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Mark Levine, Personal Trainer from Midtown Athletic Club in Bannockburn, IL, is back to talk about overcoming the dreaded fitness plateau, one of the most challenging parts of meeting a fitness goal.
In the outdoor cycling world, reaching a plateau often gives you a needed break before you ascend another gradient of incline. However, if your goal is to get stronger or lose weight, then reaching a plateau is an obstacle that you need to overcome and not embrace.
A fitness plateau happens when your progress toward gaining strength or losing weight stops and levels out. This can affect you both emotionally and physically, and can become a critical time in your fitness journey, as some people tend to quit as the effort they’re putting in no longer shows results.
Here are four techniques to ensure you don’t get stuck on a fitness plateau:
When you flip the calendar page to the next month, change your workout. I often see people lifting the same amount of weight and performing the same number of repetitions each time they visit the club. When you work out this way, your body is smart enough that it operates more efficiently and doesn’t need to burn as many calories as it used to and the body doesn’t work as hard to gain as much strength.
You can also make changes on a weekly basis. For example if you are weight lifting, you can lift heavy twice a week with fewer reps and lift light once a week with increased reps. The following week you would switch it up so you lift light twice a week and lift heavy once. Your body doesn’t know what to expect, and therefore it won’t operate on cruise control.
I cannot stress enough the benefits of cross training, or regularly switching up your workouts. Cross training allows you to keep your body guessing as to what it will need to do. For several days last week, I worked out for thirty minutes in an anaerobic (almost breathless) mode. Then, I went for a 2.5-hour bike ride. At some point during the ride, my body began to suffer. I had been training it for thirty minutes of hardcore work and not an endurance workout.
The bottom line is to keep your body guessing. For any economists out there, cross training is the macro version of calendar training.
Whether you’re doing cardio or weight training, you need to increase the intensity to prevent plateaus. If you are doing cardio, mix up the workout by either increasing the incline, adding speed, or both. Don’t stay at the same speed or incline for the entire session. If you plan on running for thirty minutes at 6.0 mph, then your body will get used to this and you won’t get as much from your workout. Also, if you are weight training, always remember to add weight and reduce the repetitions. Even if you work out intensely, make sure one of your workouts is easier or reduce the weight. Engage in the same type of workout, even an intense one, and your body will get used to those types of workouts.
When weight training, take some rest days. Rest days allow your muscles to grow. Even bodybuilders build in a rest day or two during their weekly training schedule. If you currently break your weight training into upper body one day and lower body the next, then you are giving your upper body a rest on the day that you are working your lower body. If you are doing a total body workout, then take a day off and feel those muscles grow.
Not sure if you’re overtraining? Here’s how you can tell:
Most people don’t like change and tend to stay with what they feel comfortable. It is easy to hop on that treadmill and run 3 miles followed by some abdominal work. However, when you keep your body guessing, you’ll avoid plateaus and meet your fitness goal more quickly.
What’s your tip for avoiding a fitness plateau?
Mark Levine, Personal Trainer from Midtown Athletic Club in Bannockburn, IL, takes over the blog today to discuss the benefits of combining cardio and strength-training into a single workout, especially during the busy summer months when you might have less time to devote to staying fit.
Summer schedules are packed with activities, from weekend graduation parties to weddings to serving as your kids’ camp taxi. If you’re finding it difficult to squeeze in both cardio and strength-training workouts, your best bet is to combine the two into a single workout in the weight room.
#1. Circuit Train
The best way to burn fat is to build muscle with strength training. Train in a circuit versus completing a single exercise.
An example of a single exercise is sitting on the Lat Pulldown machine and knocking out three sets of 10 repetitions, and then moving on to a Chest Press machine. The problem with this approach is that you are working a single muscle and also incorporating too much rest into your workout. This type of workout takes time and doesn’t stoke the metabolism as much as circuit training.
Here is an example of a workout circuit:
Complete Four Rounds with No Rest Between Exercises
Seated Row or TRX Row (12 Repetitions)
MB Squat with Overhead Press (12 Repetitions)
Seated Chest Press, TRX Chest Press, or Pushups (10-to-12 Repetitions)
Standing Forward Lunge with Dumbbell Curls (12 Repetions)
#2. Add a Cardio Station to the Circuit
Try adding a 250-meter row, a one-minute run/jog, or a one-minute bicycle sprint at the end of your circuit. If you have the capabilities and knowledge, you can do 6 burpees or 12 kettlebell swings.
#3. Less Talk, More Walk
One of the main reasons circuit training is a great way to get a cardiovascular workout is that there is no rest between exercises. You don’t rest after every minute on the treadmill, so why should you rest between exercises? By reducing the rest period, your level of cardio will increase.
#4. Add a Finisher to Your Workout
After you’re done with four rounds of the circuit or two different circuits, end with a “finisher.” A finisher is an exercise that will keep the heart rate in the aerobic level. Depending on your fitness level, you can choose one of the following, and perform the exercise for ten minutes:
Beginner- Rowing quickly for 30 seconds and then have 30 seconds of recovery time (or whatever is needed).
Intermediate- Rapidly walking/jogging for 30 seconds, followed by a 30-second recovery period.
#5. Always Have A Plan
When you walk into the weight room, always make sure you have a plan. In the example circuit workout provided above, you’ll notice that you are working the upper body, followed by a lower-body exercise. This plan allows you to rest the upper body while you’re working the lower body. It also incorporates compound exercises (where you work more than one body part at a time), in the forward lunge with a dumbbell curl.
The next time you’re at the club and heading toward the treadmill or elliptical, try circuit training in the weight room instead. It’s a great way to get your cardio, burn fat, and build muscle in a single workout.
What does it mean to be fit?
For many of us, being fit means maintaining a healthy weight with diet and exercise.
However, the “healthy weight = fit” idea omits and misrepresents several important components of what being truly fit means. In biological terms, “being fit” means “being able to provide for one’s own life and wellbeing; the fittest are those who can do so the best.” Now that’s a little closer to what we should be working toward. Not just being fit to the point of sufficiency, but being the fittest.
So, the question is: What can you do to be the fittest you can be, or to obtain the best quality of life possible?
To answer that question, we’ll examine the five components of physical fitness. That’s right, there are five. Not just “fitting into my favorite jeans,” “being able to run a marathon,” or “bench pressing twice my body weight.” Our definitions are from the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Body Composition: This refers to the relative amount of muscle, fat, bone, and other vital parts of the body. Body composition can provide a better evaluation of overall health than weight or BMI alone, so it is important to maintain a level of body fat that is neither too low (below 3-5% for men and 8-12% for women), nor too high (above 20-25% for men and 29-35% for women).
A variety of body fat measurement tools exist including calipers and bio-electrical impedance devices, and although some are more accurate and expensive than others, all can help you monitor changes.
Tip: Have a body fat analysis performed to know your starting point, and begin implementing small, healthy diet and exercise changes to improve body composition.
Cardiorespiratory Endurance: Cardiorespiratory endurance is the ability of the body’s circulatory and respiratory systems to supply fuel during physical activity. This means being able to sustain an elevated heart rate. Activities like walking, swimming, and bicycling will all lead to improvement, and the good news is that the activity you choose does not necessarily have to be strenuous (at least initially).
Tip: choose an activity you enjoy and start slowly, increasing the intensity and duration over time.
Flexibility: Flexibility is the range of motion around a joint. Maintaining good flexibility helps protect the muscles and joints from injury in all kinds of activity. A basic stretching program, such as 10-15 minutes of light stretching for the upper body, lower body, and core after a workout, may be all you need to improve this oft-neglected fitness component. Yoga and Pilates classes can also add more structure to your flexibility program.
Tip: the key to improving flexibility is to make time for it! Add 10 minutes to the end of your workout to stretch or take 10-minute walking/stretching breaks at work.
Muscular Endurance: Muscular endurance is the ability of the muscle to continue to perform without fatigue. You can improve muscular endurance by doing sustained activities such as walking, swimming, or bicycling. When it comes to weight training, completing longer sets (12-25 repetitions) would be considered working in the endurance range.
Tip: look for opportunities to activate your muscles outside the club. For example, walk to the grocery store and flex those biceps by carrying groceries.
Muscular Strength: Muscular strength is the ability of the muscles to exert force during an activity. Sorry to those of you who want to stick to the treadmill, but this means using your muscles against resistance, whether that comes in the form of a dumbbell, resistance band, or your own body weight against gravity.
Tip: take the stairs instead of the elevator, or do some pushups during TV commercial breaks.
To be truly, “totally fit” we need to focus on all five components of physical fitness. Not only will we be healthier overall, but we will also enjoy the benefits of reduced risk of injury and disease prevention (osteoporosis, diabetes, etc.). The added bonus? Improving any single area of fitness will help the others improve as well.
So what are you waiting for?! What areas of physical fitness are you focusing on right now?
LPGA golfer Stacy Lewis’ ability to overcome childhood scoliosis to become one of the game’s rising stars is an inspiring story that hits home with Midtown Athletic Club in Windy Hill, Georgia member Heather McNally, a Coca-Cola Planning and Resource Management Director.
Diagnosed with scoliosis at age 10, Heather began to experience debilitating migraine headaches—often up to 20 times per month—in 2003.
But thanks to a connection made by a Chicago neurologist that directly linked Heather’s migraines to scoliosis, along with a four-day-a-week fitness regimen at Midtown Athletic Club at Windy Hill, her monthly migraine toll is down to just a few each month.
In desperate search of relief for her headaches, McNally, 41, visited four Atlanta neurologists over an eight-year period. Her quest would eventually lead to Chicago, and her stepmom’s recommendation of the Diamond Headache Clinic. It was here where a clinic doctor observed a direct connection between her scoliosis and headaches.
Heather’s doctor in Atlanta had prescribed a drug given for epilepsy. While it reduced the migraines, the side effects were unbearable.
“I lost 10 percent of my body weight, my cognitive reasoning was weakened, and I had memory loss,” she remembers. “Worst of all, the medication made carbonated beverages taste awful. And that’s not good for a woman who works for Coca-Cola.”
Her family coordinated an “intervention,” insisting that she stop taking the drug. McNally did, but the migraines returned with a vengeance.
It was Diamond Headache Clinic’s Alex Feoktistov, M.D., who finally asked the right question.
“He asked if my head hurt when I tilted my neck,” McNally recalls. Tests would later help the doctor determine that McNally’s headaches were actually caused by stiffness in her neck and upper back—and most likely aggravated by her scoliosis.
Says McNally: “This connection was something that all my doctors previously dismissed.”
After talking with her personal trainers at Midtown Athletic Club at Windy Hill, McNally was provided with a four-day training regimen that has been working well. On Monday, for instance, it’s Pilates; Tuesday is for strength training (including neck and shoulders); Wednesday is her day for physical therapy; and Thursday is for massage therapy at the club’s spa.
Eight months into the program, Heather says that her migraines have virtually disappeared. Her back, she adds, is straighter than it has been in 30 years.
“We all know that physical activity is good for the body,” says Dina Casso, Windy Hill’s General Manager. “But for Heather, the results have been literally life-changing.”
“Many members come to us not only to help them lose weight or firm up areas of their body, but also to help them with debilitating ailments,” Casso adds. “We help by designing specific physical fitness programs to help provide our clients with a better quality of life.”
McNally wholeheartedly agrees.
“For me, even my personality has changed,” she says. “Not living in constant pain has made me a happier person. My family, friends and co-workers have all noticed. If it weren’t for Dr. Feoktistov and my great team at Midtown, I can’t imagine where I’d be today.”
Why do we care about trends? Researchers study them, writers report them, teachers teach them, and tweeters tweet them. Although there are many advantages to being “in the know,” one of the most important reasons to pay attention to trends is that they can help us prepare for and adapt to changes ahead.
Over the past six years, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has identified trends in the fitness industry with their ”Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends” (you can view the full 2012 survey text here). Come January 1, some of the most popular resolutions will be health- and fitness-related, so let’s get a jump on meeting our goals by looking at what the 2012 fitness trends mean for us.
Educated, certified, and experienced fitness professionals are the core of a rapidly expanding industry. In spite of tough economic times, consumers still place a lot of value in getting and staying healthy. The fitness industry has responded to this need by employing qualified trainers and instructors.
What does that mean for you? You can breathe a little easier knowing that you can trust your fitness professionals to lead you in safe and effective workouts, helping you reach your goals faster and giving you more bang for your buck.
Strength training is here to stay. Having been near the top of the trends list for several years, strength training is the first training “type” on the trends list, accompanied by personal, core, functional, and group training.
What does that mean for you? Since most of us sit at a desk all day, adding a little weight-bearing exercise such as resistance training can help improve our energy levels, mood, and overall functionality. Expect fitness centers to continue to update equipment and training options to facilitate strength-training programs that meet the needs of all types of exercisers – a stronger body is yours for the taking!
No one will be left behind. Training options are becoming more population-specific, with new programs being tailored to the aging Baby Boomer population and the fight against childhood obesity (just to name a few). Your fitness professionals are trained specifically to work with a variety of individuals from athletes to people fighting obesity or other diseases.
What does that mean for you? The fitness industry is actively trying to meet you where you are to help you get the most you can out of an exercise program, regardless of your goals or fitness level. In other words, you don’t have to start off looking like Jane Fonda to make exercise a part of your life.
It’s all about energy. Zumba, boot camp, and spinning are growing in popularity. These group classes are high-energy and fun, and put the emphasis on pushing your physical limits.
What does that mean for you?Releasing stress through dancing, high-intensity training, and cycling will leave you feeling strong, accomplished, and ready to tackle life’s challenges. You just have to be willing to give them a try. And although not “trending” anymore, Pilates fans shouldn’t be worried that their favorite class is going to disappear; only time will tell whether these new arrivals and old favorites will continue on as actual trends rather than fads.
The key this year is to work with Midtown to customize a fitness program that will leave you feeling refreshed, rejuventated, and (hopefully) like you had a darn good time.
Now that you know what’s to come in 2012, it’s time to use this information to start doing something that will work for you.
Your 2012 motto shouldn’t be “once I meet my goal, I’ll be happy.” Instead, how about you take a chance on what the industry is giving you and say “it’s time to give myself knowledge, revitalizing energy, and a sense of accomplishment, and add some more fun to my fitness routine.” Now that’s a reason to work out today.
What do you think of these trends? Have you already tried any of these fitness programs or plan to in 2012? What are you going to do differently in your workout routine this year?
Now that we are smack-dab in the middle of the holiday season, you might feel like the size of your to-do list rivals Santa’s “Naughty v. Nice” one. Fortunately, having less time doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice fitness.
Let’s take a look at a few ways to trim your workout time (and your waistline) along with your Christmas tree.
Circuit-style weight training and combination moves: Instead of resting between sets, perform exercises one after the other to effectively rest muscle groups without losing time. Work opposing muscle groups back-to-back, such as chest and back, or alternate upper and lower body exercises to ensure adequate recovery time.
You can also combine upper and lower body moves, such as a squat with a biceps curl. Just make sure the “up phases” of the exercises are done at the same time to maximize effort. And here’s an extra benefit - the lack of rest in this style of training gives you a little cardio boost!
Interval training: You may think interval training is just another buzz word fitness professionals and heart rate monitor aficionados throw out to make you sweat more, but the cardiovascular benefits of this training method are proven. The basic idea is to increase your effort to near-maximum exertion for a period of time, followed by a recovery period.
For example, perform one minute of running (or stair-climbing, or jumping rope, or spinning, etc.), followed by one minute of walking, or some other lower-intensity version of the same exercise. You can also intersperse cardio moves (high-intensity interval) with strength-training moves (recovery interval). Make sure you adequately warm-up and cool-down when performing this type of training to help the body adjust to the intensity.
Creative Combos: Get creative by completing your workout and your holiday to-do list simultaneously. Power walk while shopping at the mall. Do squats or hold a wall-sit while putting finishing touches on your decorations. Dance, lift cans, or do push-ups on the kitchen counter while cooking. Practice abdominal contractions while driving in the car. Choose a new exercise for each of the 12 days of Christmas. It’s up to you!
Bonus Tips: Stick to a plan and use your time wisely. If you want to continue your structured workout, try to find uninterrupted time by turning off your cell, or doing your workout while your kids are at school. If it’s too hard to find a set time, break up your workout by starting your day with a brisk walk or core work. Get in as much as you can in the time you have, but don’t forget your cool down.
Any activity you do this season will add up to help you trim your waistline (or at least hold off the effects of that extra glass of egg nog). So what are you waiting for? Get excited for your new plan and get ready for a new you come January!
Have you changed your workout routine because of the holidays? What are you doing differently?
If you spend a lot of time around the club, you’ve probably heard talk of Heart Rate Monitors (HRMs).
Trainers are recommending them to clients, group exercise instructors are recommending them to their classes, and friends are comparing their “calories burned” in the locker rooms.
But will a HRM work for you?
Like all things in life, that depends.
Heart rate monitors can range from $50-$450, it’s important to decide whether a HRM is a good investment before you buy one.
Here are 5 ways a HRM can help you, and what other considerations are necessary to make sure your expectations are met as safely and effectively as possible.
HRMs can help you:
1. Improve your health: HRMs can help you find and maintain the right exercise intensity to reach your goals. If you are working to attain the 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (50-70% of maximum heart rate) 5 days per week recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the device will tell you whether you are doing that. Higher-end models can provide specific zone intensity and time requirements to reach weight loss and fitness performance goals.
Unfortunately, your HRM won’t tell you what activities to do, how to do those activities correctly, or how to balance the other components of total health – nutrition, sleep, etc. From inexperienced exercisers to elite athletes, additional input from a doctor or trainer may be needed to paint a complete picture of an individual exercise program.
2. Measure your effort: Measuring the work-rate of the heart is the most accurate method of determining how much benefit you are deriving from your workout, and using a HRM is more accurate than interrupting your workout to take your pulse manually. Apart from user-error (e.g. the strap falling off, or accidentally stopping the training computer during a workout), HRMs are pretty dependable, as long as you always remember to use it!
3. Exercise safely: Feedback from HRMs can help prevent you from exercising too hard in a single session (and thus burning yourself out for several days), and from over-training in general. A heart rate that is higher than you expect it to be before, during, or after a workout, can be a signal that your body needs more rest. Most models don’t see the whole picture, however.
For example, certain medications can affect your heart rate, and your monitor can’t account for working an active job (think construction worker) if you only wear it during structured workouts. Again, listening to your body and asking for advice from a health or fitness professional can round out the picture.
4. Track your progress: Some HRMs are able to store and display weeks’ worth of training sessions, which will help you identify possible training errors, or hopefully just reinforce that you are staying on track! From the perspective of someone who never really liked math and can’t always remember how much she ran three days ago, it’s a nice benefit. However, all of the tracking and reporting tools are usually not available unless additional equipment or software is purchased.
5. Put the fire back in your program: Most of us probably never thought we would be taking orders from computers, but I have to admit, I can’t help feeling a little guilty when my HRM tells me “incomplete training week” or “train a lot more.” That is usually enough motivation to get my butt to the gym.
Some of you may prefer a social or physical push to exercise that can make a digital reminder more of an annoyance than a motivator. But at least for me, having that little screen tell me that I met my training goal for the week feels like the extra pat on the back I couldn’t give myself.
What do you think? Is a heart rate monitor worth it?
With 17 marathons (including 10 Bostons) under his belt, and 15 years of personal training experience, Bruce Hedlund, the Rochester club’s resident running expert, is the trainer you want to work with if you’re preparing for a race.
He graduated from SUNY Cortland with a B.S. in Exercise Science, and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. Bruce also works as Penfield High School’s Strength and Conditioning coach, and did the same for the Rochester Americans for the 2009-2010 season.MORE
It’s Ask the Trainer time again, and Brian Wilmot is taking on your questions this month.
Brian has a fascinating background.
He made Jamaica’s National Swimming Squad at the age of 10 and competed at an international level until age 17. He started Body Building and personal training at 18 and competed in body building until age 24. He won the NPC Amateur New York State Championships for his weight class. He’s also the author Slim and Trim. After becoming certified by The American College of Sports Medicine as a Health Fitness Specialist (HFS) and having earned several certifications prior, Brian worked in a medical office as a health fitness specialist for six years. He joined the Midtown personal training team in 2000, and his current fitness quest is Seidokan Karate.MORE
Personal Trainer Josette Lindsey is answering your questions this month. Exercise and fitness have always been a part of Josette’s life, whether she was preparing for an upcoming softball season or just working out to stay fit and healthy. She graduated from SUNY Brockport in 1990 with a degree in Physical Education and Sports Management, and then taught children’s fitness classes for four years.
She then transitioned to adult fitness and personal training, and has worked at Midtown for five years.
Her favorite part about her job comes from the satisfaction she receives when her clients tell her how much better they feel after their workouts. She takes great pride in encouraging them to take better care of themselves, and loves watching their progress over time.MORE
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