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Cait :)
Fat Flush, 7 Day Diet, Miracle Ab Zapper...Reread as SCAM
Fat flush. Diet cleanse. 7 Day Abs. Lose 20 pounds in 20 Days. All of these crazy diets and usually accompanying workout plans generally garner the same reaction from me: first a laugh at how insane they are and then a groan. I often also wonder who not only comes up with this stuff but who are the people feeding into it and buying it. The thing is, especially in writing about, or doing anything related to health and fitness, you are going to be inundated with the latest gimmicks, 'master plans', cutting edge supplements, and the like. That's actually one of my biggest pet peeves in trying to write up anything having to do with fitness in general, it is that more and more often the work is getting lumped in with this other fitness propaganda I will call it.

This is not to say there are not plenty of worthwhile, insightful, helpful, and interesting things to read about in the fitness and sports online world by any means; but the sad fact is that many people are looking to make a profit and they turn to pedaling diet supplements or plans because let's face it obtaining that 'ideal' body is a quest most everyone is on. In the break of the obesity pandemic it's ironic that the obsession with being slimmer, more cut, and 'healthier' is at the forefront of most everyone's minds. So then these supposed 'miracle cures' for flab, fat, cellulite, and sloth capitalize on it all and unfortunately too many people are looking for that quick fix, the easy way to a rock hard body, and they disillusionally tell themselves that plunking down some change and investing in the latest craze will do it.

To me, anytime I see or hear anything akin to fat flush, 'such and such' master diet, a program that boasts you will drop a pound a day, or insane workout contraptions that promise you will have a six pack in only two minutes every third day, I reread it as scam. Sorry to be cliche but if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Let's be honest, if you want to be fit, healthy, and competitive in any kind of sport it takes hard work, effort, dedication, and yes uncomfortablity. Working out requires exertion, sweat, and a certain kind of pain in the form of burning muscles; but at the same time that can be fun and yes, even addicting. I relish the feeling of sore muscles the day after a killer workout or a PR in a race; to a certain degree it is perverse that athletes sort of crave that unique pain of pushing your body to the limit...I've said before that distance runners are the best at kicking our own butts. (Okay, other sport athletes don't get offended because this can apply to you too! haha) Now, for genearl overall health you don't have to necessarily take it that far, but any amount of legitimite exercise will take more effort than a leisurely stroll or heaven help you strapping on that Ab zapping machine.

The truth is that it isn't all that complicated when you get right down to it in terms of diet, exercise, or losing weight. It's a matter of input versus output, elevating the heart rate, hard work, and consistency. Of course there are different approaches or training plans, some better than others, but in the end there isn't going to be a quick, and easy fix. Do you think the people winning races or on the winning teams do so by foregoing the day's workout but make up for it by sipping on some liquid miracle drink instead? Of course there are tips and supplements that work alongside workouts and can improve performance, but I think what I want to get across is that hopefully people will begin to reread many of this fitness propaganda for what it is and will instead of being sucked into them laugh at their ridiculousness. I also give my full support in also laughing at, or at least pitying, the poor folks wasting their own money and time on said products. On that note, what did you do to break a sweat today? :)

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Making Your Workout Routine Work - Aren't Seeing Results...Change It
For some people walking into a gym may be done begrudgingly or accompanied by a loathsome sigh; they meander in to see ab array of cardio equipment on one side and the weights on the other and vaguely go about doing something. While this may be a common state of mind for a large group of the populous, (America is still struggling with not only obesity but sadly an aversion to not only exercise but any kind of exertion in general it seems at times!) that is not the case with everyone nor does it have to be. I honestly love to run, to break a sweat, to feel those muscles working, and yes even embrace that burn of a hard workout; and I know I'm not alone in that thinking. But even if you don't necessarily cite working out as one of your top five favorite things to do it by no means has to be a chore.

Granted you will to some degree need to move out of that comfort level; this will include some pain but it is the 'good' kind of pain. Sore muscles are both earned and something to be proud of; it means you put in some hard work and while having to gently lower yourself into a chair due to some tender quads may not seem like a reward it is because it means you are making your body stronger, tighter, leaner, and more powerful. I think some people may be afraid to push themselves hard enough to see the results of a fitness program and then when they don't see the results they want they give up; instead I think they need to shift their mindset, go in with a solid idea of what they want to accomplish, and then be realistic in knowing it will take hard work and yes...perspiration.

All too often we've seen the overweight person slowly pedaling the stationary bike at 10 RPM's, barely moving; they stay on for awhile, do a few half-hearted bicep curls, then hit the showers. You'll notice they always look the same after months and month; they are usually also the same people who complain that they workout every day and aren't able to lose any weight. What they need to do is get a swift kick in the tush to step out of their comfort zone and work harder...of course you can't motivate someone who just doesn't want to do something but here are a few tips for anyone struggling with a lack of fitness motivation, aren't really sure what they should be doing, or are struggling to get back on the workout wagon.

* Go in with a plan.
Just like anything else if you go in without a clue as to what you want to accomplish you'll more than likely have trouble getting much done. Know what your workout will include for the day; that may mean mapping out the week's training schedule in advance. That way when you lace up those sneakers you'll know what you need to do instead of having to make it up on the spot. You'll also be more likely to stick to a planned workout instead of blowing it off, doing it half-hearted, or cutting it short.

* Get a mix of cardio and strength. You want to not only get in a balance of cardio to elevate your heart rate and burn calories but you also want to build muscle mass and strength with weights or resistance work. This can be accomplished by doing at least 30 minutes of running, biking, using the elliptical, jumping rope, or anything that gets you panting. You can follow this up with a weight routing in the gym that targets the major muscle groups; think lunges, curls, lat pull-down, etc. You can even combine both elements in one workout by alternating between bouts of cardio and strength moves. The bottom line is you don't want to neglect one or the other.

* Workout hard enough.
If you are doing your cardio but barely breathing hard chances are you aren't getting your heart rate elevated enough. The goal is to be going hard enough so that you reach your target heart rate zone of about 70-80% of your maximum heart rate; you can find what that is for you as it varies with age and fitness level and then check yourself. Or you can use a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being what you feel like just laying in bed and 10 being you're running for your life from a wild pack of wolves; you then want to feel like you are exerting yourself at around a level 7.

* Feel the burn.
This ties in to the last one but it applies more to strength work; if you are lifting weights but by the last few reps you still feel like you could do 20 more you should increase the weight load. In the weight room you can either go for higher reps or higher weights depending on what your specific goals are; more reps will lead to a leaner, toned look while less reps and higher weights are going for more bulked muscles. Either way by the end of your sets you want to feel that burn and not like you could keep on going forever.

* Track your progress. It's always encouraging to see that you've improved and that in itself is often motivation enough to keep going and maybe even make you set your goals even higher. That's why having a training log is beneficial and every now and again you should take a look back at where you were and give yourself some kudos if you are able to lift more, go faster, workout longer, or accomplish anything else...think dropping pounds or fitting into those short shorts you never thought you would.

Working out is fun...all you need to do is find something you actually enjoy and then make the most of it. Hopefully if you are yet to have experienced that endorphin high or are just starting out these tips will set you out on the right track. :)

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Making Sleep a Priority - A Commonly Overlooked Training Essential
Life can get crazy, things piling up, fun lasting into the wee hours, whatever the reason it's not uncommon for one of the first things we sacrifice is to be sleep. I'm the queen of procrastination and have been known to say that some of my best work was done under pressure and at the last moment, but no matter what it is that keeps you from hitting the pillow those missing hours of sleep will in the end catch up with you. Plenty of people try to get by on three or four hours of sleep, there is a reason the coffee business is thriving and Starbucks seems to be taking over the world, but not only is that bad for your general health it is even worse for your workouts, especially if you are in training.

For a competitive runner, or anyone who is serious about fitness, being fit and healthy isn't just the time spent in the gym or actually working out but it is also a lifestyle. That doesn't mean you can't have fun and partake in what makes you happy, but it does mean you are at least a little more conscious of all the other 'variables' that maximize your health. That's eating overall balanced and with quality foods, getting in those workouts, being aware of changes in your body like tightnesses or sorenesses so that you can hopefully prevent an injury, and that also means making sleep a priority.

Sleep is perhaps one of the most important aspects of training that gets neglected because people just don't think they have 'time' to sleep or they don't really understand how important it is for recovery. When we are asleep that is the best chance our body has to rebuild those broken down muscles, restore itself, and then come back stronger. The harder you are working out and the more your training load the more sleep you need; neglect that and you will wind up overly fatigued, unable to recover, and then not only will your workouts suffer but you'll be feeling the effects with lack of energy and you will be more susceptible to getting sick.

You hear about the professional athletes who easily can go 10, even 12 hours a night and then even take a nap in between their morning and afternoon workouts; they make sleep a part of their training routine because they know how important it is. Now, not everyone is able to fit in a nap, there are those pesky things called jobs and other life commitments, but that doesn't mean you can't make sure you get the quality sack time you need at night on a regular basis. This will take a commitment and some time management, but it is possible. There are some things we can do to cut down our bedtime routine and morning wake-up so that you can have more time for actual sleep:

* Set a bed time reminder.
Okay, this may sound like you're a little kid, but enforce a planned bed time for yourself and set an alarm 30 minutes prior to that. It's way too easy to get lost on Facebook or some other online site or TV show and before you know it it's 1am; when the alarm goes off start the brushing of the teeth and getting ready to go to bed.

* Lay things out for tomorrow. The night before do all you can to make waking up and getting out the door as fast as possible, that way you can sleep in as late as you can before heading out. If you workout in the morning, have all of your clothes and shoes set out so you can get out the door; similarly if you're going to school or work have all you need packed up and ready to take so you don't have to spend time hurrying around pulling it all together.

* Make your bedroom sleep friendly. What does this mean? Well, it's been shown that any light source can actually make getting that REM sleep harder; even an illuminated computer screen could impede your zzzzz's. You want your room as dark as possible and without any noisy distractions; if you live somewhere with lots of outside noise you might want to think about turning on a fan or you could get one of those calming noise machines...if you like falling asleep to a babbling brook or croaking frogs and it works for you so be it!

* Try to be consistent. Getting into a sleep pattern is the best as the body likes routine. Usually it's easy to stay up later and then sleep in on weekends but ideally you want to get into the same sort of bed time and morning wake-up time every day; okay that's not really all that realistic because let's face it we all deserve to go out and have fun, but aiming for consistency is something to shoot for.

There are ways to get in those hours you need to restore your body with sleep and it's important to make sure you are getting them. The body works off of 90 minute sleep cycles so you want to shoot for intervals that fall in that sequence; minimally you should shoot for 7 1/2 hours and then another 90 minutes would put you at 9 hours. You will feel the effects of lack of sleep in your workouts and just everyday sluggishness; studies show that even after only a few days of missing sleep the stress hormone cortisol spikes and glycogen synthesis begins to deteriorate. Both of these are bad news in terms of your endurance, strength, recovery, and health in general. Another thing is learning that sometimes it's okay to sacrifice a project or other kind of work until the next day to give your body the rest it deserves. Runners and other dedicated fitness folks tend to be a Type A personality, but if you've already gotten an A in a class or something similar it's not the end of the world if you put in less than an A+ effort on an assignment and turn the lights out to hit the pillow.

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Double Days or Sticking With Singles
Q: Is it better to do my workout or runs all at once or split it up into two sessions?

A: Ah, to do double days or to stick to solely singles? The answer depends on how much you are doing and also what the goal of that days' workouts is. There are benefits of splitting your mileage up into two runs, or two separate cardio sessions if you are cross training, and also some for sticking to one workout a day. In the case for doubles there is at a certain point in weekly mileage totals that it becomes sheer necessity; obviously if you are doing high mileage you aren't going to be wanting every single run to be in the double digits. By doing one longer and one shorter run you allow your body to recover more and if you do a hard track or interval session in the morning, doing an easy couple of miles later in the day will also help flush out some of that lactic acid and you'll actually feel better come the next day.

Sometimes even if you aren't necessarily doing high mileage but need an easier day for recovery purposes, doing two shorter runs or workouts can be good too. This can be the case if you are in a taper phase or just feeling run down; you could then do two shorter, 4 mile runs, instead of one 8 miler. If you aren't necessarily training for a running event or race, but are more interested in overall fitness doing double workouts could still be of benefit. If you are cramped for time and it's only possible to fit in 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night then so be it; but another plus is that you may have more energy during each of those shorter bouts than you would have if you had done an hour straight. You could then go harder, burn more calories, and increase your strength and fitness. There have also been studies that show doing two, more moderate to intense workouts, will cause two spikes in your metabolism in the after burn effect. So instead of your metabolism being elevated only once after a single workout, you'd get the reward of a second spike if your aim is weight loss.

Now, the benefits of doing singles are that they are best at increasing cardio fitness and endurance and they are sometime just more convenient. Personally if my daily cardio or runs were around an hour I'd prefer to do singles just because it tends to be easier time wise and the whole getting ready/showering off. If you are training for a longer race or event you may want to do as many longer, single runs just for that extra endurance training; and many higher mileage folks will do their longer run in the morning and still tack on a few miles in the evenings more as just a flush-out/easy run.

So the answer really depends on what your own goals are, where you are in your training, and what works out for you given your schedule. One final note is that on the days of competition or a hard track or workout session in the evening, it's common for people do do a short run (say maybe 2 miles and some drills and stretching) in the morning just to loosen up and get those legs ready to roll later in the day.

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Protein Packs a Punch - Getting Enough Protein to Get Fitter and Faster
When it comes to what we eat there are no shortage of myths, fad diets, 'secret super foods', or stereotypes. One is that all runners need to eat are carbs; carbo-loading for that big race, the next long run, subsisting solely off of pasta and bagels, right? Well, don't get me wrong of course runners, and anyone who is active, will need an influx of carbohydrates (the more complex the better) in their diets but what can sometimes get overlooked is the amount of protein in an athlete's diet. Amidst those bowls of spaghetti and rice there need to be adequate protein sources, such as lean meats or eggs, in order to help build muscle and improve both recovery and performance.

Personally I am a carbo-lover (and don't get me started on all those crazy people who say you should avoid eating carbs at all costs...umm, where do you expect to get that energy you need to workout and replenish those glycogen stores?!) and could eat pizza crusts, bagels, and breads all day long...the doughier the better. I used to never really give much thought as to the amount of protein I was getting and while I did probably eat enough for the average person, it wasn't enough for someone who wanted to be an athlete or who was as active as I was. When I started to consciously up my protein levels I noticed I was able to build more muscle and leaned out; and that translated into better workouts and faster recovery.

A good rule of thumb is to try to get in at least 1 to 1.5 grams of protein daily for every pound of body weight. So if you weight 150 pounds try to get in at least 150 grams of protein; that amount should be more if you are doing more anaerobic or weight training work. You also want to think about the timing of your protein; try to get in a good mixture of protein and carbs within 30 minutes after finishing your run or workouts. This is key to recovery and muscle growth. People often think the only place to get protein is with meats, and lean meats are a great way to go, but there are other sources and if you are a vegetarian you need to be particularly conscious of finding adequate protein.

Some good protein sources:

*Lean meats: I say lean meats such as chicken and turkey because they are lower in fat and calories typically than beef. Surprisingly if you are able to get it bison also falls into the category of a lean meat. A few other tips is to go skinless and with chicken and turkey aim for the lighter cuts.

*Seafood: My absolute favorite is shrimp and it packs in about 17 grams of protein and merely 90 calories in a 3 ounce serving. Lots of other fish are great, think tuna and cod, and while salmon will have more fat it is the heart healthy Omega-3 kinds which you actually want to seek out and include in your diet.

There are some who avoid eggs because of the cholesterol but honestly eggs are a great source of protein with 6 grams and only about 70 calories each; and more research is proving the positives far outweigh the negatives. Though you can always go for a liquid substitute that can be both fat free and cholesterol free.

*Low Fat Cottage Cheese: I actually love cottage cheese, and it may be an acquired taste for some, but if you like it dig in. Just 1/2 cup has about 12 grams of protein. Other dairy products such as low fat milk and yogurt are good alternatives but don't have as much protein as the cottage cheese.

*Tofu and Soy Options: If you are a vegetarian, or even a gulp vegan, you may have to work a bit harder to find protein. Tofu is a good choice and there are other soy meats that can do the trick. Next in line would be beans, but these don't have as much protein per serving as other outlets with usually only single digit stats per 1/2 cup.

*Protein Supplements: If all else fails you can look for protein powders and bars that will boost your protein for the day. In fact there are sports recovery drinks that are including more protein and these can be great for sipping on right after a workout; replenish not only your electrolytes but protein reserves as you rehydrate. If you go for a sports bar try to pick one with at least 10 grams of protein.

Another great thing about protein is it will fill you up and keep you satiated longer so you aren't left with a grumbling stomach an hour later. So it's still okay to be a carby lover (and us active people should be!) but just make sure you add in some chicken, shrimp, or other protein along with all those rice and pasta bowls!

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Kick Up Your Workout With Plyometrics - Gain Strength and Power
Plyometrics are exercises that are explosive movements that will not only build muscle mass but torch calories. They specifically target fast twitch muscle fibers and improve your power and agility. They are great for athletes looking to improve their times and performance, but can be an excellent addition to any fitness regime. For athletes they will increase your raw speed, make you more responsive, and that power will mean a better finishing kick at the end or your races; and for sprinters it also means more explosiveness out of the blocks. Plyometrics are hardly limited to runners and virtually all sports incorporate some version of them; think anything that requires jumping, a quick reaction, and raw speed.

Because they are anaerobic in nature and usually involve maximum efforts, they will boost your metabolism not only when doing the moves, but also in what is known as the after-burn effect, when your resting metabolic rate will be elevated for hours even after you've stopped exercising. The subsequent muscle mass that you build will further enhance the number of calories your body burns throughout the day because a pound of muscle consumes vastly more calories than a pound of fat. For these reasons these moves are appealing to anyone looking to get leaner and more fit.

Adding plyometrics to any regime needs to be done gradually and you need to be extra aware of your form through each movement. Because they are powerful, almost all-out efforts, as you tire your body will be more apt to 'cheat' or not do the activity correctly and you could be more prone to an injury if you aren't conscious. Just be certain to take your time and also know that while you may not feel sore during the workout, you will definitely feel the effort later on, so start out with only one set and then work your way up to three sets that you can do three times a week with at least a day of rest between them.

* Box Jumps:
Find a box or raised stationary bench or step. Facing the box, load yourself by getting into a low squat and prepare yourself for a leap onto the box. Return to the ground and do this 10 times. As you advance, increase the height of the box.
* Single Leg Hops: Balance on one leg and jump forward as far as you can with each hop. Do 10 on each leg.
* Squat Jumps For Distance: Standing with feet just about shoulder width apart, lower into a deep squat and thrust yourself forward as far as you can. Think about a standing long-jumper. Do this 10 times.
* Star Jumps: Stand with your feet together and arms at your sides. Jump high off the ground and as you do so kick your legs out to the sides and lift your arms over your head. This moves looks something like a jumping-jack from your old PE days.
* Bounds: For a distance of 30 meters aim to make each bound as long as possible; think of exploding off of each toe-off and then eating up as much air. Immediately as you land push off with the next leg to keep one fluid movement. Do two lengths of 30 meters alternating which leg you lead with.
* High skips:
Again for 30 meters skip up and off the ground to try to gain as much height as you can with each lift off. Do two lengths starting alternating which leg you lead off with.

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