Thursday, July 28, 2011

Killer Cardio Strength in 30 Minutes or Less

Here's another metabolic session just waiting to torch fat and improve overall conditioning.  All you need is a timer and a pair of dumbbells.

It is a series of six exercises to be performed in a 45:15 work to rest ratio.  The goal is to do as many repetitions in good form as possible in 45 seconds.  Then rest for 15 seconds and move on to the next exercise.

1. Single Leg Romanian Deadlift*

2. "T" Push-up

3. Split Jump

4. Bent Row

5. Elbow-to-Straight Arm Plank

Start in a plank position (above).  Push yourself up to a straight arm plank position (below).  Lower back down to the elbows and repeat.  Alternate arms and keep the core tight.

6. Woodchop*

For beginners...
Complete one round of all six exercises.  You may want to cut your work to rest ratio to 30:30 instead of 45:15.  Rest for two minutes and repeat for a total of two rounds. 
Total time = 14 min (Round 1 + 2 min rest + Round 2)

Middle of the road...
Try and do three rounds at a 45:15 second work to rest ratio while taking an additional two minutes of rest between each round.
Total time = 22 min (Round 1 + 2 min rest + Round 2 + 2 min rest + Round 3)

For the all-stars...
Do two rounds back-to-back at 45:15 without stopping.  Then rest for two minutes and repeat two more rounds back-to-back.
Total time = 26 min (Round 1 + Round 2 + 2 min rest + Round 3 + Round 4)

* These are single-sided exercises.  In the beginner and all-star version you will do odd numbered rounds on your non-dominant side (usually the left if you are right-handed) and the even numbered rounds on your dominant side.  For the middle of the road program, follow the above for the first two rounds.  One the third round, switch sides once you hit the halfway point in your working interval.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pico de Gallo and Watermelon Cucumber Margaritas

Ahhhh, summer.  The late evening sunsets, sitting out on the deck for morning coffee, forgetting weekly chores to waste a day at the beach.  I love it all.  I also love having fresh produce at my beck and call during this season, which makes for some great healthy recipes.  

One of my staples for summer cookouts is pico de gallo.  I adapted this from a recipe in The Eat-Clean Diet: Fast Fat-Loss that lasts Forever!by Tosca Reno.  Originally, it was meant to top a pork dish but I found it's more popular when served as a dip with some whole grain tortilla chips.

Pico de Gallo
  • 4 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 can (15.5 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup green onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp jalapeno, finely chopped (remove the seeds if you don't like it hot)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt to taste

personal photo

It's very simple.  Just mix all the ingredients and give it a good stir.  Refrigerate for an hour or so before serving so all the flavors combine.  Serve with whole grain tortilla chips and watch it disappear!

personal photo

Now for a special treat.  My husband are bonded by a love for all things Mexican, including tequila.  On our honeymoon in Ixtapa we took a private margarita-making class with the head bartender at our resort.

Best money spent EVER!

The secret to a great margarita is a good tequila and fresh ingredients.  This means fresh squeezed lime juice.  Not the margarita mix from the grocery store or the "thin" version what's-her-reality-star's-name is selling.  They're full of artificial flavors and sweeteners.  I mean, really.  You're just asking for a hangover.

But I digress.  Part of the class encouraged us to create our own margarita flavors, something we've been experimenting with ever since.  Here's my latest concoction of awesomeness:

Watermelon Cucumber Margaritas
  • 1/4 cup watermelon
  • 3 tbsp cucumber, peeled
  • 1.5 oz white tequila (Centenario is my fav)
  • 1 oz orange liquor (I used Cointreau)
  • 1.5 oz fresh squeeze lime juice
  • agave nectar
  • ice
Notice how you can pronounce everything and there's nothing sketchy listed?  Weird how that's a trend in all the recipes I share.

personal photo

You may also want to consider using what I lovingly call "the toolkit":
  • shaker
  • strainer
  • muddler
  • jigger with 1 and 1.5 oz measurements
  • handheld juicer (not pictured)
personal photo

Pour tequila in the shaker.  Add the watermelon and cucumber.  Using the muddler, mash the watermelon and cucumber in the tequila.  This will help flavor it.  It's called "infusing".  Say it with me, kids.  "Infusing!"  Excellent.  The shaker should look something like this:

personal photo

Next, add the orange liquor and lime juice.  Give the shaker two squeezes of agave nectar.  Fill it up with ice, put the top on, and shake like hell.  Carlos told us to keep shaking until your hands hurt, meaning the ice makes the metal shaker super cold.  Remove the top, cover with the strainer, pour into a glass over ice, and enjoy!

personal photo

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Getting Started With Strength Training

A lot of my previous posts focused on preparing yourself mentally to make positive health changes.  I've talked about setting a goal, identifying why you want to make changes, carving out time for yourself, etc.  One request I received said, "Great!  I've got a goal, I'm motivated, I'm ready to change....but what do I actually do?"

When I first hopped on the fitness train I was in the same position.  I knew I had to do something but I wasn't really sure what.  Picture a 19-year-old me at Penn State starting to make regular visits to a small fitness loft on campus.  This would be the first time I set foot in a gym and had no knowledge or training to date so I made up my own routine which went something like this: 
  • Warm up for 5 mins on a stationary bike
  • Head to the mat area to stretch, do crunches, and whatever random pilates exercises I could remember from my mom's pilates book
  • Play on the assisted pull-up/dip station trying out all the different grips not knowing what any of them really do
  • Attempt to stay on the elliptical for 20 minutes  (at first I could barely make it to 10 without feeling like I was going to die)
  • Go back to the mat area and do some more ridiculous stretching
  • Pat self on back for being a stellar specimen of fitness
Gosh, I can't believe I just admitted that.  If I knew then what I know now, that visit would look drastically different.  I would be certain to follow my Top 5 Training Tips for Real Results

For those of you ready to take action and for my 19-year-old self if time travel were possible, here's a basic program I'd recommend.  Most of these require body weight or a set of dumbbells.  Shoot for 2 to 3 sets of 12 repetitions.  If you fall significantly below 12 reps, try an easier version.  If you do all 12 reps and could bust out a few more, make it harder next time.  Be realistic with your capabilities.  It doesn't matter where you start, as long as you better yourself each workout.  Increase the weight, rest less in between, or do another set.  Just do something to make it more challenging each time.

The exercises are arranged in alternating pairs.  Which means you'll do 12 goblet squats, rest, 12 bent rows, and rest.  That is one set.  Start from the top for a second set and again for a third.  Try to keep your rest to 60 seconds or less.  Without further delay, brace yourself for some low budget videos of yours truly demonstrating each exercise.

1a. Goblet Squat

  • Focus on form:   Keep chest lifted and back flat, hips should move down and back, weight should be in your heels
  • Make it easier:   Ditch the dumbbell and use only body weight
  • Make it harder:   Steadily increase the dumbbell weight
1b. Bent Row

  • Focus on form:   Maintain a straight back, push the hips back so the spine doesn't round
  • Make it easier:  Lighten up on the weight
  • Make is harder:   Grab a heavier set of dumbbells

2a. Glute Bridge

  • Focus on form:   Engage the hamstrings (the big muscles in the back of your thigh) and the glutes (the muscles in your butt) for the movement instead of the lower back
  • Make it easier:  Work your way up to the recommended amount of repetitions
  • Make is harder:  Elevate feet on a small bench, do a single-leg version (pictured below), or a combination of the two
Single-Leg Glute Bridge

2b. Push-ups

  • Focus on form:   Brace the entire core so the hips don't drop, body should be in one straight line, only the elbows bend
  • Make it easier:   Elevate your hands (pictured below), gradually lower them to the ground as strength increases
  • Make is harder:   Elevate your feet on a small bench
Modified Push-up

3. Plank

  • Focus on form:   Position the body on the elbows and toes. Brace the core and take deep breaths.  The body should be in a straight line, meaning the hips aren't above the shoulders or sagging toward the ground.  Hold as long as possible with good form.  This is one set.  Rest and repeat. 
  • Make it easier:   Hold for a shorter amount of time.  Add 5-10 seconds each workout to progress.
  • Make is harder:   Work up to a 60 second plank. 

Try to do this routine two or three times per week, making sure to leave at least one day of rest in between.  Don't forget to listen to your body when it comes to intensity.  But, be prepared to surprise yourself with how strong you truly are and how quickly you advance.  I'll have the next step ready and waiting!

*Always consult your physician before starting an exercise program.  Additionally, it is highly recommended to consult a reputable fitness professional to learn proper form.  Any exercise can result in injury if done incorrectly.  Taking part in this and any program is done so at your own risk.  Amanda Kopeski will not be held liable for anything other than awesome results.  Listen to your body and don't do anything stupid.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Top 5 Training Tips for Real Results

I have future posts planned featuring more workouts, especially geared towards those who've never touched a dumbbell before in their life.  Before I get to all that, I think it would be beneficial to explain my fitness philosophy - something I probably should've did a few "sample workouts" ago.  Knowing that, you'll have a better idea of why I train myself and others like I do.

1. Lift Weights

Up and down, side to side, back and forth.  Lifting weights, or some form of strength training, provides incredible results in the short-term.  Beautiful curves in the form lean muscle, a revved up metabolism to torch fat, and the functional strength to just generally kick butt at life.  More importantly, think about the long term effects.  Strength training increases bone density and muscle mass - something that rapidly diminishes as we age.  That could be the difference between a 70-year-old you worrying about falling and breaking a hip walking down the hall to dinner in your assisted living facility or the other 70-year-old version of yourself who takes daily walks on the beach from your retirement home in Mexico.  I'll take the latter please.

2. Keep It Simple

The best exercise programs don't require a lot of fancy machines. They aren't born out of 3 AM infomercials either.  We're hell-bent on trying to discover "the secret" to body transformation in the form of some gadget, DVD, or celebrity fitness trainer's method.  The truth is, we've had the answer all along.  Stick to the basics.  Move your body in its natural movement patterns and engage as much of it as possible (i.e. compound movements that use more than one muscle group at a time).  This can be accomplished with squats, lunges, deadlifts, push-up, pull-ups, overhead presses, rows, etc.  Just reading that list should sound more exhausting than sitting on a bench doing bicep curls.

 3. Train Intensely

The more you put into your training the more you will get out of it.  Focus on what you're doing and put your maximum effort into each repetition.  That means leaving the cell phone somewhere safe and trying to read your magazine at some other time.  Strength training with compound movements should leave your heart racing and you gasping for air after each set.  If not, it's time to graduate from the pink dumbbells.  News flash: your handbag probably weighs more than them anyway.  The more intensely you train, the more you will surprise yourself. 

4. Focus on Form

Think quality over quantity.  It doesn't matter if you can do 57 push-ups if you're dropping your hips and barely bending your elbows.  Deadlifting two times your own body weight isn't really impressive if your back is rounded the entire time.  Crappy form is not only inefficient, it's dangerous and could result in serious injury.  Always consult a reputable fitness professional before starting an exercise program.  Make sure you're doing everything correctly so your time and effort isn't in vain. 

5. Be Consistent

Would you brush your teeth one day a year and expect a clean bill of health from your dentist?  Of course not.  You take care of your teeth so you don't have to hear your dentist tell you to floss more.  And so people can stand to be within ten feet of you during conversation.  Take the same approach to exercise.  Just like our teeth require daily hygiene, our bodies require regular maintenance.  They are built to move, so let them.  I'd bet if our muscles started smelling funky from lack of exercise, we wouldn't even have to talk about this.

Put these five things into practice and be prepared to see results.  They're basic, but they're challenging so expect to work hard.  Stay tuned for a beginner strength training program to help you get started in the next few days!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Three Steps to Finding Time for Exercise

What's the biggest reason people don't exercise?  Too confusing/painful/exhausting/boring/tedious etc?  None of the above, actually. 

It's because they don't have enough time.

So why do some people have time to exercise regularly and others don't?  Probably because they don't have full-time jobs, kids, friends, or any other hobbies, right?  Wrong, wrong, wrong, and even more wrong.

Everyone has the same 1,440 minutes each day.  Regular exercisers do not magically find more minutes in their day or make time stand still.  They have careers, families, and mile-long to-do lists just like everyone else.  The difference comes down to priorities.

They value their health just as much as all their other obligations.  Exercise is a priority so they don't think twice about dedicating time to it.  It's included near the top of their to-do list every week.

Finding the time to exercise starts with three simple steps:

1.  Change your mindset 

Find personal value in regular physical activity.  Looking at an endless list of statistics on how it helps reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, X, Y, and Z might not hit home for you. 

Instead, ask yourself "How will exercising make my life better?"  Seeing your children have families of their own, traveling to places on your bucket list, rocking a body you are confident of, and aging gracefully with your significant other might flash before your eyes.  Identifying this will give exercise more merit.  Watch it then catapult to the top of your to-do list.   

2.  Remove some things from your to-do list

Gasp!  But my life is jam-packed as is.  I'm lucky if I can find time to run to the bathroom let alone a half hour to exercise!

If someone offered you $10,000 to exercise for 30 minutes, five days a week would you make time?  I'd venture to say yes.  You'd probably cut the less important things out of your day.  Suddenly watching your favorite talk show or surfing gossip sites to find out which Hollywood starlet is headed to rehab yet again pales in comparison.

Sit down and seriously look at how you spend your day.  Analyze it hour by hour.  Look for bits of time that are wasteful.  If an activity is not positively impacting you or life will go on as normal in its absence, get rid of it.  Use that time for something more productive for your body and mind.

3.  Do it

Now that exercise is a top priority and you've made space for it, take action!  To quote businessman Joel Barker: "Vision without action is a dream."  Wanting to do it and planning to do it doesn't get it done.  Put on some comfy clothes, lace up your sneakers, and move! 

Exercise does not have to take hours upon hours to be effective.  There is something out there for every age, fitness level, interest, and schedule.  Remind yourself of how your life will be different when you're at your best.  Ask yourself, "How bad do I want this?"

Monday, July 11, 2011

TRX 40:20 Metabolic Session

Here's another sample workout inspired by various videos on the Fitness Anywhere website.  I feature the TRX often, but only because it truly is a versatile piece of equipment.  When first researching it I kept thinking "Really?  Almost $200 for just straps??"  But I've gotten my money out of it tenfold.  Actually, Santa did since he's the one who gave it to me. 

Recently I discovered I can attach it to my deck which means the backyard is now gym space.  It gives me more room than the foyer where it's usually hung therefore allowing for more variety of exercises.  Plus, nothing beats training outdoors in the fresh air. 

For this workout you need a TRX and a timer of some sort.

The session consisted of two rounds of five exercises each.  Perform as many repetitions as possible of the exercise for 40 seconds.  Rest 20 seconds before moving on to the next.  At the end of the round, rest for 2 minutes and repeat it again.  Do the same for Round 2.

Round 1
Rest for 2 minutes and repeat one more time.

Round 2
Rest for 2 minutes and repeat one more time.

*Switch sides on second time through.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Spinach, Tomato, & Feta Omelet

Sorry to sound like a mom, but breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.  Not only does it set your body up to perform its best, but making a smart choice when you're still groggy puts you in the mind frame to continue the pattern for the rest of the day. 

On the weekends I always have a veggie omelet for breakfast.  Here's a combination I've been enjoying recently.

Spinach, Tomato, & Feta Omelet 
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 1 handful of fresh spinach, torn into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons of diced tomato (add more if desired)
  • 1-2 tablespoons of crumbled feta cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

 Beat eggs and mix in spinach, tomato, and feta.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook over low to medium heat until done. 
I feel weird trying to explain how to cook eggs.  This is common sense, right?

I usually serve mine up with some whole wheat toast with a little bit of natural honey.  And there you have it.  About 18 grams of protein and at least one serving of veggies before noon.  Enjoy!