d done in the past. These are usually the ones I go for because I’m a big fan of the more athletic-based Power Yoga, and the way that you feel like you’re essentially doing pushups between every pose. Not the case with this class – we probably only went through a vinyasa two or three times. I missed the constant movement aspect. And, to be completely honest … I’m petrified of headstands. And we spent more time than I would have really liked on both headstands and handstands. The arm balances were kind of fun, though – I’m definitely not where I was with them when I was in my yoga phase years ago, but it is reassuring to know that muscle memory applies to this, too.

Overall, despite the fact that it wasn’t necessarily what I was hoping, it was still good to do something a little different. Since the studio is so close to home, I may check out another class sometime – they have a pretty extensive schedule, and a variety of styles, in both the heated studio, and what they call the Zen (the not hot) studio. It’s a little hard to find, but if you are ever in Crystal City and make it over to the Shops at 1750 (right near the metro station), it’s definitely worth checking out.

Spinning Playlist – April 18, 2013

Anyone else counting down the days to the NFL Draft next week? Just me? (You know I get excited about seeing where my Clemson boys will end up. That said, if you haven’t had a chance to read Tuesday’s post about a beautiful article written about projected First Round pick DeAndre “Nuk” Hopkins, check it out. Worth the read).

But on to tonight’s Spinning playlist, stacked with not one … not two … but THREE new songs. Gotta wait to the cool down for two of them 😉 Here’s tonight’s ride:

Warm-up (Start Flat Road; Resistance 3-4 on a Scale of 10)
Night is Young – Nelly Furtado

Building Block #1 (Start Resistance 5, Build to 9)
Toxic – Britney Spears
We Found Love – Rihanna
C’Mon – Ke$ha
E.T. – Katy Perry
My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up) – Fall Out Boy

Building Block #2 (Start Resistance 4-5, Build to 9)
Can’t Hold Us Down – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis ft. Ray Dalton
Wild Ones – Flo Rida ft. Sia
Forever Now – Ne-Yo
Good Girls Go Bad – Cobra Starship ft. Leighton Meester
Burn it Down – Linkin Park

Building Block #3 (Start Resistance 4-5, Build to 8+)
Sweet Nothing – Calvin Harris ft. Florence Welch
Animal – Neon Trees
Clarity – Zedd
Blow Me One Last Kiss – Pink
Paralyzer – Finger Eleven

Bittersweet Symphony – Smash Cast ft. Megan Hilty
Lego House – Ed Sheeran

Remember, I’m always on the hunt for new music, so don’t hesitate to share your favorites! Get outside and enjoy your weekend – even if it is going to be 15 degrees cooler than it’s been all week AGAIN this weekend. And you know that pool outside my window is cleaned, filled, chairs are out … and it’s not opening for five more weeks. They’re taunting me.