5 Times You Should Deadlift With A Trap Bar

The trap (or ‘hex’) bar—a hexagonal shaped bar you can literally step inside—has been around since the 80s, when a powerlifter named Al Gerard invented it to reduce the stress deadlifting put on his back, according to the USA Weightlifting Association (USAWA). These days, just about every gym has one—but since most people stick to straight barbell deadlifts, it often sits in the corner, collecting dust.

When you deadlift with a straight barbell, the bar is in front of you—so even if you keep it close to your shins, you have to extend forward to grab it and pull it up, explains Brandon Beatty, C.S.C.S., F.M.S. If you do it improperly, the deadlift—which fires up your legs and the entire back of your body—can strain your lower back.

That’s where the trap bar comes in:  “A conventional trap bar is shaped like a hexagon with handles on each side, so the lifter can stand in the middle, grip the handles on the sides, and stand up as if they’re picking up two suitcases,” says Jake Boly, M.S., C.S.C.S. This puts the weight closer to your center of gravity, so you’re in a better position to pull without putting pressure on your lower back.

Regardless of your lifting experience or goals, deadlifting with the trap bar can step up your workout routine and improve your fitness, says Beatty. Here are five circumstances in which it might come in handy.

1. You’re New To Lifting

If deadlifts are new territory for you, both Beatty and Boly recommend starting with the trap bar. The trap bar is a useful tool for teaching the deadlift because it helps someone learn the key components of proper form—like how to bend and move through their hips, maintain a straight back, and keep their knees stacked on top of their ankles—in a safer way, explains Boly.

It can also help you build the core and back strength needed to eventually deadlift heavier weight with proper form, says Beatty. (He also recommends working with a trainer one-on-one or in a class—like an intro to CrossFit® class—when starting out, to ensure you nail your form.)

2. You Want To Increase Quad And Glute Strength

Deadlifting with a trap bar puts your body in a slightly different position than deadlifting with a straight bar, so the move will work your muscles a little differently. In a straight barbell deadlift, your hamstrings, lower back, hip abductors, and core do the brunt of the work, but in a trap bar deadlift—which is a little closer to a squatting movement—your quads, glutes, and hamstrings take on more responsibility.

Featured Training Supps

Recent research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research confirms that deadlifting with the trap bar activates the leg muscles more and the back muscles less than deadlifting with the straight bar. So if your goals are quad gains and a booty pump, the trap bar is your new best friend.

3. You Have Lower Back Pain Or Limited Mobility

Of course, anyone with a back or spinal injury should check in with a doctor or physical therapist before lifting again, the trap bar is a useful tool for someone who needs to limit the stress they place on their lower back, says Boly.

Related: Bad Posture Can Lead To Big Problems—Here’s How To Fix It

Many trap bars have a second set of higher handles, which allows you to deadlift from a slightly higher starting position and decreases how much bend you need in your knees, hips, and lower back to do the move, says Beatty. This decrease in the range of motion you have to move through is great for people with limited lower-body mobility or who have a knee or hip injury, he says.

4. You Want To Become More Explosive

Remember that study we mentioned earlier? It also found that lifters could produce more force and power when deadlifting with the trap bar than when deadlifting with the straight bar. When you pull from inside the trap bar, you’re able to completely engage all of the powerful leg muscles like your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, which together are able to produce more power than the primary muscles used in the straight bar deadlift, says Beatty.

5. You Want To Keep Your Workouts Fresh And Plateau-Free

“For many people, the trap bar can replace the straight barbell for deadlifting because it still engages the muscles you want to target with deadlifting,” explains Boly. But if straight bar deadlifts are already a staple of your training plan, incorporate trap bar deadlifts every other time you deadlift, Beatty recommends. So if you deadlift twice a week, perform one session with the straight bar and one with the trap bar. Using the trap bar will force you to mix up your grip and, because it’s easier on your back, may even help you lift slightly heavier and overcome any straight bar deadlift plateaus, Beatty says.

Plus, performing a variety of exercises is best for muscular development over time, since you target different muscles in different ways, he says.

Your workouts are only as strong as your supplement stack. Shop performance supps here.

6 Trainers’ Favorite All-In-One Workouts

To strength train or get your cardio on? That is the question—but it really shouldn’t be.

Most gym-goers think you have to choose between the two fitness routines—but you can get the best of both worlds at once. If you’re strapped for time (and when aren’t you?), it’s totally possible to build muscle while boosting your heart rate and burning major calories.

We tapped six top trainers for their favorite strength-meets-cardio all-in-one workouts so you can make your gym time work double duty.

When it comes to total-body benefits, the Turkish get-up takes the cake. In a single move, you build head-to-toe strength, stability, and muscular coordination—all while jacking up your heart rate in a huge way, says Winnipeg-based certified exercise physiologist and kinesiologist Gavin McHale, C.E.P. To up the cardio benefits even further, perform them AMRAP-style (as many reps as possible).

How to nail the Turkish get-up: Lie on the floor on your back with a kettlebell next to your right side. Roll toward the bell, grab the handle with both hands using an overhand grip, then roll back onto your back. Shift the bell to your right hand and press it over your right shoulder until your elbow is locked out. The weight should rest flat against the back of your forearm. Bend your right knee to plant your foot firmly on the floor, and leave your left leg extended. This is the starting position.

From here, roll up onto your left forearm and then your left hand, keeping you right arm locked out over your shoulder. Press through your left hand to a tall seated position. Next, press through your right foot to thrust your hips up so that your torso forms a straight line from right knee to right shoulder. Swoop your left leg under your hips and behind you until your left knee is in line with your left hand. Shift your weight and push up into a half-kneeling position so your torso is vertical and left hand is off of the floor. Next, push through your left foot to stand up, keeping right arm still locked out over your shoulder. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return the bell to the floor. That’s one rep. Repeat on the opposite side, resting as needed between reps. (Master your form before adding weight.)

What’s harder than pullups or burpees? Pullups and burpees! Put together, they strengthen the body’s biggest muscles, including the lats, glutes, and shoulders. And, by performing them in minute-by-minute supersets, they improve both aerobic (cardio) and anaerobic (strength) endurance, says SoCal-based personal trainer and strength coach Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S., C.P.T.

Move 1: Pullups: Unless you are able to churn out at least 10 unassisted pullups in a row, perform assisted pullups using a resistance band or assisted pullup machine. Tie a large looped resistance band over a pullup bar, grab the bar with an overhand grip that’s just wider than shoulder-width apart, and place your feet in the sling created by the band. Hang here with your core braced, then squeeze your shoulder blades down and together and pull through your arms to lift your body up toward the bar. When your collarbones reach the bar, pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep.

Related: Can’t Do Pullups? These Moves Will Get You There

Move 2: Burpees: Get in a high-plank position, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your body forming a straight line from head to heels. Pull your shoulders away from your ears and brace your core. From here, lower your chest toward the floor to perform a pushup, allowing your elbows to flare out diagonally from your body as you do so. At the top of the pushup, jump your feet forward so that they land on the floor outside of your hands. Explosively jump straight up into the air, reaching your arms overhead. Land in a squat position. That’s one rep.

This all-over workout’s rotates through exercises that work different muscle groups, allowing you to perform each move back-to-back and keep your heart rate up, says Amanda Pezzullo, C.S.C.S., Equinox Chicago Loop Tier X manager.

Move 1: Half-kneeling cable chops: Attach a D-shaped handle to a cable machine positioned at shoulder height. Stand with the machine on your right and lower down so your left knee is on the ground. Rotate to the right to grab the handle above your right shoulder with both hands and brace your core. From here, rotate your torso to pull the handle down and to the left of your body. Pause, then reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep. Perform 10 reps, then repeat on the opposite side.

Move 2: Kettlebell deadlifts: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with a kettlebell on the floor in between your feet. Keeping your back flat, push your hips back and slightly bend your knees to grab the bell’s handle with both hands, using an overhand grip. From here, thrust your hips forward and straighten your knees so you come to stand with the kettlebell flat against your body. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep. Perform 10 reps.

Move 3: Reverse lunge to single-arm cable row: Move the D-shaped cable machine handle to knee height. Stand tall facing the machine with your feet hip-width apart, holding the handle with your right hand and your palm facing in. Pull your shoulders back and brace your core. From here, take a giant step back with your right foot, then bend your knees to lower into a lunge. Pause and row the handle to the side of your torso, keeping your elbow pointed straight back behind you. Pause, reverse the row, and then press through your front foot to return to standing. That’s one rep. Perform 10 reps and then repeat on the opposite side.

Move 4: Pushup to side plank hold: Get in a high-plank position with your hands just wider than your shoulders and your body forming a straight line from head to heels. Brace your core. From here, perform a push-up by bending at the elbows and lowering your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Allow your arms to flare out diagonally from your body. Pause, then drive through your hands to return to start. Then, lift your right hand, rotate your hips, and stack your right foot on your left to get into a side plank position. Pause, then reverse the movement to return to start. Perform another pushup and rotate into a side plank on the opposite side. That’s one rep. Perform 10 reps.

Move 5: Cardio sprint: Run, bike, or row as fast as you can for two minutes.

Combine two strength exercises and one cardio drill and you’ve got a simple total-body circuit that will help you hit all of your goals, says celebrity trainer Kyle Brown, C.S.C.S. Perform them with timed work and rest intervals to really hone your cardio.

Featured Training Supps

Move 1: Knee-to-chest walking lunge: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and hold a pair of dumbbells down at your sides with your palms facing your body. From here, take a giant step forward with one foot so that your back heel pops up. Then slowly bend your knees to lower your body into a lunge. Pause, then drive through your front heel to stand back up, and lift your back leg forward and up until your knee meets your chest. Lower your foot to return to a standing position. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep.

 Move 2: Dumbbell renegade row: Place a pair of hex dumbbells on the floor just wider than shoulder-width apart. Get down into a plank position so your body forms a straight line from head to heels and grab the dumbbells with a neutral grip. Brace your core. From here, row one weight up toward your upper abs, keeping your elbow pointed straight back behind your body. Pause, then lower the weight to return to start. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep.

 Move 3: Ice skaters: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and arms down by your sides. From here, bend your knees and hop to the right, landing on your right foot, while sweeping your left foot diagonally behind your right leg and swinging your arms across your body. Repeat in the opposite direction. That’s one rep.

 This high-intensity workout alternates between rowing and performing 45-seconds of bodyweight exercises (AMRAP, or ‘as many reps as possible’) to really hone in on cardio while building strength, says Lisa Niren, certified group fitness instructor at CITYROW in New York City. Move as quickly as possible between exercises to keep your heart rate up and fatigue your muscles. Each time you perform the circuit, try to finish it in less time that you did before.

Nail your rowing form: Sit on a rowing machine with your feet secured on the foot pedals. Sit up straight and bend forward at the hips to grab the handle with both hands, using an overhand grip. Drive through the foot pedals to extend your legs, then squeeze your shoulders back to row the handle to your upper abs. Lean back just slightly as you row the handle toward you. Reverse the move to return to start, and immediately repeat.

AMRAP Move 1: Pushups: Get in a high-plank position with your hands just wider than your shoulders, with your body forming a straight line from head to heels. Brace your core. From here, perform a push-up by bending at the elbows and lowering your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Allow your arms to flare out diagonally from your body. Pause, then drive through your hands to return to start. That’s one rep.

AMRAP Move 2: Plank: Get down in a low-plank position with your forearms on the floor so that your elbows are in line with your shoulders and your body forms a straight line from head to heels. Brace your core. Pretend you’re digging your forearms into the floor and pulling them toward your feet. Hold for 45 seconds.

AMRAP Move 3: Bodyweight squats: Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, and hold your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder-level. Brace your core. From here, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower your body as far down as you can. Pause, then push through your heels to return to start. That’s one rep.

AMRAP Move 4: Alternating forward lunges: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and hands on your hips. Brace your core. From here, take a big step forward with your right foot, then bend your knees to lower your body toward the floor. Pause, then press through your front foot to return to start. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep.

AMRAP Move 5: Alternating step-ups: Stand tall and hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing in. Place your right foot firmly on the rowing machine’s fixed base, and transfer all of your weight to that leg. Drive through your right foot to straighten your right leg and raise your body to a standing position on top of the base. Pause, then slowly bend your right leg to lower to start. That’s one rep. Repeat on the opposite side.

No gear? You can still get your strength and cardio on with this bodyweight circuit, says certified strength coach and kettlebell trainer Matt Jacob, owner of Revolution 1 Fitness in Chicago. Plus, you’ll also hone your shoulder stability to help injury-proof your body’s most finicky joint.

Move 1: Eccentric bodyweight squats: Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder-level. Brace your core. From here, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower your body as far down as you can for a count of five seconds. Pause, then push through your heels to quickly return to start. That’s one rep. Perform 10.

Move 2 & 4: Inchworms: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Keeping your legs as straight as possible and your back flat, bring your hands to the floor and walk them forward until you’re in a high-plank position with your body forming a straight line from head to heels. Pause, then walk your feet forward to your hands. That’s one rep. Perform five.

Move 3: Shoulder protractions and retractions: Get down in a low-plank position with your forearms on the floor so that your elbows are in line with your shoulders and your body forms a straight line from head to heels. Brace your core. Pretend you’re digging your forearms into the floor and pulling them toward your feet. Hold. From here, round your upper back by flaring your shoulder blades out and away from each other. Pause, then pull your shoulder blades back and together so that they sink down in between your shoulders as far as possible. The only thing that will move is your shoulder blades. That’s one rep. Perform 10.

Related: Get the most out of quick workouts with a little help from a preworkout supp.

8 Things To Do On An Active Recovery Day

No matter how dedicated you are to crushing it at the gym (or in spin class, the pool, or out on the track), some days you wake up and just need some rest.

Despite sore muscles and stiff limbs, many of us are tempted to skimp on rest and recovery days—but they’re crucial to our progress and to maintaining the mental and physical balance that keeps an active lifestyle fun, says Grayson Wickham P.T., D.T.D., C.S.C.S., D.P.T., founder of Movement Vault.

When you need a day off from the gym, you’ve got two options: active recovery or full-on rest. (You probably need one of each per week if you work out pretty hard most days.)

If you’ve been gritting your teeth through discomfort or general tiredness and can’t remember the last time you fully stopped moving, just take a full rest day so you can sleep in, lounge around, spend time with loved ones, or do nothing at all, says Wickham.

But if you just feel a little more stiff or sore than usual, or don’t feel up to hitting the gym hard, an active recovery day may be more what you need, he says. Instead of couching-it all day, you’ll do specific things to maximize your body’s repair after days of hard work, says David Otey, C.S.C.S., Pn1.  Active recovery days support the muscle-building, fat-blasting work you do in the gym, help balance your hormones and mental state, and reboot your central nervous system.

Sounds pretty great, right? Check a few of these mind and body-boosting activities off your to-do list so you can make the most of your next active recovery day:

1. Light Cardio

Every time you exercise you create micro-tears in your muscles, says Otey. Ample recovery time helps your muscles repair the damage and grow stronger.

Doing some light cardio on an active recovery day will help get your blood pumping, which transports oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, without damaging them further, he says. Whether you head out for a walk or go for a bike ride, stick to about half an hour (or less) of low-intensity exercise (about 30 to 50 percent effort), says Otey.

2. Mobility And Flexibility Work

Active recovery day is the perfect opportunity to restore and work on your range of motion and flexibility by doing yoga, taking a mobility class, or doing some low-intensity dynamic stretches (like crawling, crab walking, or inch-worming) on your own, says Otey. Not only do these practices support blood flow, but they also help reduce your risk of future injury. Yoga, especially, has been shown to improve flexibility and mobility and benefit people with muscular issues, according to research published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

Featured Products

If you go for yoga, stick to a beginner’s class, which will move and restore your body without taxing it too much, says Otey. (If you have a lot of experience on the mat, you may be able to get away with a more intermediate class.)

Related: I Stretched Every Day With The Goal Of Touching My Toes—See How It Went

No matter what you choose to do, your goal is to move and stretch every muscle—from your feet up to your neck, and to move every joint through its full range of motion, he says.

3. Form Practice

If you’ve been itching to try a tricky move in the gym but don’t feel comfortable trying it out with weight in hand, active recovery day is a good time to practice the movement outside the gym.

If you want to nail the Turkish get-up, for example, you can work on the movement pattern at home pressure-free. Or, you can use a PVC pipe or empty barbell to work on your form for common CrossFit® moves like the squat cleans or power snatches, says Wickham. Not only will you build the muscle memory to maintain proper form when you add weight to the moves, but you’ll also tackle any anxiety about performing the move in the gym, he says.

4. Myofascial Work

‘Myofascial work’ is really just a fancy way of saying self-massage, and you’ve probably heard of the most popular method: foam rolling. By massaging your muscles with a foam roller or a lacrosse ball (which hits hard-to-roll areas like your chest and between your shoulder blades), you help to relieve tightness, knots, and circulate nutrients and waste products in and out of your muscles, says Wickham.

While you may need longer if you’re extremely tight or sore, start by spending a minute or two massaging out each of your limbs as well as your trunk (back and chest), he suggests. When you hit a trigger point or tight spot, pause and keep massaging that spot until it starts to dissipate, Wickham says. Over time this will help decrease overall stiffness and restore the muscle’s length and mobility.

Just don’t haphazardly sit on the foam roller while catching up on Netflix, though. To get the most benefit of self-massage, you have to really apply pressure to your muscles, says Mark Barroso C.P.T.

5. Sauna Time

If you love to drip with sweat, the sauna could become a part of your favorite active recovery day rituals. “I’m a big proponent of saunas because they’re relaxing, help promote better circulation, and can actually be good for the heart,” says Wickham.

Plus, according to one study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics, sitting in the sauna for 30 minutes can increase women’s levels of human growth hormone (HGH), which helps our bodies break down fats and build muscle.

Regular sauna sessions can also help the body cope with heat better, so you can perform at higher temperatures, says Wickham.

If you have any heart issues, check with your doc before sauna-ing, but otherwise these hot boxes are generally safe, says Otey. Just make sure you’re well-hydrated before you sweat and listen to your body when it wants out. If you get super drippy, be sure to drink a big glass of water and restock on electrolytes afterward, adds Barroso. (We love BodyTech’s grape Electrolyte Fizz.)

6. Epsom Salt Bath

Not only are Epsom salt baths incredibly relaxing, but they may also help support your health and fitness goals. These soaking salts contain magnesium, and can help soothe away everyday aches and soreness.

And while your body can’t absorb magnesium through your skin like it does when you eat it (which has been shown to enhance exercise performance, keep blood pressure in check, and regulate blood sugar), there’s certainly no harm in a relaxing bath. “Vegging out in the tub is a great way to relieve muscle tension,” says Barroso.

7. Meditation

Meditation can help you relax, repair, and rejuvenate—three things we all want to achieve on active recovery day. “Athletes tend to go rough on their bodies, and meditation can help them understand the relationship between physical exertion and mental awareness,” says meditation expert and founder of Break The Norms Chandresh Bhardwaj.

Beyond what we eat and how often we train, our fitness is also defined by how mindful we are with our bodies, he says. Athletes who meditate regularly can see benefits such as increased focus, reduced anxiety, better sleep, increased ability to cope with injury, decreased mind-chatter associated with failure, and increased humbleness after physical accomplishments and wins, says Bhardwaj.

If you’re new to meditation, Bhardwaj recommends starting with 24 minutes of the practice a day—one minute for every hour. It doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to be a huge effort. Instead, it should be a time in which you can allow yourself to let go, relax, and be in the present moment, he says. Downloading a meditation app—like Headspace or Break the Norms—can be a good way to start.

8. Proper Refuel

We need more calories and carbs when we spend an hour in the gym strength training or hitting intervals hard than we do when we go for a casual walk or bike ride on an active recovery day—but we still need to fuel our body and muscles for our goals, according to Jonathan Valdez, M.B.A., R.D.N., C.D.N.

That means one of our goals on active recovery day—like on our training days—is to eat ample protein. Since you don’t need as many carbs to power you through a workout, Valdez recommends focusing more on eating 25 to 30 grams of protein at eat meal, along with 10 to 15 grams at snack-time.

Related: Grab a bar or protein supplement and bring nutrition with you wherever you go.

One of Valdez’s go-to nutritional powerhouses for athletes on recovery day: a fruit smoothie. The fruit will provide an array of vitamins and nutrients—strawberries and kiwi provide vitamin C, B vitamins, and antioxidants, for example—and using Greek yogurt as a base will pump up the protein and help muscles recover and rebuild after tough workouts, he says.

Along with protein, water is also top priority. “Your body uses water in countless ways, including flushing out waste, fueling the metabolism, and regulating pH and body temperature,” he says. So hydration, hydration, hydration is nonnegotiable.

Pin this infographic and make the most of your next active recovery day:

The Perks Of Having A Long-Distance Exercise Buddy

Throughout college, when time was plentiful, I’d treat myself to hour-long yoga classes, loving how each session made me feel: My mind was alert, my mood was elevated, and sometimes I was even euphoric. Feeling hopeful and energized by the classes, all the stress of the week would just melt away. A total reboot.

And yet despite the incredible feelings of well-being, bliss, and mental focus, I had a hard time sticking with it or creating a set regimen—especially as I got older. Confession: I’m one of those annoying people who is always telling other people that they should do yoga and then I forget to do it.

I knew it was good for me. I knew I needed it. I knew I couldn’t afford to not do it—for both my physical and mental health. Yet I would skip it. Self-neglect is a habit that is easy to start and hard to break, especially when you have mental health issues, as I do.

During those college years I was also smoking a pack a day to deal with stress, I wasn’t really exercising, and yeah, I was partying. I was surrounded by bad choice enablers and the party lifestyle was my norm. But in my 20s—like a lot of people—my poor lifestyle choices didn’t really manifest themselves on my body. I could drink like a fish and eat pasta every night and still sit at about 120 pounds.

I realized that if I was going to be a happy and productive human being, I was going to have to center myself mentally and physically.

That all changed when I hit 30, however. Thirty is the moment of reckoning. Your midsection grows, the bags under your eyes became more pronounced, and the aches in your muscles begin to hurt more and more. Exhaustion hits you harder and lingers longer. Your body doesn’t bounce back the way it used to.

And my problems were not merely physical. In my early 30s, I began to suffer more from stress-related anxiety and I had trouble focusing on work. Getting out of bed was an arduous task and facing the day filled me with anxious energy.

I realized that if I was going to be a happy and productive human being, I was going to have to center myself mentally and physically. So, at 32, I quit smoking, I quit drinking, and I began to do yoga again.

Featured Products

I decided to challenge myself to do yoga for at least half an hour, once a day. I wrote a post online saying that I was doing a month-long yoga challenge and a friend from college reached out to me saying she wanted to do it too. The thing is, I live nowhere near anyone else, out in the country, surrounded by woods. To get my yoga fix, I couldn’t just drive to the nearest yoga studio and meet my friend at a local strip mall. So my friend and I started to do yoga together through Skype.

My Skype yoga buddy and I both have high-stress and time-consuming jobs. So we kept it simple: We picked videos to watch and followed along together. Since we had both previously done yoga, it was easy to slip back into it.

At first my mind was restless. It resisted. It wandered as I moved through the poses, not totally present. The first week was definitely a challenge, and I would be winded by the end.

Related: 7 Unique Yoga Offshoots For Adventure Seekers

By the end of week two, though, I really started looking forward to the sessions. Chatting with my friend and getting that energy boost made me feel happy and excited. I was sinking deeper into the stretches, I was picking up the pace, and my joint stiffness and muscle tension was decreasing. By week three I was doing yoga outside of session time! My flexibility was increasing and I started to be centered in my body again. And I’d preempt it, stretching when something was tight, instead of waiting for the knots to build like I had done before.

I was sinking deeper into the stretches, I was picking up the pace, and my joint stiffness and muscle tension was decreasing. By week three I was doing yoga outside of session time!

By the final week of the month challenge, my energy level in daily life increased significantly. It was easier for me to focus and get work done more quickly and more efficiently. My thoughts became more positive. Each time I worked through a physical blockage, a mental knot loosened up. Most importantly, I found myself coping better with the stress that led me back to yoga. Combined with not drinking and not smoking, this was making me feel so good.

I’ve been able to stick with it, thankfully. Having an accountability buddy keeps me motivated and it’s a fun way to catch up. This in itself is a morale boost, but once I feel the deep hug of yoga, I begin to remember that I am there, to not forget myself, to love myself. Having our daily online yoga sessions allows us both the freedom to meet when we can, and hit that psychic refresh button before diving back into our busy lives.

Yoga gives me the workout that I need because it brings my mind and body together simply by working my way through the various poses. Getting to spend time with a friend while getting a burst of endorphins and peace of mind is the daily ritual that keeps me going. I get a good workout, I feel refreshed, and I get to squeeze in some friend-time. I just wish I started Skype yoga sooner.

Related: Shop cozy yoga pants to get your stretch on. 

How Legit Is The Anabolic Window?

If you’re in the practice of slurping down a protein shake the second you finish your workout, you’ve probably heard of an intense-sounding concept called the ‘anabolic window’ and wondered just how much refueling post-workout can make or break your results.

The anabolic window (also called the ‘metabolic window’) is a window of time right after a workout when your body is able to restock energy (called glycogen, which we get from carbs) and repair and build the proteins in our muscles at a faster rate than usual, according to a review written by all-star exercise scientists Alan Aragon, M.S. and Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., and published in the Journal of the Society of International Sports Medicine.

Studies show that without proper fuel, that glycogen restocking slows down and protein breakdown kicks up a few hours after working out.  To combat this—and rev your recovery and results over time—you’d eat carbs and protein immediately after you sweat.

Featured Products

“Our body is like a gas tank, and carbs are the gas,” says Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. Our body breaks down carbs into glucose (a.k.a. sugar), which is sent to our brains, and stored in our muscles and liver as glycogen so that we’re stocked on energy for when we need it. Meanwhile, protein—which our body breaks down into amino acids—is used to build our muscles and other structures, he says.

Related: Keep your essential amino acids stocked with a supplement.

So while the anabolic window is real, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to slug a shake or eat as soon as you put down that last dumbbell.

Lots of research supports timing protein and carbs around your workouts—not just after. For example, one study published in Science and Medicine in Sports and Exercise followed guys through 10 weeks of a structured strength training program. Half took a protein, glucose (sugar), and creatine supplement before and after working out, while the rest took it in the morning and at night. The guys who timed their supplements around their gym sessions gained more muscle and strength, and improved their body composition and glycogen storage more than the guys who didn’t.

Studies suggest 20 to 40 grams of protein both before and after exercise offers the most benefit (though the jury’s still out on carbs).

How To Make The Anabolic Window Work For You

So what does that mean for you? Well, it depends on a bunch of things—especially when you last ate.

If you down a protein shake or eat a snack an hour or so before hitting the gym, that fuel pretty much covers you through that post-workout anabolic window. In fact, protein or amino acids consumed before exercise can keep the supply available in our blood high for even two or more hours after the workout, according to the review.

So if you have time to fuel up and plan on training for an hour or so, do it with about 200 calories split between carbs and protein (that’s about 25 grams of each), says Pamela Nisevich-Bede, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., owner of Swim, Bike, Run, Eat! Nutrition. (Nix the carbs if you’re going light or keeping it shorter than 30 minutes.)

Related: 7 Protein Bars Top Trainers Swear By

If your most recent meal is three or more hours before your workout, though, restocking your glycogen and protein during that anabolic window becomes more important—especially if maintaining or building muscle is your main goal. Go for a snack that’s a two-to-one ratio of carbs-to-protein (like 50 grams of carbs and 25 grams of protein, for example), suggests White.

But if you’re working out first thing in the morning and haven’t eaten since the night before, that’s when your post-workout nutrition is the most important, say Aragon and Schoenfeld. When you’re depleting glycogen and breaking down the proteins in your muscles with nothing in the tank, refuel with something that contains at least 25 grams of protein as soon as you can to prevent muscle breakdown. Keep a protein supplement handy or make sure your breakfast offers enough of the stuff by blending up a protein and fruit smoothie or even mixing protein into yogurt, White suggests.

Featured Products

How Exercise Affects Sperm Count

According to the National Institutes of Health, recent studies have shown that male sperm count in the Western world is dropping rapidly—by as much as 60 percent in 40 years. And we’re not talking about senior citizens. This is affecting men as young as 30.

More research is required to find out what’s causing such a drastic decline, but diet, obesity, physical activity, environment, pesticides, chemicals, smoking, and stress can all be factors. Luckily, there are some things men can do to help power up their swimmers. For one thing, exercise.

According to Sports Medicine, being overweight and out of shape can negatively effect your sperm count. Your move: Head to the gym several times a week, with a particular focus on moderate intensity continuous training (MICT).

Related: Shop men’s health products, from multivitamins to libido support.

According to a 2016 study in the Journal for the Society of Reproduction and Fertility, in which three kinds of exercise were analyzed in relation to sperm count, it was found that moderate intensity continuous training (MICT) showed the best results. (The other kinds of exercises included high-intensity continuous training (HICT) and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).)

A good example of MICT includes walking or jogging on a treadmill for about 30 minutes per day, three-four days per week, with intensity gradually increasing to 45 minutes per session and never going higher than about 60 percent of max capacity. The goal: Keep your max capacity—especially when doing cardio—to around 40-60 percent, and stick to around 30-45 minutes a few times per week.

Featured Products

In the case of sperm health, going too hard and too often can actually have negative results, explains Dr. Joseph Purita of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine: “[When you] overdo exercise, what can happen is your body switches into respiration mode and the muscles make lactic acid, which can have bad side effects,” says Purita. “[It can] cause the production of free radicals, which robs your body of energy and can interfere with its biochemical reactions, which in turn affects the body’s production of stem cells—which is connected to sperm production.”

But that doesn’t mean you have to be wary of getting in a great workout. You absolutely can and should keep up your fitness routine. “Exercise can help increase circulation by dilating the blood vessels,” Purita explains. “Which brings more nutrients to the cells and is beneficial in stimulating hormones, which in turn stimulates higher sperm counts.”

Other tips that give your sperm the best shot? Purita recommends a Mediterranean diet—full of whole grains, healthy fish, healthy fats, and greens—along with not smoking and healthy amounts of sleep (seven to nine hours per night).

“The goal is to lower inflammation levels in the body,” he says, “because higher inflammation levels adversely affect stem cells, and ultimately the stem cells are what produce sperm.”

Related: 4 Types Of Foods That Help Fight Inflammation

The Mediterranean diet, getting enough sleep, and not smoking can all reduce inflammation, say various studies. And MICT workouts result in the lowest levels of inflammation, according to the journal Reproduction.  

The bottom line: Eat healthily, exercise moderately, and cultivate good sleeping patterns while you’re still young.

6 Reasons Why You Should Never Skip Leg Day

For whatever reason (*cough, excuse, cough*), plenty of people skip leg day. But ignoring all of the muscles below your belt-line is a massive mistake—training your lower body not only guarantees you’ll never be the victim of a nasty ‘skips leg day’ meme, but also helps you reap a number of health and fitness benefits. Here, experts share six big reasons why you should start showing your bottom half more love at the gym.

1. You’ll Burn More Calories

Whether losing weight is your goal or not, training your legs revs your metabolism. Classic leg-day exercises like squats and deadlifts make your body work harder because they involve large muscle groups and multiple joints, explains Laura Miranda, D.P.T., M.S.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of PURSUIT group fitness training.

“The more muscles groups you use, the more calories you are going to burn,” she says. For example, consider a bicep curl versus a deadlift. While the bicep curl mostly isolates your bicep muscles, the deadlift activates and engages your hamstrings, glutes, core, and lats. “And, just like the deadlift, most leg-day exercises require more than one muscle group,” she adds.

If you’re trying to lose weight, leg day will help you get there—otherwise, it’ll give you an excuse to eat a little more. (And who’s going to argue with that?)

2. You’ll Boost Your Cardiovascular System

When it comes to heart health, we typically think of aerobic activities, like running and biking, as being the most beneficial. However, a recent study out of Appalachian State University found that resistance exercise (like lifting weights) also offers cardiovascular health benefits. According to the study, 45 minutes of moderate-intensity resistance training both improved participants’ blood flow and lowered their blood pressure.

Featured Products

“When your muscles contract, they help to push blood through your veins and back to your heart,” explains David Otey, C.S.C.S., Pn1. So though this study didn’t hone in on lower-body strength training, specifically, having more muscle there makes you better able to circulate blood to your lower extremities, he says.

3. You’ll Have A ‘Fitter’ Brain

Regular exercise has long been linked to a healthier brain, but according to research out of King’s College London, there’s a specific link between stronger legs and a stronger mind. The researchers followed older identical twins throughout a 10-year period and found that the twin who had greater leg power experienced less cognitive decline and that their brain generally aged better than the weaker-legged twin. Why? The researchers believe some of the benefit comes from the new cell production-stimulating hormones that muscles release during exercise—and since leg muscles are the largest in the body, they have the greatest potential for doing so.

4. You’ll Decrease Your Risk Of Injury

‘Use it or lose it’ might sound trite, but it’s definitely true for the joints in our lower body. “When you don’t use your joints, you set them up for breakdown,” says Miranda. By putting controlled stress on our muscles and joints during exercise, we signal them to adapt and grow stronger and more mobile, which is especially important as we age, says Marie Spano, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., C.S.C.S. If we don’t regularly move and challenge our lower bodies, though, we land with a higher risk of injury when we go for a hike or long walk.

Improving lower-body strength may even help reverse the rising need for hip and knee replacements in the U.S., suggests Miranda.

Related: Find joint and muscle support supps to boost your training and recovery.

Plus, if you’re an athlete or a runner, consistent lower-body training and strength could make the difference between getting injured and staying in the game, she says. In fact, exercises like lunges and squats promote stability in the knee, and can help prevent ACL tears, according to The American Council of Exercise. Squats and deadlifts also help develop hip strength and mobility, which are both common sources of injury for runners and other cardio lovers, Miranda adds. (So even if you’re training for a marathon, leg day is still a good idea.)

5. You’ll Build A Stronger Upper Body

Yep, leg day can actually help your upper-body training. Not only are most leg day moves compound exercises (meaning that they work your whole body), but stronger legs also give you a stronger base for upper-body exercises, like the push press and bench press, where your feet are anchored to the floor and some energy is transferred through your legs, says Otey.

Plus, if you constantly skip leg day and only train your upper body, at some point your body won’t want to carry the extra weight of more upper-body muscles and your gains will plateau. “The body is a self-regulating machine,” says Otey. Basically, it wants to grow proportionally.

6. You’ll Run Faster (And Longer)

“When most people want to get into shape, they either go on a run or hop on the elliptical,” says Miranda. But strength training can actually help you develop your endurance faster, which will make you a better, faster runner, she says. In fact, a systematic review published in Sports Medicine confirms that resistance training improves runners’ efficiency and time trial performance.

How To Add Leg Day Back Into Your Workout Routine

Convinced yet? If you’ve been neglecting your legs for a long-time, start by incorporating bodyweight exercises such as air squats, lunges, and step-ups into your routine, suggests Miranda.

Build up to three sets of 10 to 15 reps for each move, two or three times a week. Once you’ve been comfortably performing these lower-body moves pain-free for three or four weeks, it’s time to start using additional weight, so add five to 10 pounds, she says. When you’re able to comfortably complete three sets of eight to 10 reps, up your weight by another five to 10 pounds.

Related: Your Glutes Are Begging You To Do This Workout

6 Weight Machines Definitely Worth Using, According To Trainers

A staple at  many gyms, weight machines get plenty of hate from some people in the fitness community. And it’s true—compared to free weights, the machines have a few shortcomings. For one, most machines won’t properly fit all body types. They also hone in on just one muscle group at a time (this burns fewer calories), which can make it easy for you to develop strength imbalances. Free weights, on the other hand, tend to engage more muscles (especially your core and small stabilizing muscles), burn more calories, and encourage more natural movement.

Still, some machines can fit well into your routine, says Holly Perkins, C.S.C.S., founder of Women’s Strength Nation. The machines can make strength training more accessible to newbies and help you focus on specific muscle groups that may need some extra love, she says.

Whether you’re a strength-training spring chicken or a weight-room regular, here are the six weight machines trainers say deserve a spot in your workouts.

1. Assisted Pullup Machine

Pullups work your core, entire back (trapezius, rhomboids, and lats), shoulders, and biceps—but most people can’t even do one, says Paul Sklar C.S.C.S., founder of Prescriptive Fitness in New York City. By using the assisted pullup machine, you can gradually add weight in five to 10-pound increments until you’re strong enough to do them on your own. And trust us, this move is worth it, since adequate back strength helps to improve posture, according to Erica Suter, C.S.C.S.

Related: Can’t Do Pullups? These 3 Moves Will Get You There

How to use it: Hold onto the padded bars with palms facing away from you and hands wider than your shoulders. Place one knee (or foot) and then the other onto the assistance platform or bar and allow it to lower toward the ground. (Your shoulders should be directly over your hips and knees.) Engaging your abs and relaxing your shoulders down, use your back and biceps to pull yourself up until your chin is above the bars. Keep your hips directly under your shoulders and your head in line with your spine. Lower all the way back to starting position so that your arms are fully extended before repeating. (Focus on contracting your glutes throughout the exercise and you can even get a bit of a butt workout in, too.)

2. Lying Hamstring Curl

On days that you deadlift, adding the lying hamstring curl machine to your routine can ensure you hit all the parts of your hamstrings, says Nick Tumminello, C.S.C.S. In fact, one study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that lying leg curls hit parts of the hamstrings that deadlifts don’t.

Featured Products

“Hamstring strength is especially helpful to women, who are more quadriceps-dominant and tend to have weaker hamstrings, which makes them more prone to knee injury than men,” Tumminello says.

How to use it: Lie face-down on the machine with your hip joint on top of the apex of the pads. Adjust the pad across your lower legs so it hits the bottom of your calves. Keeping your legs hip-width apart, hold onto the handles, exhale, and curl your heels up and in as close to your glutes as possible. Engage your core and inhale as you slowly extend your legs back to starting position. Let the weights lightly touch the stack—but not fully rest on it—before performing your next rep.

3. Leg Press

The leg press machine eliminates the upper-body involvement and torso and spine stabilization required for squats, so you can really zone in on your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. “It’s a safe way to get beginners or those with little lower-body strength pushing some serious weight before progressing to squats and lunges,” says Suter. Perkins agrees: “In the early stages of strength development, I find this machine very helpful to improve overall leg function and strength.”

Related: 3 Ways To Improve Your Squat

How to use it: Sit in the machine and place your feet on the platform a little wider than shoulder-width distance apart. Remove the safety bar and exhale as you push through your heels to extend your legs as much as possible without locking your knees. Your torso should make a perfect 90-degree angle with your legs. As you inhale, lower the platform until you form a 90-degree angle at your knees. (This is key, says Perkins.) Keep your hips and pelvis firmly in the seat of the machine and your torso stable against its back. Exhale and repeat.

4. Cable Lat Pulldown

“This might be my most favorite machine of all because you can’t mimic this movement in any other way,” says Perkins. “Your lower body is anchored, allowing you to put your energy and focus into activating the upper-body muscles.” Lat pull-downs are a safe and effective way to strengthen your back (lats, traps, and rear deltoids), core, and shoulders, which can help prevent future neck and shoulder injuries.

How to use it: Sit down at the machine, adjust the pad over your thighs so it’s snug, and grab the bar overhead. You can use either a shoulder-width, reverse grip (palms facing toward you) or a wider-than shoulder-width, overhand grip (palms facing away from you). Keep your shoulders relaxed down and away from your ears and engage your core so your torso doesn’t sway back and forth as you move the bar. Bend at the elbows to pull the bar down to your upper chest (never behind your head). Slowly extend your arms to release the bar back to starting position. Repeat.

5. Cable Station

By switching up the cable positions and attachments on this machine, you can work pretty much all of your muscle groups—including your core. “Cable stations allow for a more natural and functional movement,” says Sklar. He likes using the machine to do cable rows with alternating reverse lunges, which work your core, quads, glutes, hamstrings, and back.

How to use it: To perform Sklar’s row-lunge combo move, set the cable height so it’s positioned between your hips and lower ribs. Attach the close-grip row handle (which looks like a triangle with two handles) or a straight bar. Grip the handle and step back into a reverse lunge. Drop your back knee to hover just above the floor so both knees form 90-degree angles. As you lunge back, keep your torso engaged and straight, and bend at the elbows to row the cable back toward your lower ribs. Step back into the starting position, keeping your core steady and slowly releasing the cable back out in front of you. Repeat by stepping back with the opposite foot.

6. Dual Cable Cross Machine

Similar to single cable stations, the dual cable cross can be adjusted to train just about every muscle in the body. When each handle you use is attached to its own weight stack, you can’t cheat with your dominate side, says Kyle Brown, C.S.C.S. Brown likes using the cable cross machine for the standing chest fly, which hones in on your core, pecs, and deltoids.

How to use it: Adjust the cables to shoulder-height. Grab the handles and step forward with one foot. Your arms will be fully-extended out to your sides. Lean forward slightly from the waist and keep a bend in your elbows and your shoulders back and down as you press your hands towards each other directly in front of your chest. Engaging your core and chest, inhale and allow your arms to open up until you feel a stretch in your chest. Exhale and push your arms back together. Repeat.

Related: Use resistance bands to recreate cable machine moves at home.

What Eating, Drinking, And Working Out In ‘Moderation’ Actually Looks Like

The idea of moderation is something we either love or hate. When we’ve diligently eaten healthy salads all week long, ‘moderation’ in the form of a delicious Friday night cookie can really keep us sane. But if that moderation totally backfires, and that one cookie turns in to three or four, it just leaves us feeling frustrated with ourselves.

The reason the term ‘moderation’ is so tricky: “There’s no real definition of the word,” explains Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club and owner of Nutrition Starring You.

And aside from it not having a clear definition, the word can mean something different to each of us, and even our own personal definition can change pretty frequently. “What someone considers moderate is highly influenced by what’s around them and what seems normal,” explains Ryan D. Andrews, M.S., M.A., R.D., author of A Guide to Plant-Based Eating.

Based on research published in the journal Appetite, nearly 70 percent of us are generous with our idea of moderation. We might identify two chocolate chip cookies as one serving, but still consider eating three pretty ‘moderate.’ And, unsurprisingly, we’re more likely to be liberal with our definition of moderation for types of junk food we really enjoy, the study suggests.

So how do you practice moderation in a way that keeps you feeling balanced while still prioritizing your health and well-being? We asked the pros for their best advice—not only for eating in moderation, but for drinking and exercising as well. Keep their guidelines in mind next time yet another cookie, cocktail, or CrossFit® class calls your name.

Eating In Moderation

Having guilt-free moments to indulge is important, says Andrews. After all, our relationship with food is pretty nuanced: There’s more to it than the bad-good binary (i.e. that eating for pure nutrition will always lead to positive outcomes and treating ourselves will always lead to negative outcomes). “When we view our meals or food choices as restrictive in any way, we get into a scarcity mindset, which can lead to food obsession and potential overcompensation later on,” Andrews explains.

But how often you treat yourself depends on a whole slew of factors, like your overall health, your personal fitness goals, and your schedule, says Harris-Pincus. As a general guideline, she recommends following the 80/20 rule, meaning 80 percent of your calories should come from nutritious foods that fuel your body and are packed with protein, healthy fats and carbs, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. (Think fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean poultry, and fish.) The other 20 percent of your daily calories are saved for guilt-free treats. So if you eat roughly 2,000 calories per day, for example, 400 of those calories can be more indulgent.

Go Ahead, Treat Yourself

If you’re trying to lose weight, Harris-Pincus recommends adjusting your ratio to 90/10, so you can reach your goals while still having some wiggle room to enjoy yourself on special occasions.

Beyond your general eating habits, ‘moderation’ is especially important for a few specific foods and ingredients, says Andrews. At the top of the list: added sugar, which has been linked to various health issues, like heart disease. “The average American adult eats 23 teaspoons of added sugar per day, but from a health perspective ‘moderation’ would be more like six to nine teaspoons per day,” he says.

Meat is another food we may need to adjust our definition of ‘moderation’ for. “The average American adult eats eight ounces of meat per day, but ‘moderation’ would be more like three ounces per day,” says Andrews. (Andrews recommends limiting red meat, like beef, to two ounces a day, and getting the rest from other sources, like poultry.) Why? Red meat consumption has been linked to cancer risk in some research, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified it as ‘possibly carcinogenic’ to humans.

On top of moderating meat intake for health’s sake, there are plenty of other good reasons—like environmental sustainability. Get this: Livestock production accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.)

Boozing In Moderation

Moderation may be nuanced when it comes to food, but it’s pretty cut and dry when it comes to alcohol. According to the CDC, moderate alcohol intake is one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. One drink means 12 ounces of beer, eight ounces of malt liquor, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits or liquor, says Harris-Pincus. More often than not, though, we pour ourselves more than this.

Alcohol has been linked to serious health risks, like high blood pressure and various cancers, so consider the CDC’s daily drink recommendation an acceptable upper limit of moderation, not the ideal, she says. Drinking less than that—or not at all—will better benefit your health.

We get it—sometimes you want to unwind after a long day with a glass of vino or a cocktail. When you do drink, avoid as many excess calories as possible by using unsweetened flavored seltzer or club soda as mixers instead of sodas or syrups, she says. Acknowledge that drinking doesn’t fuel or nourish your body, and sip slowly so you really enjoy the treat, she recommends.

Sweating In Moderation

You know exercise is important: It can help you maintain a healthy weight, keep your energy levels up, and even boost your mood—but moderation applies here, too! Striking a balance between couch potato and gym junkie will help you get the most mind-body benefit from exercise.

When it comes to the type of workouts you’re doing, moderation means balancing strength training and cardio, says Baltimore-based strength coach Erica Suter, C.S.C.S. They’re both great for fat loss, but strength training will help you build muscle, so you can eventually burn more calories at rest. Ideally, you’d strength train around three days per week, she says, and opt for cardio two to three days per week.

Moderation applies to your intensity, too. Three of your weekly workouts should be high-intensity, meaning they keep your heart pumping and involve little rest, says California-based trainer Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S., C.P.T. For strength training that means lifting heavy enough that your last few reps are very challenging. For cardio, that means doing sprints or another form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Schedule two or three ‘moderate’ days in between your two or three high-intensity days, in which you’ll lift lighter loads for more reps or do some steady-state cardio, says Suter. Play around with how many all-out and moderate workouts you do to find your personal sweet spot. Ideally, you’ll exercise four to six days a week.

There is a such thing as too much exercise. “If you notice your energy levels starting to wane, that you’re not sleeping well, or that you’re just not looking forward to your workouts, you’re not practicing exercise in moderation and might be going a little too hard,” says Suter. Listening to your body and not going overboard is crucial.

Related: 5 Signs You Need A Day Off From The Gym

That’s where rest days come in. If you’re just beginning an exercise routine, start with two full rest days per week. As you get more comfortable, you may be able to bump it down to one. Rest helps you come back stronger, motivated to work out, and ready to take on new challenges, says Donavanik.

That rest day shouldn’t be an all-day Netflix binge, though: Both Suter and Donavanik believe in active recovery, meaning you still move on your day off. Going for a walk or a hike, taking a yoga class, or even spending some time stretching can help keep your blood flowing and help your body recover from previous workouts, Donavanik says.

Ultimately, when you find your ideal ‘moderation’ for exercise, you’ll enjoy working out and get excited about your routine, he says. You may need to try a few different things to get there, whether it’s spin classes, running, weight lifting, or even an intramural sport—but the best thing you can do for yourself is to get up and move your body, however works best for you, he says.

How Fitness Became My Drug Of Choice

What you see on the outside doesn’t always reflect what’s going on inside, and that’s often been the case with me. I have years of experience in the health and wellness industry (I’m the Manager of Scientific Affairs here at The Vitamin Shoppe), and I’ve always been proactive in my own health. I train hard, eat well, and use fitness as a way to manage stress. In fact, people I know are pretty impressed that I’ve maintained such a high level of fitness at my age (49!). I’m seen as a strong, tough individual—but like many others, I have my demons.

Those demons stem from my childhood, and I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been a long, tough battle working through it. As a young boy I had some idea that my mom—God rest her soul—wasn’t like (or didn’t seem like) the other moms in the neighborhood: My mom struggled with severe depression and anxiety for most of her life.

I can recall like it was yesterday seeing my mom ‘act out’. She had a very difficult time controlling her emotions—even in front of us, her kids. From watching her irrational behavior, and feeling such a lack of control over her mental health issues, I developed anxiety and depression as a young child, too.

The one thing that helped center me during this time was sports and fitness. Using my body—especially in an aggressive way—made me feel calm, less angry, and less frustrated with what was going on at home.

I have years of experience in the health and wellness industry, and I’m seen as a strong, tough individual—but like many others, I have my demons.

I was a quiet, shy kid, but when it came to sports (especially football) I was hyper-aggressive, getting great satisfaction from knocking someone over and watching them struggle to get up. To filter through some of that aggression, I also studied martial arts at a dojo. It was a way for me to be aggressive without really hurting people or getting into trouble.

Related: I Became A Fitness Instructor At 44

The dojo became a place for me to release my demons. I was an emotional roller coaster, a volcano waiting to erupt. And I had no idea that I’d need to deal with these sorts of feelings my whole life.

One cold December day when I was 15, I was playing football in the snow with my brother and his friends. I kicked the ball and my brother caught it. My brother was an all-around great athlete. He was fast as hell, even in the snow. As he came charging towards me, I drove straight toward his legs, rolled over, and collided with him. His knee smashed my back with incredible force, knocking the wind out of me and leaving me lying in the snow, unable to move.

I truly thought my back was broken. I couldn’t walk, so they carried me to my house (which was luckily around the corner) and called 911 right as my mom and dad pulled up in the car. As it turned out, I had no broken bones, but in the 1980s they typically didn’t do an MRI or check for orthopedic injuries that might end up affecting you in the long-term. And it wasn’t until four years later, when my back pain got worse and I had an MRI, that I found out that I had a badly herniated disc.

At 19, I had surgery. My orthopedic surgeon said he could repair it and I’d be just fine, but the eight days I spent in the hospital and two months of physical therapy that followed elevated my levels of anxiety and depression. I jumped back into football, hockey, martial arts, and lifting weights way too soon in an effort to feel better mentally. My pain began to feel worse than it did pre-surgery, which only exacerbated my cycle of anxiety and depression.

Featured Products

Later on, I had epidurals (a spinal cord stimulator implanted to block pain), and I started seeing a chiropractor again—which offered some temporary pain relief caused by the muscle spasms, but did nothing for the shooting, burning pain down my legs caused by a compressed nerve.

As a last resort, I started trying different types of medication: anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxers, and—last but not least—opiates. The medication was effective at reducing the pain, and it also suppressed my anxiety.

I initially thought this was a good thing, but came to realize later on that it really wasn’t—at least for me. The medication was turning me into a different person, numbing me and making me feel very little emotion. So, I took my wife’s advice and quit. My goal was to turn to fitness and health again to deal with my trauma and pain.

Quitting cold turkey was hard; I couldn’t sleep for three months and my pain, anxiety, and depression came back with a vengeance. But I was comforted by my understanding of how the body works: As a scientist, I knew that I could help promote my body’s own production of natural painkillers and mood enhancers (endorphins) through vigorous exercise.

Strengthen that lower back with #deadlifts.@rogueamericanapparel

A post shared by Brian K. Tanzer (@bktanzer) on

And that’s exactly what I did. I practiced yoga for my back and hit the weights pretty hard to release the anxiety I was feeling. To this day, I train five-six days a week, incorporating all the big lifts (like deadlifts, squats, and bench presses) along with exercises such as sprints, rowing, pullups and burpees. Although I still deal with chronic pain and mood issues like anxiety, it has become much more manageable.

Looking back, I’ve learned so much over the years. I used to let those feelings control me, and now I control them. I even turned to my fitness-focused skillset when my parents got sick and needed care, and then passed away, one after the other within a month. I see every challenge as an opportunity and I never let my anxiety get the best of me. I believe that training every day and making myself uncomfortable (or even miserable at times) pays dividends when facing emotional and physical challenges in life.

To this day, I train five-six days a week. And although I still deal with chronic pain and mood issues like anxiety, it has become much more manageable.

I now look back at all that I went through as a child, teenager, and adult, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come, despite all the challenges. And despite my mother’s illness and the ways it affected me, I don’t blame her. I love her.

Mental health is often overlooked because it isn’t something that can be measured with a blood test or x-ray. In the end, her mental health challenges inspired me to deal with my health in productive ways. I try to live in the moment—not in the past—and enjoy each day as much as possible.

Although I have had these revelations, I still wake up every day with anxiety and pain—and I do worry about aging and its effects on my body. But for now, I have a morning routine to keep me motivated: I throw cold water on my face and start banging out the burpees, squats, and pushups, which helps stabilize my body and my mood. I guess you could say that my go-to drug is exercise—and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Related: Shop protein products and amp up your fitness routine. 

Why All Women (Yes, ALL) Need To Strength Train

Whether you’ve just curiously peeked in on a boot-camp class at your gym or haven’t missed your Saturday morning CrossFit® WOD in months, odds are you’ve crossed paths with strength training at some point.

Maybe you’ve felt too intimidated to give it a go, maybe you’ve never fully committed because you were told lifting is a ‘guy thing,’ or maybe you’re already a weight room regular. Whatever the case is, the non-negotiable truth is this: If you’re not strength training, you need to start.

“No matter how old you are, strength training should start today,” says Krista Scott-Dixon, Ph.D., Lean Eating Program Director at Precision Nutrition and founder of Stumptuous. “Honestly, no, you don’t have a choice—you have to do this work. Otherwise your risk of frailty and mortality later on is so significant—and none of us want to be stuck on the toilet when we’re 80.”

Whether that means lifting free weights, practicing yoga, taking a TRX class, or doing bodyweight exercises, strength training has an immense ability to shape your health, confidence, and more. Still, if you’re not convinced a stronger body is something you need (and deserve!), here are seven significant benefits of strength training we guarantee you won’t want to pass up.

1. You’ll Slash Your Risk For All Sorts Of Health Conditions

Aerobic exercise (a.k.a cardio) has long been the poster child for improving health, but strength training offers some serious health perks, too.

Take heart disease and type 2 diabetes, two conditions that plague the U.S., for example. Research published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise followed more than 35,000 women over more than a decade and found that women who reported any strength training had a 30 percent lower rate of type 2 diabetes and a 17 percent lower rate of heart disease—regardless of their cardio habits.

Featured Heart Health Products

In fact, strength training can reduce blood pressure by as much as 20 percent and improve blood flow, especially when performed for at least 30 minutes three times a week, according to a study out of Appalachian State University. And when it comes to keeping your blood sugar healthy—or improving it if it’s already out-of-whack—strength training works its magic in a couple of ways.

First, with testosterone. “We all produce testosterone when we strength train,’ explains Jacqueline Crockford, M.S., C.S.C.S., exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “Testosterone helps our insulin response, which regulates our blood sugar levels.” (If the T-word’s got you nervous that you’ll turn into the Hulk, keep in mind that women have about a twelfth of the testosterone that guys do.) And second, by boosting GLUT transporters, which are basically the delivery men that help transport glucose from the blood into our cells, according to Scott-Dixon.

2. Your Body Will Be Generally Better At Life

When you strength train, you put controlled stress on your body—and in turn, your body responds to that stress. Your muscles grow stronger, the tissues that create and connect your joints adapt, your connective tissues become more pliable, and the cartilage that cushions your joints becomes cushier—and you can move more efficiently, explains Crockford.

Think of it this way: “When you put a bar on your back and squat, it takes a ton of coordinated work from your body so you can move through your hips, knees, and ankles—while managing your spine—to squat down and stand back up without falling over,” Scott-Dixon says. The more you train the parts and systems of your body to work together like this, the more effectively you can be a human being moving around in the world. Everything from opening jars to carrying groceries to charging up the stairs to keeping your dog from pulling you around becomes easier, she says.

3. You’ll Boost Your Metabolism

Our metabolism determines how many calories our body needs, and the only way we can really crank up our metabolism is with strength training, says Crockford. You see, your muscles require a lot of energy, so the more muscle mass you have, the higher your ‘resting metabolic rate,’ or how many calories your body burns through just to be alive every day. You’ll need more calories on top of that depending on how much you move and demand of your body throughout the day, but that resting metabolic rate accounts for up to 70 percent of your total, Crockford explains. So the higher your resting metabolic rate, the more calories you ultimately burn through.

And get this, not only does strength training affect how many calories your body uses, it also affects where they go. “If I do a tough workout and squat my face off, I deplete nutrients in my muscles and create micro-damage that needs to be repaired,” says Scott-Dixon. “So if I go eat a plate of pasta and steak afterward, those carbs and proteins go to my muscles.” When you strength train consistently, your body responds to food differently, so what you eat goes toward supporting and building your inner engine—instead of being stored as fat.

 4. You’ll Keep Weight Off Easier Than You Would With Just Cardio

So, as you’ve probably guessed, revving your metabolism and changing how your body uses food means big things for your weight. “The more calories we burn at rest, the easier it is to manage our weight long-term,” says Crockford. So by building muscle and boosting your metabolism with strength training, you can end up burning through far more calories than you would by just slaving over cardio.

Related: Why Cardio Is NOT The Best Way To Lose Weight

And when you strength train consistently over time, you may even to able to eat more and continue to get leaner, adds Scott-Dixon. Just imagine it: Less time spent cardio-ing your life away and freedom from stressing about calories!

5. You’ll Reshape Your Body

Focusing  on strength training instead of just cardio can have another huge body benefit: It can completely transform your shape. “You can do as much cardio as you want, but you can’t have a sculpted or toned look without muscle,” says Crockford. Whether you want defined shoulders, striking abs, or firm thighs, strength training is how you get there.

We all respond to strength training (and build muscle) a little differently, but “strength training will make you the best version of yourself,” says Scott-Dixon.

6. You’ll Age Better

One of the biggest struggles women face as we age: declining bone density, which often worsens during and after menopause. “Our bone density tops out somewhere around age 30, so we want to build up as much density as we can until then and continue to maintain it from there,” says Crockford. And one of the biggest things we can do to improve and maintain our bone density is, you guessed it, strength training.

A review published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Medicine concluded that by supporting bone density, increasing muscle mass, and improving strength and balance, resistance training helps decrease our risk for osteoporosis, a condition marked by low bone density that increases chances of frailty and fractures as we age. “Strength training is hugely important for younger women, as is to continue strength training through menopause,” says Crockford.

Featured Bone Support Products

In addition to doing our bones some serious good, strength training also benefits something we often overlook when it comes to exercise: our brain. “When we exercise, we produce chemicals and hormones that help develop new pathways in the brain,” explains Crockford. This improves our cognition and memory—especially as we age.

7. Your Self-Confidence Will Skyrocket

We could go on and on about the physical benefits of strength training, but perhaps one of its greatest powers is its ability to completely change our sense of self and increase our confidence.

“Every woman I’ve worked with—even if they’re apprehensive at first—has gained confidence and independence through strength training,” says Crockford. “It has a profound effect on who they are as people.”

Scott-Dixon agrees: “When we feel physically stronger, not only are healthier, but we’re more capable human beings. We feel able to exert our will in the world, to be assertive, to ask for or demand more.” In that, strength training can transform how you feel about your inner and outer strength, capacity, and capability—and who doesn’t want that?

The 5 Biggest Health Issues Affecting Men Today

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the top two causes of death for men in the U.S. include heart disease and cancer (with prostate, lung, and colorectal cancer being in the lead). But leading up to those chronic, potentially fatal issues might be a few seemingly more minor—yet still insidious—health concerns.

While there are plenty of variables at play, like genetics, some of the below issues may result from an unhealthy lifestyle. The good news: You can take back some control over your health by getting a grip on your diet, quitting smoking, ramping up your exercise habits, and more.

Here, the five main health issues that American men should not only be aware of—but deal with head-on.

1. Weight gain caused by not exercising or eating properly

Although this is an issue that affects the whole nation—including women and children—it’s one that experts say is particularly hitting home for men (especially minority men). And that’s because weight-loss programs have traditionally targeted women.

“A poor diet and physical inactivity are the two main factors that lead to weight gain,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, NYC-based dietician, bestselling author, and founder of The F-Factor Diet. “[Men should] implement a high-fiber, high-protein, and low-net carbohydrate diet” to help them lose weight in a quick and healthy manner, Zuckerbrot says.

In addition to eating healthy foods, the CDC recommends getting 60-90 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week. This might look like swimming, jogging, or weight training at about 50-60 percent of your max capacity about five-six days per week.

2. Inflammation caused by poor diet

Men may be putting themselves at risk for not only obesity but disease by eating what is called ‘inflammatory foods,’ like refined carbohydrates, fried foods, red meat, salts, margarine, shortening, lard, and soda, along with other beverages loaded with added sugars. And inflammation, if you didn’t know already, is the body’s response to injury—which, when chronic (i.e. not fighting a disease or illness), can cause a whole slew of health issues.

Barry Sears, PhD, author of the Zone Diet book series, blames this style of eating when it comes to “disturbances in hormone levels, constant fatigue, and increased accumulation of body fat” in men. Inflammatory foods have also been linked to an increased risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Featured Products

To support your health, go for an anti-inflammatory diet, which Sears describes as “calorie-restricted, with adequate protein, moderate carbs—but rich in non-starchy vegetables—and low in fat, especially saturated and omega-6 fats.”

Following the parameters of the Mediterranean diet (healthy oils, fish like salmon and tuna, and loads of greens) can also prevent inflammation, according to the Mayo Clinic. In fact, according to the Proceedings of Nutrition Society, several epidemiological and clinical studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet improves cardiovascular health, reducing blood pressure, improving lipids (fats in the blood), and decreasing insulin resistance.

3. Kidney stones caused by lifestyle or genetic factors

One in 11 people in the U.S. are affected by kidney stones (pain-causing hard mineral and salt deposits within your kidneys), with men suffering more frequently than women. (The prevalence of kidney stones for men is 10.6 percent, while for women it’s 7.1 percent.) Though research published in JAMA concluded that obesity and weight gain increase the risk of kidney stones, other factors—from genetics to dehydration—may also spark their formation.

In fact, the Mayo Clinic says that diets high in sodium can increase the risk—all the more reason to cut back on salt.

4. Poor semen quality caused by an unhealthy lifestyle

A study published in the journal Human Reproduction found a link between a man’s waist circumference, BMI, and semen quality, with researchers drawing the conclusion that being overweight can negatively influence sperm production. Maintaining a healthy weight via exercise and diet can also play a role in the quality of sperm.

Related: 4 Types Of Foods That Help Fight Inflammation

According to the Mayo Clinic, normal sperm densities are somewhere around 15 million to greater than 200 million sperm per milliliter of semen. Poor sperm quality is somewhere around 15 million sperm per million sperm per milliliter.

5. Low testosterone caused by an Overall unhealthy lifestyle

Though we tend to think of low-T as an issue that mainly effects older men, younger men are contending with it as well, and obesity is often to blame.

A study in the journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism tested 1,667 men ages 40 and older and found that each one-point increase in body mass index (BMI) was associated with a two percent decrease in testosterone. Additional research done by Harvard University found waist circumference was an even stronger predictor of low testosterone levels. In fact, a four-inch increase in waist size increased a man’s odds of having a low testosterone level by 75 percent.

Low-T is at the root of various downstream health challenges for men, such as reduced sex drive, increased breast size, erectile dysfunction or impotence, lowered sperm count, hot flashes, depression/irritability, shrunken or softened testes, loss of muscle mass or hair, and bones becoming more prone to fracture, according to Mayo Clinic.

“In order to increase testosterone levels, it is recommended to exercise, lift weights, de-stress, and increase protein intake,” Zuckerbrot notes. “Taking a multivitamin may also help.”

Link: Attention All Men Over 30: You’re Leaking Testosterone

 

What Exactly Is ‘Metabolic Conditioning’?

Workouts touted as ‘metabolic conditioning,’ or ‘met-con,’ are popping up in gyms and studios everywhere. The science-y term definitely sounds cool (and maybe even makes us want to sign up for that new class), but what does it actually mean?

In non-scientist speak, ‘metabolic conditioning’ is a type of workout specifically designed to boost our body’s ability to make and use energy. These workouts help our bodies work more efficiently, so we can exercise at higher intensities, burn fat for fuel, and see better muscle gains and fat loss over time.

Here’s everything you need to know about the increasingly trendy training style, how it works, and how to tell if you’re already doing it (you might be!).

How Met-Con Training Works

Basically, there are three ways your body can produce and use energy: the phosphagen system (which covers quick, max-intensity work), the, glycolytic system (which covers moderate-intensity work), and the aerobic system (which covers long-duration, lower-intensity work). The point of met-con training is to challenge these systems so they become more efficient, helping you develop different aspects of your fitness, like power, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular ability, says Todd Nief, CF-L3, head coach and founder of South Loop Strength and Conditioning, a CrossFit studio in Chicago.

Featured Products

Your body relies on the phosphagen system when you perform super quick, powerful exercises like all-out sprints or Olympic lifts. These rigorous exercises may last just 10 seconds or so, but require at least a few minutes of rest afterward because they’re so intense.

Your body relies on the glycolytic system when you perform more moderate exercise, like running intervals or lifting weights. You can perform these moves for about a minute or so and will need to rest for about twice that time.

And lastly, your body relies on the aerobic system when you perform lower-intensity exercises like running or biking at a pretty comfortable pace. You can perform at this level for at least a few minutes at a time and may only need a few seconds of recovery between sets.

What Met-Con Workouts Actually Look Like

Tons of workouts fall into the met-con category, including anything that’s labeled as HIIT, bootcamp-style class, and (probably the most iconic) CrossFit® classes, says David A. Greuner, M.D., F.A.C.S., F.I.C.S., of NYC Surgical Associates, who specializes in fitness and sports medicine.

Related: 9 CrossFit® Workouts You Can Do Pretty Much Anywhere

Typically you’ll rotate through a bunch of different exercises (like burpees, box jumps, and squats) and use different types of equipment (like kettlebells and rowing machines) for set periods of work and recovery. Which exercises you perform, how long you perform them for, how long you rest, and how long you work for overall determine which of your energy systems you’re really challenging, Nief explains.

Often, met-con workouts involve a variety of different work and rest intervals to challenge all of your energy systems, explains Greuner. (Cardio and strength training in one!) But the beauty of met-con is that every workout is a little different, and if you want to focus on a specific goal, you can! For example, a workout that emphasizes quick all-out sprints or lifts will develop power, while one that emphasizes longer intervals of rowing or lifting will develop endurance.

Because met-con workouts are designed to push your energy systems to the max, as long as you give work intervals your all you can see results without spending hours in the gym, Greuner says.

That said, met-con training demands a lot of your body, so start out slow when adding it to your routine. If you’re not used to high-intensity workouts, jumping right into met-con can leave you incredibly sore, burnt out, and increase your risk for injury, he says. Start with one or two sessions per week and add a third after you can crush and recover from those two weekly workouts.

Related: Add a recovery supplement to your routine to maximize the benefits of your workouts.

Who’s Good: A Q&A With Fitness Star @KaisaFit

These days, all you need is a basic knowledge of superfoods and an iPhone upgrade to be deemed a social media influencer. So how do you distinguish between the people on Instagram who can provide solid info, inspiring ideas, and encouragement along your own health and wellness journey and the many one-trick ponies filling feeds with butt selfies? We can help you cut through all the noise (and smoothie bowls).

Welcome to Who’s Good, a regular interview series from the editors of What’s Good that catches up with the best, brightest, and boldest social media has to offer.

Up this week: We talked to Kaisa Keranen—a.k.a. KaisaFit. You (and her half-million other followers—or, as she calls them, “team members”) may have taken inspiration from her supercharged, any-time-any-where KaisaFit workouts. Or maybe you heard of the national #LetsMove campaign—on which she partnered with the Obama administration. (NBD, right?) If not, you’ll want to check her out—and get moving.

Kaisa, you’re a powerhouse personal trainer and fitness instructor (with an M.S. in exercise science!)—with half a million Instagram followers! Can you tell us a little about your journey to the life you have now?

Thank you so much! My story in a nutshell: I grew up playing pretty much any sport I could get my hands on and by the time high school came around I had narrowed it down to soccer and track and field. I ended up doing track at the University of Washington and after I graduated, found myself in the field of training. I had been pretty injured in college so when I graduated I had this desire to learn about my body and to have the education to take better care of it. Long story short, I fell in love with this industry and have been in it ever since.

Can you describe the KaisaFit method? How did you create and refine this method—and who is it best for?

The KaisaFit method is about simply moving. I think it’s less of a method and more of a mindset that hopefully, over time, cultivates a way of life. My mission is really just to encourage people to add more movement to their day, in whatever form that may be. It’s about helping people understand that they don’t need to hit the gym to get a good workout in, they have their body and their living room and sometimes (actually, most of the time) that’s all you need!

You were asked by Michelle Obama (!!!) to be part of her Let’s Move campaign. What was that like?

That was an INSANE moment in my life and I’m not sure if/how or when that could ever be topped. Mrs. Obama asked my friend and I to be the head trainers for her “Let’s Move” digital campaign and it truly was a dream come true. She is an incredible woman whom I admire so much, so to have her recognize us was absolutely surreal.

You created the #JustMove hashtag. How do you think people’s sedentary lifestyles are affecting them? Apart from the gym, what are some interesting, effective ways to get out and get moving? I see you on the beach, on the rocks, on park benches…

Really simply put, our sedentary lives are killing us. I know it sounds harsh but it’s the truth and it’s important that people start wrapping their heads around how awful our sedentary lives truly are for us.

This is the main reason why I started #JustMove. I wanted people to understand that at any moment throughout the day, and any location they might find themselves in, there is a way to #JustMove. It doesn’t always mean that you are lifting weights or even breaking a serious sweat, but it means that you are up and moving your body, making the world around you your gym in that moment.

How has your life changed since cultivating a social media following? How has it impacted your approach to fitness?

Featured Products

My life has changed quite a bit since the moment I decided to share my workouts on social media—and in the best way possible! I get to connect and communicate with so many incredible people on a daily basis, and that is truly a gift. I am constantly motivated and inspired by my team (a.k.a. my followers, but I don’t like using that term). I just feel like we are one big family, and that we’re in this together, trying to support each other to be our best, happiest, and healthiest selves on a daily basis. For that I am constantly thankful!

Do you have a favorite go-to power-up and post-workout snack or recipe? Are there are any vits, herbs, or supplements you take to feel your best—and why?

💥G I V E A W A Y 💥 . In honor of @vitalproteins launching their AMAZING creamer we are doing a little giveaway. . First, it is super important for me to state that my rule about social media is simple. If I wouldn't tell my friends and family about it, I wouldn't tell my team here on Instagram about it. . With that being said, I am a huge fan of @vitalproteins and have been using them for over a year now so I can comfortably tell you about how incredible their product is and how much of a difference it has made in the way I feel. . So in honor of their creamer launching today we are giving a few away! Just comment below and let us know what your morning rituals are. What are some of the absolute necessities you need to start your day off right? Mine include 2 pieces of toast, a huge cup of coffee w/ Vital's creamer and some slow jams playing in the background 🎶😁 . We will randomly pick some winners tomorrow morning and DM you directly 💙

A post shared by Kaisa Keranen (@kaisafit) on

I am a HUGE Vital Proteins fan! My pre-workout is coffee + Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides and two pieces of gluten-free toast with almond butter and honey. I train pretty early in the morning and it’s all that my stomach can handle before I go beast-mode.

During my workout I am sipping on Vital Proteins Beauty Water and post-workout I have my first big meal of the day: anything from an omelette to last night’s dinner. I’m not a picky eater but it needs to be good quality food and I need a lot of it.

What was the single most empowering or inspirational moment you’ve had as a trainer?

Oh maaaaan! That question is nearly impossible to answer. I have been a trainer for over eight years now so there is no way I can narrow it down to a single inspirational or empowering moment. Honestly, working with people day in and down out is inspiring in and of itself. I get to witness first-hand the changes that people make. The things they go through and come out of. The struggles and the triumphs. Everything. I’ve been there through it all and they’ve been there with me. It’s incredible to have a career that truly centers around community and connection, and I am thankful for it every single day!

So, what sort of amazing stuff are you working on these days?

Putting in wooork! 👊💪 #tbt

A post shared by Kaisa Keranen (@kaisafit) on

I am super excited to announce that I am in the process of creating my first monthly movement plan. I have been wanting to venture out on my own for quite some time and create and share content the exact way that I would want to use it if I was on the receiving end. The monthly plans will have varying degrees of difficulty, which means they are suitable for all fitness levels. They plans are basically designed to be everything that I ever wanted in an at home program and I am SO pumped to share them with you all in early 2018. If you want to stay up to date with release information, click here!

10 Moves That’ll Light Up Your Lower Abs

From crunches to situps to planks to toe touches, there are endless ways to work your core. Many of our go-to moves give all the love to our upper abs and obliques, though, leaving our hard-to-target lower abs a little neglected. And that’s less than ideal, considering our lower abs are crucial for preventing pain and injury, according to Hannah Davis, C.S.C.S., creator of the Operation Bikini Body Abs challenge. After all, our core muscles support our spine, which enables us to move freely and without pain.

Plus, having a strong core helps us maximize our strength and power while doing a number of exercises, including  squats, deadlifts, and Olympic lifts, says Yusuf Jeffers, C.P.T., head coach at Tone House. Without a strong core, we’ll compensate by putting more of the load on our back—especially our lower back—which puts us at risk for a world of hurt.

These 10 lower-ab-targeting moves will help you develop that overall core strength for stronger, safer workouts—and, of course, a more cut-looking midsection.

1. Flutter Kicks

Start by lying on your back with your arms by your sides. Brace your core to lift your head and shoulders up off the ground. Raise your feet four to six inches off the ground. Keeping your core engaged, quickly flutter your feet up and down in short kicks. Try these Tabata-style, kicking for 20 seconds then resting for 10 seconds for four minutes total.

Why they work: Flutter kicks fire up your entire core and work your hip flexors, says ICE NYC HIIT coach, Margie Welch. The lower you keep your feet and the shorter the kicks, the more this move demands of your abs. Doing flutter kicks Tabata-style is a sure-fire way to reach abdominal exhaustion, she says.

2. Toes-To-Bar

Grab a pullup bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulders-width apart and hang from the bar with your core engaged and back straight. Keeping your legs together, use your core to lift your knees up towards your elbows. Then, keep your arms straight and kick your feet up to the bar. Slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position. Shoot for three to four sets of four to eight reps.

Featured Products

Why they work: “To lift your legs while in a hanging position, your abdominal muscles have to be engaged” says Welch. (Not only do toes-to-bars engage all of your abdominal muscles, they also require your lats, hamstrings, and hip flexors to put in some work, too.) If this move is new for you, just focus on keeping your legs together and lifting your knees as high as possible, Welch says.

3. Russian Twists

Sit down with your feet together and planted on the floor, and your legs bent at a 90-degree angle in front of you. Hold a five to eight-pound dumbbell, kettlebell, medicine ball, or weight plate in both hands. While maintaining a flat back, twist your torso to the left so that the weight moves with you. When you feel a stretch in your obliques, stop twisting and return to the starting position. Then, repeat on the opposite side. If you can maintain proper form, try hovering your feet above the ground while twisting. Aim for three sets of 10 to 15 reps per side.

Related: 9 Moves That’ll Set Your Obliques On Fire

Why they work: Russian twists work the entire core, but that twisting motion really lights up your lower abs and obliques, Welch says. (Keeping your back flat will really emphasize those muscles.) Beginners can try this move weight-free and add or increase the weight as they progress.

4. Marches

Lie on your back with your lower back pressed firmly into the ground and your hands at your sides. Raise and bend your legs so that your knees form 90-degree angles, and you look like you’re sitting in an invisible chair. Flex your feet so they’re perpendicular to the ground. Keep your left leg in place, engage your core, and hinge at your hip to lower your right leg to the ground. Lower your heel as close to the ground as possible while keeping your lower back pressed into the ground. (Try to touch your heel to the floor.) Then lift your leg back up to the starting position. Then, switch sides and perform with the other leg. That’s one set. Complete three sets of eight to 10 reps.

Why they work: Consider yourself warned—marches look much easier than they are, says Jeffers. “They recruit all the local stabilizing muscles from your pelvis to your spine, require a strong core, and work your hip flexors,” he explains. Your core is only engaged when your back is nailed into the floor, so it’s okay if you can’t get your heel down to the floor at first!

5. Bird Dogs

Start on all fours with your hands and knees planted on the ground, your core engaged, and your back flat. Reach your right arm out in front of you while simultaneously reaching your left foot back behind you. Extend each limb as long as possible while keeping your torso straight. Hold this position for one or two seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat with your left arm and right leg. That’s one rep. Aim for two to three sets of 10 to 15 reps.

Why they work: This simple core stabilization exercise will help build a strong lower core, because it activates your abdominals, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings as you move, says Jeffers. Plus, you also work your trapezius and shoulders every time you reach your arm out in front of you.

6. Lying Windshield Wipers

Start by lying on your back. Spread your arms straight out to your sides so you form a ‘T.’ Raise your legs up so they form a 90-degree angle with your torso and point straight up to the ceiling. Keep your shoulder blades on the floor. Glue your legs together and rotate them to down to one side, stopping when your opposite shoulder begins to pull up off the floor. Rotate your legs back up to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. That’s one rep. As you improve, move your arms down closer to your sides to decrease stability and increase the move’s difficulty. Repeat for three to four sets of six to 10 reps.

Why they work: The closer you can rotate your legs to the floor, the better your lower-abdominal and oblique strength and the greater your flexibility, says Jeffers. The more you practice, the closer to the floor you’ll be able to bring your legs.

7. Bicycles

Start lying on your back. Lightly interlace your fingers behind your head. Raise and bend your legs so that your knees form 90-degree angles, and you look like you’re sitting in an invisible chair. Lift your shoulder blades up off the floor—but don’t pull on your neck. Engage your core and rotate from the shoulders so your right elbow comes to meet your left knee. Simultaneously, extend your right leg out as straight as possible. Return to the starting position, then repeat on the other side. That’s one rep. Continue this pedaling motion for three sets of 10 to 16 reps.

Why they work: Few bodyweight core moves recruit as many abdominal muscles as bicycles do, explains Davis. Bicycles work the obliques, transverse abdominals, lower back, and even the hip flexors. “The biggest mistakes people make while doing bicycles is trying to go too fast and focusing too much on the knee-to-elbow touch,” says Jeffers. Instead, focus on the rotational side-to-side movement and engaging the core. Beginners can scale this move down by keeping their knees bent and feet planted on the floor while rotating their trunk, he suggests.

8. Woodchops

Connect a single handle to a cable machine set the pulley system to one of its highest positions. Grab the handle with your left hand and step away from the machine, so it’s about an arm’s-length to your left. Stand with your feet shoulders-width apart, and reach up to grab the handle with your right hand, so both arms are straight and both hands are around the handle. Pull the handle diagonally down and across the front of your body but rotating your torso. As you rotate, keep your core tight and back straight.. Pivot your left foot and allow your left knee to bend so you can rotate fully. Slowly return the handle to the starting position. That’s one rep. Perform three to four sets of eight to 10 reps per side.

Why they work: The constant tension in the cable machine keeps your muscles fired up from the beginning to the end of this move, says Davis. “Many people make the mistake of whipping their arms in a diagonal motion down to their opposite side,” Jeffers says. But the key here is for your entire trunk to move as one. If needed, practice the movement without weights until you can chop in one fluid and controlled trunk movement. The rotation of this move makes it especially effective for your lower abdominals and obliques, he says.

9. Full Body Extensions

Lie flat on your back with your legs straight and your arms stretched overhead with a light (three to five-pound) dumbbell in your hands. Pull your belly button into your spine and press your back flat into the floor. Keeping them together and straight, lift your arms and legs up until they’re perpendicular to the floor. Slowly lower your arms and legs so your feet and hands hover an inch or two above the ground. That’s one rep. Perform as many reps as you can before your arms or legs bend, or your back lifts up from the ground. Rest for one minute and repeat for three sets. (Don’t let your feet or hands touch the ground between reps.)

Why they work: “These always make my abs super sore from top to bottom and really work your entire core,” says Davis. Form is key, so start out using just your body weight and shooting for maybe four to six reps a set, she says. As you get stronger, you can add reps and weight.

10. Side Plank Rotations

Lie on one side with your legs straight, stacked one on top of the other. Prop yourself up on your forearm and raise your hips so that your body forms a straight line from your head to your heels. Extend your free arm straight up towards the ceiling. Keeping your core tight, lower your free arm and rotate towards the mat to come into a regular low plank. Hold this position for a second, then rotate your body up into a side plank on the opposite side and extend your opposite arm straight up towards the ceiling. Continue alternating from side to side until you feel your hips begin to dip towards the floor. Rest for one minute, then repeat for three total sets.

Why they work: Side plank rotations effectively recruits both the rectus abdominis (your six-pack muscles) and your obliques, says Davis.

Related: Shop performance supplements to help you push through every last rep.

Ladies: Your Upper Arms Are NOT A Lost Cause

Bat wings. Bingo wings. Hello Helens. Hey Nancies. Squish. Flappy arm fat. These are just a few of the not-so-nice names women call their upper arms (on Reddit, anyway).

First thing’s first, ladies: Stop it with the negative self-talk! We won’t have any of that bat wings nonsense here.

Secondly, you can do something about it, if you’re so inclined.

“Many women suffer from these so-called ‘bat wings’, or upper arm flab, because in addition to factors like genetics, hormone levels, stress, and age, they don’t strength train their arms—specifically their triceps—with the load, volume, and frequency necessary to ‘fill’ the skin underneath,” explains personal trainer and fitness writer K. Aleisha Fetters, C.S.C.S.

So, while there are some factors at play that are indeed out of your control, your upper arms can still live their best lives! Here’s what you can do to tone them up.

Reinvent Your Upper Arms

To start with: Manage stress to ward off any cortisol-related weight gain that could be contributing to soft upper arms, says Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault. From meditating to cutting back on caffeine to prioritizing sleep, to nixing sugar, there are a number of natural ways to zap stress.

Next, if you suspect some sort of hormone-related sabotage—whether you’re in perimenopause or menopause, or dealing with unexplainable weight gain, menstrual cycle changes, mood swings, or hot flashes—make an appointment with your gyno or an endocrinologist. Estrogen imbalances can be a big culprit of excess arm fat.

And then it’s time to strength train. Luckily, building muscle and losing fat go hand-in-hand. Muscle is a metabolically active tissue, which means that it requires a lot of energy to maintain, explains Wickham. So the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns through, and the easier it is for you to lose body fat.

Related: Shop supplements to support fat burning.

To get the most muscle-building, fat-burning bang for your buck, you want to build muscle all over your body by strength training regularly—but training specific muscles (like those in your arms) can help reveal the defined bod you’re after as your body fat decreases. “Many women are worried about training their arms because they don’t want them to get ‘big’ or ‘bulky,’ but they want their arms to look more toned,” says Fetters.  “But what they forget that ‘toned’ is just code for more muscle and less fat.” And, fun fact: Muscle is about 18 percent denser than fat, meaning it takes up less space pound for pound—which means swapping fat for muscle definitely won’t turn you into The Hulk.

Because the tricep is the largest muscle in your arm—and covers most of the surface area you want to tighten up—you don’t want to skimp on training it, says Marie Spano M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., C.S.S.D. Incorporate the following moves into your strength-training routine to help those upper arms shape up.

8 Triceps Exercises That Will Change Your Upper Arms

To really show your triceps some extra love, perform a mini triceps-focused circuit two or three times a week, in addition to your usual routine. “You need to train the triceps at least twice per week to really make a dramatic impact on how your arms look,” says Fetters. “One workout a week isn’t going to cut it.”

So, on two or three non-consecutive days, pick three (different) exercises from the list below. You’ll perform eight to 12 reps of each move using a challenging weight, rest for 30 to 90 seconds, then move on to the next move. Once you’ve completed all three moves, rest for two full minutes and repeat two or three more times. “You should feel like you have maybe one more rep left in the tank at the end of your last set,” Fetters says.

Triangle Pushups

Start on all fours and position your hands directly under your chest with your fingers spread and your thumbs and forefingers touching, to form a triangle shape. Either perform the pushups with your knees on the ground or straighten your legs into a full plank position. Keep your back flat and your abs engaged as you bend at the elbows to lower your chest down towards the floor. (Your elbows will naturally flare out to the sides.) Keep your core braced and push back up to the starting position. That’s one rep.

Why they work: Triangle pushups are one of the most effective triceps exercises in the book. A study out of the University of Wisconsin even backs it up! The move lights up all three heads of the triceps and requires just your body weight.

The study found that triangle push-ups  (along with tricep dips and tricep kick backs) resulted in the greatest muscle activity.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Kickbacks

Hold a light dumbbell in one hand and place your other hand on a stable surface, like a flat bench. Lean forward until your torso is almost parallel to the floor and stagger your feet (with the foot on the side of the dumbbell in the back). Row the dumbbell so that your upper arm is tight along the side of your torso. Without moving your upper arm, extend your forearm up and back behind you, squeezing your triceps as you go. Lower your forearm back down so you have about a 90-degree angle at the elbow. That’s one rep.

Why they work:  Like triangle pushups, dumbbell kickbacks target all three heads of the triceps—which is likely why that University of Wisconsin study found them to be the second most effective triceps move. Don’t worry about going heavy with these; instead, use an easily manageable weight so you can really squeeze at the top of each rep, suggests Fetters.

Tricep Dips

Sit sideways on a bench or box with your hands planted just outside your hips. Plant your feet on the floor out in front of you, either bending at the knee or straightening your legs completely. Push through your hands to lift your butt up off the bench. Keeping your hips very close to the bench and your core tight, bend at your elbows and lower down until your elbows form 90-degree angles and point straight back behind you. Press through the bench to push back up until your arms are straight. That’s one rep.

Why they work: Dips ranked as the third most effective exercise for your tris in the study. Just make sure to keep your hips as close to the bench as possible to emphasize your triceps and avoid straining your shoulders. Because shoulder injuries are so common and so many people perform tricep dips incorrectly, Fetters recommends trying them out under trainer supervision.

Cable Tricep Push-Downs

Attach a straight or angled bar handle to a cable pulley machine so that the bar is at shoulder-height. Grab the bar with palms facing down. Stand up straight with your core engaged and brace your upper arms close to the sides of your body. Without moving your upper arms, squeeze your triceps and extend your forearms down until the bar touches the front of your thighs and your arms are straight. Hold this contracted position for one second and slowly bring the bar back up to the starting position. That’s one rep.

Why they work: “Cable moves force you to move the muscle at a different angle or direction than you would with a dumbbell or EZ bar, which the movement emphasizes different parts of the muscle fiber,” Fetters says.

Dumbbell Skull-Crushers

Grab a set of light dumbbells, and lie on a bench on your back with your knees bent. Raise the dumbbells up and extend your arms so they reach straight up above your chest. (Don’t lock your elbows.) Keeping your upper arms still and tight to the sides of your head, bend at the elbows to slowly lower the dumbbells down toward you forehead until they form 90-degree angles. Squeeze your triceps to extend the dumbbells back up until your arms are straight up in the air again. That’s one rep.

Why they work: Skull-crushers are fun because there’s a number of ways to perform them. You can use almost any kind of weight (dumbbells, barbell, EZ-bar, or cables), and adjust how you angle the bench. The more inclined the bench is, the closer the upper arms are to an overhead position, and more of the work falls on the triceps’ long heads. Perform skull-crushers on a decline bench, though, and you’ll emphasize the lateral triceps head more than the long one, says Wickham. To get your core as involved as possible, perform skull-crushers with dumbbells, which are less stable, says Fetters.

Lying Triceps Extensions

Lie on your back on a flat bench so your head is a few inches from the end and your feet are planted on the ground. Hold an EZ bar with a narrow grip and push it up overhead so your arms point straight up in the air above your chest. Keeping your upper arms still and tight to the sides of your head, bend at the elbows to slowly lower the bar past your forehead down toward the bend above your head. Once you’ve lowered the bar as far as you can, powerfully extend through your elbows to explode the bar back up to the starting position. Squeeze your triceps! That’s one rep.

Why they work: Skull-crushers are a partial-rep movement because they stop at your forehead, while lying tricep extensions work a fuller range of motion and engage your triceps more fully.

Seated Or Standing Overhead Dumbbell Extensions

Grab one dumbbell with both hands. Either stand up straight with your core engaged or sit on a backed bench with your feet planted on the ground. Fully extend your arms up overhead with your elbows turned in close to the sides of your head. (Your palms should be facing the ceiling.) Keeping your back straight, bend at the elbows to slowly lower the dumbbell back behind your head until you have at least 90-degree angles at your elbows. Squeeze your triceps to push the dumbbell back up and extend your arms to the starting position. When you reach the starting position, turn your elbows out and squeeze. That’s one rep.

Why they work: Perform this move standing and you’ll activate your core more, but perform it sitting down and you’ll have a greater range of motion (because you don’t have to worry about balance). This move really hits the long head of the triceps, which hooks into the shoulder. Since this head is the largest of the triceps, giving it some extra TLC can really boost your upper-arm aesthetics, says Fetters.

Close-Grip Bench Presses

Lie on your back on a flat bench press so your forehead is directly under the racked barbell. Grab the bar with a close grip (about shoulders-width apart), lift the bar from the rack, and hold it straight up overhead. Brace your core and plant your feet firmly on the ground. Keeping your elbows close to your sides, slowly lower the bar down until it just touches your middle chest. Pause for a second or two and squeeze your triceps to push the bar back up and extend your arms. That’s one rep.

Why they work: If you have bench press and barbell experience, the close-grip bench press is a great way to focus on and emphasize triceps engagement, explains Wickham. To really crush your triceps, focus on the eccentric (or lowering) phase of the movement. “Lower the bar for a count of five seconds and explode it upward,” he suggests. Just make sure you use a weight you can lift properly for at least six reps, so you don’t put too much strain on your elbows, Fetters adds.

The Best Way To Keep Your Fitness Results From Stalling

Ah, the dreaded plateau—when our once-effective workouts suddenly stop working and our results totally stall. But why do plateaus happen to good people? Usually it’s because you’re just not challenging your body enough. And while that probably means you’ve gotten better at your routine (cool!), it’s still incredibly frustrating.

“If you do the same thing over and over, your body adapts and isn’t stimulated to grow or get better,” says Nick Clayton, C.S.C.S., personal training program manager for the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). “You need to do a little more every time to create stress so your body has a better recovery response and you get stronger or fitter,” he explains. The experts call this whole ‘do a little more’ thing ‘progressive overload,’ and it’s this idea that will help you move past the plateau.

What Is Progressive Overload?

When you work out as hard as you possibly can, you force your muscles to adapt in multiple ways. For one, you push them to metabolic fatigue, which means you use up all of the glycogen (energy from carbs) stored in your muscles. This trains your muscles, making them able to store more carbs and grow, explains Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., host of the All About Fitness Podcast and adjunct professor of exercise science at San Diego State University. Two, you break down your muscle fibers, which signals your body to form new muscle cells to repair them. And, three, you challenge your muscles’ efficiency at using oxygen and carbs for energy, which tells them to adapt so you can go faster and harder in the future.

To give your body the constant push it needs to get stronger, you need to gradually increase the difficulty of your workouts and hit new personal maxes. If you’re doing cardio, that means either increasing your speed or your distance. If you’re strength training, that means increasing the weight you lift or the number of sets or reps you lift for.

Want to ramp up your workouts? Here’s how:

Apply Progressive Overload To Strength Training

When it comes to using progressive overload to build muscle, you have two options: increase your weight or the number of sets or reps you do. So if you’re doing three sets of 10 reps of a move, try to hit 11 or 12 reps with that same weight the next time you work out, says Clayton. The next time? Go for 13 or 14. Once you can hit 15 reps, it’s time to increase your weight and start back down at 10 reps a set.

You can use the same approach if you’re lifting for lower rep ranges to focus on strength. McCall recommends working your way up from four to eight reps. Once you can perform more than eight reps, up your weight.

Another way to switch up the stress you put on your muscles: Mix up your exercises and the types of weights you use. Every couple months, change up your go-to moves (like swapping squats for lunges) and equipment (like swapping barbells for dumbbells)to keep your body guessing, McCall says.

Related: How To Lift Heavy For Maximum Muscle Results

Keep a journal or a note in your phone to track your progress throughout the month. “Ask yourself: Within the past month, have I gotten better at what I want to do? If not, it’s time to make these tweaks,” Clayton says.

Apply Progressive Overload To Cardio

When it comes to cardio, you’ve got two ways to embrace progressive overload power: increase your volume (miles) or increase your intensity (the speed at which you run your miles). Overachievers be warned, though, you should only increase your distance or your speed—never both at once, according to Clayton. So don’t try to add half a mile to your five-mile run and try to shave 30 seconds off each mile. (More on the reasons why below).

If you want to attack volume, increase your distance by 10 percent—but not more—each week, Clayton recommends. So if you run 10 miles one week, you’d run 11 the next.

Once you’ve built up a solid base distance-wise, you can start to push your pace. The most effective way to do so? Sprints, says Clayton. Here’s how to adjust if you usually run, say, three miles three times a week. On one of your running days, run a shorter distance and break that distance up into sprints. So instead of running three miles, you’ll run two miles total, broken up into four quarter-mile sprints. If your normal running pace is a nine-minute mile, you’ll try to hold an eight-minute mile pace for each sprint and rest for a few minutes between each. And since progressive overload is the gift that keeps on giving, you can continue to up your sprint pace as you get better.

You can work on distance and speed in the same week, but make sure to slow your pace on the days you run slightly longer distances.

How To Do Progressive Overload Right

Ready to start going harder, better, faster, stronger? Progressive overload has the power to take your performance (and body) to the next level—but it’s all too easy to turn overload into overboard.

As pumped as you may be to step up your workouts, it’s important to stick to the experts’ guidelines for adding incremental challenges. “All too often people end up crushing their bodies so much they burn out, which can lead to injury and a lack of motivation,” says Clayton. If you constantly feel tired, achy, sore, or irritable, you might be overdoing it, he says. And though these signs start to pop up after a few days, it might take two weeks for them to really knock you on your butt.

To avoid burnout, keep these tips in mind as you progressively overload:

1. Give yourself time to recover.

Obviously your workouts are key, but it’s in the 24 to 48 hours after you work out that you actually become stronger, says Clayton. So stick to three or four high-intensity ‘overload’ workouts per week and either rest or do low-intensity exercise—like walking or jogging—in between, says McCall. And every two or three months, take a full week off to rest and recover. You’ll come back to your workouts with the restored glycogen and revitalized energy you need to crush your workouts, he says.

2. Be patient with your progress.

Progress isn’t always linear, so don’t hold your gains to too tight a timeline. “It’s not like you’ll get better every time you work out,” says Clayton. “There’s always variability based on your stress levels, recovery, diet, and other factors.” You might be able to hit 15 reps in one workout and barely make it to 10 the next. Focus on the long-term, and don’t beat yourself up for having a bad day or week. Clayton recommends looking at your progress in six to eight-week periods.

3. Eat enough.

Don’t drastically cut your calories while pushing your body to its limit during your workouts. While exactly how many calories you need depends on your current weight and fitness level, the experts agree you shouldn’t have more than a 500-calorie deficit per day. When you demand more of your body, your body needs more calories, Clayton explains. Which brings us to our next point…

4. Pack in the protein.

Whether you’re aiming to improve your cardio or build muscle, down about 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (about 70 grams of protein for a 130-pound person, says Clayton. Your muscles are built out of amino acids, the molecules in protein—so not eating enough of this nutrient will hold back your progress. Protein is your number-one priority, but carbs are important, too, since they’re your muscles’ primary source of energy. Eating a protein and carb-rich snack after your workouts—especially if you’re training for more than an hour five days a week—can also help ensure you’re well-fueled. Clayton recommends a snack that contains one gram of protein for every four grams of carbs, like chocolate milk.

Related: Shop ready-to-drink protein shakes to refuel after a good workout.

The Best Workout For You, According To Your Sign

No matter how much you love your spin instructor or you can’t get enough of that hot Pilates class, chances are you’ve fallen into a rut with your workout routine at one time or another. In an attempt to switch up your routine, you could sign up for ClassPass or try that weird aerial yoga your best friend is taking—or you could get a little playful with it and see what your astrological sign has to say about the matter.

Note: The zodiac is not a trainer, so take this all with a grain of salt.

Aries (Mar. 21–Apr. 19)

This fire sign is ruled by Mars, the planet of action and aggression. (After all, it’s named for the Roman god of war!) You’re likely naturally athletic and competitive. For that reason, you might do well to play a team sport—like an amateur hockey league or baseball team. Or try another competitive workout, which will allow you to compare your score to others’ or be able to declare yourself the winner. Think boxing or Flywheel indoor cycling classes, which utilize a scoreboard, and allow you to compare data on your speed and effort with other riders’ scores.

Taurus (Apr. 20-May 20)

As an earth sign ruled by Venus, the planet of love and beauty, you may be more about Netflix and chilling than working up an intense sweat. Low-impact workouts are a fit for your relaxed, steady, grounded nature, so consider long walks, particularly outside in your neighborhood or with a friend. And if you work out solo, make sure you have a playlist you love, which can help push you even further, as you’re likely quite the music lover.

Related: Shop protein to fuel up your next zodiac-inspired workout. 

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

You’re an air sign, ruled by Mercury, the planet of communication, so your mind is likely always buzzing! You’ll do well to try a workout that’s intense and involved enough to keep you engaged and focused, so consider a barre or circuit-training class. Whether you’re counting reps of a core exercise or moving from one strength exercise to a different cardio move, it’ll be tough for you to get bored!

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

Chances are you love being near the ocean, lakes, or even a stream, as you’re a water sign, ruled by the perpetually phase-shifting moon. You likely tune into and adapt your workout routine for your emotional state and enjoy any physically active pastime you can do with your partner, kids, or other relatives. Surfing is a natural fit for you, but if that’s not a possibility, given where you live, you might also enjoy something sensual and fluid, like belly dancing.

Leo (July 23–Aug. 22)

Because you’re a fire sign, ruled by the sun, you’re a go-getter who needs to feel confident and comfortable in order to stick with a fitness routine. If your coordination tends to be on-point, you may do well to try a dance cardio class. Otherwise, a HIIT class that utilizes an upbeat, loud playlist will likely win your big heart. After all, if anyone loves to turn a regular old workout into a full-on, raging party, it’s you.

Virgo (Aug. 23–Sept. 22)

Though Geminis are often the ones with the reputation for being mercurial, your sign is also ruled by Mercury, the planet of communication. You might have a tendency to overthink and analyze every situation, struggling to relax. For that reason, you could likely use a regular yoga regimen, particularly one that is part yin, or restorative. And being that you’re an earth sign, you’ll also find you feel more centered and peaceful when you do yoga—or really, any workout—outside.

Related: Shop aromatherapy to beautify your space.

Libra (Sept. 23–Oct. 22)

As an air sign ruled by the beauty-loving, social planet Venus, you’re happiest when working out with friends. So, for starters, if you don’t have a workout buddy, you’ll do well to snag one—or more! After you check that off your list,  hit up a Pilates or ballet class that taps into and extenuates your natural grace. The more you’re able to bond with your swolemate over your goals and progress, the more likely you’ll stick to any routine.

Scorpio (Oct. 23–Nov. 21)

As a water sign, any kind of workout you can do in a pool is sure to have you feeling confident and balanced. You also have a remarkable inner strength that allows you to push yourself quite hard, so you wouldn’t shy away from taking on a high-intensity routine. For that reason, you might also do well to try a seriously tough bootcamp class that leaves you drenched in sweat and feeling accomplished.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22–Dec. 21)

As a free-spirited fire sign ruled by Jupiter, the planet of expansion and adventure, you constantly need to feel as though you’re learning something new. You might enjoy working with a personal trainer who’s especially good at pushing you and keeping your plan fresh and interesting. Otherwise, consider strength training or CrossFit classes that require you to consistently push yourself to the next level. Another go-to activity for Sag is horseback riding, as you may feel a natural kinship to horses. (Your sign’s symbol is the archer, after all.)

Capricorn (Dec. 22–Jan. 19)

Symbolized by the mountain goat, you’re an earth sign ruled by taskmaster planet Saturn. In turn, you want to achieve your goals, but don’t mind doing so in a very calculated, down-to-earth way. You’ll love hiking, as that literally puts you right in your element, rock climbing, and any workout that requires slow and steady pushing to reach your highest potential. If you take spin classes, make sure to turn up that resistance and take advantage of all the hills!

Aquarius (Jan. 20–Feb. 18)

As an air sign ruled by the planet of change, Uranus, you’re innately rather science-minded and innovative. You’ll likely enjoy using technology, be it a FitBit or app on your phone, to hit your goals. Though you often stick to what you know, you might do well to try a workout that promotes a sense of community. Think joining a neighborhood kickball league or running in a local charity’s 5K. Being that you’re social and a humanitarian, activities like this fire on all cylinders for you.

Pisces (Feb. 19–Mar. 20)

Since you’re a water sign ruled by dreamy Neptune, you likely can’t help being imaginative and in tune with your emotions. The negative side of this is that all your empathy and sensitivity may make you particularly susceptible to feeling stressed and depleted. For that reason, any kind of mind-body workout (like Kundalini yoga or Tai Chi) will serve you best, allowing you to connect the dots between your mental, emotional, and physical wellness!

7 Ways To Burn More Fat

Thanks to years of fad diets, intense workout plans ‘guaranteed’ to deliver the best results, and social media scams, losing fat can seem like a complicated task.

We’re not going to sugar-coat it: Fat loss takes dedication. But that doesn’t mean it has to be confusing. In fact, finally freeing yourself from the yo-yo diet roller-coaster is all about getting back to the basics. Start with these seven expert and science-backed lifestyle changes you’ll shed the pounds for good. Just make sure you’re consistent about your effort.

1. Adjust Your Grub To Create A Caloric Deficit

If you want to lose fat, you need to have a solid foundation—and that means starting with food. “Nutrition should be the first barrier to attack,” says Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., owner of CORE in Boston.

To lose one pound of fat, you typically need a caloric deficit of 3,500 calories. (This can vary a bit, but 3,500 is a good ballpark number.) So to lose a pound of fat in a week, you’d need a caloric deficit of 500 calories each day. “I always ask people: How long would it take you to burn 500 calories with just exercise? If you go for a jog, do some interval training, or lift weights, you’re looking at up to 75 minutes to burn 500 calories,” Gentilcore says. But you can easily cut out that many calories by just not eating that bowl of cereal or ice cream right before you go to bed.

Some of Gentilcore’s biggest advice: Take the time to make your own lunches for work. You’ll know exactly what’s in your food and you can control your portion sizes, he says—which is not always possible at the office cafe!). Making lunch may not sound that effective, but research backs it up: According to one study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, people who ate more than five home-cooked meals per week were 28 percent less likely to be overweight and 24 percent less likely to have excess body fat than people who ate less than three home-cooked meals per week.

Related: 10 Protein-Packed Meals In Mason Jars

From there, simple strategies like limiting junk foods and taking a few minutes to think about whether you still feel hungry before going back for seconds can fire up your fat-loss efforts before you even think about adjusting your workouts or anything else.

2. Cut Back On Certain Carbs

Carbs aren’t all evil—but certain carbs aren’t good. And despite what many fad diets would tell you, you don’t need to completely cut carbs to lose weight, explains Marie Spano, R.D., a sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Hawks.

Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of fuel, and if you don’t eat enough of them your energy will tank and your workouts will suffer, she says. For this reason, healthy carbs—like whole-wheat bread, oats, quinoa, fruits, and vegetables—should make up 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories, according to The Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These healthy carbs tend to contain lots of filling fiber and likely fewer calories overall, explains Spano. That’s two points for fat loss right there!

It’s eating the wrong kind of carbs—like soda, white bread, and pastries—too often that can actually sabotage your fat loss. Your body converts all carbs into glucose (sugar), but these simple, fiber-less carbs are basically already sugars, so if you eat more of them than your body needs for energy in that point in time, they’re stored as fat, she explains. Plus, research suggests we tend to overdo it on calories more often when eating processed foods (like white bread or pasta) compared to whole foods (like quinoa or potatoes).

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

Your task: Stick to less-processed carbs that are as close to their natural state as possible and find healthier alternatives to your favorite carb-y treats. For example, if you’re craving something candy-sweet, fruit will often satisfy your taste buds while also providing vitamins and plant compounds that are important for good health, Spano says. If you’re really dying for ice cream though, just serve it in a small kids’ cup.

3. Load Up On Protein

When in doubt, go for protein. The macronutrient both helps you build muscle (more on that soon) and keeps you feeling satiated for longer, which is important when you’re in a caloric deficit, explains Gentilcore. Protein also has a greater thermic effect than carbs and fat, meaning it requires more calories to digest and process, he says.

Plus, if you don’t eat enough protein while cutting back the amount of food you’re eating overall, you might actually end up breaking down muscle tissue—which is important for your body’s daily function in and out of the gym—for energy, says Spano. And since muscle supports your metabolism and gives your body shape, this is quite the opposite of what you want. (Muscle is metabolically active, so the more you have, the more calories you burn even at rest, Gentilcore explains.)

Case in point: When researchers from McMaster University studied 40 men who cut calories and ramped up their exercise for a month, the guys who ate more protein not only saw greater muscle gains, but also lost more body fat compared to those who ate less protein.

Ideally, if you’re trying to keep your body in fat-burning mode, you should get about one gram of protein per pound of body weight throughout the day, says Gentilcore. Aim for at least 30 grams of protein or more per meal, Spano adds.

4. Start Lifting Weights

Once you get your nutrition in order, pairing it with the right workouts will maximize your fat loss.

One of the keys to successful fat loss is to keep (or build muscle)—and to do that while in a caloric deficit, you need to strength train, says Gentilcore. In case you’re not sold, one review published in Current Sports Medicine Reports found that just 10 weeks of resistance training can reduce body fat by up to four pounds and increase resting metabolic rate by up to seven percent.

If you’re a beginner, Gentilcore recommends starting with three days of full-body resistance training a week. Focus on performing compounds movements like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses (which engage multiple muscle groups and burn more calories) and perform three to four sets of five to eight reps each.

5. Supplement Your Routine With HIIT Or Circuit Training

While strength training is key, getting your dose of cardio is still important, says Gentilcore. That’s why he recommends finishing your workouts with circuit or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

The goal of high-intensity interval training is to exhaust all your energy by performing short bursts of work for a set amount of time—like sprinting as hard as you can for 30 seconds, walking to rest, and then repeating. In circuit training, on the other hand, you perform a set number of exercises as hard as you can, then rest and repeat.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

Both spike your heart rate, which forces you to use more oxygen and ultimately burn more calories, says Gentilcore. Think of HIIT and circuit training as supplements to your strength-training routine and perform 10 to 15 minutes of either after you lift. You can perform HIIT on an elliptical, a stationary bike, out on the track, or even in the pool.

If you’re new to HIIT, start with intervals of 15 to 30 seconds of work followed by 45 to 60 seconds of active recovery, says Gentilcore. As you get the hang of it, reduce your active recovery time by five to 10 seconds per week, until you’re working and resting for the same amount of time.

If you want to go the circuit-training route, just pick four to six moves and perform them back-to-back, resting as little as possible until you’ve completed all the moves. Then you’ll rest and repeat the circuit three to five times. Here’s an example from Gentilcore:

  • 5 goblet squats
  • 5 pushups
  • 5 TRX inverted rows
  • 5 bodyweight reverse lunges (per leg)
  • 60 seconds rest

Since these training styles require tons of energy, they’re sure to exhaust your system and end your workout on a strong note. (For that reason, don’t do HIIT or circuit training before your lifts!)

6. Get Moving Outside Of The Gym

When it comes to burning fat, the more you move, the better (within reason, of course). “We’re at a point in society where many people’s only form of movement or activity is in the gym,” says Gentilcore. And while it’s better than nothing, if you hit the gym three days a week for an hour and half, that’s only four and a half hours of dedicated movement a week.

When you get serious about hitting the gym, you might fall into the trap of what’s called ‘compensatory inactivity,’ when you end up moving less overall because you’re working out more often. You know, when you justify a full weekend of Netflix binging because you had a really solid Saturday morning workout. As tempting as compensatory inactivity might be, it can really hold you back from shedding fat.

So don’t miss out on all of the opportunities you have to be active throughout your day, says Gentilcore. After all, any additional movement is additional calories burned.

His suggestion? Get in 45 to 60 minutes of moderate-paced walking every day. Split it up throughout the day if you need to. Get out with your dog, your spouse, or take the time alone to unwind. And make small changes like parking farther away from the office or even just taking the long way to the bathroom to keep you moving.

7. Prioritize Sleep

Skimping on sleep messes with your energy and concentration—and it plays a big role in how your body deals with fat, too.

In one study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers followed 10 overweight, but healthy, people who were all following calorie-restricted diets. For two weeks, the participants slept an average of seven hours and 25 minutes per night. Then, for another two weeks, they clocked in at about just five hours and 14 minutes. During those two weeks of seven-hour sleeps, people lost an average of 3.1 pounds from fat, compared to just 1.3 pounds during the five-hour sleep weeks.

What’s more, when they slept less, the participants’ levels of ghrelin—a hormone that makes you feel hungry, promotes fat retention, and even reduces the amount of calories you burn—spiked. In fact, another study published in Nature, found that when people slept for five and a half hours or less, they downed an extra 385 calories the next day (mainly from foods packed with empty calories) compared to those slept for seven hours or more.

So, to keep your hunger hormones at bay—and help your body recover so you can bring you’re A-game in the gym, of course—prioritize seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

Related: Shop supplements to support a healthy night’s sleep.

The Best Ways To Get Back In The Zone After Slacking On Diet And Exercise

We’ve all had a few days—whether over a long weekend or on a vacation—where we’ve spent time doing a whole lot of nothing. Maybe our only workouts were walks to the kitchen or to get the mail—and our only meals came from the pizzeria around the corner.

And while there’s nothing wrong with taking a break from the world for a little while—in fact, we’d even argue it’s good for us—getting back into the swing of a healthy routine afterward can be daunting.

Should you go balls-to-the-wall, hit a crazy-hard workout, and stick to super-clean eats? Or ease into your routine slowly, maybe with some restorative yoga and healthy-ish grub?

You don’t need a detox or an all-green diet to feel better—but there is a way to strategize your day so you don’t slip into a slump. From the gym to the kitchen, here’s how the experts suggest you bounce back.

At The Gym

Getting back to the gym after a few days off is tough—especially if you were on a nice lazy vacation—because it’s basically like a smack in the face that you are, in fact, back to reality. But don’t delay! “All you really need to do is restart and convince yourself—and your body—to get back in the groove,” says personal trainer Michael Blauner. C.P.T. “There’s no right or wrong way or amount of time necessary to start feeling great again.

Walk it out. Hitting the gym or cranking out a HIIT workout probably sounds terrible right now—so don’t push yourself through anything torturous. Keep it simple and head out for a walk, suggests Blauner. “That gets all the cylinders firing and quickly reminds you of how great you feel from exercise,” he says. Just set a timer or use an app to track your pace and try to hit a mile in 15 minutes or less. And put a little extra pep in your step after that first mile, if you can.

Start with what you love. If you’re feeling up to a little more than a stroll, give your body extra incentive to get back into action with your favorite workout. If you love dance, sign up for a shake-your-thang session with your favorite instructor. If you prefer strength training, hit the weight room. Focus on fun, not on burning calories.

Don’t worry about time. Your workouts shouldn’t feel like punishment for treating yourself and you don’t need to exercise for hours on end to make up for days you’ve missed. “Go with your instincts regarding how long your workout should be,” says Blauner. If 20 minutes is all you’ve got in the tank, then 20 minutes is all you’ve got in the tank. Do what you can, and as the week progresses, gradually tack on more time until you’re back to business as usual.

Follow a structured workout. When you don’t have the energy or willpower to decide what workout to do, having someone else tell you what to do might be just what you need to get your sweat on instead of crashing back onto the couch. This post-vacation workout from Blauner hits most of your major muscle groups and will jump-start your metabolism.

Need instructions for the moves? We’ve got you covered:

Move #1: Jump Squats
Start standing with feet hips-width distance apart. Lower into a squat. From the squat position, swing your arms back for momentum and push through your feet to explosively jump up into the air. Land softly and immediately lower into another squat for your second rep.

Move #2: Pushups
Start in a plank position with your hands planted on the ground beneath your shoulders and your body forming a straight line from head to toe. Keeping your core tight and body straight, bend at the elbows to lower your chest toward the ground. Then slowly push through your hands to push back up to the starting position.

Move #3: Seated Rows
Hold a moderately heavy dumbbell in each hand. Sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor and your abs engaged. Lift your arms to hold the dumbbells out straight in front of you with palms facing in. Squeezing your shoulder blades as if holding a tennis ball between them, row the dumbbells back until your elbows are behind you. Then extend your arms back to their original straight position.

Move #4: Bicep Curls
Stand with feet hips-width distance apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms down by your sides and palms facing up. Keeping them close to your sides, bend at the elbows to curl the dumbbells up toward your biceps. Slowly lower down to return to start.

Move #5: Low Plank
Adjust the regular plank position by lowering down so that your elbows are planted on the ground beneath your shoulders, and your hands are flat on the floor in front of you. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your toes. Engage your core and shift your weight forward slightly. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.

Move #6: Mountain-Climbers
Start in a plank position. Engage your abs and quickly drive your left knee in towards your chest. Return your right leg to the starting position as you quickly drive your right knee in toward your chest. Continue quickly alternating for 15 reps on each side.

Move #7: Sit-Ups
Start lying on your back, with your feet flat on the floor and your arms crossed over your chest. (Locking your hands behind your head can strain your neck.) Engage your abs and drive your chest forward to sit all the way up. With control, lower back to the starting position.

In The Kitchen

As much as we enjoy our favorite treats, eating them for days straight can leave us feeling bloated, puffy, and tired afterward. And, when we eat way outside our norm for more than a few days (like we would on a long trip), then it’s common to come home with a not-so-happy digestive system, says clinical nutrition coach Ariane Hundt, M.S.

Related: 5 Foods That Could Be Messing With Your Gut

If you just want to feel like your best self again stat, that’s reasonable—but you’ll need to be patient. “One full day of indulgences—like lots of starches, sugar, and alcohol—may take two to three days to undo, so be patient and focus on re-balancing your diet.” Here’s your plan of action:

Increase your water intake. Your body tends to hold onto water after indulgent meals, so drinking a lot of water can help re-balance the electrolytes in your system (like sodium) and nix the bloat, says Hundt. Keep an eye on your urine and make sure it’s always pretty close to clear, she says.

Load up on fibrous veggies. In addition to avoiding sugar, noshing on fiber-filled veggies can help free you from sugar spikes and get your blood sugar back into balance, says Hundt. Fiber helps keep your digestive system moving and can help you get that leftover junk out of your system, she explains. Broccoli, asparagus, cucumbers, and mixed greens are especially good choices.

Related: Shop a selection of foods and drinks to support healthy eating.

Eat protein regularly. “Protein is the most satiating nutrient and the most helpful in preventing an appetite surge,” says Hundt. Try to eat lean proteins, such as chicken, lean grass-fed beef, and pasteurized eggs consistently throughout the day. Eat a serving of protein about every four hours to keep your energy and appetite balance, Hundt recommends.

Step away from the sugar. Sugar can create blood sugar imbalances that translate to major energy highs and lows, says Hundt. Post-sugar energy crashes can just make you—you guessed it—reach for more sugar, which is the last thing you need when trying to get back into your routine. Limit the sugar (and refined carbs) you eat and drink and reach for protein, instead. “Grab a few turkey slices, eat an extra side of chicken breast with lunch, or drink a protein shake,” she suggests.

Hundt designed the following one-day meal plan with these tips in mind, to help you feel like your usual self as soon as possible.