Sunday, May 29, 2011

Build Your Endurance: Difficult Exercises You Must Try

Ever heard of the “Ninja Tuck Jump”, the “Donkey kick”, or the “Pistol squat”? Yea, that’s because they are difficult variations of your every day exercises. I bet you’re dying to know what these mean.

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Ninja Tuck Jump: Jumping quickly from your knees to your feet is only easy for Jackie Chan. But this is one stunt you can master with a little practice. Starting on your knees, contract your glutes and quads and jump to your feet in one motion, landing in a deep squat. Yelling “Hi-ya!” or whipping out your nun-chucks will earn you my undying love—which is worth the weird looks you'll also get. To ease into it, start by doing it on thick carpet or a mat and swing your arms to help you get enough momentum.

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Superman: Or Superwoman, as one of my fitness class instructors likes to call it. If you want a flat, sexy stomach, shift your focus away from your core every once in a while and train your lower back. Lay flat on your stomach with your arms extended in front of you on the ground as your legs are lying flat. Lift both your arms and legs at the same time, as if you were flying, and contract the lower back. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on how "super" you're feeling. To intensify, squeeze your glutes even tighter to help lift your legs higher off the floor.

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Mountain climber: I've yet to meet a mountaineer that climbs mountains in this position (a better name would be "Sprinter Stuck at the Starting Line" but I suppose that's not as catchy). Still, there's no denying the power of this exercise that challenges your shoulders and quads and elevates your heart rate. Assume the sprinter starting position—hands on the ground, rear up in the air and one leg bent toward your chest. Alternate which leg is forward, only touching your front toe to the ground before quickly switching sides. It takes a lot of tolerance to do this exercise, so challenge your body!

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Roundhouse kick: Look like an action star and work your butt at the same time with this kick out to the side. Stand on one leg with your supporting foot pointed slightly outward. Bend your other leg and raise it up to hip level, and then extend your leg fully with your toe pointed. We all know what action kicks look like. If there’s anything Chinese movies have taught us, it is this right here. If you also want to get all that aggression out, have a friend hold a board at head height, and then picture someone that you think deserves a beating (a few come to mind), and give it your all!

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Donkey kick: It takes about 10 reps for you to really feel the genius of this inverted exercise. At that point, you'll feel the burn from your shoulders down to your legs. Start on your hands and knees with your backside to a wall (preferably a wall with nothing on it as you're going to be kicking it). Lift up onto your toes, keeping knees bent. Jump your feet up onto the wall behind you while you support yourself with your hands. Jump feet back down. Try not to kick up any higher than your hip level.

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Pistol squat: One-legged squats don't seem very tricky—after all, you did manage to pick up that cotton ball you dropped without putting your newly pedicured foot on the floor—but squatting on one leg seriously challenges your balance. It also activates your core and just about every other muscle in your lower body, including your glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Stand holding your arms straight out in front of your body and raise your right leg off the floor. Push your hips back and lower your body as far as you can. Pause, and then push your body back to the starting position.

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Wall sit: Aerobic class memories of sitting with your back against a wall, legs shaking until you see stars are enough to remind us of the power of this seemingly simple move. Make sure your legs are at a 90-degree angle, press your back against the wall, and hold it until you absolutely can't hold it any longer. Place your hands on top of your head or hold them out in front to add a little work for your shoulders. But whatever you do, don't cheat and rest them on your thighs!

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Intensified plank: It doesn't get much easier than holding still. That is, until you try holding still with only your hands and toes touching the ground, in the upper pushup position. To further intensify the plank, try lifting up one arm and the opposite leg to really challenge your core and balance. To get the most out of this core exercise, make sure you pull your bellybutton in toward your spine and keep your hands in line with your shoulders. Don't let your hips sag—you shouldn't be feeling this in your back.

I have tons more of these intensified exercises, and I will share bit by bit as the weeks go by. But try these today and let me know if you feel the burn.

Do you have any more intensified exercises that you do?

Cheers Eights & Weights!

This week’s post is a combination of excerpts from Shape Magazine’s “25 Most Deceiving Exercises”

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Put Your Snacks on a 100 Calorie Diet

So long to the 100 calorie pack oreos. We all know what a 100 calorie pack does. It’s like an invitation to want more and more. Sometimes it works when you have a sudden craving that you want to satisfy healthily, but using it as a frequent snack? It doesn’t work too well for me. Okay then, you ask, what can I snack on that won’t negate how good I’ve been all day? Here are a few snacks around 100 calories or less.
  • Sorbet: I see some readers jumping in jubilation. Mango sorbet, lemon sorbet, it’s all good as long as you stick to half a cup. Half a cup of sorbet is about 110 calories. And nutritionally, it’s much better than chocolate fudge ice cream…
  • Berries: If you want a low-calorie snack you can keep nibbling on, berries are the way to go. They contain a ton of antioxidants, and you certainly won’t feel guilty afterwards.
    • 1 cup of raspberries = 64 calories
    • 1 cup of blueberries = 83 calories
    • 2 cups of strawberries = 92 calories
  • Light yoghurt: Light or fat-free yoghurt tends to stay in the 100-calorie range. My favorite brand is the Activia because it’s one of the few low-fat yogurts that is actually very very tasty. But I'll add all sorts of varieties here like low-fat Greek yogurt (tons of protein and just as many calories as yogurt), and soy yogurt (for the lactose intolerant bunch).
  • Cottage cheese: If you are not particularly fond of yogurt, you could try the cottage cheese route. Half a cup of low fat cottage cheese contains about 80 calories. But then again, not everyone can fathom eating cottage cheese.
  • Popcorn: Well, you didn’t think it was movie popcorn, did you? Popcorn in theatres is usually smothered with butter, salt, and sugar to an extent where the calories are sometimes tripled. If you love your popcorn though, you can still have it as a snack; just make sure it doesn’t contain tons of butter, oil, sugar, or salt. One brand I like to turn to is the Orville Redenbachers Natural popcorn. 3 cups are only about 90 calories. If you make your own popcorn at home, the calories are about the same.
  • Soup: The beauty of Soup in a Can (or Cup a Soup) is that they have light versions. For example, Campbell’s Light Chicken with Rice is about 70 calories per serving, and Progresso has similar types of soups with similar calories. A lot of the vegetable soups are also pretty nutritious because some of them are made with a vegetable base rather than a meat stock base.
  • Granola bar: Be careful with the granola bars though. Some of them are made with much more calories than you think, but sold as ‘high in fiber’ or something like that. When in doubt, read the label. Some of the brands that have worked well for me are Quaker Oats and Kashi. They tend to stay under 150 calories per pack.
  • Bread: If you can stick to one slice of whole grain bread, then you’re all set. A slice is usually about 100 calories. However, if you want to feel like you’re eating a larger quantity, get some whole wheat English muffins. One muffin is about 100 to 120 calories, but you get a whole English muffin rather than one flimsy slice of bread, right?
  • Oatmeal: If you’re the kind that feels better when you eat a hot meal, go the oatmeal route. Half a cup of oatmeal is only about 75 calories. I’m a big fan of oatmeal because you can add any fruits you want to it, and so a couple of blueberries can help you nick your sweet craving as well as take care of your hunger.
  • Chewy vegetables: Well, I couldn’t write a whole post without mentioning my precious carrots. One large carrot contains only about 30 calories. For a chewier version, get baby carrots. A bag of baby carrots usually contains about 140 calories, and that is about 4 cups. And 1 stalk of celery only contains 5 calories. A couple of stalks dipped in peanut butter of low-fat ranch dressing still won’t put you over 100 calories. 1 whole cucumber only contains about 40 calories. Chop it up and eat it any which way. 1 tomato contains about 25 calories. Chop them all up, mix them up, and figure out some sort of snack option. In summary:
    • 1 cup of baby carrots = 35 calories
    • 1 stalk of celery = 5 calories
    • 1 cucumber = 40 calories
    • 1 tomato = 25 calories
  • Egg: An egg contains about 75 calories, and a ton of protein. The egg can really do no wrong in my eyes. You need a snack? Boil up and egg today.

There are probably tons of items, especially fruits and vegetables that are not on this list. But I thought it would be great to have a place to start. As always, let me know if you have any questions!

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Spin Your Buns Silly

If you have ever taken a spin class, there is not too much more I can tell you about it. If you haven’t, well, then you must. You might be a little confused when I say “spinning” versus “cycling”, so let me give you a little introduction into the sweat-induced world that is a spinning class.

What is the frigging difference between spinning and cycling?
Well, for one, riding a bicycle is something you do at your own pace, in your own comfort zone, outside. Spinning is done on a stationary bike usually either in a studio full of other sweaty people (aerobic class setting) or on a stationary bike with a video instructor.  Either way, you do not really control the speed or the comfort, your instructor does. He/she tells you when to move, when to sit, when to stand, and when to increase your resistance level. And he/she does it in a very energized class setting. Sometimes, spinning classes look like some sort of disco.

Ummm... So how do you burn so many calories just spinning?
Just like with the treadmill or the elliptical, with spinning, you enter your weight and age on the machine, and throughout your session, it calculates the number of calories you are burning using your specific details.

But unlike these other machines, it is a very intense and competitive form of exercise. Your instructor walks you through a program at maximum intensity for the entire course. Imagine going at maximum intensity for 30 minutes or an hour without really slowing down. Of course your body will burn maximum calories! It is a great workout because you keep moving up, down, adjusting your resistance, and basically competing with everyone else around you. Sweat is dripping? You don’t even have time to notice as your instructor is yelling “We’re going up a hill now! Go into standing position! But keep it within your cadence!” Yea, we’ll talk about what the cadence is as well.

How do these super-magic bikes calculate how much I’m burning?
The number of calories you burn in a spinning class is influenced by three things:
  • Cadence: Okay, so let’s get to what this means. Cadence just means the rate at which you are pedaling. This is different from how fast the wheel is turning. It is how fast you are pushing your body on the pedals. The key point to note with cadences is that the cadence at which your body burns the maximum calories differs based on your weight, age, and the resistance of the bike at that point. So usually, the dashboard on the bike will display the recommended cadence limits for you to burn the maximum calories.
  • Resistance: We might be tempted to just set our bikes at whatever the maximum resistance is. However, you don’t always burn the most calories this way because putting on too much resistance can slow you down. Besides slowing you down, your posture could also be affected by the amount of resistance you put on. And it doesn’t help you if your posture is not right because well, you won’t be burning the amount of calories you should, and you could be hurting yourself.
  • Posture: Any spinning instructor would tell you that posture is very important in spinning because of the way the bike is positioned and because of how much energy you are exerting. If you don’t properly position your legs, you may not be able to ride as well as you want to (and of course, you could hurt yourself too). Also, since you lower body is going and going, so you should not forget your upper body as well. The best position for your upper body is a relaxed state so that the pressure from your lower body has somewhere to release. You might find yourself straining your shoulders or arms without even noticing, but always make sure you pay attention to keeping them loose and relaxed.

What's the downside? There's a downside, right?
In order to keep this *ahem* as objective as possible, I do have to tell you what the disadvantages are compared to cycling, running, or some other form of cardio.
  • The Spinning Bike: In case you haven’t figured it out yet, you won’t be spinning on a real bike. And so if you are used to the bike you have ridden since you were 5, this is very different. You still pedal the same way, but posture is very different, and it takes a while to get used to.
  • No variation: Although you go high, low, and up, down, it is still you in a class with other people doing the same thing. Spinning classes can get repetitive, especially if you use the same instructor. One way to beat the monotony may be to take different classes with different instructors, or use a video sometimes and attend a class during other times.
  • Riding indoors: If you’re used to riding outside, it may take a while to adjust to riding indoors with no change of scenery. The environment of the class can be pretty energetic, but sometimes you actually want to move.
  • The pain: I don’t necessarily count this as a bad thing since it does show you that you did burn a lot of calories. But the pain can be more than a regular aerobics class or a run in the park. This is mostly because you don’t slow down throughout the workout so your body doesn’t really have a chance to relax. But then again, as I said before, no pain, no gain, right?

Hopefully, you have some insight into what goes on in those crazy spinning classes. Go try one today! You may wake up with some pain, but I think it is soooo worth it. And if you have any more questions about it, feel free to ask me. I mean, my buns are still hurting from Thursday’s spin session, and I’m loving it :-)

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

What actually is the Perfect Protein for Muscles?

Well, from my years of tracking my daily protein intake, and trying to match my protein to my body weight, I’ve realized that many of us don’t eat right. We eat whatever we want, work out, and they chug down a protein shake after our work out, and think we have met our protein target for the day. But there’s protein, and then there’s protein. Some foods contain a lot of protein, but then contain a lot of calories or fat too, which may defeat the purpose of what we are trying to achieve.

If you are trying to build strong, lean, tone muscles… my mind just wondered off there for a minute at the mention of strong muscles… what was I talking about again? Yes, I remember. If you want to build lean muscles, you have to really watch what you eat. Soy has been called the perfect protein, but then again, so have eggs. So what really is the perfect protein for building muscles? Well, in my opinion, there is more than one.

Lean Meat: We have heard so many things about meat. But I still must admit that meat is one of the easiest and best ways to meet your daily protein target. And when I say meat here, I am referring to both mammals and birds. What’s the condition? It should be LEAN meat. Meat contains a lot of protein, but also a lot of fat. Think about it this way: animals are like humans. They eat a bunch of crap. So when they die, guess what? Their bodies contain traces of all that crap in the form of fat. That fat doesn’t do too much for our bodies. To make sure you are getting the most amount of protein with the least amount of calories, stick to the loins and rounds. Don’t know what those are? Just ask the butcher.

Fish: One of the best types of fish for muscle development is salmon. How does fish differ from meat? Not only does it contain a huge amount of protein, it also contains Omega-3 fatty acids. To build muscle mass, your body needs to store new protein quicker than it breaks down stored protein. Omega-3 helps slow down the protein break down process. 

Eggs: Let me start by squashing the notion that you should never eat egg yolk. The yolk actually does contain a ton of protein and vitamin B12. Eggs are so perfect that the protein in eggs do even more than that in meat, yes, in meat. Therefore, if you eat the same amount of eggs and meat, the eggs do more. This fascinates me.

Soy: Soy is really one of the only plant proteins to be referred to as perfect. The difference between soy and animal proteins is that it is very low in saturated fat, low in calories, and 100% cholesterol-free. Now, I know the men are asking all sorts of questions here because there have been so many rumors about soy having negative *ahem* effects on men. Soy intake in really really large quantities tends to produce estrogen-like effects. Notice I said really really large quantities. You should not be trying to get all of your daily protein from soy. So a glass here, and a bowl there will help, not hurt, your muscle development. But if you decide to go beyond that as a man, it could start to generate some negative effects.

Dairy: Not all dairy is great for muscle growth. For example, cheese, ice cream, and whole milk generally contain a ton of calories. And so I’d advise that you stick to dairy products like skim milk or yoghurt to meet your recommended protein levels. Low fat dairy products usually contain few calories and tons of protein. And everyone (well, except lactose intolerant folk) has easy access to milk, right?

So which of these proteins have you decided is your perfect protein?

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

So… The Resolution’s Over?

Many of us start the year with fitness and health resolutions that we are determined to see through. And then somewhere along the line, something snaps, and we find ourselves back where we started.

Realistic goals: To be frank, I have seen people set such intense fitness goals that Arnold Schwarzenegger or Kelly Ripa won’t be able to meet. Yes, I said Kelly Ripa; have you seen the muscles on her? Anyway, while we are out constructing all sorts of fitness goals that we know we could never live up to, some people are taking it step by step and actually meeting the realistic goals they set for themselves. An example is when I see the Senior citizens in the gym that just started exercising. Some of their limitations are set by their bodies and so when they set goals, they have to be cognizant of how far they can actually go. Sometimes, we need to treat our bodies that way too. We need to be aware of how far we can actually go.

Specific goals: When we set broad goals like “I will lose 10 pounds in 1 month”, and not specific goals like “I will run for 30 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday”, I don’t think we are doing our bodies any justice. Although the body is like a machine, and what you put into it is what you get out of it, life gets in the way. And so having our sense of self worth tied up around the numbers on the scale might not be the best way to approach a fitness resolution. Those should be things that we think about when we have gotten a balance with an everyday fitness lifestyle. For example, if you don’t go to the gym, and you eat a burger for lunch every day, and all of a sudden, you want to lose 5 pound in 2 weeks, at the end of that 2 weeks, when you don’t see the 5 pounds come off, you start to wane. Why not start with setting goals around how many times a week you run, or how many gym classes you attend, and then maybe you can set the next specific goal when you’ve met the first one?

Try new things: Why do personal trainers emphasize the fact that we should try to make fitness fun? Because it is hard.  I’m not going to sugar-coat it, or try to use the newest two-in-one Behr glossy paint and primer to cover it up. But when we lock our whole fitness world in a box, it gets even harder. When you are setting your goals for the year (or trying not to drop the resolutions you already set), focus on trying new things! Vow that on the last Saturday of every month, you would go to a new aerobic class or run on a new trail. We are creatures of habit, and so this may not be easy to get into, but at least it removes the boredom factor. How do you know what you like, what you’re capable of, if you don’t try anything new?

Can’t do it? Yes you can: One thing that a lot of people seem to leave out of their workout resolutions is getting better at their weakest areas. You can’t do a plank for 10 seconds? Set your goals around getting better at doing the plank. Obviously, doing the plank means you are working on your abs and your shoulders so in essence, your goal will allow you to get better abs. The same goes for pushups. If you can’t do a complete pushup, set a goal around when you expect to be able to do 1,5, and 10 pushups. The pushup helps with your arms, shoulders, and abs so in essence, you have a goal around building better arms, shoulders, and abs!

Attitude: This is another big item we leave off our resolution lists; our attitudes towards fitness. Simply changing your attitude can change a lot. A resolution should be how you can find new ways to incorporate fitness into your everyday life. For example, resolving that you won’t remain seated for over an hour at a time or that you’d start buying Skim milk instead of whole milk are just little things that we can set as goals that help to not box off fitness to a certain time of day.

One big reason we spend a lot of time trying and failing is because we build our resolutions around what we want, and not how we are going to get there. So as you see yourself nodding off on the exercise goals you set in January, shake yourself awake, wash your face, and start revamping. I promise you’d notice the difference.

We’d love to hear from you. What was your exercise goal this year, and have you stayed on track?

Also, at Eights & Weights, we send out daily email tips to a whole variety of people. These tips are around practical application of health and fitness advice in our every day lives. To receive these daily tips, simply send your email address to, or send it to us on Twitter @eightsnweights.

Cheers ‘Eights & Weights’!
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