Category Archives: All Kinds of Workouts

Setting Resistance Training Goals

Today I took my first of five personal trainer exams at the Personal Fitness Trainer Association school in Austin. After two weeks of learning the Green section, which is all about program design for clients, I sat down for an hour and fifteen minute test that consisted of over 60 multiple choice questions, 25 matching questions, and identification of all the main muscles in the lower body and abdomen.

PFTA of Austin Notes

A lot of what we learned I would consider basic fitness knowledge that anyone who reads health magazines already knows, things like aiming for 3-5 days of cardio a week, and resting muscle groups for 48 hours before working them out again. Then there is a whole chunk of new information I learned that I never quite knew the details of before: from what types of exercises to avoid when working with a pregnant woman, to types of plyometric training and stretching techniques.

Of everything I learned, I think one practice that escapes many people is how to do resistance training for a certain goal. When most of us head to the gym, our goals are fairly general: lose weight, tone up, or get big (I’m clearly doing it to get big). How we choose to get there is also fairly general: run on the treadmill, do some crunches, do some bicep curls and call it a day. “That was good right? A little of everything, feeling tired, my arms hurt. Let’s get a smoothie,” –and this is where we go wrong. Because we’re just wingin’ it, there is no structure to stick to or results to look for besides movement in the scale (do I weigh more/less this morning? The same AGAIN? WTF). What happens next is, you lose motivation, seethe at your gym bag, and buy a chocolate chip cookie for comfort because nothing seems to make a difference anyway. I was totally guilty of this in the past.

Now I realize that one of the most important things to do before ever walking into a gym is to make a plan. I learned this mostly from my own experience with bodyrock (high intensity interval training). Writing down my reps day in and day out gave me something to fight for the next time I worked out–one more push-up to beat last week’s count. But what if I wasn’t doing a bodyrock workout? I wouldn’t know how many reps to do to achieve my goals, or more importantly, how to structure a plan for a future client of mine who wants to “get big.”

There are four main types of resistance training to plan for:

  1. Endurance. This is typically used for weight loss efforts and involves 15-20 reps of an exercise with only 30 seconds rest in between sets. This is where most people who want to lose weight should start, and with weights that make the last two reps burn.
  2. Hypertrophy. This is when a person wants to get larger muscles (get ripped, get huge, become a bouncer). Here you want 8-12 reps, with 30-90 second seconds rest in between, with heavier weights that in the endurance category.
  3. Strength.This is… when someone wants to get stronger (seriously, that’s my best definition). Think power lifters, strong man competitors, or loggers like Paul Bunyan. This means exercises consist of only 3-6 reps with 3-5 minutes of rest in between, and very heavy weights.

    paul bunyan

    Nice to see you again, Paul

  4. Then there’s also Power. This is the need to generate force quickly to meet a certain demand. Think athletes like football players–they need to react with quick, powerful movements at all times. There are many different ways to train for power, but generally it’s 3-5 reps of exercises that prevent deceleration (like squat jumps–no slowing down on the way up) with about 2-4 sets. *Thanks for this, Dave G.

By textbook definition, this would make bodyrock a mix of endurance training and strength training. I’m completing circuits of exercises with between 8-15 reps each depending, with 10 seconds in between each new exercise set, but maybe a minute and thirty seconds before I go back to repeat the first exercise (if that confused you, don’t worry–I got confused just writing it). The point is, if someone is trying to get a “toned” look, it’s a mix of endurance and hypertrophy resistance training that will accomplish that. I’m not there yet though, my six pack is still Bud Light-like at the end of the day, but let’s not focus on that.

Now if someone were to ever approach me and say “Mel, I want to get toned! What’s the deal?!” I have the answer: less cookies. I kid–it’s starting with endurance training and mixing in some strength over time (a good diet and weekly cardio will help drop the pounds hiding your muscles, too–that’s key). Also, writing down the reps and weights you’re using will ensure you’re staying on track to achieve a specific goal. No more jumble of crunches that will hopefully do something if you just can get 100 more reps in. You’re gettin’ real, baby.

Do you follow a training plan when you workout?

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First Day of my Personal Trainer School Adventure

I did it! I signed up for the PFTA personal trainer school today (read my first post about the school here). I’m so freakin’ excited. I’ve been thinking about doing something actionable with my fitness passion for such a long time, that it feels really good to finally be in the moment.

I brought my camera with me but felt rude taking pictures in the middle of class, so unfortunately I have none to share. But no worries, I’ll tell you all about it and put in pics that give you the idea.

Here is a very blurry picture of my teacher Mark, which I stole from a PFTA youtube video.

Mark Jackson

Today he set expectations of what the program will entail over the next ten weeks, and gave everyone their supplies. Next we learned about body fat percentage, how to approach new clients when we have to measure them (get comfortable, don’t look nervous and let your hands shake.. you’ll make them lose confidence in you), and we actually took our own body composition measurements as well. We used two methods:

A) Skin calipers

skin caliperAh!

and B) a BIA machine

BEA machineMuch better

BEA stands for bio-electrical impedence analysis. When you hold on to the handles of it, it sends an electrical current through your body (not enough to hurt you, obv) and based on the premis that fat blocks the current and muscle conducts it better, it gives you a readout.

With skin calipers, you’re basically pinching areas of skin to measure for fat. The whole class had to get up and measure each other with a caliper to get a baseline for where we’re starting. Not scary… no. There are three key areas for women:

  1. Triceps (mid-upper arm)
  2. Suprailiac (the what? it’s right above your hip bone in the front of your stomach on an angle. That spot where dudes have cuts right above their pants line. mmhmm.)
  3. Quads (middle of the front)

The skin calipers gave me a body fat percentage of 17, while the BEA said 20. I’m going to meet in the middle and say I’m at 18.5, which is “average” according to the American Council on Exercise (pshhh… who you callin’ average). Because there are workouts after each class, hopefully I’ll see some progress. I don’t have any specific goals yet, but gaining muscle is always welcome. The more push ups I can do means the more I can kick Dave’s ass :).

I had to skip out on the bootcamp workout today because I showed up in jeans and sandals like an idiot, but I’ll definitely hit it up on Thursday (class is Tuesdays and Thursdays). It looks like I’ll eventually have to put together a bootcamp routine of my own, too.

New adventure is GO.

The Professional Fitness Trainer Association of Austin.. and Me

Fact: I love everything health and wellness. Most of my friends either make fun of me for ordering healthy food at restaurants all the time.. or ask me what they should order (go ahead, ask me). I’ve been a runner and fitness fanatic since I was fourteen, have tried out tons of different workout routines (here, here, and here to name a few) and am currently riding out a bodyrock addiction (check out what bodyrock is here).

I’ve always debated doing something serious with my passion. Should I become a nutritionist? A dietician? A personal trainer? AH! Lately, my mind has been toying with the last idea. Focusing on strength training for the last year has really opened my eyes to what our bodies can do and how we shape them. The quote “we are how we move” rings very true to me. A couch potato looks exactly that: like a round potato. Dancers are long and lean as they stretch and power through routines. Baseball players have fine behinds as they run up and down the field (if you’re reading this and you’re a guy, embrace this fact. Start running).

Wouldn’t it be cool to know the science behind what makes our bodies tick and how to make them kick ass even harder? I think so. Also, having a personal trainer certification would allow me to write about fitness credibly, which is one of my end goals. I’m not talking about acomplete career change, I’m talking about expanding my horizons :).

This is a time in my life where I have an opportunity to explore some options, thankfully, so today I went over to the Professional Fitness Trainer Association (PFTA) school in Austin to see what they’re about.

Mel and PFTA

peanut butter & jelly possibilities

Their website looks pretty ghetto, but from working in advertising I know that that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good school–they just didn’t pay someone thousands of dollars to make them one. (I also talked to them about how I could help out a little.. we’ll see about that ;)).

The Austin location is located twenty minutes out of downtown in Round Rock. The school is in a storefront in a strip mall, and when I first walked in… I wasn’t so sure! I walked into an empty room with gym equipment, and then walked out, called the guy Mark I talked to on the phone the day before, and said, “um.. I think I’m here?” He kindly came to the front to meet me, and then escorted me through the gym room to a classroom in the back. In the room there were about twenty-five students, all with a binder out open in front of them, in t-shirts and sweatpants (I can do that), looking ahead at a projector where a presentation was displayed. It took two minutes of silent stares for me to realize that Mark was actually teaching the class, not sitting in an office, and he interrupted the class to come get me. No big deal stop looking at me, swan!

For the half hour that I was there, I could see that Mark was a very, very enthusiastic teacher, and his students were engaged with him. It wasn’t one of those classes where the teacher reads off each slide and makes you fall asleep. Bueller? Instead of paragraphs of small text, there were maybe three bullet points on each lesson page, and Mark talked through it with examples, anecdotes, and math equations on the board. Awesome. I also noticed that each student’s binder wasn’t just for taking their own notes–there were printed notes in there. Meaning the PFTA school supplied that in addition. Cool.

When class was over, I met with Mark and asked him about my main concerns, and what PFTA can offer me. I ultimately want to be able to write about fitness and be certified to do so, so my questions started there, and grew. Here are the most important questions I asked, with summaries of his answers:

  • Is the PFTA certification recognized nationally? It’s primarily Texas-known because the school is rooted here, but we’ve had students land jobs in California, Nevada, etc. What happens is, their gym contacts us, we get them over our documentation against the certification, and the student is all set. Within Texas itself, we have a lot of gyms that recruit from us directly because they know our reputation and the quality of our education. We have fantastic job placement from that.
  • In the case of writing about fitness, I need a certification that will speak for itself on a national level. If I wanted to take the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) test after your courses, would I be able to pass without additional course work? Yes. And if you do pass on your first try, we will refund you $350–the cost you will pay to take it because we get you a subsidized rate. (SWEET DEAL)

What I like about the course setup is that it’s half in the classroom, and half hands-on at a gym. So I’d get the on-paper knowledge I need, but then get the practical experience of how to apply what I’m learning (and get workouts in, too… bonus!).

Being that I have zero practical OR class experience, this is key for me. The truth is, to get the NASM certification all I really need to do is order a book and sit in the for the test.. but I don’t know if that will give me nearly the name amount of confidence in how to apply what I learn.

Mark offered me a price just below $3k, and so far I’m thinking this is something I’m going to pursue. The schedule would be Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9am-1pm, for ten weeks, and it includes a gym membership, and textbooks. Also–Mark said that I’m welcome back into the classes anytime after I’ve completed the ten weeks. So if there’s something I want to brush up on, or a new piece of equipment that’s been incorporated into lessons–I can come back for free and learn. Pretty good deal.

The next time I can sign up and jump in is this coming Tuesday. I’ll let you know what I decide!

Anyone out there a certified trainer? Thoughts? Talk to me!

I’m A BodyRocker

When I started this blog back in 2009 (read my first super cheesy post here), I was completely immersed in running. I loved running for two reasons: 1) it felt really good to use up all my energy- I love endorphins, and 2) it kept me in shape. I had been running for eleven years, dating back to the high school track team, and it was one of the only forms of exercise and release that I knew. It was just a part of me.

At some point though, I think I burned out mentally. I got bored of it. I struggled to find the motivation (I was even googling motivation.. hilarious)–and also started to get knee pain from my intermittent long runs, which scared me. So I finally decided to break free of my running regime and try something different. Besides, I always wanted a six pack (not beer) and let’s face it, I could run 10 miles a day but that wasn’t not going to give me the kind of muscle tone I was looking for. Am I right or amiright?

In search of a new workout, I came across a website called BodyRock while reading the Fitnesssista’s blog. And I become obsessed.

Meet Zuzana:

zuzana at bodyrock tv

Yes, she’s real. Pick your jaw up off the floor.

Zuzana and her husband Freddy write the BodyRock blog, and post a new workout almost everyday. The workouts are high intensity interval training (HIIT) routines, that never fail to kick extreme butt in a very short amount of time. Most of the workouts are between 12-20 minutes, and can be done at home. When I lived in NYC I did them in a gym due to my crazy neighbor, but now I can do them wherever I please! Shyeh!

Almost every morning I wake up around 7am, make some coffee, and watch the day’s routine online. I always wake up with a growling stomach, so I make myself half a piece of bread with pb&j on it to quell my hunger and get some pre-workout fuel without getting weighed down.

peanut butter and coffeeThen I bodyock.  Aw yeahh. It always hurts, and I’m always sore the next day. But I have to say, I’ve never seen better results doing anything else in my entire exercising life. I’m someone who once couldn’t do one real push-up, and now I can do 10+ (shaking at the end, but it counts!). I’ve been following BodyRock so religiously, that when things come up in life that I’m unsure how to handle, Dave says to me, “What would Zuz do?” I urge you to adopt this :).

This morning I did the “Caught Stripping Fat Workout“, after running outside for fifteen minutes to warm up. Click on that link to get your face melted by a video of Zuzana, OR read the steps below to see what I did:

Part 1 – repeat sequence as many times as possible in 6 minutes (I did 7.5)

  1. Commando Push Ups 2 reps (down on stomach, then push up and drive one knee towards chest. drop back down repeat with alt leg)
  2. Roll over (on your stomach a full 360 degrees so you end back on your stomach)
  3. Power up into a squat position
  4. Big jump forward
  5. 10 squats holding an 8lb weight on each shoulder
  6. Put weights down and do 2 small jumps back so that you are standing where you started
  7. Get down onto your stomach and roll over on the other side to the starting position

Part 2 – 6 minutes of intervals (alt 10 seconds rest and 50 seconds of go time)

  1. Sandbag swing (I used a 10lb weight because I don’t have a sandbag. Basically, stand in a squat position and swing weight in between legs and up. On the way up, stand up and squeeze everything. Your butt and lower abs will burn. Hot fire.)
  2. Sandbag situps (used 10lb. weight instead of sandbag again)

I was a sweaty mess after this, and ran up to my apartment to shower. Then proceeded to make oatmeal for a change, only to have it explode in the microwave.

exploding oatmeal

Have any of you ever bodyrocked? If you’re in Austin and want to give it a shot, email me and we can get a group together.

Making the Gym Work For Me

My downfall in working out is that if it’s not running, I have no idea what I’m doing. Lifting weights? Yeah I know bicep curls. That’s it. Compound cardio moves? I got lunges.. that’s about it there. What I love so much about workout DVD’s is that the instructor tells you what to do, and you get your butt kicked simply by following directions.

When instructional workout DVD’s are not possible in your own home due to whatever circumstances–not enough space, too many people around, anal neighbors, you don’t have any DVD’s, you don’t even like workout DVD’s–the gym is a great option. Not the whole treadmill free-weight machine part of it, but the classes.

I realized that my gym is doing all the work for me. The way their morning class schedules are set up, all I need to do is show up at 6:30 or 6:45 everyday and have someone kick my ass for an hour. How did I never realize this before? Just show up! And someone will tell me what to do! Glory!

Here’s the available classes:

I need the classes to start before 9am if I’m going to get to work on time, so the ones in green circles are what works for me. This week I did Total Body Conditioning on Tuesday and Ultimate Conditioning on Thursday (Wednesday was spinning fail, and my realization happened on Monday :)).

On a side note, I know a lot of people don’t like group exercise because it can be embarrassing if you feel insecure about what you’re doing. Trust me, I always look like an idiot. I also make weird faces when they make me do shoulder exercises. It’s like my lip is attached to my shoulder, and whenever I lift it I snarl like Elvis. This is not attractive. Not at all. But I don’t know anyone in the class and therefore I don’t care. I will be Elvis, and I will get buff.

Walking Makes a Difference

Before I reacquainted myself with the gym, oh, say, 2 days ago, I was in a bind. I couldn’t workout to DVD’s in my apartment, and I was averse to running due to scares about ruining my knees, and also a pulled groin muscle (that’s a whole different story I won’t even get into). With nowhere to turn, I was waking myself at 6am anyway with an urge to do something, anything, to get my blood flowing and stop the mel-ooze from taking over my body.

I thought, what about walking?

I’ve read in countless articles over time that the simplicity of walking is actually a very underrated tool in our arsenals. When the NY Times wrote a recent article about how French women stay so thin, the #2 reason was because they walk everywhere (#1 reason was portion control). People who preach the primal lifestyle –great article here–talk about sustaining man’s naturally fit frame through simple, yet impactful long walks (mixed with the occasional sprint in this case). These are just two great examples of many.

not knockin you, footlocker. just sayin.

If I think about my mindset a year ago or more, I would’ve never subscribed to the idea of walking as true exercise. At the end of a workout, my face had to turn bright red and I had to be so out of breath that I only wanted to collapse and yell mercy, or else it was a crock (when’s the last time you said the word crock? Just now.). But I guess I’ve opened my eyes a little bit, and relaxed my idea of what it means to get exercise. It doesn’t have to mean all or nothing. In fact, something is always better than nothing, which I find myself saying a lot in my posts these days.

Last week I woke up and went walking almost everyday. It felt glorious! Walking is a whole different way to experience being active. I was able to breathe the air in fully, and hold it in for a second before letting it out. My lungs weren’t under serious attack like they are during a run, they (my lungs) were enjoying themselves. I saw my environment in more detail–noticed restaurants and stores, the architecture of buildings, whole streets I would’ve run right past and not even known they existed. I got home so excited some days I had to call my boyfriend to rant about “the great walk I just went on.”

And you know what, I felt just as accomplished and fresh for the rest of the day as I do when I run. Walking is like a bottomless stack of get-out-of-jail-free and collect $200 cards.

Ever try it?

Gym Time Hath Cometh

This morning I did it.

I ran on a treadmill.

For the first time in six months.

But it wasn’t my original plan.

The goal this morning was to get to the gym for a 6:30am spinning class. At 5:45 my alarm went off, and I dutifully got my ass out of bed and jumped into my workout clothes. La ti da, pull my hair back in a ponytail, la ti da, throw today’s clothes in my gym back. As I pick up my bag to leave my apartment, I catch a glimpse of the clock on my microwave, and it’s 6:07. Aah! Two La-ti-da’s and I’m late?! I realized there’s no way I would make it.

I booked it out the door regardless, speedwalked to the train, and arrived only to see the next 6 train wasn’t coming for another six minutes. The time at that point was 6:26. FAIL. What a bummer. Besides the fact that I wasn’t going to the make the class, I was also exhausted from such an early wake-up. I debated “if I go back home now, I can go back to sleep til 8!”. But why waste how far I’ve come (note: I didn’t really come that far)? Why throw away my butt-crack-o-dawn action, when that extra 45 minutes of sleep won’t even really refresh me?

So, I went to the gym anyway. I told myself that something is always better than nothing, and accepted the fact that this meant I would be on… cough… coughcoughcough… the treadmill. DREADMILL.

Boldly going nowhere. Good shirt.

I got to the gym, threw my bag in a locker, and headed downstairs to the cardio room. As I reached the bottom step, I saw the sad souls running in place on their machines. Watching TV to make the time pass. I hesitated as I started to walk toward them. Kind of like when you force yourself to take Robitussin when you’re sick, but you have an instant gag reflex even before you put the spoon in your mouth.

Working past the gag, I chose a machine and got on it. Besides being repulsed, I was scared, too. I haven’t run in a month, and I believed all my ability was probably gone. So I started walking. I walked for maybe 3 minutes, and then started jogging at 5.0. Honestly, it didn’t feel so bad. I decided on an old trick I used to do to make treadmill workouts feel like they go fast, and keep things challenging: intervals. Any kind of intervals. 2 minutes on, 1 minute off. For example: 2 minutes at a faster pace, 1 minute at regular pace. 2 minutes at an incline of 4, 1 minute flat. And so on. And so forthe. And so it is written. So it was done.

Victory.