Tag Archives: Exercise

Try “Hurricane Sprints” For a Super Challenging Sprint Workout

Try “Hurricane Sprints” For a Super Challenging Sprint Workout

Doing sprint intervals on a running track or the treadmill at the gym is a popular way to get an effective, short cardio workout. There’s one major gripe: you’re mainly working out your legs. With “hurricane sprints”, your upper body and core can actively join the fun.

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Normally, in a high-intensity interval training (or HIIT, for short) sprint session, you’re gunning it like Usain Bolt for a set “work” period. Then you rest for a set time period before repeating. During a hurricane sprint, you would include a core (like a plank or bicycle crunches) or upper body movement (like a push-up or row) in place of your rest periods, as this article at Roman Fitness Systems writes:

If you’ve never done hurricane sprints before, here’s what I would start with:

A1) Sprint, 3 x 20 seconds

A2) Pushups, 3 x 20

Rest: 2 minutes

B1) Sprint, 3 x 20 seconds

B2) Dumbbell rows* (both arms at once), 3 x 15

Rest: 2 minutes

C1) Sprint, 3 x 20 seconds

C2) Plank, 3 x 30 seconds

My note here is that if you don’t have a dumbbell for rows, try doing inverted rows on a low-hanging bar at the park, or use a door.

As you get stronger, the article further outlines some details on how you could change your workouts in the weeks after—usually by making the workouts a bit longer. You should only do this workout once a week, and fair warning: it’s only 15-20 minutes, but the workout is going to suck. But hey, that’s what true HIIT is really about.

Keep in mind, too, that HIIT, and especially these hurricane sprints, are advanced. You really need to ease your body into them. Conversely, if the above example has gotten easy for you, the article goes over an even more advanced version and ways to cobble together your own hurricane sprints.

Why You Need to Be Doing Hurricane Sprints | Roman Fitness Systems

Image by oscarandtara.

Don’t Underestimate Joint Mobility When Building Strength

When it comes to desired traits in fitness, raw strength and speed often overshadow mobility, or how well your joints move. Maybe you just don’t think you’re that “bend-y.” Fortunately, it’s a process that contributes to strength, and everyone can work on it.

Mobility is different from flexibility, and in general, having good range of motion lets you exercise and perform everyday movements (like getting off the couch or reaching behind something to plug it in) better. Mobility exercises, then, let you actively improve your strength, control of your body, and range of motion all at the same time. This video from Calisthenic Movements explains that if your joints move only in a small range, you are basically limiting the development of strength and muscle from your exercises. If you were ever to “accidentally” move beyond your limited range, you could hurt yourself, and no one wants that.

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If you want to work mobility exercises into your routine, incorporate them into your pre-workout warm-up, or do a few simple drills on your rest day. To start, check out this awesome one for hip mobility (great for runners too!).

How Important Is Mobility? | Calisthenic Movement

Every Diet and Exercise Calendar You Could Need to Plan Your Routine

Every Diet and Exercise Calendar You Could Need to Plan Your Routine

It’s not hard to develop a basic diet and exercise plan the you can stick to over the years, but fine-tuning your progress offers a different set of challenges—often in the form of math. BodyBuilding.com put together a series of calculators to do the hard work for you so you can figure out exactly what you need to do to meet your health and fitness goals.

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Let’s get one thing out of the way—you don’t have to be a bodybuilder to use this stuff. I’m not a big guy, nor do I want to be. I don’t want big muscles. I just want my diet and exercise routine to keep my body healthy and strong. When you hit an annoying plateau, or you just want some numerical guidance so you don’t feel like you’re guessing, fitness calculators can help fill in some important blanks.

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With nutrition, for example, you might wonder how many carbohydrates you should eat or how much water you should drink based on your work life and exercise regimen. When it comes to fat loss goals, counting calories (or protein, if you prefer) can help you track progress your eyes can’t see (if you don’t use it as an excuse to eat more)—but not if you don’t know how much you’re burning during a workout. These calculators figure out those sorts of things for you, in addition to other helpful information like your maximum heart rate and body type.

In most cases, you enter a few statistics like age, height, and weight, and answer a couple of questions about your food intake or activity level. Click “Calculate” and you’ll get the information you’re after. While all results are going to be approximate, as they would be with any comparable tool, you can quickly figure out what you need to do to drop a little fat or even get a six pack.

Check out the full listing on BodyBuilder.com to get started. They’re all free to use.

A Large Selection of Easy to Use Fitness Calculators! | BodyBuilder.com

Title image remixed from originals by Axsimen (Shutterstock) and grmarc (Shutterstock).

The Exercise You Need to Go From “Skinny Fat” to Fit

If you have a slender frame, but still have a gut and flab in certain areas of the body, you might consider yourself “skinny fat.” There’s nothing bad or unhealthy about being shaped that way, but if you feel the desire to change it, here’s how.

A “skinny fat” person is best described as someone who weighs very little, but still has a high amount of body fat. If you identify as “skinny fat,” and want to look more fit, this video from the PictureFit YouTube Channel explains the types of workouts necessary to lower body fat and increase muscle. In short, it’s all about resistance training. Diets and cardio can help, but if you’re only doing those things, you’ll hit a plateau. What you need is to increase your muscle mass to offset the fat to muscle mass percentage and add much-needed definition to your frame. Fat burning from consistent resistance training can also be enhanced with a well thought out diet and by keeping your protein intake high. This is something I’ve been struggling with myself for the past few years, and lifting weights has been a huge help.

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Skinny Fat Explained – How to Go From Skinny Fat to Fit | YouTube

Advanced Push-Up Variations That Will Make Your Workouts Harder

Advanced Push-Up Variations That Will Make Your Workouts Harder

Push-ups are great, but when you can bang out 25 or more perfectly, it’s time to jazz them up. Try adding resistance bands or other heavy objects, or doing any of these advanced variations to keep push-ups fun and challenging.

Before you start though, make sure your form looks good first. Even when you’re using simple body weight, you can seriously hurt yourself from not paying attention to technique. This STACK article touches on the finer points of good push-up form (as does this one) and also dives into some easier variations that can help you work up to a full push-up.

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Next, start small. Remember, big results can come from small changes too. Sometimes all you need to do is take it slow on the eccentric (lowering) portion of the push-up. When you lower yourself in a normal push-up or any variation, count to three crocodiles (one crocodile, two crocodiles…) and then try to forcefully come back up with all of your might. Even if you end up pushing up slowly, the intent to be explosive will make your muscles contract harder and get better at generating power.

Just mixing up the hand placement can make a difference. Go narrower (like a diamond push-up), wider, or even stagger your hands (place one hand closer to the side of your ab).

Then when you’re ready, these harder push-up variations will show you how to breathe life into your push-ups and strength progress again.

Push-Up With a Resistance Band

Grab any resistance band and wrap it around your mid-back so that it’s set below your armpits. Make sure there’s no extra slack in the band. The point is to keep enough tension to make it harder for you to complete the “up” part of your push-up.

Push-Up With Additional Heavy Objects

The video above uses chains, but you don’t have to use them. Weighted plates, sandbags, or even heavy textbooks that could be balanced on your back can all be a quick and easy way to add weight and make the push-up harder again.

Single-Leg Push-Up

How amazing that simply lifting a leg makes the push-up so much harder. The challenge here is to keep your hips from tilting in and your lower back from caving, while focusing your weight to the other three limbs. Stay “tight” and keep the form as steady as if you were doing a push-up with both legs on the ground, but don’t forget to alternate legs. You may even find that you’re better on one side than the other.

Spiderman Push-Up

Once you get a hang of the single-leg push-up, the next sequence of the progression is the Spiderman push-up (shown in the second half of the video). Bring one knee out to the side as you lower yourself and back as you press yourself back up. You’re going to work your obliques and hip flexors.

Elevated Push-Up

Rest your feet on an elevated platform like your couch or a bench. By changing the angle of your body, you’re putting different demands on your body, targeting a slightly different area of your chest, and challenging your core’s ability to keep you up and steady. The video goes on to demonstrate the single-leg and Spiderman push-up variations with this angle too.

TRX Push-Up

The TRX is the brand name of a special piece of equipment that you can hang from a high anchor point. Grasp the handles and angle your body at approximately 45-degrees. Push-ups from a suspension trainer mean you’re not only pressing yourself up, but you’re also fighting against the wobbliness and general instability.

Slideboard Push-Up

A towel on a smooth, slick surface also works. This variation demands a ton of shoulder and core strength. I really recommend you ease into this one slowly. The more you reach your arm out, the greater the challenge, so it’s okay that you start off with your arm a little closer to your body at first. As you build up your shoulder and core strength, you can move further and further out.

Medicine Ball Push-Up

Any kind of weighted ball will work; just make sure it’s big enough that you can comfortably fit both hands on the ball and heavy enough that it won’t be easy for you to face-plant. The ball should be positioned right below the middle of your pecs, so when you lower yourself your middle chest will come in contact with the ball. The medicine ball changes your grip width and makes your body more unstable. This means you’ll feel it more in your triceps and upper pecs, and you’ll fight harder to stabilize yourself

Single-Arm Medicine Ball Push-Up

Two main changes here: your overall grip is going to be wider then normal and one hand is on the medicine ball while the other remains on the ground. The benefit to this exercise is that the side where your hand is placed on the ball is going through a longer range of motion and will work harder. You can work one side at a time and switch; or alternate sides throughout the set.

Hindu Push-Up

The Hindu push-up is a different kind of push-up that can improve strength and flexibility in your shoulders, chest, arms, and hip flexors. When you get it down, the whole exercise is supposed to happen in one fluid sort of “swoop-in” motion. You target your triceps, upper shoulders, quads, hips, and chest all at once. The video’s host, Joe from bodyweightlifestyle, has clearly been working on this for a long time, so don’t expect your Hindu push-up to look like his from the get-go. You’ll have to work on your hip, shoulder, and spine flexibility first.

There are tons and tons of push-up variations, but rather than do them all at once, figure out which ones would challenge you and help you get stronger with just a slight change to keep progressing over the long run.

Why Push-Ups Are Great and Five Ways to Make Them Harder | STACK

Illustration by: Sam Woolley

The Perks of Lifting With Free Weights Instead of Machines

You walk into the gym for a weight lifting session and you’re immediately given a choice: do you grab the free weights or hop on one of the machines? Here’s an explanation for when you should use both.

This video from the PictureFit YouTube channel explains the major differences between pumping up with free weights and machines. Most of the time, free weights (barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc.) are going to be your best option for a few reasons:

  • The instability of free weights helps build stabilizing muscles. This improves your balance, athleticism, and coordination. Machines remove the instability from the equation.
  • Free weights let you move the bars in a natural bar path, or in a way that comes natural to you. This lets your lifting replicate real-life movements. Machines can restrict this type of motion.
  • You can do just about any type of lift with free weights. Not so with machines designed to do a few particular lifts.

Still, there are plenty of scenarios where lifting machines are a much better option:

  • The stability of lifting machines makes them a great option for those going through rehab after an injury.
  • Lifting machines have a much lower learning curve, making them perfect for lifting beginners and the elderly.
  • You can isolate specific muscle groups a lot easier with a machine.

Overall, free weights are better for building general strength and working the muscles you use naturally. If you can manage it, learn how to properly lift with free weights. That said, lifting machines aren’t useless. If you’re working your way up to free weights, or need the extra stability, machines are the better choice.

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Free Weights vs. Machines | YouTube

Why We Get Headaches From Exercise

Why We Get Headaches From Exercise

Headaches happen for myriad reasons: dehydration, eyestrain, drinking a wee bit much the previous night, and exercising. Yes, exercise too, and they’re just as annoying as any other headache. Here’s the difference between exercise headaches and regular head pains, and how you can best treat or avoid them.

Exercise headaches are actually pretty common, and they’re especially sucky since you don’t even have to do anything particularly rough to get them. In fact, they’re enough of an issue to be included as a headache trigger in International Headache Society’s (IHS) classification of headache disorders. Previously they were referred to as exertional headaches, a broad and varied category of headaches that were also associated with coughing, sneezing, and intercourse.

According to the IHS classification, exercise headaches are headaches that occur specifically during or after any form of strenuous exercise. They typically last between five minutes and less than 48 hours and can get pretty severe. You’ll often feel a throbbing-like pain, which could feel like a migraine if you’re sensitive to migraines.

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Not everyone gets exercise headaches though, and some people get them more than others. We’re still not clear on why they happen, mainly because headaches in general are so complex and can stem from any number of factors. Some researchers surmise the origin of exercise headaches may have to do with how hard exercise impacts blood flow to your brain and dilates the blood vessels there. We do know that they’re more likely to happen if you exercise in hot temperatures or at higher elevations, or even when you wear special gear, like swim goggles, on too tight of a setting.

A two-part study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine explained that there are no differences in the prevalence of exercise headaches between men and women, just that their occurrence seems to be more sport specific. Exercise headaches are more commonly associated with running, cycling, weightlifting (a.k.a. “weightlifter’s” headache), swimming, rowing, tennis, and many contact sports.

Make Sure It’s Not Something More Serious

Here’s the tricky thing about figuring out if your exercise headache points to something worrisome. The IHS lumps these and the other exertional-type headaches into categories of primary and secondary headaches. In general, primary headaches happen spontaneously for no obvious medical reason and are mostly benign. More likely, they’re the result of your environment, genetics, and a combination of other complex variables.

With exercise headaches, for instance, they could be a combination of dehydration, bright lights, strong smells, humid weather, the nature of the sport, and simply that you’re more prone to headaches in general.

A secondary headache, on the other hand, could be related to other hidden, more serious diseases and conditions, and the headache is just a symptom. They’re less common than primary headaches, but are still a real possibility. There are no specific tests to say your headache is “just a headache”, only tests to rule out other more troubling causes.

There are, however, certain warning signs for secondary headaches: Suddenly getting a new and unaccustomed (severe) headache, a worsening headache that lasts days, vomiting, confusion, and drowsiness could indicate a serious condition like a concussion. If this is your first time getting a headache from exercise and you play sports where there’s a bit of head trauma involved (constantly headbutting a soccer ball, for example), play it safe and get it checked out by a doctor, preferably a neurologist who specializes in sports-related injuries.

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Since headache triggers are often mysterious and certain things can be unintentionally overlooked, you can help yourself and your doctor narrow down the causes by keeping a headache diary, where you consistently note when and why you think your headaches are happening.

Tips to Keep Exercise Headaches From Bothering You

The good news is that exercise headaches stop…once you stop exercising so hard. But for some of us athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and anyone on the path to better health, that’s the same as telling us to stop breathing.

So, if you’d rather not stop exercising altogether, you can lessen the intensity of your exercise program and make it lower impact (less jumping and explosive type activities) to see if the headaches still come on strongly. In really bad cases, it’d help to work together with a certified trainer on figuring out the types of exercises and positions that provoke or exacerbate your headache, and creating a program to work around them that still gives you a workout.

In addition, the findings from this study in the Current Sports Medicine Reports suggest a proper warm-up and making sure you’ve got the other “big rocks” of your general health in order, like your diet, recovery time, and overall stress levels could help. After all, a chronic lack of sleep, a crappy diet, or even previously undetected food allergies can all play a role in triggering nasty migraines and headaches.

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Assuming your headaches aren’t more serious in nature, here are some other ways to address them:

  • Medication: Although the evidence they use is anecdotal, the IHS suggests trying prescription NSAIDs from your doctor, such as indomethacin and ergotamine tartrate, and taking them before exercise. Ibuprofen could work, but it’s not recommended for use on a regular basis. Check with your doctor to see if it’s safe for you to take these as a preventative measure.
  • Breathing more: In some cases, your headache could be from a rise in blood pressure during heavy weightlifting and generally holding your breath more than you could manage, intentionally or not. Avoid doing full Valsalva breathing techniques and try to remember to breathe out forcefully during exertion.
  • Eating and drinking before a workout: For some people, headaches can be a result of not being hydrated and/or eating enough before exercise. Be sure to drink enough water throughout the day, especially before and during your workout if you’re going to be exercising for longer periods of time.

Most active people have had to deal with exercise headaches in one form or another. For many, these headaches tend to recur over weeks to months and eventually go away, but in rarer cases these headaches may never resolve, the authors of a paper in the journal Sports Medicine noted.

Primary exercise headaches are not dangerous in and of themselves, but it’s important to get your head pain properly diagnosed by your doctor. Then, you can work with your doctor to come up with a firmer action plan to manage your headaches if needed.

Illustration by Sam Woolley.

Create a Personal “Fitness Mantra” to Stay Motivated to Work Out

Create a Personal "Fitness Mantra" to Stay Motivated to Work Out

On those days you second guess yourself for setting a 6am alarm to hit the gym, or skip happy hour in favor of a run, come up with and recite your own fitness personal mantra. Since it’ll be based on your own ideals and values, it’s a powerful reminder to keep you motivated.

A mantra is a sacred word, phrase, sound, or a group of words in Sanskrit that is normally used in meditation and spiritual activities. It doesn’t need to make literary sense, but it’s often spiritually and personally meaningful. The rhythmic om that is uttered during yoga sessions is one example.

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Ideally, your personal mantra would be created from your deepest values or what you want to achieve, and then condensed into a word that inspires self-awareness, confidence, and positivity. Greatist’s article sums it up as your “one word pep talk,” but really, it can be anything. Here’s what you do:

  1. Review your biggest achievements.
  2. Rate each item from one to 10.
  3. Select one item that makes you feel the most confident, self-assured, and strong.
  4. Condense it into one word.
  5. Use this one word daily.

I made one for myself too. Even though I’ve been working out for ages, I need to kick myself in the rump to jump-start my workout these days. So, I’d think about how strong and independently capable I feel that I can lug my 70+ pounds worth of luggage through the streets of Tokyo by myself; or be fit enough to walk miles and miles to discover new wonders without feeling too beat, for example. This reminds me of the video game Legend of Zelda, where a lot of it is exploring new places (with epic music playing).

Now my one-word mantra is Zelda.

Your personal mantra can be a phrase if you want it to be. You can use it at any time to be reminded of why you want to achieve something, or when you simply want to summon more positivity and motivation. The beauty of this is that you can create one for any area of your life at any time. Let us know in the comments what your personal mantra is, fitness or otherwise.

How to Come Up With a Kick-Ass Personal Mantra | Greatist

Image by Moyan_Brenn.

Easy Stretches Almost Everyone Can Do to Stay Flexible

Easy Stretches Almost Everyone Can Do to Stay Flexible

Flexibility is very important, especially as we get older. Here are some basic, everyday stretches to improve and maintain your flexibility.

Business Insider has illustrated and animated the stretches, suggested by New York University professor of physical therapy, Marilyn Moffat.

The piriformis, above, is perhaps the hardest of the 12 stretches, but it could help with tightness in the hips. Other stretches include neck rotations, trunk rotations, and the familiar quad stretch. Some of these also have yoga equivalents, such as the back scratch (a.k.a. cow-face pose):

Easy Stretches Almost Everyone Can Do to Stay Flexible

If any of these are difficult for you, you could use a prop, like a strap for the stretch above, but of course hold off if you feel pain.

I like that these cover most areas people experience tightness. They’re simple stretches, but that’s the beauty of them too.

Head to the link below to see all of the stretches and get your daily stretches in.

12 everyday stretches to stay flexible and fit at any age | Business Insider

Strengthen Your Grip With These Old-Time Strongman Finger Exercises

Strengthen Your Grip With These Old-Time Strongman Finger Exercises

If you’re looking to increase your grip strength, these finger exercises will definitely firm up your handshake. All you need is a really heavy book.

To get your hand muscles working, Brett and Kate McKay at The Art of Manliness recommend you try some old-fashioned strongman book lifting exercises. Place a heavy book on the edge of a table or counter (the heavier the better). Now slip your fingers under the book and lift it with one finger. Do several reps with each finger before moving on to the next. Next, flip your hand over, and do the same thing as before, only in reverse. Your hands will be super strong in no time. You can learn some more fun old-time exercises at the link below.

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The Ultimate Guide to Oldtime Strongman Fitness: 26 Forgotten Exercises Every Man Should Try | The Art of Manliness

Photo via Sasha Kargaltsev.