How I Finally Forced Out The Negative Thoughts And Got Happy & Healthy

I used to be best friends with the negative voice inside my head—a voice so normal to me that I never questioned it.

It would say things like:

Are you really wearing that outfit?
You’re. Not. Good. Enough.
Please. He’ll never talk to you.
I bet you can’t do that.
Of course she ran a marathon. You won’t.

Harping on what made me feel sad or discouraged became a vicious cycle. I was hyper-aware of what I was not and what I did not have. I could articulate these things, but I didn’t do much to change my life beyond that.

poet in vacation mode. 🌷

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The spiral of negativity never let me do anything. It held me back. It helped me not apply for jobs I was more than qualified for. It helped me linger in an abusive relationship. It helped me not take care of myself. You see where I’m going here?

Related: Shop vits and supps for mood support. 

Basically, this attitude saturated my life. Everything was washed in a grey stain. My friends had negative sides—and we’d link up and look at everything with a dark tinge. Instead of being happy for other people, I just focused on my own loss or lack of achievements. I was often jealous of others. Essentially, I was on the fast track to nowhere.

Then one day, I started to daydream. I imagined myself happier, more successful, at peace. I found myself wondering: If I spent less time feeling bitter, then could I do other things? Like, say, get a book published? Take up running? Approach a potential new friend after a Pilates class? Feel more confident?

They all seemed like lofty ideas. Yeah right, Stephanie, that’ll never happen. Just stay here, where it’s comfortable.

Then, I snapped. I finally realized I wasn’t accomplishing much (or anything) with this kind of thinking. In fact, most experiences and interactions seemed smudged with negativity and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like looking at the world, my life, or other people that way.

This is not to say that I didn’t have happy or feel-good moments. I did, but they weren’t plentiful–because I was hell-bent on manifesting a life full of no’s.

Related: Mindfulness Tips From A Former Stress Junkie

I needed a change stat. I took stock of the things that I was experiencing: poor body image, inconsistent sleep, low energy, irritability. Honestly, who wants to feel like that all the time?

I wanted to see the light in situations and my life as a whole.

It started by making a pledge to myself to stop seeing myself as weak. If I wanted feel better, I had to be better. And letting go of negativity helped me start a life journey full of health and wellness.

High heels off, I'm feeling alive 🦄

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Not all of this change happened over night. It took a few years. And I sometimes still struggle with it. But, looking back, I’ve accomplished so much more: I went from being inactive to being a HIIT workout warrior, a runner who completed my first timed 5k (!), a meditation enthusiast, and positive force in my own life and in the lives of my nearest and dearest friends and loved ones.

How did I get here? Here’s my tool-kit for wellness, fitness, and contentment. You can modify my ideas to fit your needs and take from this list what you want and need. You’re worth it and so am I.

1. Recognize your feelings and then let them go.

Being human is awesome because that means we have a myriad of experiences, emotions, and deep connections. Yeah, it can also be tough, bleak, and crushing. You are allowed to feel angry, jealous, jaded, mad, and upset. These are all valid feelings. Talk about it with a friend, a coach, a trusted mentor, or journal them out.

Then, release them. You said your piece. Now move on. Whatever your situation may be, there might be one, two, or three things you can do to change it or cope with it better. Start moving.

2. Let go again and again.

Yeah, you’re going to still feel negativity. You are human, after all!  Practice the art of letting go again and again. How can you cope? Distract yourself. Call a friend. Go for a run. Try a workout video in the comfort and privacy of your own home (I’m partial to Yoga with Adriene–she’s super zen and fun!). Meditate. Journal. Watch a movie. Develop a self-care plan. There’s so much more that you can do.

3. Get physical.

In my case, my negativity fueled my desire to avoid taking risks. Working out was too risky because I was convinced I would for sure, 100 percent, fail at it. And I did fail for a long, long time. This is because I already not-so-secretly decided that I wasn’t a “fitness person” (whatever that means). So essentially, I made a prophecy and I fulfilled it tenfold because I consciously and subconsciously told myself that I just could not do it.

Well, change it up! I dove deep into HIIT, Crossfit, and running. I didn’t do them all at the same time, but I did explore each of them at my own pace. And my life certainly changed for the better with these mega awesome fitness journeys. I convinced myself that I could never be a runner. Now, in 2017, I ran my first timed 5k.

Related: How HIIT Classes Rebuilt My Self-Confidence

I was so happy when I crossed the finish line that I burst into streams of tears. I accomplished a three-mile run in just 32 minutes. The joy I felt after finishing my first run was priceless. And now, I want to recreate that joy again and again. I try to do so by accessing a support network of other people who care about these things and will maybe take a fitness class or go for a run with me.

4. Be present.

My go-to trick? Meditation. It helps relax me and feel at peace. And, it’s a great way to zone out when my brain is constantly barking about something negative or self-deprecating. I like to re-center myself and keep my mind healthy (because our minds and feelings are some of the most precious things in this world).

There are dozens of amazing meditation apps like Calm, Breathe, and Happify. I suggest starting with a low-key and relaxing bedtime routine and test the waters with a two-minute meditation before bed. Start easy, go at your own pace, and go from there.

Related: It’s Time To Stop Being So Scared of Meditation

5. Begin each day with a quick gratitude session

I write down three things I’m happy or grateful for. (For starters, I have an amazing little pup named Pepperoni Pizza, so it’s hard not to start my day with a sweet smile or laugh.) Beyond that, I smile at strangers. I approach people I want to know. I make sure to laugh a lot and often.

It took a huge battle to shake off negative feelings of feeling weak and lazy. Once I was over the hump, the world opened up for me: I left an abusive partner, I published a second book, I succeeded at a new job at a tech company. I slept better.

It felt like magic, or that the universe was conspiring in my favor. In fact, it was just me.

I Became A Fitness Instructor At 44

I’m in the front of the studio, surrounded by full-length mirrors, racks of weights, and stacks of steps. Loud dance music plays through my iPad, a microphone is strapped to my head, and there are 15 people waiting for me to tell them what to do.

“Please grab a step, a few medium and light weights, and a mat,” I say into the mic.

A year ago, standing in front of this crowd, saying these words, would have been my worst nightmare. But now, it’s just an ordinary Sunday morning and I’m about to teach my weekly HIIT (high intensity interval training) class.

Related: How Bodybuilding Transformed My Life At Age 42

Sure, I’d attended fitness classes for nearly 25 years, but I never, ever, thought I would teach one. That was for someone else, someone peppy—a dancer or a gymnast who could touch their first toes easily and with grace. I was not that person. I was shy and tall and inflexible. I could barely speak up in a client meeting, and I avoided all forms of public speaking in grad school. Blasting instructions to a room of people staring back at me? No, thanks.

So how’d I become an instructor? I knew that I loved the energy of group fitness. And my gym had such a strong sense of community that I felt like I wanted more. My instructors were friendly and approachable, and after a few months of going to Bootcamp and HIIT, I decided that I wanted to lead a class, and not just participate in one. Really, I wanted to be the one to inspire people to move faster, lift harder, and do one more rep. I wanted to share the joy I felt after a good workout, when I’m sweaty and accomplished and happy.

I had so much holding me back, though: In addition to utterly despising speaking in public, I was in my early 40s with a full-time job and a young daughter.  There was a lot on my plate—but I chose to take a leap of faith and dive in, head first.

I made a last-minute decision to register for my fitness instructor certification, and walked into class after studying for just three days (others had prepared for months). I took copious notes, paid close attention to choreography tips, and walked out with a 93 percent passing grade.

So, at that point I was certified—but was I actually qualified? There’s definitely a difference.

I wanted to be the one to inspire people to move faster, lift harder, and do one more rep. I wanted to share the joy I felt after a good workout, when I’m sweaty and accomplished and happy.

I continued to attend classes and I got to know a couple of the other instructors more personally. When I told one of them I had passed my certification, she encouraged me to interview at the gym. It took me 18 months to build up to it, but I did.

Related: I Biked Under Water For 30 Days—And Here’s What Happened

When I showed up to interview (more like audition), panic set in:I can’t do this. I’m too old to teach. I’m too quiet to teach. I’m not flexible enough to teach.

Seven minutes into my audition, they cut me short and told me they’d be in touch. My panic turned to heartbreak.

I was too old, too quiet, too everything. However, six months later I got an email from the place I interviewed: “We have a HIIT/CORE opening on Sunday mornings, would you like to teach it?”

Cue the panic, yet again.

What had I just done? The worries flooded through me: I’m too busy to teach, too scared to teach, too inexperienced to teach.

I needed to quell these worries so I began co-teaching with another instructor as practice. I was a total wreck. I let her do the talking, while I quietly worked out next to her. She said I did fine, that I’d be fine.

I wasn’t convinced.

Regardless, I was going to be teaching the class and I needed a class plan. I wrote one up and went down to my basement each evening to rehearse. I played music on my iPad and had a timer on my phone. I practiced the movements again and again until I felt I could get it right in front of the class.

Teaching classes has changed me. I’m more confident at work. I approach my boss with concerns or issues. I request more client meetings. And I put myself out there for other opportunities, both at work and in life.

The Saturday night before my first class I fell asleep going over the routine in my mind. That Sunday morning, I went to the basement to rehearse one more time. I had my plan and my devices were charged. I paced around my house, nervous and unsettled, until it was time to leave for the gym. I arrived well before class started and snuck into the studio the moment the preceding Zumba class was over.

With the music on and the microphone working, I set up my mat and weights. Then it began; the door opened and the class members trickled in. One woman approached me and told me it was her first time doing HIIT. I laughed nervously and said, “That’s okay. It’s my first time teaching HIIT!”

She still took my class, and I still taught it. I didn’t fall and I didn’t fail. And every single person left sweaty and happy.

Teaching classes has changed me. I’m more confident at work. I ask what needs to be asked. I approach my boss with concerns or issues. I request more client meetings. And I put myself out there for other opportunities, both at work and in life. I even volunteer more often at my daughter’s school and within the community.

Because I’m not too old, or too quiet, or too boring.

I still get nervous on Sunday mornings and I still plan the class days in advance. I worry that the music or microphone won’t work. But the moment the class starts I find that I just become… myself.

Related: Shop protein powders, bars, and supplements to fuel your next workout. 

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

Standing up straight seems easy enough, but thanks to the excessive amount of sitting we do, many of us struggle to maintain posture that would make Grandma proud.

Spending too much time on our butts, hunching over our phones, and even using crummy form in the gym can really wreck our posture, according to Stuart McGill, Ph.D., professor emeritus of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo and author of Back Mechanic.

And that has a greater impact than just making us look shorter and schlumpy. Bad posture can lead to stress and pain in your back and hips that can affect your ability to move and exercise, McGill says.

The tricky thing is, not all crummy posture is created equal. Your personal breed of poor posture (whether it’s sloping shoulders or shifting hips) stems from your daily routine and lifestyle—and if you’re not in pain, you might not even realize how out-of-whack your back is.

Below are the four most common posture-wrecking issues, and what you’ll need to do to correct them:

Issue #1: Your Hips Are Stuck Back

If it takes you a while (like 30 seconds) to fully stand up after sitting for a few hours and you notice that you cannot pull your hips forward and stand upright, chances are you have tight hip flexors (a.k.a. psoas muscles), which connect your lower spine to the front of your thigh bones. This is a common issue for people who sit for long periods of time—like those of us who work sedentary jobs, McGill says.

Not only do tight hip flexors make walking uncomfortable and stiff, but they prevent our hips from moving forward, which then pulls our lower back out of its natural hollow curve, he says. And being in this unnatural position puts a lot of extra pressure on our lower spine.

The Fix: Perform Forward Lunges with Hand Internal/External Rotations

To help your lower spine relax back into its natural curve, you need to stretch.

Start in a standing position with your arms at your sides. Step your right leg forward and bend at the knee to lower into a lunge. Your legs should be bent at the knees. Reach your left hand up overhead, drop your left shoulder slightly back, and push your palm towards the ceiling. As you push your left palm up, you’ll feel the stretch in your left hip flexor. (Your muscles’ protective tissues connect all the way from your arm, down your torso, to your hip flexors.) In this position, rotate your left hand back and forth a few times.

Do two or three reps on each side, holding each rep for about 10 seconds.

Issue #2: You’re Slouched Too Far Forward

If you stand with your shoulders slouched forward, your stomach relaxed out to the front, and your butt tucked under, we’re talking about you here. In this classic image of poor posture, we exaggerate the natural curves in our backs (a hollow curve at the neck, and outward curve at the upper back, and a hollow curve at the lower back), says McGill.

Related: Do You Really Need To Stretch After A Workout?

Normally, the muscles in our torso support our spine and help us maintain the slight curves our back has in proper posture, says McGill. But when we don’t have enough muscle, the discs (the pliable shock-absorbers between the vertebrae of our spine ) and elastic tissues (like ligaments and fascia)—especially in our lower back—bear the pressure of our body weight, says McGill. And that’s a recipe for pain and impaired mobility over time.

The Fix: Re-Train Your Hips

To take that pressure off your lower back, you need to move your spine back into a more neutral position. To do this, imagine straight lines extending down from your ears, through your shoulders, through your hips, and into the middle of your feet, McGill says. This will help you shift your hips beneath the center of your weight and pull your shoulders back. Simply being aware of your body position and reminding yourself to stack your spine back in that neutral position can help you re-learn proper posture, he says.

photo: Dr. Stuart McGill

You should also consider this posture issue an invitation to work on your core strength. That might mean hitting the weights regularly or using your own body weight to build strength. One bodyweight option is Pilates, which can increase core stability, according to a study published in Isokinetics and Exercise Science. (Participants saw improvements after eight weeks of three weekly Pilates sessions.) 

Issue #3: Lifting Weights Improperly Has Landed You With A Disc Bulge

When you excessively flex or extend your back while under stress (like when lifting weights with poor form), the repeated pressure over time can make the discs between your vertebrae bulge or full-on rupture.

Sitting puts pressure on a disc bulge, while walking reduces it, so if you have back pain after just a few minutes of sitting but can walk around okay, this may be your issue.

For some people, disc bulges occur from squatting or deadlifting beyond their natural range of motion. It all depends on your hips. Some people have deep hip sockets, so at some point when they squat deep or reach to deadlift a barbell up off the floor, their thigh bones hit the front of those sockets. This point should be the end of their range of motion, but most people allow their lower back to flatten so they can continue lowering. Putting your spine in this unnatural position while bearing extra weight puts immense pressure on your discs, and can lead to a bulge or rupture. (This is less of an issue for people with shallow hip sockets, whose hips have a greater range of motion, and who can squat deeper or deadlift from the floor without having to flatten their back.)

The Fix: Correct Your Form and Support Your Back

A certified strength and conditioning coach or physical therapist can help you identify your safe range of motion for the aforementioned exercises.

Follow the video above to determine the best squat depth for your hips and avoid deep “ass-to-grass” squats if you have deep hip sockets. Similarly, those with deep hip sockets should deadlift a barbell off of raised blocks instead of off the floor. Widening your stance for squats and deadlifts can also increase your hip mobility and help you get lower without straining your back.

You also don’t need to drop it super-low to benefit from squatting. Hit the rack and make sure your form looks like the following to guarantee you’re squatting safely:

Step underneath a racked barbell and allow it to rest on top of your upper back muscles. Grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Inhale and un-rack the bar by stepping both feet backwards. Keeping your core tight, sink your hips back and bend at the knees to lower the bar until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Then, exhale as you press through your heels to drive your hips up vertically and push the bar back towards the ceiling until you’re standing straight up.

Related: 3 Ways To Improve Your Squat

photo: Dr. Stuart McGill

If you suspect you already have a disc bulge, it’s time to see a doc. You can also use a LumbAir back pad whenever you sit for an extended period to restore the natural curve of your back and reduce the pressure on the disc, McGill says. Slowly, over time, the disc bulge should heal.

Issue #4: You Have Weak Glutes

Strong glute muscles help keep your hips centered beneath your weight. Weak glutes, though, whether from too much sitting or not enough strength training, can allow your hips to shift too far back and cause hip or lower-back pain, says McGill.

The Fix: Hip Thrust

With the right technique, the hip thrust can target and strengthen your gluteal muscles to help get your hips back in proper placement.

How to do it: Lie on your back, bend your knees, and put your feet flat on the floor. Grip the floor with your feet, squeeze your glutes, and drive them towards the ceiling, bringing your pelvis off the floor. Push your pelvis up until your torso forms a straight line from your shoulders to your tailbone. “Focus on squeezing your glutes and imagine pushing your feet and knees away from your body,” says McGill. This will ensure that you’re using your glutes and not your hamstrings.

Perform three sets of three to five reps at the beginning of your workouts or once a day.

Related: Grab training equipment and accessories, from resistance bands to yoga straps.

How HIIT Classes Rebuilt My Self-Confidence

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with fitness. As a teenager, I pretty much went out of my way to do anything but exercise.

Throughout college and grad school, I continued the tumultuous relationship with working out. I fasted, I yo-yo dieted, I ran for two miles every day for a week—only to drop off for months at a time. I consistently felt like a failure, and I was discouraged. I didn’t like the person I saw in the mirror. And, I didn’t like the person inside—sluggish, racked with low-self-esteem, and disappointment.

Related: I Biked Under Water For 30 Days—And Here’s What Happened

I failed every workout and healthy eating routine every single time. Why? Because I had subconsciously decided that I couldn’t do it. That I wasn’t good enough. I wouldn’t be able to finish the workout. I self-sabotaged and succeeded in failure each and every time. I was caught in a cycle of never being strong enough, pretty enough, good enough, smart enough.

Then, I hit a wall. I was tired of feeling tired. I was tired of telling myself that I just didn’t have the knack for this kind of lifestyle or a new sport. It was time to reset my life’s settings for my physical health and mental well-being.

I didn’t need to remind myself of the major advantages to working out: cardio health, better sleep, less stress, better cognitive function, and stronger memory. I knew these were all things I should want from working out—on top of a better physique.

I failed every workout or healthy eating routine every single time. Why? Because I had subconsciously decided that I couldn’t do it.

But I needed a workout that was exciting, a little challenging, and something new. So when an exercise buddy told me about HIIT—high intensity interval training—I was intrigued. HIIT is a series of cardio and strength moves which alternate between high-intensity and low-intensity. For example, you might have 30 seconds of burpees (killer!) and then 60 seconds of kettle bells.

High intensity interval training. It’s short phrase that packs a big, daunting punch. Could I do it? Did I want to? Yes, I could and I did! I gulped and pulled the trigger with my debit card: I signed up for a ten pack of HIIT classes.

I didn’t know it then, but my self-confidence would be the biggest gift I’d give myself.

My First Class

The HIIT studio (I went to Athleta’s studio in NYC) was minimal and clean: all you need is a yoga mat, some small weights (I chose 5 lbs), and water—um, lots of water. You will get super thirsty as you zip and zag from one rep to the next. Take advantage of the floor-to-ceiling mirrors in your local spots: You’ll want to focus on your form with each movement. Usually, I avoid watching myself in the mirrors (low self-esteem, yay!) but this time I just focused on what my body was doing and it was doing a whole lot.

My first HIIT class was on a Saturday morning (yep, I signed up for a 9 a.m. torture sesh), and I was prepared to hate it. But I knew the drill: running around, panting, red skin, a chest burning with fire. I’ll be honest: the first class (even the first three!) weren’t the easiest. I didn’t fly through all of the moves with ease and grace. I had to take my time and study my form in the mirror. I definitely did not cycle through 25 burpees in under a minute.

Related: Shop protein bars to fuel your next workout session.

And then, something unexpected happened right in the middle. I fell in love with my HIIT class. I loved the high energy, the racing music, and the constantly-shifting exercises. I wasn’t bored by repetitive movement (because there’s none of that!) and I was using all the different parts of my body.

Time whizzed by. I did have some low points in the class: feeling winded because of asthma and not being able to do all of the moves. It was actually a life-changing experience. I tried to take on as much as my body could handle without feeling light-headed or completely out of breath.

Instead, I felt strong as I moved through crunches, squats, stretches, starfish jumps, and kettle bell lifts. I felt a sense of pride when my instructor said my squat form was “ah-mazing.” That was me, I did it. And just me alone. Oh, and did I mention that workouts like this HIIT class can burn up to 700 calories? It’s no joke.

I fell in love with my HIIT class. I loved the high energy, the racing music, and the constantly-shifting exercises.

I left the class a smiling, sweaty mess. I did it—I beat my own odds and I felt completely fabulous. I was so convinced that I’d drop out of the class early or stop frequently to take breaks and I didn’t do any of that. I stayed true to the workout course and saw it through. Then, my body showed me what it’s really capable of.

I can do all of that and more. I’m a workout warrior now.

Beyond My First Class

I’ve been working out with HIIT for over 60 days now (!). I certainly feel a little trimmer and my overall stress is reduced. Oh, and I fall asleep in a mere minute at night. But my self-confidence regarding my own body and my self of personal strength and power is what really motivates me —and what changed my life. I now look at my body with a sense of pride. I don’t look dramatically different, but I’m stronger and faster. I love myself and what I can do.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

Instead of looking at my life and my body as a series of cant’s, I look at myself as a vessel for opportunity. I can be a badass. I can change my life with just a simple workout. I’m ready to keep on my HIIT journey like a real champion.

Who knows—maybe I’ll break into weight-lifting, too! I’ll see you at the next gym class, fellow warriors. I did it, and you can too.

Your Glutes Are Begging You To Do This Workout

Solid glutes make your waist seem smaller and your booty look amazing in anything form-fitting, says Melody Scharff, C.P.T. trainer at Fhitting Room in New York City. But beyond that, they improve speed, agility, and power, and help protect the back from injury. Not to mention, since lean muscle tissue requires more calories to maintain, a strong booty means a faster metabolism and more calories burned every single day.

The key to glorious glutes? Hit all of its major muscles—the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus—which work together to abduct, rotate and extend your hips, and generate power, says Dennys Lozada, C.S.C.S., fellow Fhitting Room coach. And while there are plenty of exercises that will leave your glutes sore, like walking lunges and step-ups, no single exercise optimally activates and builds all three of those glute muscles, he says. To fully activate every bit of your booty, you need a workout that involves a variety of exercises.

This four-move booty circuit hits your glutes from all directions so you can grow the perfect peach, says Scharff. Run through the circuit three to five times at least once a week, in addition to your usual strength-training routine, which should focus on big, heavy movements like squats and deadlifts, recommends Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault. The combination of these two types of training will help you pack on glute size and tone your entire lower body and core, he says.

Move #1: Banded Quadruped Hip Extension or Banded “Donkey Kicks”

 Targets: gluteus maximus and quadriceps (primary) and hamstrings (secondary)

How to do the move:

  1. Begin on all fours with your hands and knees planted.
  2. Loop a resistance band around one foot and hold the handles beneath your hands.
  3. Tighten your core and contract your abs to stabilize your spine.
  4. Keeping a 90-degree angle at the knee and foot flexed, push the banded foot backward and up until the bottom of your foot is facing the ceiling and your hip, thigh, and knee are parallel to the floor. (Focus on contracting the glute and keeping the knee joint still as you push backwards.)
  5. Slowly lower back to the start position.
  6. Perform 15 reps with one leg before switching sides.

Why it works: This movement really isolates the glute muscles, which makes it effective for muscle activation, strength, and growth, says Scharff. Newbies can perform the move without a resistance band and add one once the reps feel easy. More experienced booty-builders can increase the thickness of the resistance band used for an additional challenge.

Move #2: Hip Thrusts

 Targets: glutes and abdominals

 How to do the move:

  1. Begin with a flat bench and a barbell handy. (Put a pad on the bar to make the move more comfortable.)
  2. Sit with your back (just below your shoulder blades) against the long side of the bench, with your feet planted directly under your knees, your neck neutral, and the padded barbell in your lap.
  3. Position the bar directly on your upper thighs, just below your crotch, and grip it with palms facing down.
  4. Drive through your feet to extend your hips vertically and push the bar up until your knees form 90-degree angles and your thighs are parallel to the floor. Focus on moving the weight with your glutes—not your lower back or hamstrings.
  5. Contract your glutes hard and push your hips as high as possible while maintaining a neutral spine.
  6. Reverse the motion to return to the starting position. Maintain tension in your glutes as you lower the weight.
  7. Repeat for 20 reps total.

Why it works: Hip thrusters support everything from glute size, strength, and appearance, to sprint speed, squat and deadlift performance, and general body power, explains Wickham. Start out with bodyweight hip thrusts, and from there add resistance by looping a resistance band just above your knees, or adding a barbell to the mix, he suggests.

Related: Power your workout with a performance supplement.

Move #3: Bulgarian Split Squats

 Targets: quads, glutes, and hamstrings

 How to do the move:

  1. Find a box, bench, or piece of furniture that is 20 to 36 inches high and put it behind you.
  2. Stand with your feet hips-width apart and reach one foot back so the ball of your foot rests on the platform and your knee is bent.
  3. Bend your front knee and lower your hips toward the floor (like in a lunge) so that your rear knee moves down towards to the floor. Keep your torso as upright as possible as you lower down, and make sure your front knee doesn’t extend past your toes. (If it does, hop your front foot forward.)
  4. Pause when your front quad is parallel with the floor.
  5. Then, drive through your front heel to push back up to the starting position.
  6. Perform 10 reps on each side.

Why it works: Bulgarian split squats are a surefire way to fire up your glutes and increase lower-body strength, along with balance and stability, says Scharff. Perform this move with just your bodyweight at first, and hold dumbbells in your hands when you’re ready for an extra challenge.

Move #4: Jump Squat

 Targets: glutes, hamstrings and quads (primary), and calves, core, and lower back (secondary)

How to do the move:

  1. Stand tall with your feet hips-width apart. Keep your weight in your heels and find a comfortable position for your hands, either clasped behind your head, on your hips, or dangling at your sides.
  2. To begin the movement, bend at the knees and lower your hips to squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  3. Pause in the squat position for two to five seconds.
  4. Then, without using your arms, explode through your legs to jump up as high as possible.
  5. Land softly by slightly pushing your hips back and bending your knees.
  6. Readjust your feet so they’re hips-width distance apart.
  7. Perform as many as you can before your form starts to break.

Why it works: A jump squat is a basic movement, but it’s essential for building glute, calf, quadricep, and hamstring strength, improving muscle stabilization, and developing the back squat movement, says Wickham. Not to mention, they’re a great cardiovascular burner, adds Scharff.

Related: 3 Ways To Improve Your Squat

Free Weights vs. Weight Machines: Which Are Better For You?

The benefits of strength training are seemingly endless. For starters, since lean muscle is more calorie-hungry than fat, building a little extra brawn can ramp up your metabolic rate. And strength training has also been shown to have other less outwardly-noticeable effects, like reducing resting blood pressure, enhancing heart health, tanking bad cholesterol and upping the good kind, and even promoting bone density, according to research published in Current Sports Medicine Reports.

At many gyms you have two options for getting that strength training in: free weights (barbells and dumbbells) and weight machines (all those contraptions you typically sit down on). Both weight machines and free weights have perks and downsides—but weight machines seem to get a lot of hate from the fitness community.

Is one approach to muscle building really better than the other? We asked the experts for the lowdown.

Weight Machines

Weight machines force you into a fixed track of motion, explains Sean De Wispleaere, master trainer at MBSC Thrive and owner of Sean D. Thrive. (Picture someone sitting in a shoulder press machine, pushing the handles, which move only up and down.)

This makes using weight machines beneficial if you’re a beginner, De Wispleaere says. “Staying in a fixed track of movement can help you learn how to pattern some complex exercises, like the squat and deadlift,” he says. You’d perform both of those moves on a Smith machine, which has a barbell fixed to steel rails.

Additionally, they can help you truly isolate certain muscles, meaning you work only one or two muscles at a time. This is helpful for bodybuilders looking to hone in on specific muscle groups as much as possible in a given workout, along with anyone recovering from an injury that needs to avoid working certain parts of their body, according to De Wispelaere.

The issue is, if you don’t fit a machine just right, you could be forcing your body to move in an unnatural way, says De Wispleaere. And that’s a recipe for injury down the road.

Related: Your performance is only as strong as your preworkout.

Plus, if torching max calories is your goal, using weight machines won’t give you the biggest burn for your buck. “Since you’re not often engaging multiple muscle groups at once, the effect on your metabolism is smaller than it would be with free weights,” explains De Wispelaere. After all, performing seated bicep curls demands a lot less of your body than performing curl-ups or a compound free-weight movement like a curl-to-press.

Free Weights

On the flipside, free weights allow you more flexibility and freedom in how you perform an exercise, according to De Wispleaere. Since the weights aren’t on a track or cable system, you need to use more muscles than just the ones you’re specifically targeting in order to keep the weight stable. “This causes you to work harder overall and build more well-rounded strength,” he says. (Picture someone pressing two dumbbells up overhead. The dumbbells wobble side to side and front to back, engaging the small muscles all around the shoulder joint. Plus, you’ll engage your core to maintain your posture and balance.)

And because you’re recruiting additional muscles when using free weights, you’re giving yourself a metabolic edge. While the individual effects might be small, the cumulative effects of hitting more muscles with each move and each workout mean you burn through more calories, while further enhancing your strength, control, and stability.

Related: Should You Lift Full-Body Or Bodybuilder-Style?

While free weights allow you to move in a way that’s more natural for your body, that freedom also means there’s plenty of room for you to perform an exercise incorrectly, which puts you at risk for aches, pains, and injury, Di Wispleaere says. So when lifting free weights, using proper form an appropriate weight need to be top of mind.

The Verdict

Weight machines do come in handy in some cases—especially for beginners who need to build a foundation of strength, or anyone who needs to lay off an injury—and they can certainly be a part of a body-building style strength-training session. But ultimately, De Wispleaere prefers and recommends free weights.

As long as you use lift safely, using free weights will build well-rounded strength and a fit physique more efficiently.

Pin this infographic to keep the pros and cons of each strength-training style top-of-mind:

Get Jacked With Arnold Winner Sadik Hadzovic’s Daily Workouts

If anyone knows a thing or two about getting jacked it’s Sadik Hadzovic. The IFBB Pro, GAT Sports athlete, and former Arnold Classic winner hits the weights hard to build his famous physique—and he shared his daily go-to workouts with us so you can train and grow like a champ, too.

Follow along with Sadik’s workouts all week long and prepare for the hurt—and the gains—to come raining down.

Day 1: Chest

 

Day 2: Shoulders

 

Day 3: Back

Related: Sadik powers up his training with GAT Nitraflex. 

Day 4: Arms

 

Day 5: Legs

The Right Way To Ramp Up Your Fitness Post-Baby

You see these sorts of headlines all over the Internet: “Beyoncé wears a crop top and short shorts less than two months after welcoming twins.” And here you are eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at 11 p.m. because you just realized you hadn’t eaten all day.

Even though you’re not Beyoncé, the pressure to whip yourself back into pre-baby shape is real—and it can be overwhelming and a little scary. “It’s easy to forget that celebrities have an entire team of people to help them lose weight as quickly as possible,” says Gina Harney, C.P.T., creator of The Fitnessista’s Post-Baby Bod Plan. (Not to mention, unlike many of us, they can afford childcare, which means more gym time).

Thankfully, social media has made it easier than ever to connect with real images of mothers—and their postpartum bodies, serving as a necessary reminder that bouncing back takes time. It’s true—once you’ve had a baby, your body is changed forever, but that’s not a bad thing. “You can increase your speed, strength, energy, and crush your fitness game after having babies,” Harney says.

Here’s everything you need to know in order to craft a good-for-you fitness schedule postpartum:

Your Post-Baby Fitness Plan

First thing’s first: No matter what anyone says, there is no concrete timeline for when you should be “back in shape.” Every woman is different, and your bounce-back depends on your fitness level before and during the pregnancy, says OB/GYN Shyama Matthews, M.D. “The important thing is for exercise to be stress-relieving, not stress-provoking,” she says. Taking care of a baby is hard enough without putting intense demands on your fitness and body.

Most doctors recommend—or at least give you the green light—to resume gentle exercise six weeks after giving birth, barring there have been no complications. “It takes about this long for our bodies to return to the normal pre-pregnancy physiologic state, [and] it allows incisions to heal before starting any activity,” Matthews says.

But where do you even start? If you’ve hit that six-week mark and have been cleared by your doc to start moving, this guide will help you navigate the first six months of exercising post-baby.

Rules For The Road

Choose sleep over exercise. If you had a horrible night of sleep (or, more realistically, a string of horrible nights), try to snooze when the baby’s sleeping during the day, suggests Harney. Even if it means skipping exercise. “Chances are that you won’t have the energy to get in a strong workout anyway, so bank that sleep when you can,” she says. Why? Missing out on sleep can leave you with elevated cortisol levels, which signal your body to hold onto fat.

Eat more protein. You know getting enough protein is important no matter what fitness level you’re at, but it’s especially important to load up on postpartum. That’s because protein not only helps take care of your tissues and organs, but helps you build muscle, which revs your metabolism and supports fat-shedding. “Make sure that you have a serving of protein at each meal and snack to encourage lean muscle building,” says Harney. (Think a palm-sized piece of meat or poultry, or a scoop of protein powder.)

Down that H2O. “For new moms, it’s crucial to stay hydrated,” says Taylor Merritt, C.P.T., C.H.E.S., general manager at TITLE Boxing Club San Diego. That’s especially true if you’re breastfeeding, and hoping to exercise on top of that. Merritt suggests keeping a water bottle with you at all times, and setting reminders on your phone to drink up throughout the day.

Related: 8 Fun Ways To Drink More Water When You Hate Water

Months 1 and 2

Walk, walk, walk. The first order of business is building up your cardiorespiratory fitness, says Matthews. “The number one thing every woman should do in the first month is to get out of the house and walk,” says Merritt. “Load the baby up in the stroller, carrier, or wrap, take it at your own pace, and stop if you feel any discomfort,” she says. Try to walk at least five days a week, for just 10 minutes at a time at first. As you feel stronger, you can start adding minutes to your walks, she says.

Skip the heavy weights. When it comes to strength training, patience is key. For now, big movements are off the table. “Squatting and lifting heavy put too much pressure on your pelvic floor and can cause bleeding to worsen or your stitches to tear,” says Merritt. Also, because your joints are still loose from the hormones that help them relax during pregnancy and childbirth, you’ll want to avoid any exercise that involves jumping or quick movements.

Instead, focus on your postural muscles (like your back and glutes), since the added weight on your front side during pregnancy can wreak havoc and throw off your posture, says Harney. It’s important to show those postural muscles some love, especially since you’ll rely on them when you’re lifting and carrying your babe. Her go-to moves: bent-over wide rows, hip bridges, hip extensions, and cat-cow pose.

And don’t worry, you don’t have to lay off the weights entirely. As a general rule of thumb, Harney recommends starting with bodyweight-only for lower body moves, but it’s okay to incorporate light weights for upper body work (think five or 10-pound dumbbells for exercises like bicep curls, tricep extensions, and shoulder presses). Start with one or two days of strength training per week and build up to two or three days per week, she says.

No core work, though. Moves that work your rectus abdominis (six-pack muscles) put a lot of pressure in your abdomen, which you’ll want to avoid as your body heals from childbirth, says Harney. Stay away from traditional core exercises like crunches, planks, situps, and leg raises—even pushups will put too much pressure on your abs.

Plus, for many women, diastasis recti—a condition in which the large abdominal muscles separate—is a concern after childbirth. It happens when the connective tissue (called the linea alba) that runs down the middle of your core becomes weakened or stretched out. “It can make you look pregnant when you’re not, and because the core muscles are weak, it can throw a lot of other things out of whack,” says Harney. (Women with diastasis recti might deal with back pain and pelvic floor-related issues, like incontinence.) Two fingers-width of separation between your abs muscles is considered normal post-pregnancy, but having more than that requires being extra careful, she says.

To help heal diastasis recti, you basically need to re-teach your abdominal muscles how to work together, so you’ll need to avoid all crunching motions and extreme oblique training. “If you overtrain your obliques, they will continue to pull your abs apart,” says Harney. The general strength-training moves you are allowed to do will still work your abdominal muscles without putting you in harm’s way.

Do your Kegels. Ah, the beloved Kegel exercise. We’ve all been told to do it—but after you have a kid, it’s really time to get to work. “Many woman complain of urine leakage or frequent urination after delivering, and that’s because the pelvic floor muscles have just worked extra hard to carry the pregnancy, and can be stretched during vaginal delivery,” says Matthews. Kegel exercises help to strengthen the pelvic floor and help retain control of the bladder and urethra, she says.

Don’t remember how to do one? Contract your pelvic floor muscles for five seconds, then relax for five seconds. Focus on tightening those pelvic floor muscles, not your abs or glutes, says The Mayo Clinic. Build up to tightening your muscles for intervals of 10 seconds. Matthews recommends doing 15 to 20 reps several times a day—you can even knock ‘em out while brushing your teeth or doing the dishes, so that you actually remember to get them done, she says.

Another option: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, says Harney. Place one hand on your belly. Inhale to fill your belly (you want your belly to open up like an umbrella instead of your chest rising). As you exhale, pull your belly in and contract your pelvic floor.

Months 3 and 4

Pick up the pace. Now that your body has gotten used to daily walks, it’s time to up the ante. Increase your speed and pump your arms to help, or incorporate a light jog, suggests Merritt. You can even try intervals of fast walking or jogging for 30 seconds, followed by a minute of walking, she says. “This helps get your heart rate up and burn more calories.”

Check in on abdominal separation. If you have diastasis recti, now’s a good time to check your progress. While you can check it on your own, you do need to be super-careful and only touch the area very gently, because you’re likely touching organs in that space between your muscles, says Harney. If the idea makes you nervous or queasy, though, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor, midwife, or physical therapist to check for you.

At this point, if the separation is still two fingers-width or greater, continue modifying your exercises and stay away from more intense moves like planks and crunches. You could also try exercises like cat-cow pose, hip raises, and heel slides to mix things up, Harney suggests.

Go compound. If making time to work out before a baby was hard, it’s definitely a challenge now. That’s why Harney suggests using compound movements—which involve more than one exercise—to make the most of your strength-training time once you get used to exercising again.

At this point, it’s also okay to start adding bigger movements, like squats, back into your routine, says Harney. “You will likely feel more comfortable with basic strength training at this point, and ready to add in the challenge of a compound exercise.” Just be sure to maintain good form, and stay away from heavy weights until your doc gives you the go-ahead—again, you don’t want to put too much pressure on your pelvic floor.

Not sure which moves to do? Harney suggests a squat to upright row, bent-over row to triceps extension, and lunge to leg lift.

Months 5 and 6

Add in more weights. If you’ve been keeping up with light strength training up until this point, you’re likely ready for more of a challenge. Maintain your two to three strength-training sessions per week, and start to focus on lifting heavier (as long as your doc says it’s okay). If you can perform 10 reps of a given exercise with perfect form, it’s time to slowly up your weight, says Harney.

Start to jump. Now you can also consider incorporating plyometric exercises—think jump lunges and burpees—back into your workout rotation. If you’re breastfeeding, though, you might want to avoid stacking plyo moves back-to-back. Your chest is likely to be more tender and prone to leakage, and moves that involve a lot of bouncing for extended periods of time could make you feel extra sore or cause you to leak. Harney also recommends breastfeeding or pumping before working out and investing in a good sports bra to keep the girls as comfy as possible.

Check for diastasis rectiagain. Yep, this is something you’re going to want to keep improving on. If you’ve got less than two fingers-width of separation, you’re in the clear to resume any exercises you were previously modifying or skipping altogether, like full push-ups or planks, says Harney. But don’t feel like you have to push it just because you’ve hit the six-month mark. “It’s smarter to take it slowly,” she says. You can always add them back in later—and pushing yourself too hard may hinder your recovery.

Related: Shop supplements to support your body before, during, and after pregnancy.

5 Barre Moves That’ll Get You Long And Lean

Most people aren’t sure of whether or not barre is actually a good workout. With lofty promises (“Tone up, slim down!”) and isometric movements sometimes invisible to the eye (“Is this actually doing anything?”), it’s all too easy to pass over the low-impact studio workout for something you know will make you sweat, like a run in the summer heat.

But that’s a mistake. Performed correctly and with proper form, barre’s ballet-inspired moves will challenge your entire body, firing up your under-used muscles, recruiting your core, and giving you that long and lean look.

In fact, Becca Lucas, the owner of Barre & Anchor, a barre studio in Weston, MA, says barre-goers can expect a more toned body, improved posture, increased flexibility, improved range of motion, and muscle endurance.

Related: Don’t Let Barre Fool You—It Is NOT For Lightweights

Don’t believe us? Next time you feel like switching up your workout, try Lucas’ five favorite (and seriously challenging) moves. Common exercises in any barre studio class, they promise to have you feeling the burn—and reaping the results—in no time.

Note: To complete these moves, you will need a sturdy piece of furniture and a mat.

1. Forearm Plank

Come down to the floor or a mat on your forearms. Elbows should be under the shoulders and feet should be hip-width apart and parallel. Hips and shoulders should be in a straight line, chin off the chest, and the core pulled up and in. Hold in stillness 30 seconds. Alternate bending the knees 30 seconds (keeping the hips still). Hold in stillness 30 seconds.

2. High V

Holding onto a chair or counter, bring your heels together and toes apart in a narrow ‘V’. Rise up to your tip toes, glue the heels together, bend your knees and sink down toward knee level. Move down an inch and up an inch for 30 seconds.

Pulse down for 30 seconds. Hold for 10 seconds. “Keep shoulders relaxed away from the ears and your shoulders stacked over your hips,” says Lucas.

3. Extension Parallel

Holding onto a chair or the counter, bring your feet hip-width apart and parallel, extend the right leg out in front of you straight with a pointed toe (make sure your knee is facing the ceiling). Soften the standing knee and keep the core tight. Draw dime-sized circles for 30 seconds. Reverse direction for 30 seconds. Lift up 30 seconds. Repeat on the other leg. “Think length before height. Neck and shoulders stay relaxed,” says Lucas.

Related: Shop protein products to fuel your next workout.

4. Round Back

Lie on the floor or a mat and prop yourself up onto your forearms with your elbows under your shoulders. Palms should be flat on the floor. Raise your legs up over your hips and bring them into a diamond position with your toes together. Keeping your core pulled in, lower your legs to your point of control. Squeeze your knees together then open back into a diamond position 30 seconds. Repeat twice. “Try and keep your lower back on the floor or mat at all times,” says Lucas.

5. Standing Turnout

Hold onto a steady piece of furniture about elbows-distance away. Bring your heels together, toes apart. Extend your right leg back on the diagonal straight with a pointed toe. Soften the standing knee and pull the abs in. “Right knee is turned slightly to the right, leg should be behind the hip, chest lifted,” says Lucas. Lift the leg up an inch, down an inch 30 seconds. Lift to the tempo 30 seconds. Hold at the top, rise to your tip toes, and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Does Yoga Count As A Workout?

At its root, yoga is a discipline that returns and unites you with the divine through movement, breath, and meditation. The latest Yoga in America study shows that 20.4 million Americans practice yoga, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all using it as a spiritual practice. As yoga has become more mainstream, it has become less about spirituality and more about the mind-body connection and the physical, says Olivia Young, yoga instructor and founder of Box + Flow.

Yoga is well-known for its ability to crush stress and help us take on a sunnier disposition, but it’s good for more than just our mood. Yoga can also ease muscle aches, improve posture and muscular endurance, lead to better quality sleep, sharpen mental focus, and even boost your sex life.

Yet, while the overall health benefits of yoga are clear, the debate over whether yoga counts as exercise goes on—and that’s largely because of the many varieties of yoga out there. All types of yoga involve a combination of breath-work, stretching, mindfulness, isometric strength movement (a.k.a holding poses), muscle contraction and connection, and general body awareness—all of which are components of traditional exercise, says Alex Silver-Fagan, C.P.T., C.F.S.C., Nike trainer, yoga instructor, and founder of FlowIntoStrong.

Still, certain types of yoga are more closely connected to traditional ideas of exercise than others. Here’s all the expert info you need to finally end the debate about whether yoga can count as a workout, whether it’s through cardio or strength training.

Yoga As Cardio

Traditional cardio workouts have a number of huge health benefits, like a decreased risk of metabolic syndromes (such as obesity), improved blood pressure and cholesterol, and lower BMIs and triglyceride levels. And, according to a review and meta-analysis published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, yoga also provides benefits similar to cardio.

The study’s findings suggest that yoga may be an acceptable substitute for low-intensity aerobic exercise—like walking. But whether yoga gets your heart pumping like a run depends on the type you’re practicing, says Gabrielle Morbitzer, yoga and mobility instructor for ICE NYC. “If you are looking for a yoga class that increases your heart rate the way a traditional moderate cardio workout would, look for classes described with terms like ‘power’, ‘fast,’ ‘hot,’ or ‘warm,’ she suggests.

In a power yoga class, which is a style of yoga called ‘Vinyasa,’ you can expect a physically strenuous practice that moves with your breath. (The word Vinyasa literally means ‘movement with breathe’, says Core Power Yoga instructor Melissa Hernandez.) In a hot or warm yoga class, you can typically expect a similarly intense physical practice, plus a lot of sweat. For example, in Bikram yoga classes (which can reach upwards of 100 degrees), your heart rate can increase pretty quickly, because your body is working to try and cool itself down, says Morbitzer.

Though your heart is pumping, it’s not doing so because you’re taxing your muscles the way you do when running—it’s just your body’s attempt to regulate its temperature in a hot environment—so you’re not burning calories or boosting your muscles’ aerobic capacity in the same way.

Related: There Are Two Types Of Cardio—Here’s Why They Both Matter

Meanwhile, Yin (or ‘restorative’) yoga is all about calming the mind and heart from an over-stimulated state of anxiety, says Silver-Fagan. You’ll hold less-strenuous poses and stretches for minutes at a time and seek a meditative state, which is great for stress and recovery, but not so much for cardio.

The verdict: While yoga shares some of the benefits of regular ol’ cardio, it shouldn’t replace your usual cardio exercise, says Silver-Fagan. “You are moving and you activate your central nervous system and boost your heart rate, but you don’t activate your cardiovascular system in the way running, CrossFit, or HIIT does,” she says.

Yoga As Strength Training

Thanks to yoga, strength training doesn’t necessarily have to mean lifting heavy barbells or swinging kettlebells. “All kinds of yoga are going to build strength, but in different ways,” says Morbitzer. It all depends on the style of yoga you practice and the poses you hold.

Because yoga is rooted at your core or center, everything you do requires bodyweight movement and balance, making it an intense strengthening workout, says Young. Common poses such as Warrior I and Triangle strengthen your legs, glutes, and core, while Boat pose activates your lats and abdominal muscles, and Chaturanga trains your upper body, explains Young. More advanced poses like Crow or inversions (headstands) really tax your upper body and core as you learn to support your body weight in different ways. (You’ll move through many of these in Vinyasa.)

Again, though, Yin yoga doesn’t quite provide that strength-building, says Morbitzer. But this restorative practice is valuable as a recovery method for anyone who trains hard. Silver-Fagan recommends doing Yin yoga on your rest day, especially if you’re doing high-intensity work such as CrossFit or HIIT multiple times a week.

The verdict: Not all yoga classes provide the same strength benefits. More traditional practices like Hatha yoga will have you hold poses for longer, which really hones in on that core strength, while Vinyasa or power yoga might incorporate bodyweight-bearing moves like pushups and lunges, which count as strength training, says Morbitzer. To see the most strength benefit possible from yoga, you’ll need to practice frequently. Hernandez recommends taking Vinyasa or Bikram classes three times a week.

Whether yoga can be your sole form of strength training depends on your goals, Morbitzer says. Since the level of resistance put on your muscles in yoga is limited to your body weight, you can’t build a strong physique as quickly as you could with lifting weights, says Silver-Fagan. So if building strength and muscle are top-priority, both Silver-Fagan and Young recommend incorporating a session or two of yoga into your usual strength-training and cardio routine.

Related: Check out yoga mats, blocks, and straps to practice at home.

5 Moves For Sculpted Shoulders

Well-sculpted shoulders can really create the look of a fit physique. Not only does a broad and shapely upper body make your waist look smaller, but your shoulders are also a metabolic power house—meaning the more muscle you build there, the more you rev your metabolism and burn calories, according to BJ Gaddour, C.S.C.S., owner of The Daily BJ.

The catch? Building well-rounded shoulders isn’t as simple as knocking out a few reps of the strict press. “Your shoulders are actually made up of three major parts—the anterior (front) head, the lateral (side) head, and the posterior (back) head—and you need to work them evenly to avoid injury and develop well-rounded strength,” Gaddour explains.

The anterior head is responsible for helping you lift your arms in front of your body, the lateral head assists in helping you hold your arms out to the side, and the posterior head is primarily responsible for pulling your shoulders back (like in a reverse fly), according to Gaddour.

“Symmetry among the three major parts of the shoulder is critical for posture, aesthetics, and performance,” he says. And because many of us do so many pushing exercises, the anterior (front) part of our shoulders are overdeveloped, while the other parts miss out. To even out your strength and take your physique to the next level, make sure your next shoulder day includes Gaddour’s five go-to moves.

Ready to hit the dumbbells?

(If your workouts have been very pushup and bench press-heavy, Gaddour recommends performing extra sets and reps of the moves that work the lateral and posterior parts of the muscle group.)

Move #1: Lateral Raise

Targets: lateral (side) head

Grab a pair of light dumbbells and stand with your feet shoulders-width apart with your hands at your sides and palms facing in toward your legs. Tense your core and squeeze your glutes. Keeping your arms straight, lift the dumbbells up and out to the side until your arms are parallel to the floor. (You’ll look like a giant ‘T.’) Pause, then slowly lower to the starting position. That’s one rep.

Perform 3 to 5 sets of 6 to 8 reps.

Related: Grab a performance supplement to support muscle growth.

Move #2: Reverse Fly

Targets: posterior (rear) head

Grab a pair of light dumbbells and stand with your feet shoulders-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at the hips until your torso is nearly parallel with the floor. Your arms should be hanging straight towards the floor with your palms facing each other (this is important for zeroing in on the posterior head), and your elbows should be softly bent. Keeping your back flat and your torso locked into place, lift your arms straight out to the sides until they are in line with your body. (Your upper body will look a bit like an airplane.) Pause, then slowly lower to the starting position. That’s one rep.

Perform 3 to 5 sets of 6 to 8 reps.

Move #3: Front Raise

Targets: anterior (front) head

Grab a pair of light to medium dumbbells and stand with your feet shoulders-width apart. Your arms should hang in front of your body with your palms facing your quads. Clench your core and tense your glutes to keep your back straight. Then lift your arms in front of you until they’re parallel to the floor. Pause, then slowly lower to the starting position. That’s one rep.

Perform 3 to 5 sets of 6 to 8 reps.

Move #4: Dumbbell Arnold Press

Targets: all three heads

Grab a pair of moderately-heavy dumbbells and find a bench. Adjust the bench to a seated position so your back is supported and upright. With elbows bent, hold the dumbbells at shoulder height with your palms facing each other. Press overhead, rotating the dumbbells as you do so, so your palms face forward at the top of the move. Pause and then reverse to return to the starting position. That’s one rep.

Perform 3 to 5 sets of 6 to 8 reps.

Move #5: SingleArm Overhead Carry

Targets: all three heads (plus your traps and core)

Grab a moderately-heavy dumbbell or kettlebell. Stand with your feet shoulders-width apart and the weight in your right hand. Tense your core and glutes to keep your torso from tilting to the side, and press the dumbbell overhead. Walk 10 to 20 yards and then lower the dumbbell to switch hands. Repeat on the left side. That’s one round.

Perform 3 to 5 rounds.

Related: The 5 Most Effective Abs Exercises

How My Sleep Habits Changed When I Started Doing 10 Minutes Of Yoga A Day

Falling asleep was never one of my strong points. Even when I did fall asleep at a reasonable time, it wasn’t unusual for me to wake up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back to sleep until roughly 20 minutes before I needed to be up for the day.

Needless to say, I was often pretty tired during the day. So when people talked about their runner’s highs, endorphins, gains, and personal bests, my eyes would glaze over and I’d want to lie down for a nap (more than I already did before the conversation started).

I just never ‘got’ the love of exercise. “When I have a bad day, I go for a run and I feel so much better,” runner friends would tell me. But if I went for a run, I ended up swearing under my breath and praying for it to just end already. It was not relaxing. Making playlists of the best saxophone solos from 1978-1983? For me, that was relaxing.

There were times when I’d attempted to push through the hatred of exercise. But I never really put in the effort to research what type of exercise might be a good fit for me; I’d just pick whatever I thought would burn the most calories in the least amount of time.

That usually meant joining a gym so I could get on an elliptical machine and go nowhere, sweating and swearing the whole way. Eventually I’d lose some weight, give myself permission to slack off and enjoy my life again, and I’d be right back on the couch binge-watching every British murder mystery Netflix has to offer.

Rinse and repeat, again and again. Nothing stuck.

I never really put in the effort to research what type of exercise might be a good fit for me; I’d just pick whatever I thought would burn the most calories in the least amount of time.

But several months ago, I accidentally happened upon the exercise for me.

I was scavenging Google for possible insomnia solutions when I came across a video for evening yoga. It was a mere 10 minutes long. I had done a little yoga in the past, but I never kept up with it. The more strenuous types of yoga didn’t appeal to me (surprise, surprise) and the gentler styles just seemed like a waste of time (since exercise, for me, was only ever about the calories burned). In this case, however, I wasn’t concerned about burning calories; in fact, I wasn’t concerned about my body at all. I needed to train my brain to calm down and transition into sleep mode.

The video I used walked me through gentle stretches, including cat/cow pose, bridge pose, happy baby pose, spinal twists, seated forward bends, and legs up the wall.

With this video, I started to do 10 minutes of yoga before bed each night—a totally doable amount—and it made a positive difference almost immediately.

My brain responded to the slower, deeper, more deliberate breathing by calming down and stopping its “helpful” suggestions (i.e. what I should have said in that meeting at work, what I could maybe write about tomorrow, and who was that juror in that murder mystery anyway?).

Related: Shop yoga blocks and mats.

I also realized how much tension I constantly hold in my back and shoulders. With yoga’s easy, gentle stretching, I learned to un-clench my muscles, which ended up making sleep a lot easier. Yoga signaled to both my body and my brain that it was time to rest, and I finally understood that mind-body connection that other people found through running, lifting weights, or other more intense forms of exercise.

Eventually those 10 minutes helped me move on to longer, more challenging sequences. My arms and legs are definitely more toned and I am also stronger—I can do several pushups now. Plus, I’m more flexible. When I started I could only grab my calves during seated forward bend—and now I can grab my toes!

I finally understood that mind-body connection that other people found through running, lifting weights, or other more intense forms of exercise.

It may sound like nothing, but 10 minutes of gentle yoga is an excellent way to start or restart exercising. It’s over quickly, it’s not competitive, it feels good, it meets you where you are (even if that’s barely off the couch), and it counts as exercise! For me, it was a way to finally make exercise a habit, and it got me into doing more, more often.

I don’t know if I’ve lost any weight because I no longer weigh myself, but I do know that I’m stronger, happier, and more flexible. Between that and getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, I finally have a consistent exercise routine that I actually like—and that works.

It’s Super-Trendy To Strength Train Underwater—Should You Try It?

Waterlogged strength training is trending this summer, boasting a low-impact way to boost your heart rate and build muscle. So should you swap your usual workouts for underwater jump lunges and pistol squats?

Strength training and swimming both have their own clear benefits, so combining them can certainly lead to a solid workout, says Tyler Spraul, C.S.C.S.

Consider the benefits of strength training: When you put resistance on your muscles—whether it’s your body weight in a pushup or a barbell in a squat—you trigger muscle protein synthesis and build lean body mass, which boosts your metabolism and the number of calories you burn throughout the day.

Water offers 12 times as much resistance as air, and because it’s so difficult to move through, it really challenges your muscles, according to The Cleveland Clinic. Given the effort it takes to move your body through the water, it’s no surprise that research has shown regular swimming improves physical strength, endurance, and body composition (a.k.a. how much lean mass versus fat you have).

On top of all this, water also supports some of your body weight, so it’s kinder to your joints than land is. “Water-related exercise is an excellent way to work out while reducing the joint stress that comes from regular workouts outside the pool, whether it’s pounding the pavement or lifting heavy weights,” says Spraul.

Working out in the water is also especially beneficial for anyone with an injury, arthritis, back pain, degenerative spine or disc issues who may have a limited ability to exercise, says Chris Kolba, Ph.D., P.T., C.S.C.S., physical therapist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

With a little creativity, you can do all sorts of exercises in the water—just expect to move quite a bit slower than normal.

To switch up your resistance training routine, you can perform moves like lunges, squats, step-ups, pullups, pistol squats, and inclined pushups in the pool.

Looking to kick things up a notch? Try traditional HIIT moves, such as bounding (running with long strides), squat jumps, plyometric lunges, or tuck jumps, says Spraul. Because the resistance of the water won’t let you move as fast as you normally would outside the pool, these explosive movements will actually be more difficult, he says. And that added resistance will force you (and your muscles) to really work.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

A lot of gyms and studios with pool access even offer aquatic boot camp circuits, plyometric, and interval classes. We’re not talking old-lady water aerobics; we’re talking workouts involving underwater cycling and jump lunges—like those offered at New York City’s AQUASTUDIO or select LifeTime Fitness locations. (One of our editors even tried them out.)

The Downside

Here’s the thing: That doesn’t mean you should always opt for the pool over land. Performing these moves won’t make for as athletic of a workout as they would if you were performing them with higher intensity and speed on land, says Spraul.

The force produced when we exercise on land is crucial for our ability to strengthen our bones and muscles, says Kolba. And working out on the ground better prepares our bodies for the functional movements and activities we do throughout our everyday lives.

Kolba recommends that if you’re injury-free and can strength train on land, you should continue to do so. “A land-based resistance program will maximize strength, balance, and bone-loading—which is especially important as we age,” he says.

But taking your workout to the water does have a place on recovery days, or when you’re craving a little variety. “When you’re doing strength training or HIIT-style exercises in the pool, the water will help take some of the load off, so you don’t put as much stress on your muscles and likely won’t feel as tired or sore afterwards,” says Spraul. After all, you can’t go all-out every day of the week—and overexerting yourself can lead to injury—so if you wake up feeling a bit sluggish, consider hopping in the pool for an easier (but still challenging) workout.

Related: Find a recovery supplement to help you bounce back from tough workouts.

How To Finally Strengthen Your Weakest Muscle Groups

We all have a muscle group (or two) that just doesn’t want to pop (lookin’ at you, calves…), and they totally put a damper on our gym selfies. But even if you have genetically-challenged calves—or stubbornly small triceps—you do have some power to help them finally grow.

All it takes is a little strategy, courtesy of Kaged Muscle‘s Kris Gethin. Put Gethin’s advice to work as you train to balance out your bod and make the gains you crave.

 

Related: Fuel your workouts and your muscles with Kaged Muscle supps. 

6 Gym Machines People Get All Wrong

Use your favorite fitness machine the right way, and you’ll see the gains and make progress toward your goals. Use them the wrong way, and you’ll see fewer results, or worse: put yourself at risk for serious injury.

We talked to top trainers to get the low-down on what we’re doing wrong, and how to clean up our acts.

1. The Pull-Down Machine

Still using the pull-down machine to pull behind your neck? “For years, studies have shown that this position strains not only the shoulders but the neck as well,” says Scott Weiss, C.S.C.S., co-founder and director of rehabilitation and sports therapy services at Bodhizone for Human Performance. This is especially true if you don’t have good flexibility in your shoulder area, he notes.

The fix: Pull the bar down to your chest (not behind your neck) with a 30- to 45-degree lean back, he suggests. “This not only works the same muscle more effectively, but won’t put you at risk of injury.”

2. The Leg Press

The leg press is tricky; on one hand it’s an amazing tool for strengthening your lower body, but it’s also all-too-often used incorrectly. One big mistake we make: starting from the wrong position, says Weiss. “Exercisers start with their knees in too much flexion, which can cause wear and tear to cartilage.” Overloading the press can also limit your range of motion (and results), setting you up for injury, adds Tom Holland, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym.

The fix: Remember the 90-degree position, says Weiss. Set the machine up so that your knees and hips are at 90 degrees, no further or closer. “This will ensure good form and longevity to the knees,” he says. Then, use lighter weights and slow your repetitions. You want to be able to reach a full range of motion.

3. Smith’s Machine

A squat is meant to use the hamstrings, glutes, and quads—in that order, says Devan Kline, the CEO and co-founder of Burn Boot Camp. But when you use Smith’s Machine, it’s possible that you shift the hips, which means your lower back and patella tendons (around your knees) can really take a beating, he notes. “You’re putting yourself at risk for long-term damage on this piece of equipment.”

The fix: Go for free weights and a normal squat in a squat rack, instead. “This will force your body to balance the weight while performing the squat, rather than getting assistance from a fixed range of motion,” says Kline. “The natural checks and balances of gravity, more often than not, will promote healthy form and make for stronger and leaner legs.”

4. The Back Extension

“It is common to see people hyper-extending their bodies when using the 45-degree back extension machine, placing unnecessary stress on the lower back,” says Holland.

The fix: Stop the extension exactly when your body forms a straight line, he says. Pause and hold for one second, then slowly lower back down.

5. The Preacher Curl

This machine can certainly isolate the biceps, but a few mistakes (such as using too much weight), can potentially wreak havoc on your shoulders, says Weiss. Form check: If your butt comes off the seat and your shoulders elevate and migrate forward while performing your sets, your weight is too heavy. Weiss adds that an incorrect form here can cause rotator cuff injuries and impingement (tendons rubbing against your shoulder blade).

The fix: Elevate the seat a bit and cut back on the weight so that you’re staying in proper form. “This in addition to keeping the armpits glued to the bench helps maintain proper mechanics,” Weiss says.

6. The Stair-Stepper

Trainers literally cringe when people set the stair-stepper way too high, drape their bodies over the displays and handrails, or take short, staggered steps, explains Holland. In fact, “This turns it into more of an upper-body exercise and decreases the number of calories burned.”

The fix: Set the machine to a lower speed, touch the handrails lightly for balance (don’t depend on the rails), and push the pedals through their full range of motion, not skimping on any step, he suggests.

6 Exercises Top Trainers Want You To Stop Doing

There are plenty of exercises we have love-hate relationships with. Walking lunges shape our legs and glutes so dang well—but man are they dreadful. And we’d be lying if we said deadlifting doesn’t give us some pre-workout anxiety.

As godly as they may seem in the gym, even trainers have moves that cramp their style—but not necessarily for the same reasons as us regular folk.

We asked three trainers to share their least favorite exercises—whether it’s because they’re not worth the time, are bad for your joints, or are always done improperly—and how to fill the void.

1. Single-Leg Deadlifts

The deadlift is one of our go-to strength-training moves—and for good reason. The move lights up pretty much all the muscles on the backside of your body. But the single-leg deadlift is so often done incorrectly that it doesn’t offer much benefit, says Rebecca Gahan, C.P.T., founder and owner of Kick@55 in Chicago.

The common issues with the single-leg deadlift? First: not enough weight. “A single 10-pound dumbbell does not create enough resistance,” Gahan says. Your legs and glutes are some of your largest muscles, so they need serious weight to benefit from resistance training. (Like a minimum of 45 pounds, not 20, according to Gahan.) Beyond that, there’s improper form. “Most people bend all of the way over, pulling at their lower back and potentially increasing their risk of injury,” she says.

Related: 3 Ways To Improve Your Deadlift And Crush Your Next PR

To work those posterior muscles as effectively as possible, Gahan’s go-to is a Romanian deadlift with a barbell. “Plant both feet on the ground, and grasp the barbell with shoulders back and chest out,” she says. With legs straight, push back through your hips and lower barbell to mid-shin so your back is parallel with the floor. Then drive your hips forward to lift the bar back up into starting position. Gahan recommends using a weight you can perform a maximum of three to four sets of 15 reps with. If you get through those 15 reps easily, up your weight.

2. Tricep Kickbacks

Here’s the thing: Defined arms are coveted by guys and gals alike—but that doesn’t mean your gym time needs to be dedicated to sets and sets of isolated arm moves.

Gahan isn’t a fan of tricep kickbacks for two reasons: Most people don’t use enough weight to seriously work their triceps, and even when done effectively, the move only hits that one muscle group.

Turn up the burn of your workout by focusing on moves that work multiple muscle groups—including your triceps. Take the pushup, for example. This classic move engages your chest, triceps, and shoulders.

Make the most of your pushup by perfecting your form. Start in a plank position with your core tight. Look at the floor about a foot in front of you and bend at the elbows to lower your chest toward the ground. Focus on using your upper body—not hips and pelvis—to push back up from the floor, Gahan says.

Related: 9 Moves To Step Up Your Pushup Game

To really turn up the intensity for your triceps, modify your usual pushup for a tricep pushup. In this variation, position your hands directly under, or just wider than your shoulders (instead of the wider hand placement you’d use in regular pushups). As you lower down and push back up, keep your elbows tucked straight back and in toward the sides of your body, says Gahan. “The closer [your elbows] remain to your body, the greater resistance applied to the triceps,” she explains.

3. Front Lunges

No one can deny that lunges deserve a spot in your workout routine. But the front lunge can be hard on your knees—and not to mention monotonous. But one simple change—swapping front lunges for reverse lunges—can change up your routine and challenge your legs and butt in a different way, says celebrity trainer Adam Rosante, C.P.T., C.S.N. Plus, it develops the gluteus maximus (the biggest muscle in your butt), your quads, inner thighs, and calves. And, since the reverse lunge is more of an up-and-down movement, it tends to be easier on your joints (and easier to do), Rosante says.

Stand with feet hips-width apart, bend your right knee, and step your left foot back behind you. (Your torso can lean slightly forward toward your right thigh.) Keep the weight in your front heel as you bend your back knee to hover just above the ground. Then drive back up through your front heel to return to start.

4. Bicep Curls

While barbell bicep curls can build upper-body strength (particularly in those biceps), they’re done incorrectly all the time, says Chris DiVecchio, C.P.T., founder of Premier Mind and Body. And that can affect your results—and your range of motion.

Most people tuck their elbows into their sides and don’t extend their arms beyond a 90-degree angle—so they only really work the upper half of the bicep, he says. Plus, tons of people let their upper arms and elbows swing backward and forward as they curl and uncurl. (That’s cheating!)

If you’re going to do barbell curls, keep your arms extended out in front of your body and keep your upper arms in the same position throughout the entire movement, bending only at the elbows, DiVecchio says. (Or use dumbbells to make sure you’re using each arm equally.)

Or, try a compound move that’ll challenge your biceps, along with a few other muscle groups—like the slam ball squat throw. “The slam ball squat throw is a full-body move that not only works the biceps, but also works the core and legs,” says DiVecchio. This move is a power-conditioning combo that gets your heart rate up while benefiting your muscles.

Make sure you have enough room to throw a weighted ball straight in the air. Place the slam ball between your feet and squat down with your feet wide, toes pointed out, and butt low to the ground. Grab the ball so that your hands are close to the ground. Push through your glutes and legs to extend out of the squat and launch the ball straight up into the air. Catch the ball and drop back down into your squat.

5. Crunches

Quit crunching your life away. When it comes to building a strong core, crunches will only get you so far, says Rosante.

Rosante suggests trading in those crunches for something better “Focus on strengthening your core with anti-rotational moves like the plank, which prevent any pulling on the back of the neck, as is common with crunches,” he says.

Related: The 5 Most Effective Abs Moves

To get your plank on, start on the ground on your hands and knees. Step your feet back to the top of a pushup position, then lower your forearms to the floor so your elbows are under your shoulders. Pull your belly button in and squeeze your abs tight, maintaining a straight line from your head to your heels. Set a timer and hold until your form breaks. That’s your time to beat.

6. Flat-Ground Sprints

Any sprint is hard work, so we’re not here to hate on regular ol’ sprints—but if you’re going to go all out, you might as well get the biggest ROI possible, right?

To do that, try swapping flat sprints for hill sprints, says Rosante. “When you run hill sprints, your body is naturally placed at an angle which decreases impact and lessens your risk of injuring your hamstrings, Achilles’ tendons or knees,” he says. What’s more, they also do more to build muscle while burning fat, he adds.

Trade the treadmill for a hill (or just crank up the incline) and perform your sprints in the following pattern: Go hard for one minute, then recover until your heart rate is about 60 percent of your max. (Your max heart rate is roughly 220 minus your age.) Then repeat.

Related: Shop performance supplements to help you go hard and see results.

Try This Warmup Before Any Lift For Increased Performance

You probably already know that the half-hearted stretch you rush through before lifting isn’t doing much to better your fitness. Stretching and warming up are not the same thing, and hitting the weights without warming up not only limits your performance, but puts you at risk for injury.

A good warmup prepares your nervous system, muscles, and joints for the demands you’re about to put on them, says Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault. Plus, it also dedicates time to working on your body’s weaknesses and mobility, which will help you nail your lifts.

Any pre-lift warmup should target your entire body and take about 15 minutes, says Fhitting Room coach Dennys Lozada C.S.C.S. Run through this 15ish-minute warmup before your next training session for maximum gains and minimal hurt.

Part 1: Light Cardio

Time: three to five minutes

First up: A few minutes of low to medium-intensity movement on the treadmill, rowing machine, or assault bike. This will start to heat up your body temperature and prime your body for movement, says Wickham.

Part 2: Myofascial Work

 Time: five to 10 minutes

‘Myofascial work’ is a fancy way to say ‘foam rolling’ or ‘self-massage.’ “Foam rolling and lacrosse ball work remove knots and trigger points,” says Wickham. (You can use a lacrosse ball to massage out muscle groups that are hard to foam roll, like your chest.)

Spend about a minute or two focusing on each limb and your core, he recommends. (If you’re extra tight or sore, you may need an extra minute or so.) As you massage your muscles out, hone in on any knots or tight spots and focus on just those spots until they start to dissipate, Wickham says. Over time, foam rolling can help restore the length and mobility of your muscles, so you’ll move and feel better.

If you’re going to be lifting upper-body, spend extra time rolling your lats and traps, he suggests. On legs or lower-body days, target your quads, groin, IT bands, and glutes.

Related: The Beginner’s Guide To Foam Rolling

Part 3: Dynamic Movements

Time: 30 to 45 seconds per exercise, six to eight minutes total

Dynamic warmup movements get you moving and prepare your entire body and nervous system (which signals your muscles to go, go, go) for your workout, says Lozada. He uses the following dynamic movements before his Fhitting Room workouts. Hit each move for 30 to 45 seconds.

High Knees
High knees work your calves, quads, hamstrings, abdominal muscles, and arms, says Lozada. Start standing with your feet hips-width distance apart and arms bent at your sides in a running position. Then, quickly drive your right knee up as high as you can. Bring the right leg back down to the ground and immediately drive your left knee up. Stay on the balls of your feet and quickly hop between each knee lift. Engage your abdominal muscles every time you explode your knee upward.

Butt Kicks
Butt kicks are basically the inverse of high knees: Instead of bringing your knees up, you bring your heel back as if you are trying to kick your butt, which activates your hamstrings and glutes, says Lozada. Start standing with your arms bent at your sides in a running position. Slowly kick your right foot back and up so your heel comes as close to your glutes as possible. Repeat with your left food. Start out slow, and pick up the pace so you’re moving as fast as possible by the end of the interval.

Lateral Shuffles
Lateral shuffles work your hip flexors, calves, hamstrings, glutes, abs, and your endurance, says Lozada. Start standing, then tighten your core, bend your knees slightly, and sit your hips back. Then, take a big step or lateral jump to the side with one foot, allowing the other to follow. Repeat for five to 10 steps in one direction, before performing 5 to 10 steps in the opposite direction.

Bear Crawls
The bear crawl loosens your hips, activates your shoulders, and prepares your whole body for movement, says Wickham. Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Then, take a small step forward with your right arm and left leg. Take the following step with your left arm and right leg. The key is to keep your back flat as you move.

Crab Walks
“Like the bear crawl, the crab walk is a great way to activate the whole body and get the central nervous system into alert mode,” says Wickham. Plus, it really works the chest, abs, glutes, and hamstrings. Start sitting with your feet and palms planted on the ground, with your fingers facing towards your feet. Lift your butt up off the floor to walk backwards or laterally on your hands and feet. Step your left hand and foot backward or to the side together, and then follow with your right hand and foot. Keep your hips up as high as possible as you walk.

Inchworms
The inch worm primarily hits the abs, obliques, glutes, hamstrings, and back, but also works the biceps, calves, shoulders, and chest, says Lozada. Start in a standing position, then bend at your hips and reach your palms to touch the floor. (Keep your legs as straight as possible.) Keeping your core tight, walk your hands forward until you reach a plank position. Then, walk your feet forward to meet your hands. Return to the standing position and repeat.

Lunges With A Twist
“Lunges with a twist are great for activating your trunk, which you will need to use for any kind of lifting you might do,” says Lozada. They also isolate your quads and hamstrings and force you to work on body stabilization and balance. Start standing with feet shoulders-width apart and your hands on your hips. Then step forward with your left foot and lower into a lunge. Keeping your front knee above your ankle, twist your core to the right and then back to the left. Push up through your front foot to return to standing position, and repeat on the other side.

Quick Sprints
Finishing up dynamic stretches with a sprint or fast-paced jog is a great way to activate fast-twitch fiber muscles and prepare the body for intensity, explains Lozada. If space allows, sprint or jog back and forth to get your body heated.

Part 4: Range of Motion Work

Time: one to two minutes

Now is the perfect time for working on joint mobility and range of motion. This part is especially important for anyone who spends long hours sitting at a desk and doesn’t use their joints’ full ranges of motion throughout the day, says Wickham. Focusing on mobility now can help you regain range of motion and get the most benefit of the lifts you’ll be doing.

Two joints that are particularly troublesome: our hips and shoulders. To loosen these up, start on all fours. Rotate at your wrists and knees to move your core in five large clockwise circles. Then reverse your direction and make five large counterclockwise circles. Shoulder and hip strength and mobility will help you perform moves like snatches, power cleans, overheat squats, and front squats more efficiently, says Wickham.

Part 5: End Range Isometric Work

Time: Three rounds of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off; about two to five minutes total

Basically what you’ll do here is activate your muscles at the end of your range of motion for the lifts you’ll be performing. “We are weakest in these end-ranges of motions, but activating the muscles in this way helps increase flexibility, prime the nervous system, and strengthen the joint,” says Wickham. You’ll stretch the muscles you’re going to use, then flex them for intervals of 20 seconds in that position.

On deadlift day, for example, you’d do this for your hamstrings. Elevate your foot on a box or a bench and lean forward to stretch the hamstring. Once you feel the stretch, flex! Then, switch legs and repeat, performing 3 sets of 20-second contractions on each leg. Follow this pattern for whichever muscles you’ll be hitting hard during your lift.

Part 6: PVC and Empty Barbell Work

Time: As long as necessary

Prime your body for the specific moves you’ll be doing by performing the moves with a PVC pipe or empty barbell before diving into your sets, says Lozada. “Basically, you don’t want to get under the bar for a bench press and immediately try to hit your one-rep max, or immediately try to pull 90 percent of your latest deadlift PR,” he says. Instead, perform four to 10 reps of each move with a PVC pipe or empty barbell to prep before loading up with your working weight.

9 Moves That Will Set Your Obliques On Fire

Crunches, mountain-climbers, and planks probably already make frequent appearances in your workout routine—because who doesn’t want a strong core and a six-pack? But if there’s one part of your core that could probably use a little more attention, it’s your obliques. You know, your side abs!

Your obliques muscles (you have internal and external obliques) run along the sides of your torso, and are important for stability and balance, posture, and supporting your lower back, explains Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault.

While exercises that target your abs usually involve lots of crunch-type movements, exercises that hit your obliques involve a lot of twisting and side-bending, says Wickham. (But they’ll fire up your abs, too.)

Below are nine exercises trainers turn to when they want to really fire up their obliques and develop overall core strength. Try adding three sets of 10 to 15 reps of a couple of these moves to your next workout, suggests Wickham. (Just remember that visible obliques require a healthy diet and low body fat percentage.)

Move #1: Side Plank

Equipment needed: None

What you do:

  1. Lie on one side with your legs and feet extended straight out and stacked with one on top of the other.
  2. Prop yourself up on your forearm and raise your hips so that your body forms a straight line from your head to your heels, facing the side of the room. Engage your core and glutes to keep your hips up.

Why it works: This plank variation requires full-body stabilization and activates glutes, quads, hamstrings, delts, shoulders, and all of the core muscles, explains Yusuf Jeffers, C.P.T., head coach at Tone House. To make this move harder, first try raising yourself from your forearm to your hand, so that your arm is straight, with your hand below your shoulder. To turn up the heat even more, lift your top leg up toward the ceiling. Try to hold your side plank for at least 10 seconds, adding time as you get stronger.

Related: The 5 Most Effective Abs Moves

Move #2: Hip-Up

Equipment needed: None

 What you do:

  1. Lie on one side with your legs and feet extended straight out and stacked with one on top of the other.
  2. Prop yourself up on your forearm and raise your hips so that your body forms a straight line from your head to your heels, facing the side of the room. (Side plank.)
  3. Raise your top arm up so that it is perpendicular to the floor.
  4. Lower your hips down to the floor, then raise them back up into the side plank position.

Why it works: Consider the hip-up a higher-difficulty variation of the side plank, says Jeffers. You’ll get that same full-body engagement, with an extra challenge. “The movement of dropping your hips and raising them back up is almost completely in your obliques,” he says. To make this one a little easier, drop to your knees, so that they’re stacked one on top of the other, instead of your feet.

Move #3: Lying Windshield Wipers

Equipment needed: None

 What you do:

  1. Lie down on the floor with your belly up.
  2. Spread your arms straight out to your sides, so your body forms a ‘T.’
  3. Raise your legs straight up toward the ceiling, so they form a 90-degree angle with your torso.
  4. Keeping your shoulder blades on the floor and legs glued together, rotate your legs down to the left. Stop when your right shoulder starts to peel up off the floor.
  5. Rotate your legs back to starting position.
  6. Repeat the leg rotation on the right side.
  7. Rotate your legs back to starting position.

Why it works: The side-to-side rotating movement of your legs engages your obliques big time. The more you do this exercise (and the stronger your core gets), the closer you’ll be able to lower your legs to the floor, says Jeffers. And that’s a good sign for both your obliques and you’re your flexibility.  As you get better at this one, rest your arms closer toward your body so that they provide less stability.

Move #4: Weighted Lying Windshield Wipers

 Equipment needed: Empty barbell or PVC pipe

 What you do:

  1. Lie down on the floor with your belly up.
  2. Hold your barbell or pipe straight above you so that your arms are locked out and form a 90-degree angle with the rest of your body.
  3. Raise your legs straight up so they also make a 90-degree angle with your torso.
  4. Keeping your arms straight, shoulder blades on the floor, and legs glued together, rotate your legs to the left side. Stop rotating when your right shoulder blade begins to peel up off of the floor, or your feet are two to three inches above the ground.
  5. Raise your legs back to starting position.
  6. Repeat the leg rotation on the right side.
  7. Raise your legs back to starting position.

Why it works: The weighted lying windshield wiper movement activates your obliques muscles with each side-to-side movement of your legs, but is a little more challenging than the standard windshield wiper. That’s because holding that weight as you rotate requires a tremendous amount of upper body strength, explains Wickham.

As you improve, increase the weight of the barbell. For example, if you started with a 15-pound training bar, bump up to a 35-pound barbell. If you used a 45-pound barbell, add a five-pound plate to each side.

Move #5: Hanging Windshield Wipers

 Equipment needed: Pull-up bar

 What you do:

  1. Hang from a pullup bar.
  2. Raise your legs until they are perpendicular to the floor. (You should be in an ‘L’ shape.) To keep your torso straight you will have to engage your upper back muscles by pulling your torso underneath the bar and contracting your back muscles.
  3. Engage your upper back to keep your torso underneath the bar, then rotate your legs from side to side.

Why it works: Once you’ve mastered Lying Windshield Wipers, you can move on to this one. It requires a tremendous amount of core strength and control, explains ICE NYC HIIT coach Margie Welch. The key is actively engaging your shoulders and back instead of just hanging loosely from your arm sockets. (If you can do the lying version no problem, but have trouble with the hanging version, you may need to work on your upper-back and grip strength, she says.) To make this move easier, bend your knees at a 90-degree angle.

Related: 8 Pullups To Challenge Your Upper Body

Move #6: Side-to-Side Medicine Ball Wall Throws

Equipment needed: Medicine ball and wall

What you do:

  1. Stand next to a wall (about three to five feet away) with your feet shoulder-width distance apart.
  2. Hold a medicine ball between your hands at chest level.
  3. Straighten out your arms so they’re parallel to the floor.
  4. Rotate your torso towards the wall and release the ball. It should hit the wall and bounce back at you. (If it doesn’t quite make it to you, take a step closer and try again.)
  5. Catch the ball and return to your start position.
  6. Repeat. Switch sides after the prescribed number of reps.

Why it works: This move requires core stabilization, upper-body strength, and endurance. “You’ll be surprised how quickly this one tires you out” says Wickham. The key to this core move is explosiveness, so make sure you’re rocketing that ball into the wall. (It may take some trial and error to figure out how far from the wall to stand. You’ll need to stand further away with a heavy ball than you would with a lighter one.) Increase the weight of the ball and the number of reps you perform as you get stronger.

Move #7: Diagonal Ball Slam

Equipment needed: Medicine ball

What you do:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width distance apart and a medicine ball place on the outside of your left foot.
  2. Keeping a neutral back, bend down and pick up the ball. Raise it up over your head, as if drawing an arc in the air.
  3. From this overhead position, slam the ball back down toward the outside of your left foot. (The ball should be moving in a diagonal line.)
  4. Repeat on other side.

Why it works: The diagonal movement here really fires up your obliques; just make sure you use a ball you can slam with force, says Wickham. As you progress, increase the weight of the medicine ball or the number of reps you perform.

Move #8: Kettlebell Windmill

Equipment needed: Kettlebell or dumbbell

What you do:

  1. Stand with feet just wider than hips-width distance apart with a kettlebell on the ground in front of you.
  2. Lift the kettlebell above your head and hold it overhead with one hand.  Extend your free hand toward the ground.
  3. Keeping the kettlebell locked out at all times, push your hips and butt back toward the side the kettlebell is on.
  4. Bending at the hip to one side, sticking your butt out, slowly lean as you slide your free arm down your leg until you can touch mid-calf or the floor. (Keep your eyes on the kettlebell at all times.)
  5. Pause for a second after reaching the ground, then reverse the motion back to the starting position by shifting your pelvis back to center to redistribute your weight evenly between both feet. Keep the kettlebell extended and slide your fingertips up your leg.

Why it works: This oblique move is no easy task. It requires full-body stabilization, shoulder and arm strength, and maximum oblique flexibility and strength, explains Wickham. You’ll even feel it in your glutes and hamstrings. For that reason, Wickham recommends beginners try the move without any weight. Once you get the hang of the movement, you can add a light kettlebell to the equation. From there, you can increase the weight of the kettlebell as you get stronger. “When you use a weight, keep your eyes on the kettlebell overhead the entire time, this will help you maintain correct form and alignment of the shoulder” says Wickham.

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Oblique Movement #9: Weighted Twist (Russian Twist)

Equipment needed: Kettlebell, dumbbell, medicine ball, or weight plate

What you do:

  1. Sit down with your legs together straight out in front of you. Bend your knees to form a 90-degree angle and plant your heels on the floor.
  2. Hold a five to eight-pound weight between your hands.
  3. Keep a flat back and twist your torso to the left. The weight should twist with you.
  4. Stop twisting when you feel a stretch in your obliques.
  5. Reverse your twist back to the middle and then twist to the right.

Why it works: This exercise, which really fires up your obliques thanks to that twisting movement, really hits your whole core. “This movement focuses on both the external and internal obliques and the rectus abdominis, or the washboard muscle,” says Welch. Beginners can practice the move without added weight and touch the ground on each side as they rotate. For an extra burn, try lifting your heels and hovering your feet above the ground as you rotate.

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What Exactly Is Rhabdo—And Are You At Risk?

You may have been hearing some—okay, a lot—of noise about something called exertional rhabdomyolysis (or rhabdo, as it’s colloquially known in the fitness industry). In fact, a recent New York Times article detailed the story of a woman who, post-spin class, came down with the life-threatening health condition brought on by extreme exercise.

Although uncommon, rhabdo is real. So in the age of HIIT and other fast-paced classes, should you be worried? And how much is too much exercise?

What EXACTLY is rhabdo?

Rhabdo is a condition in which there’s a rapid breakdown of muscle tissue, resulting in the death of muscle fibers that wind up leaking into the blood stream, explains Michele Olson, Ph.D., F.A.C.S.M., and adjunct professor of sport science at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, AL.

Normally, your kidneys, which process and remove waste through urine, would take care of those leaking muscle fibers. But with rhabdo, the kidneys can’t handle the amount of damage, Olson says, and eventually (if not treated), they shut down.

That’s why you want to catch symptoms quickly. Rhabdo can lead to a very dangerous situation: People may experience kidney failure, electrolyte disturbances, cardiac arrhythmia, and even death.

Rhabdo is considered pretty rare, with about 26,000 cases per year occurring in the United States. (That may sound high, but a disease is considered ‘rare’ if it affects less than 200,000 people per year.)

How do you get rhabdo?

“Exertional rhabdomyolysis is the term used when rhabdomyolysis is associated to physical activity,” explains Gerardo Miranda-Comas, M.D., an assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

With this kind of rhabdo, the activities that cause the most muscle damage are the most likely to cause a problem, says Olson. “This includes ultra-endurance events such as marathons and heavy-intense weight lifting.”

And while healthy people who follow their training plans to a tee can unfortunately succumb to rhabdo, often it’s people who don’t properly build up to endurance exercise or heavy lifting who suffer, says Olson.

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Other kinds of rhabdo are caused by underlying medical conditions (think: diabetes, thyroid disease, chronic electrolyte disorders, or acidosis); medications (stimulants, antihistamines, and statin drugs), and illicit drugs can also put people at risk, notes Miranda-Comas.

Also: Anyone who’s damaged their muscles—whether it’s from a car accident or a dangerous infection—can experience rhabdo, notes Olson. So it’s not exclusive to your spin or HIIT class—you don’t have to cancel your membership!

What are the symptoms?

If you’re suffering from rhabdo, you might feel weak and have trouble with ‘normal’ movements, notes Olson. Pain in the shoulders, upper back, and thighs is also common, as is confusion, or vomiting, she says.

“Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)—muscle soreness that occurs one to three days after an intense bout of exercise—is considered a mild form of rhabdomyolysis,” says Miranda-Comas. “So persistent soreness is an early sign and should be evaluated.”

Dark red or brown urine—which could mean there is blood and degraded protein (from destroyed muscle fibers)—can also be a sign of rhabdo, notes Olson.

Unfortunately, not all cases (or symptoms) look the same, so it can be difficult to diagnose. Miranda-Comas notes that symptoms can vary from no soreness to mild soreness or extreme muscle tightness and pain with weakness and extreme difficulty moving.

Related: I Won’t Let My Thyroid Disease Stop Me From Staying Fit

Adds Olson: “A person may have all or very few of the symptoms—which is why rhabdo is clearly dangerous and can harm an unsuspecting exerciser.”

If you think you’ve got rhabdo, it’s crucial to seek medical attention immediately, both experts say. Miranda-Comas notes that hydration is the standard form of treatment, but severe forms may require dialysis or surgery.

How can you best prevent getting rhabdo from exercising?

Your best bet is to stay safe with exercise (regardless of rhabdo, but also because of it), and take things slow. “Build up gradually,” says Miranda-Comas.

Remember, endurance training should be a gradual progression, with no more than a 10 percent increase in volume weekly, he says. That means if you’re trying to build up mileage when running (let’s say you’re doing 10 miles a week), you should only do 11 miles the next week.

Rest days are crucial, too. The average exerciser shouldn’t be doing high-intensity training on consecutive days, notes Miranda-Comas.

The bottom line? “Do not ever jump into something intense if you haven’t been exercising, have been sick, have experienced a break from exercise due to vacation, or have a chronic medical illness.”