The weather is nice, so get outside and do some exercise. If you live someplace where the weather can be awful during the winter, this is even more of a reason to enjoy the great outdoors now that it’s summer.

Cardiovascular exercise is best done on Terra Firma, not on Movens Apparatus (that’s Latin). And your outdoor exercise sessions do not have to be limited to traditional cardio. You can do calisthenics, circuit training, strength training and every other kind of workout outside. Grab a couple of pairs of dumbbells or a barbell and some weight plates and go into your backyard.

And for Pete’s sake, don’t go on vacation to the beach only to go find a gym where you will pay for the opportunity to workout inside. However, if you are someplace where there is an outside gym, go for it. I have been two places – Jamaica and California – where there were open air gyms, and it was awesome.

Are you interested in adding some spice to your regular walking routine? Invest in a weight vest and take a walk around the neighborhood. A weight vest is a great investment and can be used when doing every exercise imaginable, from simple to complex.

If you really have to do machine-based cardiovascular exercise indoors save it for a rainy day, literally. I recognize that some people need and enjoy their cardio for both mental and physical reasons, but try to minimize the machine stuff and find an outdoor activity that you enjoy.

Now, it’s been a while since I recommended swimming, so here it is. I recommend swimming. Highly. It’s summer. When you go to your pool this summer get in the lap section and try swimming a few laps . There is no better exercise than swimming outside on a nice day. Swimming will do all the things for you that you want from exercise, but it is hard work. That’s why it’s good for you. You can’t read or lean on rails or cheat in any way when you swim. You can’t chat with a buddy or flirt with a cute gym member or waste time in any way when your head is in the water and you are trying to stay afloat and moving.

It’s the summer. Get out and get some fresh air. And exercise.

The term “warm-up” is never as appropriate as when its absolutely freezing cold, miserable weather and you feel like your bones are going to break with every step you take. I hate the winter and I hate the cold, but the only thing that allows me to deal with it is that I have a great pre-workout warm-up routine. I should say, I have a whole bunch of different warm-up programs that I use, and they come in quite handy when it’s cold.

Did I say I hate the cold?

On the days when you feel cold you should take extra time to warm-up. It’s as simple as that. The problem for many people is that they don’t have an appropriate warm-up, or any warm-up for that matter. I have seen it countless times; people rush in to the gym in the dead of winter, jump on the treadmill and start running, not even jogging, but full out running. This is a bad thing. Here are some other bad ways to start your workout; crunches, biceps or triceps exercises, leg presses, bench presses. Even when the weather is warm it is bad form to not take some time to get loose and warm before you start your workout.

A proper warm-up consists of so much more than just walking on the treadmill for 5-minutes and running through a handful of static stretches. A lot of people don’t like to warm-up (as in my previous example) because it’s A) boring and B) they don’t really know how to. A good, progressive warm-up routine prepares you both physically and mentally for the workout. I think the key word here is “progressive.”

“Progressive,” means proceeding step by step, moving from one member of a series to the next. When warming up the progression should move from easy to difficult so that it blends into your workout. With my client training sessions the warm-up/preparation period has evolved from a very simple series of exercises to a much more complex program of complex movements, both in the individual workout and in the overall concept. For someone who has never trained in this manner, this kind of warm up would be THE workout. Over time my clients’ warm up has served to increase their fitness level, and their increased fitness level has served to improve their warm-up.

So it’s okay to walk on the treadmill for 5-minutes if you transition to something a bit more challenging, such as jumping jacks, squat thrusts and other calisthenics. This will increase heart rate, literally warm up the body and prep it for the workout. Total body movements should the feature of the warm-up, which is one of the reason calisthenics are a great way to start your workout day. Calisthenics are progressive, in that you can start with a simple move like the jumping jacks and move to squat thrusts and their varieties, leg drives, grass hoppers, to name a few.

Jumping rope is another great exercise to include in your warm-up routine. If you aren’t great at jumping rope take it slow and give yourself 5-minutes to work at it. What starts as slow and, at times, frustrating work, slowly but surely turns into an efficient and effective way to warm-up and improve your fitness level.

The warm up is part of the workout, not something separate from it. So don’t neglect the warm-up and your workouts and your fitness level will improve.

Circuit training is a good way to break out of the workout doldrums.  Circuit training program design is limited only by your imagination and a well-designed circuit can be a challenging, fun and effective way to exercise.

Circuits can consist of body weight exercises, resistance training exercises, calisthenics or a combination of all three.  I find circuits that mix these methods of training provide the most challenging and enjoyable training experience.

Try this circuit.

  • Step-ups – 10 repetitions (holding dumbbells)
  • Push-ups – 20 repetitions
  • Pull-ups – 8 repetitions
  • Lunges – 15 repetitions (body weight)
  • 1-arm hang clean and press – 5 repetitions each arm
  • Close-grip pull down – 15 repetitions
  • Body-weight squats – 20 repetitions

Choose weights that are approximately 75% of what you would use if doing a standalone or super set workout.  There’s no need to rush from station to station, taking 20-30 seconds in between exercises is the best way to get the most out of circuit training. In addition to using dumbbells for resistance you can  wear a 20-pound weighted vest for an added conditioning element.  This seven station circuit should take about 6-minutes to get through taking 3 minutes rest before embarking on the next round.  Aim to complete three rounds of this circuit.

If you’ve got the post-summer doldrums, mid-winter blues or are exhibiting any other signs of exercise boredom try some circuit training to break out of your rut.

We’ve had some nice fall weather over the past few weeks here in New Jersey and that means joggers are out in force.  It’s very similar to what happens when spring springs and the first batch of 70 degree sunny days show up after a long, ugly winter; joggers take to the roadways and sidewalks en masse.

The problem is that most people are what I call, “Ugly Joggers.” Now don’t jump to conclusions – especially you, Marianne – as I’m not talking about a person’s looks, but rather their running “form,” and by using “form,” I’m being very kind.

Over the past week or so I’ve seen at least 40 joggers, but only 2 or 3 could be considered to be running with proper form.  The form breaks run the gamut; short stride length, no hip extension, improper (or no) arm swing, leg drag, valgus and varus, limp.  Think of a flaw and you’ll see it when Ugly Joggers are in season.

Do yourself a favor and stop jogging.  Get exercise, but leave the jogging and running to the real runners – no offense.  If you want to go out and pound your skeletal system into powder at least seek out an expert that can teach you how to run.

I find it funny when people ask me what they can do to improve their cardiovascular fitness and I tell them to swim, and they tell me, “Oh I don’t want to swim, what else can I do?” I get the same kind of response from folks who want to know how to improve their distance running, like they can’t be bothered to do the right thing.  As if it’s an insult to be told that they need to learn how to do something as simple as running.

Actually, running properly is difficult for most people, even athletes.  I spend a lot of time teaching high school and college athletes how to run properly and correcting their form.  Show me 100 high school athletes and I’ll show you 95 kids who don’t know how to run. And for adults the percentages would be even worse.

So if you aren’t jogging the right way, don’t do it at all. Go for a brisk walk, do calisthenics, or take a swim, but lay off the jogging.  When you consider that each step of running places a force on your joints up to 3 times body weight, your body will thank you for exploring low-intensity/low-impact options.

If you make exercise a regular part of your daily routine it’s only natural that you’d want to continue to do so. However, use the occasion of getting away from home as an opportunity to change your exercise routine.

When you spend a lot of time exercising – at a gym, at home, distance running or biking – use vacation as a time to throw yourself a change up and do something different.  Our bodies adapt to stimulus quite easily, so to use a completely different exercise program for a week or two is a great way to avoid mental and physical training plateaus.

At the beach, leave your sneakers and distance running mentality at home, and do sprints and/or shuttle runs barefoot in the sand.  Throw in some calisthenics and you have an almost endless supply of vacation workout options.  If possible, take a pair of dumbbells or two, a Kettlebell or other piece of training gear and mix a few basic exercises in with sprint/agility drills on the sand, and you’ll probably get a better workout than you are used to.

The key is to stay out of the gym, whether you’re going to a rental house or resort, take a break from the indoor, traditional structured workouts whenever possible.  Certainly there’s nothing wrong with exercising while on vacation, and looking forward to doing so, but don’t let exercise dominate your plans while vacationing.

Taking time off from regular exercise when healthy is a good thing and in the long run helps progress and is important for recovery.  Time off from exercise because of an illness or injury does not offer the same benefits.  If you don’t take a break from training a couple of times per year you’ll have a greater chance of suffering from overtraining syndrome, mental burn-out or injury, which sets you back.

Well-timed breaks from your regular exercise routine will not set you back, but will help you progress.  So next time you go on vacation, give your regular workout routine a vacation, as well.

There are a lot of theories, myths and “Wives’ Tales” that deal with cures for jet lag and exercise is my cure.

There are a lot of cures for jet lag, from the simple to complex, scientific to goofy, medicinal, herbal and elemental.  Some are simple and others are complex and convoluted. Take melatonin, drink water, starve yourself take pharmaceuticals, wear goggles that shine light into your eyes and more.

I don’t travel all that much, but when I do I find the best way to get over jet lag and its associated problems is to grab a quick workout, sometimes intense, sometimes restorative. I don’t have any hard and fast rules – there’s no science behind cures for jet lag – but I listen to my body to determine what kind of exercise routine I’ll do.

If I’m on the road I usually intend to do a light workout – especially if I’m feeling laggy – and definitely start slow. Sometimes I perk up during the workout and wind up going pretty hard, other times nice and easy does it.  Also, sometimes the facilities don’t permit a heavy-duty workout, but any workout is better than no workout.

Calisthenics, dynamic flexibility work, a light run, an easy circuit training routine are all good strategies to combat jet lag.  Do something that gets you, and keeps you, moving for at least 25-35 minutes, incorporates whole body movements and has you changing elevations.  You know, get down on the ground, get back up…keep moving and get the blood flowing.

When I get back home my workouts tend to be more rigorous, usually because I’m glad to be home and that I’m familiar with my surroundings.  I just got back from Las Vegas and less than 2 hours after I we touched down I was on the local high school field doing what started out as a recovery-style run but wound up being a full-blown workout.

Felt great, ate great, slept great and I was back in the swing of things right away.  Exercise is a great cure for jet lag.

 If you use the coming of spring and summer as an incentive to get into shape, you better get started.

I don’t think that people should just get into shape just because the warm weather is coming.  However, I do recognize that people use the change of seasons as motivation for starting to exercise or for making changes to their existing routines.

So I’ll get the “you-should-know-better” part of this piece out of the way and tell you that taking care of yourself is a 12-month proposition.  If you are consistent all year round with your workouts and nutritional habits, you won’t have to worry that bathing suit weather is right around the corner.  I know all some of you hear is, “Blah, blah, blah,” but I speak truth.

Okay, so now that I’ve told you that you shouldn’t look at following a healthy lifestyle as a seasonal pursuit and recognize that real life indicates that people do this, I’ll try to help you get into shape for the spring.

First of all, you need to start making this change right now.  Not in March, April or (certainly not!) May, but in February.  This means those of us who live in places where Old Man Winter has us in his grip cannot wait until it gets a little nicer outside to make additions or changes to our activity routine.  If you live in the Northeast or Midwest and wait until it starts to get less horrible our, it’s too late.  You can’t depend on outside exercise to get you into shape.

Making changes to your routine and fitness level takes time.  Despite what television shows like “The Biggest Loser” preach, you cannot cram five or six months of exercise into 6 weeks.

That being said, even where I live in New Jersey the weather is rarely that bad for a long enough period of time where I cannot get outside for a 20-30 minute workout at least once per week.  I’m not a crazy person who heads out in the foulest of weather to workout.  Not me.  But I recognize that exercising in the cold winter air is a great way to shake off the winter doldrums.

Those of you who are regular visitors to have seen my outdoor videos and know that I practice what I preach.  Do yourself a favor and practice what I preach.  Throw on some gloves, a hat, sweatshirt and whatever else you need to keep you comfortable on a cold, sunny day, and go for a walk, do some sprints, calisthenics or Kettlebell swings.  Your neighbors might think you’re a bit odd, but we’ll know you’re cool.

Price reduction on Kettlebells, Buy now and SAVE!

Anyway, if you’re afraid of or unwilling to deal with the cold – even though cardiovascular equipment is not my favorite kind of aerobic activity – given the alternative of doing nothing to walking on a treadmill or elliptical-ing on an elliptical trainer, choose the machine-based activity.

If you don’t have access to cardio equipment, calisthenics can provide you with an effective means to develop and improve your fitness level.  Actually, calisthenics are preferable to any machine-based cardiovascular exercise, but I’m not going to make that argument now.  I’ll just leave it at this; if you want to get into great cardiovascular shape you will choose to do jumping jacks, squat thrusts, leg drives, grasshoppers, push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups.

So if you want to get into shape for spring, start now.

A recent review of Whole Body Vibration (WBV) research by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) doesn’t provide any reasons to include this mode of training into your routine, whether you are a personal trainer or a fitness consumer. 

WBV has been studied for over 50 years and its proponents claim that using these platforms can improve general health and performance.  Recently the NSCA published a paper titled, “Vibration Performance and Athletic Performance,” authored by Jeffrey M. McBride, PhD, CSCS, PNSCA, that reviewed existing research on the effects of WBV.  Personal trainers, strength coaches and consumers alike can benefit from this report and its implications with regard to practicality of WBV training.

According to Dr. McBride’s conclusion, “WBV may be a viable alternative for increasing athletic performance when used as a warm-up procedure (and that) data indicates that WBV training may provide a viable alternative to standard types of strength training.  However, adding WBV to an existing strength training program does not appear to be more beneficial than standard types of strength training (my italics).”

There’s no doubt that some WBV marketers will seize upon these statements and spin Dr. McBride’s words so they sound like an endorsement of WBV training.  However, when you look at Dr. McBride’s paper in the context of all the research dealing with WBV, this review provides reasons not to bother with Whole Body Vibration.

Even if vibration training provided bona fide benefits as a warm-up/preparation protocol – according to the research WBV may provide these benefits – the incredibly impractical nature of this training modality renders WBV useless, especially in group or team settings.  WBV platforms are prohibitively expensive and can be used by only one person at a time, and given the fact that there are other demonstrably more convenient, effective and cost-free options to the noisy platforms there is no reason to engage in WBV training for warm-up.

Calisthenics and other dynamic flexibility exercises are more efficient, effective and practical than WBV and are have a long track record of providing benefits and improved performance without any expense or clumsy implementation.

Given the massive impracticalities associated with WBV training, Dr. McBride’s comment that WBV training may provide an alternative to standard strength training shouldn’t have anyone running out to purchase a multi-thousand dollar WBV platform.  “Whole body vibration training may provide a viable alternative,” doesn’t mean WBV is better than traditional strength training or even delivers the same benefits, just that it is another mode of exercise that may be of some use.

We know from decades of research that standard weight training delivers guaranteed benefits with minimal risk, expense and inconvenience. On this count, WBV doesn’t deliver for those of us who make practical considerations a priority in their decision making process.

Another nail in WBV’s coffin is Dr. McBride’s statement that WBV offers no benefits when added to an existing strength-training program.  The expensive, noisy and questionable benefits offered by WBV disappear for people already engaged in a traditional strength-training program.

With regard to the risks associated with WBV training, there have been no long-term studies on the risks associated with WBV. However, according to Dr. McBride a study titled, “Variation in Neuromuscular Responses During Acute Whole-Body Vibration Exercise,” published in “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise,” in 2007 by Abercromby et al, found that exposure to WBV during a workout may exceed the recommended limits of exposure to vibration.

In cases where WBV exposure resulted in acute (short term) benefits, these same benefits have been attained by using less cumbersome and less expensive methods.  For instance, some studies have shown WBV exposure to improve short–term vertical jump performance and increase in joint range of motion, when the same short-term benefits can be experienced by performing plyometrics, flexibility work and strength training – all bona fide training methods with a proven track record of success – that also provide long-term benefits.

WBV training has been shown to increase adrenaline levels and the levels of other hormones, but ingesting caffeine in responsible doses and engaging in regular exercise is a superior method for increasing hormone levels.  WBV is alleged to increase rate of perceived exertion, energy expenditure or metabolic rate, but traditional forms of exercise, or doing something simple like wearing a weighted vest, can do the same things at a fraction of the cost with exponential efficiency.

The bottom line is that while WBV training may be able to elicit some training responses – and given the dearth of legitimate data, this is a stretch – these responses can be derived in a more efficient, effective and authentic manner by using traditional, less-expensive methods of exercise.

When you’re on vacation at the beach – like I am this week – and want to exercise without going to a gym, here’s a short and very effective workout.

I enjoy working out when I’m on vacation, away from the gym and all of the standard/traditional (at least for me) modes of exercise.  There’s no better time to break out of the routine than when you’re away from home and at the beach.

Here’s a quick workout – just about 30 minutes – that’s plenty challenging and will allow you to enjoy the unique opportunities that come from training on the sand.

Warm up for about 5 minutes by doing some calisthenics or jogging and sub-maximal sprinting on the beach.  I like to do a combination jog/shuffle/back pedal/shuffle/75% sprint over approximately a 40-yard course, and repeat this pattern 4-6 times at various speeds.  A good rule of thumb for using this combo run is to take about 5 strides in each running mode and you should cover about 40 yards.

When you’re ready to go, march off a 30-yard course on an area of the beach that’s relatively flat and obviously unpopulated.  I’ve used both the harder sand close to the water and soft sand higher up the beach; both are challenging terrains. From here it’s simple; sprint the course you’ve marked out, at 100% effort.  If you have a watch rest for about 30-60 seconds depending on your level of conditioning, and if you’re “watchless” do your best estimate and countdown your rest period.

Perform 6-12 sprints, again depending on your level of conditioning.  If you’ve kept up the pace, not including the warm up, you should be under the 15-minute mark.

Next is the body weight squats and push-ups portion of the workout; you’ll do a set of 25 squats and 10 push-ups with about 30 seconds of rest in between sets.  Just like with the sprints you want to use a flat area of sand.  Place your towel down to keep the sand off of your hands – if you want – and get to it.  If you’re ambitious, shoot for 10 sets and a total of 250 squats and 100 push-ups, and this should take you to about the 30-minute mark.  If you haven’t included high-repetition body weight squats into your routine set your goal at 5 sets of squats/push-ups.

There you have it; a quick, effective and challenging workout that you can do at the beach, and without the need for any equipment.  If you’re on vacation, going on vacation or live at the beach give this workout a try.

This week you’ll be introduced to the concept of Functional Exercises and learn the proper way to perform jumping jacks in my free exercise program.

YouTube Preview Image

Welcome to the first week of the Functional Exercises section of my free online exercise program, The Program to Improve Your Fitness.  Functional exercises combine flexibility, strength and balance work, with more movement than is needed to perform the dynamic flexibility exercises, and as a result provide a potent stimulus to improve your fitness.  This week you’ll learn how to do jumping jacks.

During the Functional Exercise section of this free online exercise program you will learn how to perform the fundamental calisthenics exercises; jumping jacks, slow-motion squat thrusts, leg drives/mountain climbers, sit-ups and push-ups.  Real push-ups.  As a personal trainer and strength coach I use these calisthenics as a regular part of my clients workouts and rely on them in my own workouts as well. Over the next few weeks you will learn to appreciate what these exercises can do to improve your fitness level.

I have mentioned over the past several weeks that you need to treat this early stage of the program more as practice and less as exercise.  Trust me, by the end of this section of my free exercise program you will have enough exercises in your arsenal to provide you with a very challenging workout.  Just take your time and practice these new exercises and make sure that you are performing them with proper form.  You will get more out of this free exercise program if you are patient.

The calisthenics exercises that you will learn over the next few weeks offer a powerful cardiovascular workout and will improve your fitness level without subjecting your body to damaging impact forces.  By the end of this section of my free exercise program you will know how to get a great cardiovascular workout in a fraction of the amount of time that many people spend jogging.

The progression that I have laid out here, is the exact same path that I provide for my personal training clients, and is the most efficient and effective way to both learn these exercises and to implement these exercises in a training program.  Check in to every week to get the latest installment of my free exercise program, and contact me at [email protected] if you have any questions or comments.