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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The constant push for improvement - Allowing yourself to soak up those victories

For many goal driven or competitive people, and athletes especially, it seems that the majority of the focus is placed in the future. Attaining that next title, hitting that faster PR, improving...bettering on where you are today at this very moment. That certainly has to be the case for if you don't set your sights any higher you're not all that likely to improve; but at the same time there has to be some kind of balance in that we need to appreciate what we've been able to achieve thus far and acknowledge hard work paid off. Once you finally reach that goal you set it sometimes feels that there is a short period of feeling victorious, yet that is fleeting because of the ever constant drive to improve more and get faster.

That is the nature of the sport and part of the fun; to see just how far you can go, pushing it to the edge of your physical capabilities. Athletes need to continue to refuse to put a ceiling on what they can do and that breaks down time barriers. Still, there is a fine line between striving to reach your personal best and then never being satisfied. I say that in there seems to be a little time line after a monumental race or when one achieves a PR they have been working towards for so long...there is the actual race itself which can range the gamut from 'one of those days' where it feels the stars align and you are actually surprising yourself with each lap eclipsed to the race being the most painful and excruciating experience to date...though once you cross that finish line there is no sweeter kind of pain. After crossing the line there is usually a short time of shock where the reality sets in; you look to the scoreboard (or your watch) to see that the time actually was what you heard...then the elation starts to wash over you, quickly followed by all that lactic acid.

The legs may feel wobbly but generally the elation of it all or satisfaction over-rides the tiredness (for now) and you stay on your feet, congratulate other finishers or teammates and then head off on a cool-down. Usually at this point you are thinking back on the race, going over it in your mind, and yes, you may even allow yourself a sheepishly smug smile...but you can't help it you're excited and deserve to be. That excitement may last the rest of the day, or through the next but at some point it dulls and turns into "where do I go from here?" and you set the bar higher. There are always faster times to achieve, someone you want to beat, titles to be won...so often there is a very short life expectancy on those feelings of satisfaction in your achievement. Hitting those goals inevitably comes with a time stamp.

What can also happen is even in hitting the initial goal you set out to achieve, say a PR, depending on how the race plays out you could wind up crossing that line and actually never feel fulfilled. Maybe you got that PR but got out-kicked in the end; conversely maybe you won the race but you aren't happy with the time. In cases like this it is all too easy to get sucked into a negative frame of mind where you are only left berating yourself, torturously replaying the race through your mind seeing where you could have done something differently, and the fact that you still did reach your goal becomes lost in the shuffle completely. Sure it is warranted to be disappointed, but if you constantly finish a race like that or even after reaching all of your set out goals you never give yourself that pat on the back you are apt to never be happy.

At a certain point it is inevitable that every competitive athlete's career will come to an end; whether that be with a world record or at least an end to any more PR's. Do you want to reach that day having never actually felt genuinely excited or pleased with your efforts? It is only natural, and a part of the sport, to always be on the quest to get faster and improve but never acknowledging a job well done isn't all that healthy either. So bask in those achievements, soak it up for the time being...relish those sweet victories because when they are over you want some positive memories. Of course set your aims higher for the next time around, but also allow yourself the pleasure of living in the moment as well...lactic acid and all.

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Be proud to be a strong, fit, and fast woman

I read a good article today written by a female weightlifter from Gubernatrix training for a strongwoman competition in which she addresses the discontinuity between women being feminine and having muscles. She nailed the points down to a tee: why is it that some people (both men and women) find that femininity and strength or musculature can't coexist? In my own experience I've heard plenty of women say as an excuse to stay out of the weight room, "Oh, no I'd never lift weights because I don't want to look like a man" or "I don't want my muscles too big" or I've even heard, "I need to stay soft, you know, womanly." The last one really gets me...stay soft? I think there are plenty of inactive people already taking care of that one! haha...But it does show that it is not only men who are averse to a strong looking woman.

Okay, I'm not saying that there isn't a point in which some of the strongwomen or other athletes start to look, well, a little scary with their tendons ripping through their necks like chords and their abs capable of grating cheese. BUT there are men who take it to the extreme too, and I'm going to go out on a limb and venture to say that there is most likely a little extra 'boost' they are taking in addition to hitting the gym and working out. For not only general fitness but also athletes building muscle is not only going to make you healthier, fitter, leaner, and better at your sport, but in my opinion it will make you look better too. In the article sprinter standout Allyson Felix is quoted, “Girls deserve to have strong muscles and bones and ligaments and tendons, etc. AND look good in their undies too!” I couldn't agree more and while I believe an Olympic medal is far more fulfilling than rocking a bikini body it doesn't hurt to have both; further would you not prefer to see a toned and strong bikini body than one jiggly and loose?

You don't have to be necessarily overweight either to just be soft; take for example many of those startlingly thin girls strutting down the runways. I've read that agents actually forbid the girls to run, but instead walk, because running will build up too much calf muscle? So while the ladies are by no means fat, or even of normal weight, you can still see they don't have muscle tone and are just soft...why is that supposed to be more attractive or feminine?

Finally there is also that same kind of mentality taken to females excelling in their sport or athleticism in general to a certain degree, and I'd say that it's mostly of men or older guys who are not at a highly competitive level but more the type that feel intimidated by a girl who can kick their butts. Runnerchicks, how many times have you been on an easy run and pass a guy only to find he suddenly 'picks it up' and refuses to let you pass? He starts to pant and moan, obviously killing himself just to prove a point that a lady isn't going to pass him; I've had some jerks swerve or try to cut me off in a mixed road race for the same reason. Finally, the classic is if you happen to be on a treadmill and the guy next to you has to increase his own pace, you then get sucked into some kind of unstated treadmill war. Again, I think this is more the men who aren't secure in their own abilities because at the highest level I've seen guys be more than happy for a girl to tag along on a warm-up, an easy run, or even help pace her through a workout; and I think that is because they know yea, they could her butt in a 'real' workout, but they also appreciate the hard work that the girl is doing and has done to get into the shape she has and race the times she has.

I guess the point is that no matter if you are an Olympian or just a generally fit lady being toned, or even ripped, is something to be proud of. So is being able to kick the butts of other guys and similarly that can also be beautiful and attractive (I think Sports Illustrated proves that every time they do a spread of high class athletic women, the mag's sell.) Still, we don't necessarily do it for only looking good in a bikini, but we do it because it is a great feeling to be strong, and yea, being able to win any treadmill 'face off' does have it's own sort of petty pride too. ;)

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Sweltering temps and what that means for your training

Summer is turning out to be a scorcher! Well at least here, and other parts of the US there are some intense heat waves hitting and while this may not be exactly out of the ordinary for some of the areas (It's not like one pictures Texas in July to be particularly chilly!) it still means that if you are running our exercising outside you do need to take some extra measures to make sure you are safe. There are always more cases of deaths due to heat exposure during this time of the year and while it may seem only the young and elderly are at risk that's not the truth. Even if you are fit as can be and an avid exerciser you can make a mistake or use poor judgment which may not end up in death but could result in health concerns or side effects lasting for days.

This may seem like common sense but sometimes in the heat of the moment (haha...yes, lame pun there sorry!) we are all guilty of acting foolishly. So here are some quick tips for scorching summer training:

1) Stay hydrated: This is probably the most important thing but commonly gets overlooked; the thing is some people just plum forget to drink and then later when then wind up feeling faint, dizzy, or tired they don't know why. Dehydration is never a good thing, particularly for runners and other regular exercisers, but it something many fall victim to if even in a milder state. By the time you actually feel thirsty you're already mildly dehydrated; so stay ahead of the game and sip often and regularly. You also need to drink more than just water because you need electrolytes which come from sports drinks.

2) Plan your timing: If you are going to be running outside don't go during the hottest time of the day. That may mean getting up earlier but it is worth it; even if you run after the sun goes down in many places the temperature then is still much higher than in the early morning hours. Bite the bullet and get out the door before the sun has a chance to make the mercury rise.

3) Think about hitting the treadmill:
Treadmill running is not for 'wimps' and if the weather conditions outside are just too severe take it indoors. In the end you will not only be safer but you will probably get in a better workout too. Exercising and running in intense heat makes the body work harder and your times will reflect that; if you hit the treadmill you will probably end up going faster and feel better at the end.

4) Make a splash: If you are cross training or want to mix it up you can always hit the pool for an aqua-jogging session. The summer is a great time to do this as the pool is much more appealing now than in the dead of winter and aqua-jogging is also a lot easier on the joints.

Finally one last things to keep in mind is that different surfaces will react differently to the heat; for example if you are running on the hot black pavement or grass there will be even more heat radiated and humidity. If possible stay on lighter surfaces and opt for a trail over a grassy field; just things to keep in mind. What may seem like obvious measures to keep cool can make a big difference and I myself am guilty of making a stupid mistake thinking it's not that 'big' of a deal if I go out in the hottest part of the day. But even if you aren't in serious risk, like death, you can be left with the lingering effects for days afterward...you'll be more tired and zapped of strength which isn't fun nor conducive to training. So stay cool out there and be smart in those summer runs. :)

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The notoriously tight runner - Give some love to that IT Band

Runners are notoriously tight; combine the fact that running in itself tightens the muscles and that many of us are cramped for time and neglect to stretch it is no wonder that plenty of injuries creep up due to lack of flexibility. I am as guilty as any for skimping on the post run stretching routine and genetics dealt me a particularly inflexible fate (thank you Mommy...haha!)but not taking the time to improve your range of motion and flexibility will catch up with you not only in the short term but years down the road.

You also lose flexibly as you age (call it another gift from Father Time as he also saps your speed!) and if you neglect stretching now, when you are younger, that is only going to make things exponentially worse off down the road. The window to stave off that ever creeping up tightness in the muscles, and the ability to avoid certain injuries and tears, will have closed. That is why carving out the time to include dynamic and static stretching into your running and fitness routine is so important. I'll step off the little soap box now, but one spot in particular that is prone to being especially tight in runners is the IT Band.

The IT Band runs along the outside of the thigh; starting from the top of the hip and all the way to the knee. This little bugger is responsible for a myriad of knee problems, but like plenty of other injuries it effects many other areas and can be the root cause of other seemingly unrelated injuries. The constant, repetitive motion of running sets the IT Band up to become inflamed and tight and to counteract that it is important to pay some extra attention to this area. The old motto that the best medicine for an injury is prevention is key here; by keeping this band loose and knot free you will be able to save yourself time off and pain later on.

A great stretch for the IT Band is to sit on your tail bone and prop your knees up with the heels of your feet about a foot from your bum. Taking your left leg you will then bend it and place the outside of your foot on the top of your right knee; your left leg will be in a similar sort of position as the butterfly stretch and rolled outward. To make the stretch deeper move the knee of your right leg closer to your torso thus moving the foot of your left leg closer to you; hold here and then repeat on the opposite leg.

If that stretch is difficult for you or uncomfortable you can also do a similar version but this will have you bending the left leg in a half-butterfly stretch position on the floor and you will extend your right leg behind you. You should feel the stretch, both of them, in the upper hip area and along the outer thigh. Sink deeper into this stretch by getting your thigh as close to the ground as possible and then lean forward.

In addition to stretching you can work out the knots that invariably form along the IT Band...now I warn you this is not going to be pleasant especially if you haven't ever worked on your IT Band before! Using a foam roller, lie on your side and place the outside of your thigh on the roller and glide across it through the entire length of the band; from the top of your hip to your knee. In the spots that are particularly tender hold it there and apply a bit more of your bodyweight; that is where a knot is. After holding the foam roller on the spot with pressure for about 20 seconds continue to roll around and over the knot. You won't be able to break up all of the knots in one sitting but continue to do this and you'll notice that after a couple of weeks it will be less painful and smoother as you glide across the roller. Of course when you are just starting to do this go easy and gently work on breaking up those knots because you'll feel sore later; also be sure to drink plenty of extra water to flush out those toxins you will be breaking up and releasing.

Ideally you want to be able to roll across that IT Band niggle free and that will be a good sign that the entire length is loose and flexible. By keeping it in this state you'll be staving off a potential injury and won't be stuck having to take time off later!

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Getting outkicked sucks...But you can train to fix that

In the world of distance running it seems there are two kinds of runners: the kickers and the pace-pushers. The former are the ones that are often times thought to be just blessed with the ability to hold on tight for the ride (the race) and then breeze by the poor sap who had led up until about 200 meters to go and then gets to watch as the win goes to someone else. Still, they get the runner-up title, oh and equal amounts of pain from all that lactic acid! Hehe...kidding aside though, having a fast finishing kick is a major benefit to any runner or racer; think of it like a secret weapon to be unleashed when you need that extra gear.

True, some runners are just naturally blessed with more raw speed than others (when I was running I most definitely fell into the category of NOT having it :P) but that doesn't mean that you are a lost cause if up until now you've tended to be the one being passed down the home stretch. If you look at the harriers charging home they usually look like they are running much more 'comfortably' than the others; that doesn't mean they aren't working just as hard but they are holding their form together to be the most efficient. When we tire, our form breaks down, and this only slows us down. At the end of a race you want to stand up tall, relax your face, drop your shoulders so they aren't up to your neck, and let the legs roll...though MUCH easier said than done.

Before you even get to the line though you want to have worked on your finishing kick and that will be doing those shorter intervals and sprints. Don't neglect those 200 meter repeats if you are running a 10k or even a marathon; then you can also do power moves like plyometrics to build strength, explosiveness, and that will translate into speed. Another thing that can improve your finishing kick, and your overall race, are drills; doing quick feet drills that work on a faster turn-over will make you more efficient on the track and you will be able to relax and sprint home. Finally core work and lifting weights will also make you stronger and able to maintain proper form; if your core is weak you'll naturally hunch over as you tire.

Just because you tend to be one of the racers who feel they have to take the pace out from the gun and tire out your opponent, that doesn't necessarily have to always be the case. It was once said that the more confident runners are able to sit back, be patient, and let others do the work because in their mind they know they can out duel them in the end. Now, I'm not saying it's always best to just sit and kick because if you are aiming to hit a certain time you may need to be the one to nudge the pace along; but there are always races for times and races for titles or places. That is another topic all together; but the point is you can be a runner hybrid and possess both the ability to take the lead but still charge home with a fast finishing kick. That is of course an ideal all are working towards but the fastest runners work on all aspects of their sport. So if you want to get a faster finishing kick that means increasing your raw speed and working on you form so that when you are tired you are still able to relax, and dig, then tap into that 'extra' gear.

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C'mon let's sweat...But make sure you rehydrate after those runs too!

Summer is now officially in full swing, and that means for anyone running and working out outside the temperatures are rising...and the sweat will be pouring down more profusely than before too! While you do still always sweat working out outdoors even in the colder winter months, you may not 'feel' it because the cold air evaporates it very quickly but you do still lose fluids, it isn't as much as when the sun is blaring down on you. For this reason it is especially crucial to stay hydrated and not only with water but you also need to restore the electrolytes you are losing too.

When you sweat while running and working out you lose much more than strictly water content; if you don't ensure the balance of your electrolytes stays in the optimum level you will run the risk of not only bonking but could actually face some pretty serious health problems. This is extreme but when you hear about runners dying from being overhydrated, what that means is that they drank so much water (and only water) that they diluted their electrolyte levels (mainly potassium and sodium) so severely that their heart couldn't function. That isn't to scare any one as you'd have to drink lots of water, but the point is you need to make sure to rehydrate with a sports drink that contains these key elements along with water.

A good way to gauge how much fluids you are losing is to weigh yourself before and after your run; for every pound of weight that you lose (and it's only water weight folks not fat miraculously melting off of you in an instant...haha) you need to drink 16 ounces of fluids. There is the tried and true Gatorade, although there is lots of just plain sugar in that drink and there are better options, and you could even dilute it with water if the taste is too sweet. My favorite drink was Ultima but I don't think they sell that anymore as I haven't found it in years; even better though there are now sports recovery drinks that contain some protein that is excellent post run.

While you need to of course drink fluids after your run you need to remain hydrated throughout the day. Keeping a water bottle close at hand may look 'dorky' but you should be sipping all day long; by the time you actually feel thirsty your body is in a minor state of dehydration. You want to be 'friends' with that bathroom and your urine should be clear if you are properly hydrated. It's been proven that not only your endurance will suffer due to dehydration but your muscle strength too; you will peter out at the end of those runs and in studies weight lifters were unable to lift as heavy a load if in a state of even minor dehydration...those muscles need fluids and the electrolytes to follow!

Feeling dizzy or faint is a sure sign of dehydration...and you never want to feel that way, it's no fun. The standard rule of thumb you hear about 8 cups of fluids a day really isn't enough for very active individuals, and especially in the heat of summer. You don't have to take it to the other extreme and head out for every run carrying a water bottle and fuel belt but you need to be diligent before and after. If you are running for less than an hour it is usually okay to go sans drinks or gels (Unless of course you're running in ridiculously hot weather and humidity and you may want to plan beforehand and plant a few water bottles on your route or pass by some drinking fountains!) but once you eclipse that hour mark that is when you are heading into rehydration/refuel territory. Everyone's body is a bit different but obviously if you are out there training for a marathon and going to be on the roads for two plus hours you will need both!

Alright fellow fitness fanatics, we all love a good sweat and should be out there breaking one this summer season, but make sure to rehydrate smart so that you come back stronger and faster next time! :)

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Krankcycle Progress Report- Sweating With the Arm Bike
It's been a few months now that I've been using the Krankcycle in my rehab process in the hopes of retaining some amount of cardio fitness for when I can finally (fingers crossed) get back to some version of running. There is still a looooooong road ahead of me but in terms of using this unique arm bike machine I thought I'd give a little progress report or at least my opinion of it.

The Krankcycle is actually an invention of one Mr. Johnny G (check out Krankcycle.com) who in the fitness world is a kind of guru in that he was also behind the hugely popular spin bikes and started the whole spin class movement. Well, he took the same idea behind his bikes (a dial to adjust the tension level) and applied it to an upper body workout. It builds off of the more standard UBE Machine (arm bikes that are used in rehabilitation commonly for older people or those unable to use anything below their waists...looks like I now fall into that category!) but differs in that it is much more versatile. You can adjust of course the tension level, the same as you can on a typical UBE, but you can also lift the height of the arm cranks so you can vary which sets of upper body muscles you target. You can further flip the pedals around and then cycle in either a forward or backward motion; neat if you want a change of pace. Finally, if you are able to use your legs the seat does come out and you can stand; the layout of the Krankcycle also encourages you to sit up straight (some UBE machines have a back and you can slouch back) and this works and tones your core. So, my first assessment was that it was indeed much more progressive and advanced than a typical arm bike.

That being said, there was still a period of getting adjusted to the machine and how it works. This goes for any kind of exercise machine that you choose to use in your fitness routines but especially being that I was a runner and not used to using solely my arms for cardio work it took a little longer to get used to. I first tried the UBE machines and will admit that because muscularly my arms were weaker I had a hard time generating enough power to get my heart rate into what I had wanted to be my target zone (or being able to go as long as I would have like!). Still, over time I got used to the motions and that alone made me improve and I could extend the amount of time on the machine; by the time I then switched over to the Krankcycle I still had to tweak my form and propulsion a bit but when I finally 'got it' I must say I was able to get in a good cardio effort.

On Johnny G's website he notes that the science behind the Krankcycle is still evolving and there are lots of tests that are still being done. For instance they aren't sure how getting in cardio work sans any lower extremities will translate to fitness levels when you then go back to running. They also aren't sure on exactly how many calories per say the machine burns; if it has a similar amount compared to other cardio machines or not. They do note that obviously because the arms are a smaller muscle group it will be less, but that you are able to elevate your heart rate enough so that it still is excellent exercise. One study from the American Council for Exercise estimated it burned about 9 calories per minute on average during one of the Krankcycle classes, think a spinning class but with these upper arm bikes.

There is also the theory that because the arms are closer to the heart this machine is able to raise heart rate level faster than if you were doing lower body cardio work. In my experience I won't necessarily say I found that to be the case, but I will say that the potential to get your heart rate up there is definitely there. After I became acquainted with the motions I was able to incorporate interval workouts and tempo sort of efforts on the machine and I'll tell you I was definitely sweating, working hard, and my heart was pumping. By the end I will acknowledge I knew I put in a good effort. The only disadvantage I see is that because the arms are a smaller muscle group, and especially since mine are not as buffed as they could have been should I be say a rower, the amount of time I can go on the Krankcycle is significantly less than if I were running outside. But, for what I do I make sure it is high quality and with the intervals I know by the end I have stressed my cardio system and I feel good in that at least I am able to do SOMETHING to get my heart pumping. I had been, and still am, dying being stuck on this couch!! :P

Time will only tell how this kind of cardio workout will translate into getting back to running, or at least even on the elliptical, but I will say that being that I have no other options for cardio the Krankcylce is something I'd recommend to anyone else in a similar situation. As with anything, a major factor is how much effort you put into it and if that is there I believe I will be able to retain some amount of cardiovascular fitness. I know it won't be the same as where I was but it has to be better than nothing! ;)

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The benefits of cross training

Running is one of the most effective cardio activities around; per minute of exertion you will be able to stress your cardiovascular system the most, engage nearly every muscle in your body, burn the most calories, and elevate your heart rate the quickest. Whew, that's a pretty powerful fitness punch; but on the flip side running is a high impact activity and like I've said a thousand times before it does take a toll on the joints, tendons, ligaments, etc.

So while running may seem like the best cardio exercise there is, and I'd toast to that, the amount of running a person can do will vary. Some are just predisposed to winding up hurt and injured more than others; this has to do with bone structure, their running gait, and many other factors mostly out of their control. For this reason everyone has a certain running threshold that may only be 30 miles a week while those lucky others can train upwards of 100 miles a week and stay nearly injury free. Yet in training there are still ways to supplement your running regime that can improve your fitness level and translate to faster race times and an increased level of fitness and that is with cross training.

Cross training is really anything outside of your primary sport; for a swimmer cross training may actually be running! But for runners some of the most common forms of cross training are doing the elliptical machine, aqua-jogging, and some prefer the bike. The benefits of doing this is that it eliminates the high amount of stressful impact from running while still tapping into the cardiovascular system. Cross training may be done in addition to daily workouts and some may even put it in place of their easy days if they have a particularly low running threshold.

So while you will be able to get your heart rate up your joints will be taking less of a beating and because both aqua-jogging and the elliptical are very similar motions to running they are usually the two top picks. So if you are looking to give your running routine a little boost you may want to think about adding minutes of cross training instead of just piling on more miles. A general rule for increasing miles is to only add in 10% more weekly total volume at a time but you can add in nearly as much cross training as you want without such an increased risk for injury.

Finally, another powerful use for cross training is if you are injured and unable to run. Generally you can find SOMETHING that won't aggravate your particular injury and by keeping in relatively good cardio shape you will be able to bounce back faster when you are at last able to run again.

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Confessions from an admitted over-doer...enjoy those easy day runs

Savor those recovery days. Yes, this comes from an admitted recovered 'push-aholic;' there was a time when I scoffed at the easy run, figured that ending each and every run utterly exhausted, or at least very tired, was the only way to do things. This was more mental I think; I thought I was just being a 'slacker' or 'wimp' if I didn't push the envelope each time out. My easy days would evolve into quasi-pick-up runs where by the end I was going much too fast to ever fully recover. While I would mentally pat myself on the back for kicking my own butt yet again, in truth I was only setting myself up for future failures and beratings.

What happens when you go too hard on the days you are supposed to recover is that your workouts invariably start to suffer. Maybe not right away, but the build-up of hard workout, after hard run, after hard workout, will eventually catch up to you. That could come in two ways; you will either experience a drop off in times and be chugging home in those intervals with slow times but the effort seeming insurmountable or you'll wind up injured. It was once said to me, "that if you don't give yourself a break one will be provided for you"...the body can only give so much. And what's more is to effectively train and get faster you have to allow your muscles to recover; we break them down during hard workouts and the days after are when they are trying to heal up and come back stronger. That way when they do build back you will be able to go faster in the next workout and then continue to build off that. Yet if the muscles instead get broken down even further on the 'easy' days they never build back, they never come back, and you'll see the results in not only frustrating times but fatigue to follow.

I learned that the hard way, actually it took a few times...haha, as with anything I'm usually one to think in extremes so it takes a while for a lesson to really hit home. :P I was pretty lucky (well, I guess my luck has now caught up to me!) in that I didn't suffer very many big injuries but I definitely did myself no favors training and racing-wise. There were plenty of times I'd show up flat come the end of the season or in workouts for the shear reason I was just too tired and over-training myself by not ever taking it easy.

Runners, and competitors, by nature are well...competitive, and our biggest battle is usually against ourselves. We want to achieve those goals TODAY, and we will get there come heck or high water. But the truth is that in order to get to the starting line, and eventually the finish line in the time or place you want, you have to have patience. You also have to have put in the work and hit those hard workouts, BUT you won't be able to nail those hard workouts if you're too tired due to lack of recovery. It sounds counterintuitive but you have to give yourself a break sometimes- go easy on the easy days.

I got to the point where I would allow myself to enjoy those easy days, especially after they were hard earned from a killer workout the day before. Running has always been a passion of mine and not only the competition aspect, but just doing it...I enjoy being out there. That can be alone or in shared company...don't make every run a do or die endeavor, it can rob you of the enjoyment but in the end it won't do your training any favors either.

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I just signed up for my first 1/2 marathon...What did I get myself into?!
Q: I have decided to make a 1/2 marathon my next accomplishment! I've been doing a few 5ks here and there, I have completed a couple 10k's before and figured the next step is a half-marathon :) I have like 13 or 15 weeks I think to prepare...I'm praying that's enough time. I have been running for about 35 minutes 4 times a week and after I run I do abs/arms/legs for about 20 minutes. I just know that if I don't at least try to compete in a 1/2 marathon I'll always wonder how I would have done...so I decided to "just do it" haha. Any tips?

A: First of all, Congrats on signing up for your first 1/2 marathon! It can seem scary to commit to something that you perhaps never before thought you could do but it is usually our mind that puts the tightest constraints on what is possible. Putting yourself out there, like signing up for a planned race or event, is an excellent way to stay motivated to get in those workouts and runs and no matter the distance if you have something you are shooting for you are far less likely to skip that trip to the gym or lacing up for that run. And of course I like the advice from good old Nike. :)

It looks like you have already set yourself up with nice running base (also it is excellent to hear you have a core and weight routine) and it will just be a matter of kicking your running training up a notch. This will be done gradually (a standard rule of thumb is to only increase you total weekly mileage by 10% each week to avoid an injury) and you will put focus on a weekly long run as well as sprinkling in some faster workout sessions throughout the rest of week. You will build endurance and also speed so that come race day the pace will feel much more comfortable and relatively 'slower' than you've gone before.

The first step is to devise you training schedule and as corny as it may seem you will need to keep a training log to help track your progress.
In your case you will want to work backwards; knowing that the race is about 14 weeks away you know where you need to end up so we'll work on getting you used to the distance and tapered by the big day. The week of the 1/2 will be pretty light to make sure your legs are fresh and ready to roll. The last long run you will do before the big day will be two weeks before (we'll call this week 12) and it will be close to the 13.1 mile distance. Don't get intimidated by the numbers because I grantee you that you will have worked up to it and you will be able to handle it.

In getting back to our timeline we will jump to where we are today (week 1) and write down the longest you've been running thus far. If that is four or five miles write that down and then we can bump up that number each week until we hit week 12 and see where we are. In your instance by increasing one mile each week for your long run you will actually hit 13 miles by week 10 which gives us room to play with. That means if you feel particularly tired any given week you might keep your long run the same distance as the week before and go up the next. Listening to your body is important; you want to push yourself but at the same time still be aware of signs of injury or excessive fatigue.

Pick one day of the week and designate it as your long run day. It might be a good idea to do it on the same day as the race; if race day is a Saturday make that your long run day. Because you are already running four times a week you won't need to increase your workload that much outside of your long run but you will make those miles more quality. By that I mean you will incorporate workouts with pick-ups and faster intervals to work on speed and a quicker turnover. I would recommend that you run four to five days a week total and that would include: one long run, two quality workout days, and two easy runs (if you are only running four times a week that would be only one easy run; you could make the second easy day one where you cross-train if you'd like). Be sure to space out the long run and hard days with a day of rest or an easy run between them.

That's going to cover the first part of this post but I'm going to be revisiting this question and helping out more as we work our way through the weeks. You can follow along too and set a goal for yourself! If you haven't already built your way up to running four days a week yet and are just staring out you can actually check out the running training program I had been outlining for if you are just getting started. Finally, here are a few parting tips:

* Run for time not miles. Figure out about what pace you are running at (find a track and in the middle of one of your runs time yourself for four laps) and use that as an average pace. If you are running 10 minute miles and your long run is to be six miles plan to be running for sixty minutes; this is usually 'easier' to think about mentally than focusing on how long the distance is. It also helps so you don't get too hung up on the exact distance of your running routes.

* Refuel immediately after your runs. You have a 30 minute window of time in which to get a good carb and protein combo into your system, along with some electrolytes, which will optimize recovery. That's important especially if you are in training.

* Know the difference between the uncomfort of running and actual pain.
Don't muscle through a run ignoring a strained muscle only to find out that by the time you get home you've gone and pulled it. By nipping a potential injury outright you will limit the amount of time you have to either cut back or take off.

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Maximize your summer running- Come back faster and stronger next season

Whew, well alright running and fitness friends! First, I'm going to apologize for neglecting the blog for a bit; things have been a bit crazy for me the past few weeks but they have started to settle down and hopefully will stay that way for a bit. Although a little life drama is always interesting. :P

In following up to my previous post on summer running training I thought I'd add a few tips to maximize the off season and come back stronger and ready to run fast for cross country season. Many people focus on building up base miles during the summer and it is an ideal time to do so being that usually there aren't as many commitments (school, homework, job, etc.) that require your attention so you may have a little more free time. Getting in longer runs is going to build endurance and cardio, yet while it's okay to step away from structured workouts for awhile you don't want to completely neglect speed and turnover all together.

* End your runs with strides. Pick a few days (probably not on the day when you've already done a long run) where you do a few faster strides at the end of your run. Gradually make each one faster than the last and really concentrate on form and a quick turn over. Allow a full recovery between them, it doesn't matter so much on the specific time as the goal is to just tap into those fast twitch muscle fibers, and do 4-6 strides each of around 150 meters.

* Find that medium paced effort. A medium paced run will be harder than a conversational easy run but not quite at a threshold run or tempo type effort. You want to feel like you are working but not crossing the line over into full-on workout territory; these runs can be longer than what you would do for a tempo run and you will gradually work into the medium pace through the course of the run. For example in a run that is a total of 50 minutes you could start out with an easy pace for the first ten minutes and then begin to up the intensity.

* Add a sprinkle of speed play. Have some fun experimenting with the pace of your regular runs; if you're feeling good maybe do a mile at a faster clip and then ease back into the previous pace. Don't feel like you need to structure anything and even if you do a quick burst to the lamp post that will tap into different muscle groups.

* Take it to the hills. Doing your training runs, even at an easy pace, on particularly hilly terrain will build muscle strength and it will also help prepare you for the rolling courses come cross country season. You can also focus on your hill running technique: running all the way through the crest of the hill, staying up tall, and getting those strides quick and efficient.

* Take advantage of extra time. Yes summer usually comes with vacations and fun events but if you do have any spare time you can address some of the other areas that you may not be able to fit into a packed school schedule. These things would be diligent stretching, mobility drills, core work, and weight training. By doing these exercise routines now you will see results that last you through the next season even if you have to cut back how much you do them during the regular season...think of it like putting money in the bank.

Finally, make sure to have a fun summer! Grab some of your running friends and get to exploring new trails or seeking out places to go. Even if you are only sticking around your home town for the summer it's always nice to end a run with a splash in the lake or even a Slurpee run! ;)

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The summer training survival guide - Stick to your schedule and get in those workouts

Summer break is just on the horizon and that means hopefully many will be able to do their runs or workout routines under the sun. What it also generally means is that you may have to take your fitness program on the go, fit in workouts while on vacation, or do the majority of your training alone. This is often the case for those who are runners for their school's team and it is sometimes tricky to meet up due to the required 'dead period' where you aren't 'officially' allowed to hold practice. (Still, we were able to sort of get around this in that as long as the coach wasn't the one who set the time and place (in some states they can't be there at all), it wasn't mandatory, and it was organized by the kids, things were okay...who's to say a nice group of friends who just happened to be on the cross-country team didn't just 'happen' to come to the same place at the same time to get in a run??!!)

At any rate, summer training can be difficult in that there are usually lots of other things going on, motivation can wane, and let's be honest sometimes laying under the sun on the beach could be more appealing that logging those miles or hitting the gym for a workout. Still, because consistency is key for any fitness program it is important to maintain a certain level of fitness so that when it does come time to resume training with the team for the next season you aren't too far behind.

Summer training, or off season training, is usually a period of building up your base. That means the focus is more on cardiovascular conditioning and building your endurance and strength. This usually means a bit more miles and less structured intensity; you may do some workouts but they are usually more relaxed like fartlecks that go more off of perceived effort than having to hit certain times. Building up your base is going to set you up to be stronger come the next season and once you do start hitting the track or integrating speed work you will naturally come back faster than the last year.

But the major hurdle for most is getting in those runs. For most athletes there will be a summer training schedule and it helps to have a concrete plan written in black in white to keep you accountable. In the same line of thought that a training log will help you progress, having a calendar with your workouts already planned for the week is going to make it more likely you'll do them. Here are a few tips on how to survive summer training (and this can be applied to anyone hoping to stay fit on vacation) and come back stronger, fitter, and ready to rock in your races.

* Summer training log: Get a notebook or hang up a calendar and ink in exactly what you'll be doing each day. This is also smart because you can plan to gradually increase your miles (don't add more than 10% more miles each week is a standard rule of thumb) so you will build endurance but not risk an injury. Then, as you do each run or workout every day check it off and note how you felt and any other details you like.

* Meet up:
Whether you rope in a friend who is on the team or not, setting appointments to workout are going to keep you on track and it also makes the runs more fun. Again, if a few of your teammates are in town you can plan some meetings just be careful of the rules in your area regarding the 'dead period'.

* Get your workout in early: If you're on vacation you are much more likely to stick to your planned workout or run if you do it first thing. You may not know exactly what the plans are for the rest of the day and if something unexpectedly pops up that you really want to do you won't have to be tempted to ditch you run. If you are traveling with others you can ask if they want to workout with you; but if you are with a group who thinks you are a bit 'crazy' for still wanting to workout you may be going solo. It also may be worth getting up a bit earlier so that when the others are up and ready to go you will be too.

* Find a race:
In-season training is usually easier to stick to because you've always got an upcoming race that you are shooting for and that keeps you motivated. Going months without that can cause your competitive fire to lull and you may be not all that amped to get in your runs. There are usually tons of summer road races or even track meets so find one in your area and sign up. It may not be so much a matter of hitting a certain time in the race (although it is always nice to get a status check of where you are) but rather to keep your accountable to your training.

* Set goals: Map out what you hope to achieve come the next season and write down some specific goals. These are usually times for a distance or on certain courses, but it may be to make a scoring spot on your team; whatever it is write it down. It may sound dorky but you could hang it up on your wall next to your training calendar; that way any time you feel like skipping a workout think of your goals and use that as the extra push to get out the door.

Getting in the summer training is usually a major factor in how well you are able to do come cross country season.
Yes, you may be able to race yourself back into shape but jumping back into structured workouts after a full summer off is usually a pretty harsh punishment in itself. Finally, if the aim is to better your times from last year you want to build on the fitness you've already achieved so that you reach those targets. Then you can be one of people breezing through workouts and doling out the punishment to those who decided to skip their summer runs. ;)

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Let's get isometric with it! Strength training without the gym
When we think about weight training and the strength workouts that we do one often thinks of traditional free weights or machines at the gym. It is true that all of these things, along with other fun toys like resistance bands and kettleballs, can all be integrated into an effective weight training routine but sometimes there are instances in which we are unable to get ahold of the equipment or are for whatever reason not able to use them. For example in my own most recent circumstances because my leg is broken I can't put any weight on the lower extremity making it impossible for me to do a leg press, a hamstring curl, or even a lunge. That is where isometric exercises can come into play.

In essence isometric exercises are just holding a specific muscle contraction for a period of time; an example would be that you would be doing isometrics if you were to hold a squatting position. These types of exercises rely on tiring the muscle out over time versus a amount of weight and number of reps and this method a common basis for yoga and pilates moves. Being that you don't need anything else but your own body to do them they are also convenient for those unable to get to the gym.

push-upYou can build muscle strength with isometric exercises but because you will not be doing any dynamic action often times they are not the first choice of athletes in which they are more concerned with functionable muscle growth. (Exceptions may be doing squats or planks in addition to traditional weights.) Still, these are easily adaptable to retain muscle loss if you have an injury and they will still grant you tone if that's you major concern. Many core exercises are isometric in nature and that is where they are used a great deal. Here are a few isometric exercises that you can integrate into your current routine or do on the go being that with summer comes plenty of vacations. Actually, people that are busy or crunched for time have often used isometrics to 'sneak' in their workouts; you can always contract your abs and hold it for ten to fifteen seconds, relax, and do a few sets while you are typing away at work. You could squeeze those glutes while you are stuck in traffic, and you could hold a squatting position between commercial breaks.

1) Squat Sit: lower yourself into a deep squat until your thighs are about parallel to the floor and be careful to put your weight back on your heels so that your knees aren't in front of your toes; keep your back straight and hold this position for 10-30 seconds. Stand back up, rest and do a set of two or three.

(Variation: Because I can't stand I lay on the ground and squeeze my quads, hold, and then repeat.)

2) Glute Squeeze:
Clench your tush and hold it for 10-15 seconds; relax, and repeat two to three times. This you can do sitting, standing, or lying down.

3) Plank Pose: Support yourself on your elbows and toes facing the ground. Work to keep your core tight, suck your stomach in, and keep your back flat. (Make sure that booty isn't sticking straight up in the air!) Hold this position for 15-30 seconds and do a set of two to three.

4) Half Push-Up:
Get into the push-up position and lower yourself down as you normally would; hold yourself hovering just above the ground and stay there for 10-15 seconds before returning to the starting position. Rest and repeat two to three times.

5) Side Plank: Turn onto your right side and support your weight on your elbow and the side of your right foot. Keep your body in a straight line, suck in your gutt and keep your butt from poking out behind you. Look forward and hold this stance for 10-20 seconds, rest, and repeat two to three times. Don't forget to do your other side! ;)

You can then do this circuit two tho three times to get in a total body strength routine no matter where you happen to be.

These are just a few examples of isometric exercises you can do and there are many more with slight variations. The key is to contract the muscle you intend to target and hold it tight until it tires; from there you can devise a few poses of your own and will be firmer yourself!

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