Vote in This Week's Poll: Have you ever been too embarrassed to join a gym?

The gym can be a sweaty, alien, sometimes intimidating place. Sprawling rooms full of half-dressed people lifting, sweating, pounding away to nowhere and, to the new exerciser, all looking as though they were born with the knowledge of how to do all of these things.

For a newbie to walk into a gym, much less join one, is an act of courage. There's the navigation factor as one surveys the strange mix of machines, pulleys, weights, balls and more. And for anyone overweight or obese, there are worries about people staring at them or whether they'll be able to fit into one-size-fits-all machines. In fact, I can't count how many clients I've had who hire me because they're too 'out of shape' to join a gym.

Even experienced exercisers may get sweaty palms walking into a new gym and it can be hard to overcome those fears enough to take the plunge, but there are a few tips that may help if you're struggling with this issue: Go with a friend - It's always easier to do something with support available. Find someone to go with you your first time, even if they have no interest in joining. A promise of a free meal may do the trick. Listen to music - It may seem silly, but listening to your favorite tunes can be soothing as you tackle your first workout and wearing headphones is almost like creating a private force field around yourself, making you feel a bit less conspicuous. Get the free orientation - Take advantage of the free orientation many gyms offer. A trainer will show you around, give you tips on how to use the different machines and help you figure out where things are. Hire a trainer - If you have no idea what you're doing, a personal trainer can be just the support you need to feel more comfortable about your workouts. Workout at home - You don't have to join a gym to get a great workout, so don't be afraid to explore home workouts if the gym doesn't work for you.

What about you? Have you ever been too intimidated or embarrassed to join a gym? Did you overcome it and, if so, how? What tips do you have for self-conscious gym-goers? Tell us about your gym experiences.

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Exercise and Weight Loss Lesson of the Week: Do you support your own goals?

Losing weight is hard enough, but it's even harder when you don't have a good support system around you. For example, you put together a fresh salad, grilled chicken and a side of whole grains so whole-grainy, you're wondering if it's possible to overdose on fiber.

You plate your meal, already proud of the sheer number of nutrients you are about to ingest when your spouse walks in and shouts, "Honey, I brought home pizza!" Your response is so instant, so primal, you actually have no memory of what happened to that lovely chicken dish, much less how your face ended up in the middle of a deep dish pizza.

That support is important, but we can't always control what our spouses do (though we never really stop trying, do we?). However, there are things we can control, things that, if left unchecked, make it that much harder to stay on track: Your pantry - That bag of Doritoes that stares at you (perhaps even winks at you seductively) every time you open the door doesn't care about what size pants you want to fit into or the fact that your doctor threatened high cholesterol medication if you don't lose weight. It's a known fact that temptation is easier to resist if it isn't there (or, at the very least, hidden where you'll never find it). Your scale - It may surprise you that an inanimate object can be so hateful, but the scale isn't always your friend. In fact, your scale may lie to you regularly, telling you you're not making progress, even when you are. If your scale makes you cry on a regular basis, it may be time to break up with it and find a less destructive relationship. Your workouts - Sometimes, even our workouts work against us. Perhaps they're too long to fit into the time we have, so we skip them. Or maybe they include things we don't like, making them more unpleasant than they have to be. We often try to force our lives to fit the workout schedule we're 'supposed' to follow, rather than fitting exercise into the lives we already have. Unfortunately, having an amazing workout program guaranteed to help you lose weight doesn't matter if you never follow it. A supportive workout program means one you can stick to most of the time.

What do you think? Have you set up an environment that supports your goals or have you sabotaged yourself in some way? Leave a comment and tell me about your experiences.

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It's Time for Some Spring Cleaning

Spring will be here in, oh, about 12 hours (depending on when you're reading this) so, frankly, it's too late to really prepare yourself in any meaningful way (unless by 'prepare yourself' you're referring to a drunken night of revelry to celebrate the coming season, as one of my clients suggested she might do). Luckily, there isn't much you need to do other than bask in the knowledge that winter is officially over - at least, that's what the calendar says and, like the interwebs, anything written there is true.

Still, there are things you can do to make the transition easier. A little spring cleaning for your mind, your workout gear and your closet will help you get ready for the new season.

Something else to think about is making the transition to outdoor workouts. If you've been on the treadmill for awhile, you may be surprised at how different it feels when your legs and feet hit solid ground. Some things to consider:

Wind resistance - The wind forces you to work harder. In fact, one study estimates that wind resistance may increase your workload by 2% to 8%, depending on how fast you're going.Uneven surface - The treadmill surface never changes, even if you change the incline. Outside are sidewalks, tree roots, bumps and grooves, all of which can tax your feet and ankles or even cause a fall or a sprain. No moving belt - The treadmill belt pulls your feet back for you but, when you head outside, your legs do all the hard work, which may cause you to exert more energy even at the same pace.

Keep that in mind your first time out and consider taking it easy during those first few workouts to let your body get used to the new terrain.

What about you? Do you do anything special to get ready for spring or do you just go for it? Leave a comment and tell me about it.

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Giving Yourself the Freedom to Fail

 Change means getting out of your comfort zone and, really, the word 'comfort' says it all; There's comfort in that familiar place, even if we're miserable there. We know that misery, its edges, its seams and its weak places. When we step out of it, we're suddenly in the unknown with none of the paths we once followed to guide us.

The unknown and our fear of it will often push us to fail and, if you're trying to change your lifestyle - To start eating better, to workout more - there's a good chance this will happen to you. Maybe you'll start and stop or maybe you won't start at all because of all the obstacles standing in your way. Maybe you'll get going, only to revert back to those old behaviors when things get tough.

It's normal for us to go backwards sometimes, yet we start to think that, not only did we fail, but we are failures.

But, what if that isn't true? What if what you call failure is actually: Getting to know yourself: If you're new to exercise, how can you possibly know what you're capable of? We often set impossible goals, forgetting that we're not sure what we can handle yet. This is a time to start simple with something you know you can do, whether that's taking a walk every day or popping in a beginner workout video. A learning experience: If you can only workout for 10 minutes, maybe that isn't a failure, but actual feedback. You now have more information about what your body can do and you can expand on that every workout. Experimentation: When you were a kid, you didn't expect yourself to be perfect at everything you try. As an adult, you probably do, especially if you've tried this exercise thing before. The truth is, we can't know what we can do, what we like, what works if we don't try it first. There's a good chance that whatever you try may not least not at first. Giving yourself the freedom to experiment may be what you need to succeed.

What do you think? Do you ever feel like a failure? Is that feeling justified or are you being too hard on yourself? What would you accomplish if you looked at those failures in a different light? Leave a comment and tell me about your experiences with failure.

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Exercise of the Week: Glider Mountain Climbers

I recently started training a client's wife and she came in one morning and said, quite smugly, "It's too bad I can't do the same exercises as *Greg, seeing as how I can't do any high impact exercise." She conjured up a frown. "I guess I won't be able to to burpees or mountain climbers, like he does. What a bummer," she added with a disappointed sigh.

What she didn't expect was that she would indeed do both of those exercises without any impact at all (and that she would likely keep her mouth shut in the future, lest she give me anymore ideas).

With the right tools, you can take the impact out of a number of cardio exercises without losing the intensity, and my favorite tools for this are Gliding Discs. I've highlighted a variety of exercises with the discs (like sliding lunges and pushups), but mountain cilmbers are one of my favorites.

Not only do you engage both the quads and the core (and, boy, will your legs burn, as my client found out), pumping your legs as fast as you can will get your heart rate up, making this a great total body exercise.

If you don't have Gliding Discs, you can try using paper plates or even towels, if you have hardwood floors.

Do it right: Begin in a plank position, toes on the Gliding Discs and alternate sliding each knee in towards your chest, 'running' as fast as you can. Bring the knees in as far as you can while keeping the hips down and the core engaged. Repeat for 1 or more sets at 30-60 seconds.

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Exercise of the Week: Dips with Leg Extensions

If you want to add intensity to your usual triceps dips (and, really, who would blame you?), you'll really enjoy dips with a leg extension...or, as many of my clients call it, "Are You Crazy?"

Tacking on a leg extension to an already tough exercise not only adds to the work of each arm, it targets the quads and the core as well.

Do it right: Sit on a step or chair, hands next to thighs, knees bent. Push off the step and bend the elbows into a dip. As you press up, extend the right leg, reaching for the toe with your left hand. Lower and repeat on the other side, alternating sides for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps. Enjoy the burn!

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Thigh Trimmer

Did you know that plié is French for hot-looking legs? It’s true. If you don’t believe us, just try this workout provided by exercise DVD star and celebrity personal trainer Grace Lazenby. With it, you’ll sculpt your inner and outer thighs by using intervals of plié squats (feet spaced wider than shoulder width), and the adductor and abductor machines. Repeat the following intervals three times with no rest in between.

INTERVAL 1: Do one set of 20 plié squats without weight, then do 20 light-weight reps on the adductor machine.

INTERVAL 2: Do 20 reps on the abductor machine with light weight.

MAKE IT HARDER: Press up onto the balls of your feet during the plié squats and add small pulses at the bottom of the movement.

WHEN THAT GETS EASY: Add weights to the plié squats or increase machine weight.

How to Avoid an Exercise Injury

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about exercise fears, asking readers what scares them most about exercise. The overwhelming choice? Injury.

I think fear of injuring one's self is a healthy fear. After all, there are plenty of studies (like this one ) suggesting that injury could be just one workout away. In fact, I remember reading a Canadian Health Survey suggesting that some 20% of the females surveyed and more than 40% of the males surveyed suffered an exercise injury.

However, the most important statistic is this: 100% of injuries cause pain and, I don't have a study backing this up but, pain hurts.

The key to dealing with this fear is to face it with a few tricks up your sleeve: Easing into your workouts, warming up and using good form, just to name a few (and you can find more ideas in How to Avoid Exercise Injury).

However, it also helps to remind yourself of a few things: You may get hurt anyway - There's an inherent risk in any type of movement, whether it's lifting dumbbells or pushing a broom. Just as you can't always avoid catching a cold or the flu, no matter how many times you wash your hands, you can't always avoid an injury. That reminder may help ease some of the frustration and guilt that often accompanies an injury. There are ways to keep exercising, even if you are injured - The worst thing some of us do when we get hurt is to get frustrated and quit. While you may need rest to heal your injury, you can almost always exercise some part of your body (with your doctor's clearance, of course). Keeping some kind of routine going, even if it's only a fraction of what you were doing, keeps the momentum going and gives you more control over your situation.

The last thing you want to do is to let your fear paralyze you into doing nothing.

So, what about you? Have you ever let your fear of injury stop you from exercising? Or maybe you have a chronic injury you're always dealing with and have some advice. Leave a comment and tell me about your experiences.

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13 Ways Coffee Can Improve Your Health

I love coffee.

I honestly believe that the best part of a new day is starting it with a warm, strong cup of quality coffee.

If someone were to make me quit drinking it, they would have to pry the cup out of my cold, dead hands.

Still, to be honest, there are some negative effects.

If I don’t get my caffeine one day then I will get a headache and feel tired. It is addicting and leads to withdrawal, that is a fact.

Also, if you’ve got a high blood pressure or are pregnant, then you may want to avoid coffee or at least talk to your doctor about it.

Still, for otherwise healthy people, coffee may provide a range of health benefits.
Here are 13 ways coffee can improve your health.

1. Coffee Can Improve Cognitive Function

In a large cross-sectional study of 9003 british adults, coffee was associated with improved performance in all metrics measured. Tea also provided a small effect.

Many studies have confirmed that it does produce significant cognitive benefits, at least in the short term (2).

I can vouch for this myself, as I feel that coffee drastically improves my focus when studying (or writing blog posts – yes, I have a cup in my hand right now).

2. Coffee May Improve Physical Performance

Coffee may improve physical performance in the short term, especially during endurance exercise, although not all studies show an effect.
For this reason, it may be a good idea to have a strong cup of coffee right before a workout.

3. Coffee Increases the Metabolic Rate and Enhances Fat Burning

Caffeine is a stimulant, and one of its effects is to raise the metabolic rate, primarily mediated by an increase in fat oxidation. Unfortunately, it is less pronounced in obese individuals.

This is most likely due to caffeine raising epinephrine (adrenaline) levels in the blood.

If you look at the ingredients labels, you will find caffeine in most commercial fat burning supplements (which I don’t recommend).

4. Coffee Reduces All-Cause Mortality (Your Chances of Dying)

I know of several people who believe coffee to be harmful to health.
However, this has never been proven and is one more example of “conventional wisdom” being at odds with what the actual studies reveal.

In fact, coffee consumption is inversely related to the risk of death. What this means, is that a person who drinks coffee is slightly less likely to die at any given time point.

5. Coffee Does Not Increase Heart Disease Risk

It is often claimed that coffee is bad for your heart.

This has never been confirmed, and the long term studies usually do not show a significant association between coffee and heart disease.

However, heavy coffee consumption does slightly elevate heart disease risk in a few studies, while moderate consumption may actually decrease the risk of heart disease.

6. Coffee May Decrease Your Risk of Stroke

Despite mildly elevating blood pressure, coffee consumption has been associated with a slight reduction in the risk of stroke.

7. Coffee Drastically Cuts Type II Diabetes Risk

Type II diabetes is a disease that is reaching epidemic proportions in affluent nations around the world.

Interestingly, consumption of coffee has a large protective effect against type II diabetes, with numbers ranging from 23% to 67% reduction in risk. This disease affects almost 300 million people around the world.

One large meta-analysis found that, for each additional cup of coffee per day, the risk of type II diabetes decreased by 7%.

8. Coffee Reduces Chances of Getting Parkinson’s Disease

You’ve probably heard of Parkinson’s disease before. It is a degenerative disease in the central nervous system, caused by the death of dopamine-generating neurons in the brain. Most pronounced are movement difficulties, followed later by cognitive impairment and dementia.

Parkinson’s is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, after Alzheimers, and afflicts about 1% of the population above 60 years of age.

Caffeine seems to reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease, with coffee and tea (not decaf) providing a protective effect, ranging from 25% to 58% risk reduction.

Interestingly, smoking also seems to lessen the chances of getting Parkinson’s, but it will kill you by other means, of course.

9. Coffee is Good For Your Liver

Coffee may be protective for your liver, an organ that performs hundreds of different functions in the body and is vulnerable to modern insults such as alcohol consumption.

Several studies show an inverse relationship between coffee and liver cancer, with a risk reduction of up to 31% for people without a family history, and 44% for those who do have a family history of liver disease.

Coffee is also highly protective against liver cirrhosis, which can be caused by excess alcohol consumption, fatty liver and hepatitis. Those who drink 4 or more cups per day are 80% less likely to develop cirrhosis.

10. Coffee May be Protective Against Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease in the world, and dementia is becoming an increasingly larger problem as the population grows older.

Caffeine is inversely associated with the risk of developing both Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in several epidemiological studies, some of them showing a risk reduction as high as 65%.

11. Coffee May Lessen Your Risk of Getting Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death, and the second and third most common cancer diagnosed in women and men, respectively.

Coffee may reduce chances of getting colon cancer by up to 27% for those who drink 4 or more cups per day, compared to those who drink none.

Given that 0.5 million people die every year from colon cancer, this is a significant finding.

12. Coffee Contains Some Vital Nutrients

There are some nutrients that coffee contains in small amounts.
According to Nutrition Data, a cup of coffee provides 11% of the RDA of Riboflavin (B2), 6% of the RDA for Pantothenic Acid (B5), 2% of the RDA for Niacin (B3), Thiamine (B1) and Magnesium, as well as 3% of the RDA for Manganese and Potassium.

These are not large numbers, but if you consider someone who drinks 3 cups per day, then you can multiply these percentages by 3.

This can make a significant difference for people who don’t eat a nutritious diet.

13. Coffee Contains a Lot of Antioxidants

Surprisingly, coffee is the largest source of antioxidants in the western diet.


Most of the studies above are epidemiological in nature, and it is impossible to prove an association with these sorts of studies, but all those studies suggest that coffee provides significant health benefits and protection against disease.

I’d like to mention that filtered coffee is best. Unfiltered coffee may contain harmful substances known as diterpenes, which can have an adverse effect on blood lipids. Paper filters effectively remove these substances.

It also goes without saying, that if you load your coffee with sugar or other sweeteners then you’re probably going to negate some of the health benefits you may get from the coffee.

The Gladiator Training Program Celebs Swear By

When in Rome... work out! This Italian resort makes you feel like a movie star.

First, gladiator trainees are schooled on ancient Roman life and culture and learn about traditional weapons like the Gladius (the sword) and the Trident, a three-pronged spear. 

In this phase, gladiator wannabes learn how to be skilled opponents while getting fit through the use of weighted objects in their hands such as shields or swords. Combine that with bodyweight calisthenics and the resistance is intense! The powerful combination of moving your own body around through squatting, pushing, and twisting, and moving objects like a heavy shield, provides a full-body workout.

Next comes proper stances, strikes, and movements. The constant swinging of the wooden sword helps sculpt shoulders, arms, and back, while bobbing, weaving ,and lunging away from your opponent help to tone the lower body. Various sword manoeuvres are taught, including thrusting, cutting, and slicing (ouch!). Even defensive moves pack some punch—all that dodging and twisting helps tone abs, arms, and legs!
Luckily, everyone in this program walks out of the arena in better shape, but relatively unscathed!
If you think gladiators only existed in ancient Rome and the movies, think again! A luxurious Italian resort is offering guests a fighting chance at becoming contenders. It’s a unique exercise program that’s being referred to as a ‘grueling test of endurance’ and has reportedly been enjoyed by the likes of George Clooney, Julia Roberts, John Travolta, Leonardo DiCaprio, Neil Patrick Harris, and Shakira.

Vote: What was your weight loss wake up call?

When you read stories about weight loss, you'll notice that many people experience a kind of wake up call that precedes a serious attempt to lose weight. This wake up call often comes out of left field - Seeing a picture of yourself in a bathing suit, your doctor telling you you're thisclose to diabetes or the salesperson at Macy's suggesting you start shopping in the plus size department.

It seems strange that we can go along, completely unaware of just how much weight we've gained, but it's surprisingly easy. It's not often we get an objective look at ourselves (and the dressing rooms at the department stores don't count, because everyone know they're all full of 'fat' mirrors).

I remember one story a client told me: *Diane was sitting in a doctor's office and a woman came in with her child. She was looking for a place to sit and the child said, "Hey, there's a seat next to that fat lady!" Diane smiled, thinking how embarrassing it was for that poor woman, whoever she was, to be called out like that...until the child sat in the chair next to her, at which point a giant hole opened up, swallowing Diane, chair and all. (At least, that's what happened in her fantasy). In reality, her face went up in flames in embarrassment and she called me the next day, vowing to show that child just what a 'fat lady' could do. Diane ended up losing more than 80 pounds and is amazed to this day how that one comment made such an impression.

What about you? Did you have a wake up call and, if so, where did it come from? Don't forget to share your weight loss success story, if you've got one.

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Is it Time for Something New?

If you exercise on a regular basis, you're probably familiar with the lather-rinse-repeat phenomenon that occurs with almost any exercise program. You get into a nice comfortable routine (Monday: Running, Tuesday: Weights, Wednesday: Yoga, etc.) and it's all working like a well-oiled machine until, suddenly, it doesn't.

Maybe it's burnout or overtraining, maybe you aren't seeing results or maybe you're not sure why you suddenly hate your workout just know that the thought of dragging your behind out of bed for a workout requires more energy than you have available.

The transition from winter to spring is often when workout ruts appear. We're tired of the old and, perhaps, not quite sure what the new should be. But, it's just that feeling that calls for a new challenge. Thinking of that, how could you challenge yourself this week? Any change will work, such as: Work Harder - If you always work at a moderate intensity, maybe it's time to push your limits and see what you're really capable of. Try adding intensity to your workouts or try high intensity interval training to give your cardio workouts a boost. Try challenging yourself at least once this week to see what it feels like to push yourself. Back Off - On the other hand, if high intensity is your middle name, what would it be like to work at an easy pace? Try working at a lower intensity for at least one of your workouts, or cut your workout in half and spend the rest of the time stretching. Give your body a chance to slow down and enjoy what you're doing. Set a New Goal - What are your goals and how long have you been working for them? Maybe it's time to set new goals: A race, a new class, a new workout schedule. Something different may be just what you need to get excited about your workouts. Take an Extra Rest Day - For some of us type A exercisers, 'extra rest day' isn't in our vocabularies. That extra rest, however, may be just what your body needs to come back to your workouts stronger than before. Add an Exercise Day - For those of you who have plenty of rest days, adding just one extra day and trying something totally different may be what you need to take your training to the next level.

Those are just a few ideas. What can you come up with? Think about it and leave a comment telling us how you'll challenge yourself this week.

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Relationships and Weight Gain

There are certain life events that practically beg us to gain weight: Going to college, getting a 'real' (aka, sitting-on-butt) job, getting older and one of our favorite weight-gaining events: Getting into a relationship.

What is it about falling in love that often leads to weight gain? It's common for many of us to gain weight after getting married, but even a serious, monogamous relationship can pack on the pounds. Just some of the reasons include: Eating out more often More snuggle time, less active time Less worry about weight after finding love Picking up bad habits from our loved one.

It's easy to let things slide without even being aware that the scale is creeping up and what comes on isn't always easy to get off, especially if both of you aren't on the same page.

What about you? Have you ever gained weight after getting into a relationship? Were you able to lose the weight or are you still struggling with that extra weight gain?

Leave a comment and tell us about your experience with relationships and weight gain.

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Vote in This Week's Poll: How do your workouts change during spring?

I can always tell spring is here by the number of exercising pedestrians I see darting past my window. In fact, I wasn't even sure my neighbors were still alive until they came out of hibernation (along with the rest of us), in the last few weeks. One neighbor squinted at me and wondered, "What's that big yellow thing in the sky?"

"The sun," I assured her, though I had to Google it to make sure.

Seeing all the runners and bikers, the walkers and skaters, the near painful excitement of getting to go outside is one of my favorite parts of spring. My least favorite? Getting injured in all that excitement.

This can easily happen if you haven't been exercising all winter, or even if you're simply changing your workouts to match the weather. Weekend warrior syndrome is all too common this time of year as we rush outside, hoping to make up for lost time with hours of outdoor exercise your body is not ready for (and it will tell you in oh-so-many painful ways).

It's important to give your body time to get used to outdoor exercise again by easing into your workouts. Start small...say, a half hour of walking or an hour on your bike rather than the all-day affair you were planning. You can always work your way up to more and your body will thank you.

What about you? Do your workouts change with the seasons? Do you tend to exercise more now that the weather is warmer and, if so, how do you avoid overdoing it? Tell me about your spring workouts.

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New Review: Everybody Dance for PlayStation 3 Move

I've always been a fan of video games that get people moving, particularly those that require dancing...not only is it fun to do (providing you can get over looking silly), it's fun to watch other people doing it (because it's more fun to watch other people look silly).

Aside from the silly factor, exergames can offer a decent workout, depending on the game you play, how hard you work at it and your fitness level. Everybody Dance for PlayStation 3 Move is the latest offering in dance-as-exercise and, on the surface, it isn't all that different from the others - There's music, there's a controller, there's a dancer on the screen and there's you, attempting to mimic the movements.

Where it does stand out is with the music (there are selections from every decade to satisfy all ages) and the technology: A controller coupled with an eye camera that tracks your movements for accuracy.

The sweat factor doesn't always live up to what you would get from a traditional workout but, if you want to burn extra calories while having fun, Everybody Dance may be a good choice.

Be sure to leave a comment about your experiences. Do you use video games to exercise? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

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Do Elliptical Trainers Help You Lose Weight?

If you've ever made the decision to get rid of your gym membership and set up a home gym, you've probably run into the cardio conundrum: Treadmill or elliptical trainer?

For many people, this often comes down to the weight issue, namely, which one will help you lose weight the fastest? The short answer here is: The one you actually use. And, for exercise, not as a Royal Throne for your cat (or, perhaps that only occurs in my house).

The longer answer is that elliptical trainers can help you lose weight...if you work at it. The 'work at it' part is where the elliptical trainer and the treadmill often diverge.

A treadmill is usualy more comfortable from the beginning - You're used to walking, so it doesn't feel like you're doing something weird when you try it (if you ignore the fact that you're actually walking to nowhere).

On the elliptical, you push into the pedals (much like a bicycle) in order to move, something our bodies don't normally do. This no-impact movement is a plus for those with joint problems. It can be a minus, however, when you consider that, in order to get your heart rate up, you have to work against the resistance of the pedals...and it sometimes takes quite a bit of resistance to really get your heart going.

The act of pushing against resistance can really tax the legs, making it more uncomfortable than walking on a treadmill (a movement our bodies are used to doing every day). That doesn't mean the treadmill is better, just that you should take that into account as you're making your choice. Your legs may need extra time to gradually build endurance. Eventually, this will allow you to work at the level of intensity you need to burn calories.

What do you think? Have you lost weight using an elliptical trainer? What are the pros and cons? Leave a comment and tell me what you think about elliptical trainers.

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Exercise and Weight Loss Lesson of the Week: Everything Counts

We often have a lot of rules about what 'counts' as a workout. These rules will differ from person to person, depending on the amount and type of information you've absorbed over the years - often without even realizing it.

For a lot of us, a workout only counts if it involves: A change of clothes, time, sweat, burning, heaving, swearing and, of course, pain and suffering.
It's true that, if you really want to change your body, you have to work at it and it usually involves more exercise and more intensity than you think.

However, there's way to burn calories that doesn't involve sweating, burning or suffering and something we often forget about: Simple movement.

We know that simply standing up can have a lovely effect on our metabolisms and we also know that NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) is one of the simplest ways to add to your overall weight loss. This becomes even more important on those days when you can't fit in a workout that 'counts.' Is going for a walk or taking the stairs a few times going to burn as many calories as, say, a 4-mile run? No. But it will definitely burn more calories than sitting.

Yes, structured, focus workouts are important but, even if you can't fit in a workout, you can make a difference by staying active. Every time you stand instead of sit, walk instead of stand, move instead of vegetate, you're doing something important and it all counts.

What do you think? Do you often skip workouts if you don't have time? Do you feel like you have to do a certain thing for your workouts to 'count'? Leave a comment and tell us what you think.

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Exercise of the Week: Squat and Curl with Rotating Press

I love combination exercises and not just because they save time, work multiple muscle groups (just like our bodies move in real life), improve coordination or make my clients cry. They also tend to raise the heart rate, offering a bonus calorie-burn to any strength training workout.

This squat and curl with a rotating press is a great example of just how efficient a combination exercise can be. There's a double squat, a double hammer curl and a rotating overhead press, targeting the legs, biceps, shoulders and core. The key is to avoid too much swinging (there may be a little momentum, depending on how fast you're going) by keeping the weights on the lighter side and focusing on each part of the exercise.

Do it right: Stand with the feet wide, toes out at an angle, holding dumbbells with palms facing in. Squat down and, as you press up, curl the weights into a hammer curl. Straighten the arms and lower into a squat. This time, when you press up, curl the weights up and then rotate to the right, pivoting on your feet while pressing the weights overhead. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps, alternating sides.

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Getting Started With Tabata Training

"Is it just me...(gasp)...or is this...(gasp)...the most torturous...(gasp)...workout...(gasp)...ever?" This is the question a client posed to me in the midst of a set of burpees (indeed, a torturous exercise). She was asking this because of a new type of training we were trying that, according to her, "Should be taken out back and shot."

When I told her it was only 4 minutes long (well, each set is only 4 minutes), she suggested I do something with the stopwatch I was holding that could, possibly, require hospitalization.

The workout she was so thrilled with? Tabata Training, a form of high intensity interval training that lasts for 4 minutes but feels like 4 hours. On the upside, it not only improves performance and boosts both your anaerobic and aerobic energy systems (I knew you were concerned about that), it burns lots of calories.

This type of training certainly isn't for everyone (especially beginners...or people who don't like torture) but, if you're an experienced exerciser or athlete looking for a new challenge, you'll definitely find it with Tabata Training.

You can get the details in my latest article, Tabata Training and, if you're game, I have a couple of Tabata workouts for you to try: Tabata Cardio Workout, which includes 4 Tabatas of alternating high impact exercises (like burpees and squat jumps) and Tabata Strength Training which uses the same format with strength training exercises.

Have you tried Tabata Training? Leave a comment and tell me what you think about it.

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What Throws You Off Your Exercise Game?

We all have more than one obstacle to exercise but, for most of us, there's always this one thing, be it stress or fatigue or an old injury, that throws us off our game every time.

Sometimes there's pattern there that we don't recognize, perhaps because it's so familiar, we don't even see it anymore. For one of my clients, her monthly meeting with her boss almost always led to a week or more of stress-induced eating and TV-watching (instead of exercise). For another client, it was an old knee injury. Each time it flared up, he would cancel his sessions, spend a week or two nursing his wound and his frustration and end up putting on any weight he'd lost.

What's interesting is that neither client recognized that it was a pattern, often happening so regularly, I could almost pinpoint to the day when both would fall off the wagon. However, once they recognized that it, indeed, was a pattern, they were able to do something about it. Now, my stressed client schedules an extra session with me on the day of her monthly meeting to work off her stress (and vent about her annoying boss). My knee client has started working with a physical therapist so we have exercises we can do when his knee acts up.

Thinking about this, is there a pattern to your exercise life? Things that throw you off again and again that, maybe, you haven't recognized? Tell me what regularly throws you off your exercise game.

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Exercise of the Week: Core Kickbacks

Kickbacks are a great way to work the triceps and, if you've been lifting weights for any length of time, there's a good chance you've done a zillion or so.

If you want to spice things up while adding more muscle groups to the mix, this core kickback is one way to go. The idea is to hold a plank position while doing your kickbacks which, you'll notice, is very challenging. Not only do you have to keep the hips down and square while holding your body up with one hand, you have to do it while extending a weight behind you again and again. Not an easy task (and not for beginners, of course).

The key is to take the feet a little wider for more support and to position your supporting arm more towards the middle of your body. It's also key to use a lighter weight here, at least at first, to practice your form before going too heavy. If you need a modification, put one knee down on the floor if you start to lose your form.

Do it right: Get into a plank position, on the hands and toes, feet wide. Hold a light weight in one hand and pull the elbow up next to the ribcage. Make sure your hips are square to the floor and your body is supported. Holding this position, straighten the arm, sending the weight back and squeezing the triceps. Lower and repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps on each side.

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We All Need To Play Hooky Sometimes

I was at the grocery store recently and saw a woman pushing her small son down the cereal aisle. When she put a big box of something that looked brown, stick-like and healthy into the cart, the boy picked it up and dropped it on the floor. She tried again. The boy did it again. "James," she said calmly, "Please let Mommy put that in the cart."

"No." The boy said, then pointed to a box of cereal with a giant cookie pictured on the front. "I want that."

The mom looked at the colorful box, sighed from somewhere deep in her soul and said wistfully, "I do too."

This reminded me that being an adult can be a real drag sometimes. Being a healthy adult? Doubles (maybe even triples) the drag factor. Not only do you have to take care of your life (and work, kids, house, dog, cat, etc.), but you have to do it with a salad in one hand and a set of weights in the other...while jogging.

So, what happens when you never take a break from all that responsibility? Your mind becomes like that stubborn child, not only refusing to accede to your demands, but potentially sending you on a reckless salad-free, exercise-free bender.

We all need time to breathe, time to enjoy a few moments in life without monitoring every movement, every bite, every calorie. Time to play a little hooky from being so Healthy and Responsible.

Some signs you need to play hooky: Salad Fatigue - When one more bite, even one glance of a piece of lettuce sends you over the edge Exercise Fear and Loathing - When even the sight of your workout clothes invokes a fiery hatred, the intensity of which rivals a thousand suns Murderous Fantasies - When you find yourself daydreaming about firebombing your food journal, mashing your oh-so-carefully cut vegetables into an unrecognizable pulp, then driving recklessly to the nearest Chick-Fil-A.

Scheduling a break before you have a meltdown gives you the power to plan exactly what you will (or won't do) and savor every minute...without guilt. You can take up to a week off from exercise without losing your fitness and, sometimes, just a day off (or even a meal or two off) from calorie-counting can help you keep going without falling off the wagon.

What do you think? Does planning breaks from exercise and/or healthy eating keep you on track? How do you avoid a complete exercise meltdown? Leave a comment and tell me how you play hooky.

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What Are Your Exercise Fears?

I once had a client who was so afraid of the treadmill, she refused to even look at it, much less get on it. It wasn't just the treadmill, but any motorized exercise machine that sent chills down her spine (and, for the record, my cats know exactly how she feels). To overcome her fear, we had her drink several margaritas before her workouts.

Okay, not really, although I'm pretty sure she suggested that idea. What we actually did was start with baby steps: First, she would touch the treadmill when she came in. When she was comfortable with that, she agreed to stand on the treadmill (providing it was unplugged). It wasn't long before she allowed me to turn the treadmill on while she was standing on it and we felt like throwing a parade the day she actually walked on it.

She wasn't sure where her fear came from (was there treadmill trauma in her past?), but that fear was very real and it permeated every aspect of her workouts, which was the very reason she wanted to overcome it. As she did, her confidence grew in other areas and she was so motivated by that, she eventually became a personal trainer herself.

Fear of the treadmill may not be the most common experience, but exercise fear is very common, whether you're afraid of injury, making a fool of yourself, failure or whether you're afraid to start exercising at all.

So, what are your exercise fears and how do you overcome them? I'd like to hear from you.

Leave a comment and tell me about your experiences and how fear has affected your exercise life.

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What's the Best Fat Burning Exercise?

What's the best fat burning exercise? This is a question I get a lot, mostly because the idea of incinerating all that extra body fat is just too good to resist and there's just got to be some exercise that will get the job done, right?

Fat, in general, is highly flammable, but the fat that resides in our bodies (specifically, the love handles, the spare tire, the saddlebags and the batwings) seems stubbornly flame retardant no matter how hard we try.
So, when someone asks that question, I'd love nothing more than to offer a clear, concise answer, like, "Running at 8.69 miles per hour!" or "Doing 53 squats, followed by 19 pull ups and eating 16 egg whites!" or "Spending hours at this website!"

The truth is, fat burning comes from: Cardio - There isn't any 'perfect' fat burning cardio exercise. The key isn't so much what you do, but how hard you work at it. Intensity (and varying it with different workouts) is what you want to focus on to burn fat and you can find out how it works in Burn More Fat With Cardio. Strength Training - Muscle is to fat as a hummingbird is to my cat Ziggy. Muscle, like a hummingbird, is busy. It's pumping out calories to keep your metabolism going and it never stops. Fat, like my cat Ziggy, sleeps all day and, when it does get up, it eats and then, exhausted, goes back to bed. Strength training will make you more like a hummingbird and less like Ziggy. Consistency - Surprisingly, this is the most important part of the fat burning equation. The body, when exposed to regular exercise, becomes a fat burning machine, able to reach into each cell, oxidize the fat inside and hand it to you (or to your muscles) on a silver platter. Without exercise, your body does the opposite. Instead of getting more efficient at burning fat, it actually gets better at hoarding fat, making weight loss even harder.

So, there you have it: Consistent cardio and strength training. Not the wow factor I was hoping for, but the truth isn't always sexy.

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