Home Workouts for When the Weather Sucks

I have regular access to three gyms, all of which are within a 15-minute walk. But sometimes – especially when the wind is whipping down the slushy streets of Brooklyn – I just don’t have it in me to layer up and leave the house. Luckily, as a personal trainer and fitness nerd, I’ve amassed a decent collection of multi-purpose exercise equipment:

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Ab Carver Pro, 15 lb slam ball, old ass dumbbell, and ALL the bands.

(Aside: I posted this same photo on Instagram the other night, and my friend Sara commented that it looked like I’d raided the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ supply closet.)

If I were a programming a workout for a client, I would sit down and spend some dedicated time considering their goals and interests so I could put together a workout that balanced cardio, resistance training and mobility. But, honestly, I was pressed for time and feeling spontaneous, so I just kinda winged it… And it turned out to be fun and challenging.

The lesson – planning exercise can help keep you on track with your goals, but sometimes overthinking workouts can get in the way of actually doing them.

If you’re curious, Here’s what I did:

2 sets of

Tabata: no push-up burpee (I have downstairs neighbors)

6-minute AMRAP of

3 sets of banded monster walks

  • forward, backward, left, right

Tabata: alternating banded pull-aparts and curtsy squats

5 Rounds:

3 Rounds with ab roller

  • 10 forward
  • 5 right
  • 5 left

Turkish Get-up practice with dumbbell – I struggle with form/sequencing on this, so I’ve been trying to fit in some practice time at the end of workouts.

I got it all done in under an hour, and I was super sweaty. Success!

If you’re interested in adding home workouts to your schedule but don’t have much in the way of equipment, here’s a little workout I put together for a recent Men’s Journal article. You only need a chair!

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Question: Do you work out at home? What are some of your tips and/or challenges?

My Day as a Devil

As discussed in my previous post, I spend most of my days working independently at home in my sweatpants with a cat in my lap and a mug of coffee within reach. But every once in a while my job gets me out of the house and transports me to exotic, faraway locations like…

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Image Source: The Prudential Center

Newark, New Jersey!

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit The Prudential Center for a tour and on-site workout with the strength and conditioning team for the New Jersey Devils. Everything I know about training for the ice comes from movies like The Mighty Ducks and The Cutting Edge (toe pick!), so I accepted the invite in the name of continuing education.

The circuit workout that head coach Joe Lorincz programmed  wasn’t all that different from a typical CrossFit EMOM, or an AMRAP I might put together for a client interested in slimming down and building muscle. We cycled through a short warm-up of power moves like box jumps and medball slams, and then moved into a lengthier circuit filled with strength training exercises like weighted carries, sled pushes, deadlifts, and ring rows. But there were a few hockey-specific tweaks, like a focus on balance. After the workout, I had the chance to chat with Coach Lorincz for this article for Men’s Journal.

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I’m not sure I’m ready to hit the ice (unless it’s with my ass – that’s a guarantee any time I put on skates). But I am thinking about how to better address posture and balance in my own workouts. Even if you’re not zipping around on razor blades, being able to stand on one foot is important in everyday life (we do it every time we run, climb stairs, step over puddles…), and balance becomes increasingly important as we age and become more susceptible to falls and resulting injury.

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Post workout with the Devils’ strength and conditioning coaches

Looking for one small way to address balance training into your workout? Try adding walking knee hugs to your warm-up.  You’ll stretch the hips, glutes, and hamstrings and challenge your ability to balance on one foot.

Personal Training with Jessica!

Sometimes weightlifting is a tough sell. It can be intimidating if you’re just learning, and there are tons of misconceptions out there about getting “bulky” and “too big.” (Note: Hypertrophy, or the increase of muscle size, requires specific training and, to a certain extent, the right genes. Getting big or bulky requires a LOT of work!)

But, in addition to increasing strength, lifting can help improve posture, correct muscle imbalances and make you feel like a badass! So, whenever a client tells me that they’re interested in weightlifting, I get REALLY excited.

Jessica’s been working out regularly the past couple months, mixing yoga with small group fitness classes. She’s been digging circuit training and wanted to learn more about lifting so she can train on her own with confidence and proper form.

We warmed up with a jump rope tabata (8 rounds of 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest). You want to rev your engine? Grab an old-school jump rope. It’s cheap, portable and super-efficient.

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This is my new custom beauty from Rx Smart Gear, but Amazon and big box stores Target and Modells offer good ropes at lower prices. 

After warming up, Jessica and I moved on to the weight room for some squat/deadlift and benchpress/renegade row supersets. Jessica killed it. Once we locked down the form, I increased her weight multiple times. She’s strong, guys.

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Dumbbell squats and the obligatory selfie.

We finished up with an interval run and a core burner. These “little bit of everything” workouts are my favorite kind – they’re fun and effective, and the time flies!

Do you lift? If not, are you interested in learning how?

Geek for Print

Please humor me while I geek out just a little over seeing my name in the October print edition of Men’s Journal.

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I’ve been contributing to MensJournal.com for well over a year, and it’s been great. I’ve written about everything from training plateaus and Olympic weightlifting to hand care and tattoo cover-ups. I’ve interviewed experts in experts in exercise science and nutrition, as well as the fittest man on earth. I’m excited every time one of my articles goes live, but I was particularly giddy to see a condensed version of a story I wrote on resistance training make it to print.

I’ve been hearing that the print magazine industry is dead for at least 15 years, and I’m sure there were rumblings way before that. When I worked in PR and marketing, I saw both new publications with tons of promise and old books with extensive histories fold. In less than two years of freelance writing, I’ve witnessed the same thing firsthand.

But, I refuse to think the industry is “dead.” I think it’s a hard industry, and maybe one that’s been too resistant to change and evolution. But I can tell you that there are some really smart, creative people in charge (at least on the editorial side) and tons of writers who are stoked to claim just a tiny corner of print real estate. Print is special for that reason – unlike the internet, which is limitless and dynamic, print is a carefully planned experience. And one that can’t be changed after the fact. I think that kind of curation and permanence is unique and appealing at a time when so much content feels instantly disposable.

I suppose I’m one of those hardcover-reading Luddites with piles of magazines on the kitchen table who can’t get used to a Kindle and still values a more tactile reading experience. Maybe we’re slowly dying off and taking the industry with us, but I really hope not. I hope I keep seeing my name in print. In the meantime, I”ll keep buying magazines.

New Cert Alert!

I’m excited to share that I’ve added a new certification to my personal training arsenal: Training the Pregnant and Postpartum Client!

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This topic is addressed by NASM in the section on training “special populations,” but it’s pretty high-level, and there are so many common misconceptions about exercising during pregnancy. I wanted to be able to confidently train a pregnant or postpartum person safely and effectively.

Annette Lang’s workshop and certification was worthy investment of both time and money. She did a great job of combining lecture, group discussion, and hands-on application. She also had a great attitude and approached the topic with humor and enthusiasm. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this. I’ve now had a couple experiences with continuing education courses, and I’ll just say that not everyone has the right personality and temperament for this type of education. Thanks, Annette!

Personal Training, Featuring Jason!

There are dozens of health and fitness assessments a trainer can use to help clients track their progress, but I don’t like to bombard people in the first session. It can be overwhelming, and I want to make sure we have enough time to get in a solid workout.

However, if one client can handle a barrage of assessments, it’s my buddy Jason. I once told Jason that he had a real “affinity for tedium,” and he took it as a compliment. He likes details, metrics, measurements, scores, and stats. I’m sure he would have patiently stood by while I pinched him with my skin-fold caliper, recorded all his circumferences, assessed his heart rate, and tested his maximum strength. But 60 minutes goes fast, so I decided to stick to the overhead squat assessment (read more about that in this post) and the Davies Test, which assesses upper body strength.

After a warm-up and some stretching, I tapped into Jason’s love for minutiae (and reasonable amount of like for running – he ran track in high school, and it’s still his go-to cardio) with a highly specific series of timed 200-meter sprints, all to be performed at various rates of perceived exertion (RPE). We started with a warm-up run with an RPE of 50% and then dialed things up with a second 200-meter run at 75% RPE. The final 200 meters was an all-out sprint.

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Next time we’ll address form and Jason’s heel strike.

After a couple minutes of rest, I explained the next portion of the workout, which was comprised of kneeling get-ups, ball slams, sit-ups and burpees, which elicited this response:

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Burpees.

I know, I know. Burpees = ugh. But they’re the ultimate full-body exercise. I somehow convinced Jason to crank out a few.

And we’re still friends.

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Check out more personal training posts, and learn about personal training in Brooklyn.

Personal Training, Featuring Peter!

When it comes to my personal training style, I aim to stay positive, encouraging and helpful. I know some people respond to more boot camp-like coaching, but that’s just not me. I’ll correct your form, keep you moving, and won’t let you get away with half-assing anything (I want you to get as much as possible out of your 60  minutes!), but this is health and fitness, not war; barking just feels mean and counterproductive.

However, considering Peter is a drummer, I thought about trying to embrace by inner J.K. Simmons ala Whiplash and getting all hardcore about the tempo for things like pike pushups.

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But Peter is a nice guy, and he already works hard. I wanted him to walk away from our session feeling stoked about getting strong, not upset.

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We started our session with an overhead squat assessment, which revealed some movement compensations. Peter’s knees moved inward a bit during the squat, which (often, but not always) indicates overactive (tight) adductors, TFL (hip flexors) and/or quad muscles, and underactive glutes and hamstrings.

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Not Peter or me. source

To help address this potential imbalance, we did some banded “monster walks,” and I showed Peter a few self-myofascial release techniques using a foam roller and tennis balls.

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Peter’s goals included improving his posture and building core and upper body strength. We were in the park and using my “mobile gym,” so we did some ball slams and a challenging circuit that used bands and bodyweight movements.

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To work on Peter’s core strength, we did a couple rounds of cobras and tuck-ups and finished with a two-minute plank hold.

We both had fun and sweated a lot (carrying a 15-pound slam ball up to the park is no freaking joke).

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And nobody cried.

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Question: What coaching style do you prefer? Are you motivated by lots of feedback? Or do you prefer to keep things low-key and just get to work?

Personal Training, Featuring Anna!

Full disclosure: I’ve been friends with Anna since I was a wide-eyed college freshman straight off the turnip truck. She’s one of my closest pals, which made our first training session a lot of fun.

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Even though we’ve known each other for (ahem) 18-ish years, and I had some idea of what she was looking for in a workout, we still began our first session with a frank conversation about goals. This is a crucial part of the personal training experience. Sure, we could have jumped into a high-intensity circuit right away, or started with some treadmill sprints. But Anna can go for a run on her own or sign up for a group fitness class any time. The benefit of working with trainer is getting a program that addresses your unique needs and goals. Communication is key!

We also talked a bit about the concept of “toning.” It’s impossible to change the quality or shape of your muscle, and “spot reduction” is a weight-loss myth. But you can increase the size of your muscles and decrease you overall body fat percentage, which can give you a more “toned” look.

Based on Anna’s goals and exercise preferences, I designed a program that utilized tabatas (eight rounds of 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest) and circuits. Quickly moving from one movement to the next (e.g. push-ups, banded rows, banded good mornings) incorporated resistance training, while keeping her heart rate elevated. Anna also had concerns about strengthening her back and shoulder muscles, as she spends a lot of time at the computer and struggles with slouching and rounded shoulders. So I threw in some banded pull-aparts (a CrossFit staple!).

Another consideration was Anna’s day-to-day life. She has a full-time job and two kids; there’s not a lot of time for the gym or lengthy workouts. My goal was to create a workout that could be replicated at home, broken up into shorter segments, if necessary, and completed with minimal equipment and space. We skipped bars, kettlebells, and dumbbell (all of which I LOVE, don’t get me wrong) in favor of a variety of resistance bands, which are versatile, portable and inexpensive.

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Anna was a model client; she put in 100% effort and was up for everything I threw at her, even monster walks, which are just funny looking. We’re already strategizing our next session, which we may move to the park for some running intervals!

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Have you ever worked with a personal trainer? What was the experience like?

On Passing the NASM Personal Trainer Certification Test

I’m finally coming out from under the rock that was preparing for the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Personal Training Certification.

I signed up for the self-paced program back in November but told only close friends and family what I was up to. You know – that group of people that still has to love and support you even if you fail. And, for better or worse, that’s exactly the attitude I developed preparing for the test.

I’m reasonably smart. I’ve always done well in an academic setting. I’ve been dedicated to my own personal health and fitness for over a decade. Yet, I was totally convinced I was going to blow this thing, mostly because it’s a pass/fail multiple choice test with no room for discussion or negotiation. I am a person who gravitates toward the grey area. I’m most comfortable in situations where there’s no right or wrong answer, as long as you can support your opinion.  I write for a living, and before that I was a marketer – two professions that are basically like, “Here, let me explain to you why I think you should agree with me.” I majored in English and can still remember taking a math theory class for which the midterm exam was a five-page paper. I was so relieved to finally meet a math teacher who understood me.

This certification was the epitome of everything I’ve avoided for the past 15 years. With all of the information on human movement science, assessments, training concepts, program design, and nutrition, there were seemingly infinite questions, and each had one very specific answer. I initially found myself skimming over details and charts, instinctively thinking “I’ll just look that up when I need it.” The practice quizzes, which included all the stuff I’d considered Google-able minutia, were a wake-up call.  That’s when I was like, “Shit. I could actually fail this thing.”

I didn’t, though. I passed, but I had to push aside my whole “Well, let’s look at things from a different perspective” perspective and take notes, make flashcards, use quiz apps, record myself reciting muscle groups (yes I actually did this), and do my own research when the course materials didn’t feel like enough information.

I read a lot of other PT’s posts on studying for and passing the test at first, but I stopped as my test date got closer. (At some point, reading about others’ test-taking fears stopped normalizing my own anxiety and just added to the stress.) But, initially, some of those posts were really helpful. I learned about this anatomy coloring book (tip: photocopy the pages so you can use it more than once), this quiz app, this muscles app (I used it as a reference all the time), and this remarkably generous person’s comprehensive suite of study materials that she’s made available as free downloads.

The NASM certification test isn’t easy, but it’s well-covered territory. With so much advice swirling around the internet, how I could use my perspective (see, it’s back!) to help the next generation of test-takers succeed? Here are some thoughts.

  1. Think about what it would be like to fail. Others will tell you to maintain a positive attitude, but I’ve never found that particularly helpful when facing anything that feels daunting or scary. If you’re riddled with anxiety about failing, allow yourself to go there mentally and think about what would actually happen (I did this countless times – just ask my husband).  Failing would suck. You might feel disappointed, angry, sad, embarrassed, frustrated. You’d take some time to process and then pay (ugh) to retake the test. Or maybe you’d walk away for a little while. Or forever. But, no matter what, you would ultimately be okay.
  2. Now, think about passing. That’s right – even perennial worrywarts deserve a mental vacation. Think about how freakin’ good it would feel to hold that little computer print-out and see “EXAMINATION RESULTS: PASS.” You’d want to hug the proctor even though he gives no shits about any of this. You’d have the impulse to throw an impromptu party at the nearest bar…but then you’d remember it’s 2 PM on a Monday. So then maybe you’d just get a salad at Pret A Manger in midtown and slowly eat it while you happily text everyone you’ve driven crazy over the last few months with panic attacks and emotional breakdowns.
  3. Slow and steady isn’t always best. I initially approached this endeavor like a reasonable, balanced 35 year-old woman. But it was only when I started obsessing over it like a caffeine-fueled college student with a precarious financial aid package that things started to really click. Many of the concepts build on information from earlier chapters, so I don’t recommend allowing more than a few days to pass between study sessions. That being said, I don’t recommend cramming either. You will need to understand and apply what you’ve learned to pass.
  4. Pick a reward. Do you like stuff? It’s okay to admit that you’re motivated by the idea of owning another thing. Or maybe you’re more evolved and like to reward yourself with experiences. Me? I like jewelry. I picked out a very specific strength-themed piece of jewelry from Tina Tang at Iron Strong Jewelry and mentally dangled it in front of my nose every time I got annoyed with studying. I recommend finding something you normally couldn’t justify buying and then shamelessly treat yourself for making it through to the other side.
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Okay, two rewards.

So, I’m a certified personal trainer. Now what? I’m working on that part. To be honest, I originally took the certification course so I could be a more informed writer. I toyed with the idea of training people, but I’ve started to take steps towards actually doing it, which is…exciting! Stay tuned…

Thinking of taking the NASM certification test? Feel free to ask me anything!