Take Your Workout To The Next Level

As much as I love heavy weight training and feel that it’s something that most people could benefit from, I do have an appreciation for the importance of cardio.


Now, when I say cardio, please understand that there is a lot more that falls under the broad umbrella of “cardio” than just slogging away on the elliptical or treadmill. As in all types of training, what type of cardio you do really depends on the goals that you have set for yourself. Want to run a marathon? Well, then, you probably should be running, with some speed work and long runs thrown in there. Want to climb Mt. Everest some day? Running stairs, hill training and hiking will probably do you some good. Want to be strong as hell but also lose some body fat? Strength training plus metabolic conditioning is the answer for you.

What is metabolic conditioning? 

Metabolic conditioning, or metabolic “finishers” are fairly short bouts (10-20 min) of non traditional, high intensity cardio that is typically done at the end of a workout — and generally done with body weight or relatively light weight. However, when crunched for time, a quick and dirty MetCon session can leave you gassed after just 10 minutes of work, which is a lovely alternative for those of us who don’t have hours set aside for the gym every single day.

Who can benefit from metabolic finishers? 

Basically, anyone looking to decrease their body fat or increase their cardiovascular conditioning (without logging endless cardio hours). Heck, even steady-state cardio-ers should give these a try — you may not see a ton of results riding the elliptical every day, but add a 10 minute finisher to that workout, and you may notice a difference quite soon. Strictly speaking for myself, I find long, steady state cardio to be absolute torture. I will run a mile or two at a time periodically, but beyond that, I really hate it. And that is an understatement. But adding in a 10 or 15 minute bout of “cardio” to the end of a workout? That I can do, and usually enjoy, especially when it involves fun things like burpees and squat jumps.

Yeah, I kind of have a weird thing for burpees. So sue me.

How often should people add these to their workouts?

As with many tweaks to a training program, it depends on the person and their goals. If you have been doing the same training routine for a while, no matter what it is, and haven’t seen the fat loss results that you want, try adding in 1-2 short finishers per week. I usually stick with two, but will do three on some weeks depending on how I feel. If after adding in one to two you are still not seeing results after a few weeks, add in one more.

Although just be aware that fat loss results do not happen over night, and they also depend a lot on dietary intake (maybe more so than exercise, but that’s a different blog post).  Also keep in mind that you don’t want to burn yourself out. If you’re doing two heavy leg days plus three intense lower body finishers during the week, your legs may not be getting the recovery time that they need in order to get stronger.

What are some examples of finishers?

The possibilities are pretty much endless here, but here are a few examples of things I’ve been doing lately.

1. Plyo Pyramid Set 

PlyopyramidgraphicThis mini circuit looks innocent enough, but it kicked my ass last time I did it with a 14 lb medicine ball. Following up a moderate weight squat day with this circuit left me sore for days, so don’t let it deceive you! 

2. Battle Ropes Finisher 

Battle Ropes Finisher

If you have access to battling ropes at your gym, give this a try! The whole thing will take you less than 10 minutes, but will leave you sweating and with arms shaking. Check out this post for descriptions/video of all of these moves. 

3. 100 Kettlebell Swings for time. This one doesn’t get a fancy graphic because it’s pretty self explanatory, but these should be heavy KB swings, with as little rest as possible. My best time for 100 swings so far is 3:53, and I’m hoping to get it down to 3 minutes! Remember to pay attention to your form with KB swings, and please don’t do these if you are too fatigued to keep proper form. An injury is never worth a few more calories burned! 

Readers: Do you ever do metabolic finishers at the end of your workout or do you tend to stick to more traditional cardio? What is your favorite exercise to include in a quick, high intensity circuit? 




Workplace Fitness Continued: Pros and Cons

If you missed yesterday’s post, I started talking about a 12 week workplace fitness challenge that I joined with some of my coworkers/friends. I suggest clicking on over and catching up on that post before you move ahead with this one so that we’re all on the same page. (*nudge, nudge…get it? Same page?… blog…webpage?)

Done? Moving on.

What do I think about the program?

There are most certainly pros and cons to a program like this. I’ll try to break them down here, if I can get all of my thoughts organized for ya.

What I like about this specific program:

  • Team Work breeds motivation: As I mentioned yesterday, having the sense of a team and others who depend on you can do wonders for motivation and performance. I’m not one to have a workout buddy — I much prefer to lift on my own, that way I can get lost in my own thoughts and really focus– but knowing that you’re part of something bigger may just push you to get one more rep, one more sprint, or 5 more pushups.
  • There is a specific strength training component: I’m happy to see that the fitness center staff have included strength training into this program. So many times, when people think of fitness and weight loss, they impulsively jump on the endless-cardio train, and forget about the fact that building lean muscle is an essential component of fat loss.
  • The specific challenges each week work as reminders for every day life: This week’s nutritional challenge, for instance, is to drink 6-8 glasses of water each day. Easy peasy, right? Well yes, unless you’re someone like me who struggles to drink enough water every single day. I am very well aware that I need to drink more, yet I hardly ever do. Now that it’s written in some challenge guidelines though? I’ve had at least that much every day this week. Again, this goes back to giving my word and to the other 3 who are counting on me.

What do I wish I could change about this program?

  • Too much cardio: And no, I’m not just saying this because I hate to run (remember?). I’m saying this because by the end of this program, each team member is expected to do 320 minutes of cardio in one week — which breaks down to about 5 days with over an hour of cardio. (blegh) Is cardio important to fat loss? Well, yes, but not this much. There is a lot of research out there to back up the fact that these crazy amounts of steady state cardio (because who can do intervals for an hour), are actually counterproductive when it comes to fat loss. Yes, like I said above, there is a strength training component to the program which is great, but I wish it were a little bit more balanced. Maybe it’s because they thought they couldn’t attract as many people to the program if it had more strength training? Either way, I feel that this just perpetuates the myth that endless hours of cardio will lead to fat loss. (*Spoiler alert: It won’t) 
  • End-Result focus is body weight lost, not body fat lost: I realize that this is a selfish thought of mine, that won’t apply to everyone, but I just thought I’d put it out there.  I certainly have a decent amount of body fat to lose, and I’m excited about this challenge to give me the extra push to do just that. But I’m also well aware that with the amount that I lift, I’ll probably only be able to realistically lose 5-10 pounds of body weight, unless I want to also start losing muscle (I don’t — Sorry, team!). So while I will be extremely pleased with a decrease in my % body fat, the only thing that will get me more points in the end is a bigger % decrease in body weight.  I know that there are certainly people who will be involved in this program that will be able to lose a larger amount of body weight, and for general society I’d say this is a good goal. Just allow me to be selfish here for a second, ok?
  • Risk of obsessing: This one honestly has nothing to do with the program and everything to do with myself. It really all boils down to this: I’m a competitive person and I want to win. As I mentioned yesterday, I do realize that the point of this competition isn’t really about my opponents at all, but is really about bettering myself. So be it. But I still want to win. A little piece of me worries that within this drive to win will grow a little seed of obsession. I’ve told you all about my past with disordered eating habits, and while those behaviors have not plagued me for a while now, I know it’s still in there somehow. It’s up to ME, and only me, to make sure that doesn’t rear its ugly head in the name of competition. (Fear not, I am in a very healthy place right now. I don’t forsee this happening, but I just want to be honest and name it as a possibility.)

Ok, I’ll take my complainy-pants off now. 

Google Image Result for http://manteresting.com/site_media/media/cache/nails/tumblr_lyh00gAcFk1qgh9aoo1_500_normal.jpg

Overall Impressions — Is this type of program beneficial?

Without a question, YES!!! Even more important than getting people to strength train is getting people to move, period. This type of program gives people something to focus on, gives them specific goals and motivators, and also works as a device to bring coworkers closer together. Despite my minor gripes about the program itself, overall I think that these types of things are invaluable in any workplace.

So there you have it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some ass kicking to do, because Damn it, we’re going to WIN.


Does your workplace have a fitness program? Have you ever participated in a fitness challenge like this?

And thanks for the response on yesterday’s post — Sounds like you guys are in for a fitness challenge of your own…Let’s get started on Monday!

Easter Insulin Spike and 2 Workouts

Hello, and Happy Monday! How was everybody’s Easter/Passover weekend? Mine was wonderful, although after making the rounds to a few different (delicious) family dinners, my blood sugar paid the price.

After 3 amazing holiday meals in 24 hours, I had a full appreciation for all of the great company I had enjoyed, as well as all of the wonderful food, but BOY oh boy was I feeling it. By about 11 am Sunday morning, after consuming only 1 holiday meal so far, I was already feeling groggy and slow. Add in 2 more Easter/Passover meals on Sunday alone, and I felt like a sloth with about 3 brain cells when I got home that evening.

This guy may have been able to carry better conversation than me by Sunday evening. 

Throughout these meals, I was able to eat plenty of greens, kale, and salmon, but I also ended up eating far more refined carbs than I ever eat, in the form of home-made Mac ‘n Cheese (So ridiculously good), various desserts, banana bread, and other holiday goodies.  Now, I’m not one to deny myself indulgences on holidays. For example, home-made macaroni and cheese is one of my favorite things in the world, but I only eat it maybe once or twice a year. So when faced with a delicious dish of it at a family gathering? You bet your ass I’m going to let myself indulge a little.


However, when said indulgences left me with an insulin spike and the resulting near-coma,  it got me thinking. Is this what your average American feels like all the time? Since we’re all so gung-ho on processed foods and refined carbs, do normal people walk around feeling this sluggish and slow (physically and mentally) all the time?!?

I’ll tell you one thing: it was a swift reminder of how quickly our bodies react to this type of food. Every once in a while, fine, but I can’t imagine feeling this way all the time. If I can choose between feeling like a slug after eating refined carbs and processed foods, or feeling energized after eating vegetables, lean-meats, and other whole foods, why would I ever choose the former?

Just a little food for thought to start the week.

Now on to a couple of workouts I did 2 weeks ago when I lost my weight room. If any of you went a little overboard on the Cadbury Eggs this weekend and are looking for something new at the gym, why not try one of these? If your gym doesn’t have all the equipment listed here (or you don’t quite feel comfortable using it), you can substitute just about anything that works similar muscle groups.

Now get going!

The first is a workout that will take about 45-50 min with the recommended rest. It’s broken up into two small circuits with a little bit of interval cardio at the end. Each circuit was done for the reps listed, with no rest in between exercises. 1 min rest was taken after each round of each circuit, completing both circuits 4 times total.

 Circuit 1

Battling Ropes x30 sec (Alternating arms)

Box Jumps x10

KB Swings x20

Step-Ups x24

Push-Ups x10

Circuit 2:

Battling Ropes (arms together)

Dumbbell Walking Lunges x24 (12 each leg)

Plank DB Rows x 20

Lateral Bounding with medicine ball x20

Interval Cardio: Stationary Bike x25 min (Intervals of 30s hard/30s recovery for the duration)Pinned Image

Workout #2: This one is a cardio interval circuit that I do usually once per week (although the interval times vary depending on how I’m feeling). I do this on the treadmill, but you can also do it on any cardio-machine of your choice:

Jog steady state 10 min (Moderate pace)

Incline Level 9 (30s run/30s walk) x10 (The run speed here should be as close to a sprint as possible, while still able to complete all reps)

2 Minute Recovery Walk

Incline Level 10,  Speed 8 mph 15 sec Run/30 Sec Rest x5 (8mph is fast for me..if it’s not for you, kick it up a notch!)

5 min recovery jog

TOTAL 30 min

Writing For Your Weight Loss Success

So there you have it. Since I know not everyone reading this blog is into heavy lifting (although I’m trying to slowly convince you all), now you have a couple of workouts that I do sometimes when I don’t have heavy lifting available to me, or when I simply need some time away from the weight room.

Did anyone else eat too much for Easter/Passover? Did you all get to visit with family and friends? How often do you do circuit training at the gym?

Cardio Woes

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.



I hate running.

Didn't mean to shock you.

I hate it. I HATE RUNNING. There, I said it. I have spent a good portion of my adult years really trying to become “a runner”. There was actually even a point in time when I did love it, although that only lasted about a year or two. There is something lovely about a good run along the Charles River on a perfectly crisp spring day, but other than that, I think it’s the pits.  And you know what? That’s OK with me.  I have had a love-hate roller coaster with running for about 10 years now, but I believe that I’ve finally come to terms that I fall heavily on the hate side, rather than the love.

And it’s not really the running that I hate, it’s the steady repetition of it all; that feeling of working so hard but moving so. slow.

(Because let’s face it, I’ve never been fast).

Put me on a hill and tell me to do 10 repeats, and I’m all yours. Set the treadmill up to a 10% incline and tell me to do sprint intervals, Heck Yea! Bring me to Harvard Stadium and ask me to run stadium sprints, and I’m on cloud 9.  I’ll run those stadiums until I can hardly stand on my shaking-like-jelly legs. Hill training and HIIT (high intensity interval training) make me happy, which is the  opposite effect of slow, steady-state jogging. Why does this matter?

Most fitness blogs and websites will show a lot of love to HIIT training, including me. The gains that you will get from HIIT are potentially more than you will get from steady state cardio, depending on the intensity, duration, and frequency. However, I think that as in all other things in life, there is a need for balance. Steady state cardio will definitely help you with your  endurance if you do, say, decide to haphazardly sign up for an impromptu road race. Steady state cardio is also a great way to have a recovery day for tired, overworked muscles.

This is my biggest problem. Because I know that I need balance, I do try to do some steady-state cardio at least once per week, although that has proven to be extremely hard for me over the past few months. Take yesterday, for example. I needed some recovery time for my legs after a tough squat day on Monday, so I hopped on the treadmill and was going to do a steady-state recovery jog. After 20 minutes, however, I got so bored that I almost couldn’t take it anymore. Now, I do realize that cardio is NOT meant to entertain me, but I don’t generally enjoy doing things that are pure mental torture.

So, on I went, cranking up that incline after 20 minutes and spending the last 10 minutes doing hill intervals.  Was this bad for me? Ultimately, no, (especially after my ridiculous food intake during the Pats game this weekend) but I do think that I need to just suck it up and keep it slow sometimes, for balance, and to keep my endurance in check.

After all, there is ONE type of running that I love and I do need to train for, if I expect to totally Dominate come June:

Yep, that’s me! New England Warrior Dash 2011

As long as my runs are broken up by fire, cargo nets, mud pits and other obstacles, I’m game. Maybe if I could get someone to plant dangerous obstacles in my path I could get through a run on my own without extreme boredom.

What about you? Does anyone Love Cardio? Does anyone love steady-state but hate HIIT?? How much cardio do you do per week?