5 Amino Acids All Gym Lovers Should Know About

Amino acids, the molecules that make up protein, help build everything from our hair to our skin to our eyes (and more!). They’re also crucial for a type of tissue we hold particularly dear—our muscle.

Five aminos have earned some extra spotlight for their muscle-boosting benefits, and may be particularly important for anyone who hits the gym and goes hard on the reg. Whether you’re considering adding an amino acid supplement to your fitness routine, don’t know much about the one you’re already taking, or just want to understand the magic that happens inside your muscles—we’ve got all the amino info you need.

The best-known—and perhaps most important—amino acids are the three branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These aminos, called BCAAs, are found in food protein sources like meat and dairy, explains Brian Tanzer, M.S., nutritionist and manager of scientific affairs for The Vitamin Shoppe. “These amino acids work to protect lean body mass—a.k.a. your muscle,” he says.

The importance of branched-chain aminos for our muscles has been well-researched, with one review (published in the Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology) concluding that the BCAAs—especially leucine—“enhance protein synthesis.” They’re often found in a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine-isoleucine-valine—both in natural food sources and supplements. All three work together, but each has a slightly different function.

Leucine

The first BCAA is an all-star when it comes to muscle-building. Leucine plays a crucial role in muscle protein synthesis (the process in which muscle is repaired and built) and in the production of growth hormones, which also support muscle mass, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). “Leucine also protects muscle tissue from breaking down when under stress, like vigorous strength-training,” adds Tanzer.

Since leucine is also an essential amino acid, meaning our body can’t produce it, we have to get it from food or supplements.

Isoleucine

The second BCAA, ‘isoleucine,’ might sound a lot like ‘leucine,’ but the magic it works in your muscles is a bit different. This BCAA can be converted to glucose and used as an energy source by your muscles when you’re working out, Tanzer says. In addition to regulating energy levels, isoleucine also regulates blood sugar and stimulates hormone production and immune function, according to NCBI.

Valine

Like isoleucine, our third BCAA can also be used as an energy source by the muscle when you’re on your grind. But it also supports your workouts in another, unexpected way. “When you exercise, your body’s serotonin (its feel-good hormone) goes up, which can make you feel a little drowsy after a while,” says Tanzer. “Valine actually blocks the uptake of serotonin in your brain, which can help prevent that drowsy, fatigued feeling.” (This is known as the ‘central fatigue theory,’ in case you want to drop some science knowledge on your gym buddies.)

How To Benefit From BCAAs

To get the max benefits from these BCAAs, you’ll want to get between five and 10 grams into your system both before and after a workout, recommends Tanzer. This can be tough to pull off with food alone, since your body needs to digest the food, absorb the amino acids, and process them in the liver before it can transport them to the muscles through the blood.

That’s where a supplement comes in: “With an amino acid supplement, you skip the breakdown process and can send those BCAAs straight into the bloodstream and to the muscles,” Tanzer says.

You can start sipping on a BCAA supp—most are in powder form—a half-hour or so before your workout and keep on sipping as you sweat. (And since isoleucine and valine can both be used for energy, getting your BCAAs in before the gym can be especially beneficial if you haven’t eaten in a while.) Shake another scoop or two into your water bottle for post-sweat recovery, too.

Related: 4 Possible Reasons Why You’re Still Feeling Wrecked Days After A Workout

In addition to the three ever-important BCAAs, there are two other aminos you may want to keep in mind—and possibly in your shaker cup.

Glutamine

This amino acid plays a role in your post-workout recovery—and just so happens to be the most abundant amino in the body, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Glutamine supports your immune function, which takes a hit whenever your body is under stress—including when you work out, says Tanzer. “Your immune system might pull glutamine from your muscle tissue, leading to gradual muscle breakdown, so replacing that glutamine post-workout can help preserve your muscle mass,” he explains.

One study published in the Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness found that glutamine helped active men preserve muscle strength—and avoid soreness—following strength-training tests.

Tanzer recommends mixing five to 10 grams of glutamine into your post-workout BCAA drink. More bang for every sip!

Citrulline

The last noteworthy amino might be in another supplement you already take: your preworkout. “Citrulline is a precursor to nitric oxide synthesis, which helps relax the blood vessels and boost circulation to your working muscle tissue,” explains Tanzer. Better circulation to your muscles benefits both your workout performance—and later recovery.

Because of its effect on blood vessels, you’ll also find citrulline in some ‘pump’ supps. (You’ll probably also see a similar amino acid, arginine, in these products—but citrulline appears to be the more effective of the two because it is better absorbed, according to Tanzer.)

Along with boosting blood-flow, the nitric oxide produced by citrulline can also boost the muscle’s ability to use energy, according to a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. The researchers found that cyclists performed better on a time trial and reported feeling less fatigued after taking citrulline regularly.

Citrulline may also help remove ammonia and lactic acid (which build up throughout exercise) from the muscles, and may help you grind on without that muscle ‘burn’ feeling, says Tanzer.

Somewhere around six grams of citrulline pre-workout is ideal, says Tanzer, though you’ll still benefit from the lower doses found in many preworkout formulas. You can add extra to your usual preworkout before you hit the gym, and add some to your recovery drink, as well, he says.

Just check with your doc before taking citrulline if you have any kidney issues, Tanzer recommends. The ammonia citrulline helps pull from the muscles has to go through the kidneys before leaving the body.

Related: Check out a wide variety of amino acid supplements.

5 Fitness Apps That Helped Me Drop—And Keep Off—75 Pounds

I’ll be the first to admit that technology and I aren’t on friendly terms. Sure, I’m able to feel my way around Seamless and Uber, but the idea of using my phone for something important like fitness and nutrition tracking had always seemed so daunting. After getting to a point where I really needed help losing weight and eating healthy, however, I decided to throw caution to the wind—and load up on the very best wellness apps out there.

Finding the “very best wellness apps out there” isn’t as easy as it may sound. There are hundreds of apps designed for weight loss, fitness, sleep, yoga, meditation, and anything else that might need tracking, and I ended up trying dozens of them, for more than a week at a time, in order to narrow it down. Here are the five I stuck with—and that helped me drop 75 pounds.

Related: How I Quit Dieting And Finally Stopped My Weight From Fluctuating

1. GenioFit

Front view of black, white and gold modern smartphone with blank white screenAn app built on the research of Dr. Paul Arciero and his scientifically proven PRISE protocol, the GenioFit app takes the guesswork out of making your next healthy lifestyle decision. Based on the goals you set, Genio develops a customized plan for physical activity and fitness, nutrition, mental well-being, and overall health and vitality. Basically, it does all the thinking for you.

I decided to try this app to improve my overall health and increase my workout performance, and let me tell you: It really works. The PRISE protocol is based on five simple ideas:
            P =Protein pacing (4-6 evenly spaced meals/day each containing 20-40 gms. protein)

            =Resistance functional training

            I =Interval high intensity training

            S =Stretching

            E = Endurance training
GenioFit helped me get my daily protein in while maximizing my workouts each day.

Front view of black, white and gold modern smartphone with blank white screen2. Sworkit

I love, love, love this app. If I’m short on time and haven’t planned out my next gym session, I  can tell it the amount of time I have to exercise and what I might be in the mood for (yoga, weight training, cardio, or stretching), and in a matter of minutes, Sworkit will provide me with a killer workout guaranteed to deliver results.

The app comes with a timer, music options from Spotify, exercise demonstrations, and body area focus options. You can also sync your results directly to several other fitness apps.                                    

Related: Shop weight-management products to keep you on your game.

 

3. Runkeeper

As a runner for over 20 years, I added Runkeeper Front view of black, white and gold modern smartphone with blank white screento my app lineup, but with a bit of hesitation. I tend to be one of those “free thinkers” when it comes to running: Put your shoes on, turn on some tunes, and get outside. But when I was struggling to add miles to my weekly runs, I realized it was time to take it up a notch.

Runkeeper allowed me to set goals, follow a plan, and use GPS to track my routes and elevation—all while giving me audio feedback during my workouts (no need to look down at my phone while running).

For me, the best part was being able to see my results after the app tracked, logged, and displayed my progress for each run.

4. Lose It!

This is the brilliant app that helped me lose over 75 pounds in just one year. Its goal is simple: help real people achieve real weight loss without using gimmicks, fad diets, or spending money.

Front view of black, white and gold modern smartphone with blank white screenThe app’s simplicity and user-friendly approach is one of the main reasons I have kept my weight off, too.

Even after I reached my goal weight, I still tracked my nutrition with Lose It, just to make sure my macros were where I wanted them to be. And with a database of over seven million items (including foods and exercise types), I never get bored of using it.

The strong community of users available to provide support, along with the ability to link with my FitBit device and Runkeeper app, make this one of my favorite all-around apps of all time. Not to mention, I LOVE the barcode scanner and new “Snap It” feature that allows users to snap a picture of their daily meals and snacks, input some data, and then get approximate calorie counts.

A runner-up for tracking? MyFitnessPal. It’s another excellent app to track eating. It is used by millions for weight loss and many claim it connects better to other apps and devices than Lose It!.

5. Nike+Training Club App

Front view of black, white and gold modern smartphone with blank white screenTouted as “your ultimate personal trainer,” the Nike+Training Club App will create a personalized training plan based on your needs, then continually adapt as you go. And with instructional audio and video clips featuring Nike trainers, users can workout knowing they are receiving expert information—something I think is super-important.

The app has over 130+ workouts available for all levels, which allows me to vary my intensity each day, pick between bodyweight or equipment, and choose the duration of my workouts.

5 Protein Powder Flavors That Are Anything But Ordinary

Whether you’re trying to slim down or hoping to bulk up, getting more protein is probably on your radar. Foods (and beverages) high in protein can help curb your hunger, making it easier to eat fewer calories and stay fuller longer. And post-workout protein is key to encouraging potential muscle repair and swift recovery time.

Protein powder is an easy, simple, and delicious way to get more protein in your diet (the average 130-pound person needs 48 grams of protein per day, although that number changes according to your goals). But too often people find themselves in a rut of drinking the same ol’ chocolate or vanilla protein shake each day.

Why stick to the basics when there are so many new and amazing flavors out there? Try switching things up a bit by adding a few of these into your daily protein regimen.

1.      Mocha CappuccinoON Whey mocha capp

The Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein by Optimum Nutrition offers up 24 grams of protein in a single scoop. Since their protein powder only has two grams of sugar per serving, it’s a great choice for those who want to keep their sugar intake low. And if you’re a Starbucks aficionado, try ON’s Mocha Cappuccino Powder.

Take it to the next level: Blend a scoop of powder with six ounces of cold brew coffee, six ounces of milk or a milk substitute, and one cup of ice for a Frappuccino-inspired drink.

Related: Shop whey protein to boost your protein intake.

2.      Cinnamon Bun

dymatize cinnamon bunWith 25 grams of protein and less than a gram of sugar, ISO 100 Protein Powder by Dymatize Nutrition gives you the protein boost you need in your diet without the added carbohydrates. This powder is also hydrolyzed, which means that it’s faster to digest. And if you’ve got a thing for breakfast pastry, Dymatize Nutrition Cinnamon Bun is the flavor for you.

Take it to the next level: Combine one scoop of protein powder, an apple, eight ounces of milk or a milk substitute, and a cup of ice in a blender. Puree away! Top it off with a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg, and enjoy your new favorite post-workout meal.

Related: 12 Ways To Make A Delicious Breakfast With Protein Powder

3.      Fuzzy Navelnectar

Syntrax creates truly unexpected Nectar Protein Powder flavors, like Fuzzy Navel. All of their powders are high in protein (this one contains 23 grams of protein in a single scoop) and low in carbohydrates. They’re also lactose-free.

Take it to the next level: Mix up a scoop of Fuzzy Navel Nectar with 8 ounces of cold water—or if you’re feeling peachy, turn it into a high-protein ice cream. Blend one cup of frozen peaches, one cup of milk, ¼ teaspoon of xanthan gum, and a scoop of protein powder in your blender. Add this mixture to your ice cream maker, turn it on, and leave it be for 15 minutes until it turns into a thick and frozen treat. Enjoy!

4.      Orange Dreamsicle

orange dreamsicleThe Orange Dreamsicle ISO 100 Protein Powder has the same benefits of the other protein powders by Dymatize Nutrition, but with a fruity twist.

Take it to the next level: Blend a scoop of protein powder with one cup of milk or a milk substitute, two teaspoons of vanilla extract, ½ cup of orange juice, and one cup of ice for a refreshing, filling treat. Perfect for those hot summer months.

Related: Shop plant protein for all your vegetarian and vegan needs.

5.      Birthday Cake

birthday cakeThe brand-new (but limited edition—sad face) BodyTech Whey Tech Birthday Cake Powder is loaded up with 24 grams of protein in one scoop, with only one gram of sugar. Now you really can have your cake and eat it too!

Take it to the next level: Throw one cup of raw oats, one scoop of BodyTech Birthday Cake protein powder, three egg whites, ¼ cup of milk or milk substitute, and 1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder into a blender. Once the ingredients are thoroughly blended, cook in a hot skillet or on a griddle like you would a typical pancake. Top with a dash of maple syrup or your favorite fresh fruit.

Related: 8 Tasty Ways To Combine Your Morning Coffee With Your Morning Protein Powder

How To Pick The Perfect Pre-Workout Snack (That Won’t Wreck Your Stomach)

We’ve all experienced one (or both) of the following workout struggles. The first: Feeling totally wiped halfway into your routine after skipping out on a pre-workout snack. The second: Fighting off stomach gurgles and cramps while you sweat because you ate something beforehand that’s just not jiving.

Your pre-workout grub is a make-it-or-break-it decision—and what you should munch on depends on what kind of workout you’re fueling for. Follow these nutritionist-backed guidelines to pick the pre-workout grub for an energized body and a happy belly.

The Basics

Your workout fuel should be made up of two things: carbohydrates and protein. Carbs provide the energy we need to perform, while protein supports our muscles.

Our bodies turn carbs into energy by breaking them down into sugar (called glucose). Then, our small intestine absorbs that glucose and releases it into our bloodstream. Once that glucose is in the bloodstream, we can use it as immediate energy.

Without these carbs, the body might break down muscle for fuel instead, explains Leslie Bonci, M.P.H., R.D., C.S.S.D., of Active Eating Advice. Definitely not something we want, considering all of the ways building muscle benefits our health and well-being—like boosting our metabolism. Some stomach-friendly carb sources include bananas, granola, whole-wheat bread, and oatmeal.

Since protein helps our muscles repair and grow, you probably already know you need it after a workout. But for that same reason, you want it before you exercise, too. “If we have protein, which is the building material of muscle, already in our bloodstream while we work out, we can recover faster,” says Jonathan Valdez, M.B.A., R.D.N., C.D.N. That means your body is better equipped to preserve and build muscle than if you skip the protein before you sweat. Some protein options include deli turkey breast, Greek yogurt, and protein powder.

Now that you know what you want in your system before you hit the gym, there are a few things you don’t want: lots of fat or fiber, or anything fizzy. Fat and fiber take longer to move through your digestive system, and can make you feel like there’s a brick in your stomach mid-workout, causing cramps and sluggishness, explains Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., R.D., C.S.S.D. Meanwhile, carbonated beverages (while we love them) leave some extra gas in our bellies, which can lead to discomfort and lots of gas-passing throughout a training session, adds Bonci. Try to avoid these three troublemakers for at least two to three hours leading up to your workout.

Tailor Your Eats To Your Training

One thing to keep in mind: Regardless of your ultimate fitness goal, you need a pre-workout snack to power your exercise. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, don’t skip it. “The number-one goal of a pre-exercise snack is to fuel the activity, not change body composition,” says Valdez. Think of it this way: If you’re too zonked to make it through that HIIT class or weight room date, you’re less likely to reach your goals.

Consider how long you’ll be working out for and what that workout will be. For moderate exercise that lasts a half-hour or less, 100 to 200 calories will do the trick. But if you’ll be working out for more than a half-hour or going hard, go for a 200 to 300 calorie snack to help keep you going, recommends Tara Collingwood, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.S.D, of Diet Diva.

Generally, the sweet spot for a pre-workout snack is about an hour before you turn up the heat, says Bonci. From there, your carb-to-protein ratio will depend on whether you’re hitting cardio or the weight room and for how long.

If You’re Doing Cardio…

If you’re just taking a walk around the neighborhood or zoning out on the elliptical for a half-hour, a pre-workout snack probably isn’t even necessary, says Valdez. However, if that half-hour consists of interval training or a fast-paced run, you’ll benefit from some fuel. In this case, your 100 to 200-calorie snack can be mostly carbohydrates, says Sass. Go for a banana, a small bowl of oatmeal, or an orange.

cardio for 30 mins or less

If you’ll be doing steady cardio for closer to an hour (or more) you’ll want to nosh on a 200 to 300-calorie snack that packs between 30 and 60 grams of carbs, says Valdez. That could be a bowl of oatmeal topped with berries or a piece of whole-wheat toast topped with sliced banana.

cardio for 45 mins or more

If your extended cardio happens to be an intense cycle or HIIT class or involves sprints, add five to 10 grams of protein to that carby pre-workout snack to help your muscle repair, says Collingwood. Think a piece of whole-wheat toast topped with either hummus and cheese or an egg.

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Related: Are You Doing Too Much Cardio?

If You’re Hitting The Weights…

If you’re going to be hitting a quick lifting session, you’ll want your 100 to 200-calorie snack to contain some carbs and some protein. Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., certified yoga instructor and owner of Keri Gans Nutrition, recommends a serving of chickpeas or edamame, which both pack plant-based protein and carbohydrates. You could also go for a banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter.

strength training 30 mins or less

Before extended strength-training, your 200 to 300-calorie should consist of a 2:1 or 3:1 carb-to-protein ratio. Valdez recommends a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-wheat bread, which lands in the range of 30 to 60 grams of carbs and about 15 grams of protein. Other options: six to eight ounces of plain Greek yogurt with between a half-cup and a full cup of fruit, or a scrambled egg in a whole-wheat tortilla.

strength training for 45 min or more

Related: How To Lift Heavy For Maximum Muscle Results

Timing Is Everything

But what if you’re rolling out of bed and right into your workout? Or just totally crunched for time and realized you’re a half-hour out from your workout and haven’t fueled up? You’re in a bit of a pickle: Passing up on some pre-workout grub might sabotage your performance (and long-term results), while nomming on the wrong thing too close to gym-time might leave you with an angry belly.

If you’re fifteen to 30 minutes out from a cardio session, go for a quick energy boost from about 15 to 30 grams of easily-digested carbs, recommends Valdez. That might be half a banana with a little honey or a piece of toast.

If you’re rushing before strength-training, find a small dose of protein and carbs, Valdez says. A small protein shake or six ounces of Greek yogurt should do the trick without overloading your stomach.

Yes, Hydration Matters, Too

Better make sure there’s a glass of water alongside your next pre-workout snack! Hydrating before you work out helps your body prepare for the fluids it will lose from sweating and helps prevent muscle cramps from dehydration, says Bonci. Since it takes fluid about an hour to leave the body, Bonci recommends drinking about 20 ounces of water an hour or so before kicking into gear. If you don’t like water, she says you can even go for coffee or tea, just remember that coffee might make you want to hit the bathroom sooner, since it’s a stimulant.

Related: Find a protein bar to fuel your next high-intensity workout.

Should You Make The Switch To Grass-Fed Whey Protein?

Hit the yogurt or meat section in just about any grocery store these days and you’ll find tons of products labeled ‘grass-fed.’

Sure, we all like to picture our cheese coming from cows that used to hang out on sunny, green pastures instead of inside giant, cramped warehouses—but it turns out grass-fed animal products may not only be better for our consciences, but for our overall nutrition, too.

Remember the phrase ‘you are what you eat’? Consider this: “A lot of standard cow feed comes from dent corn, which is super-high in starch [a.k.a. carbs],” explains Joe Pilewski, director of product development for NutriForce Nutrition. This corn is quite nutritionally different than grass—and more difficult to digest, he says.

So, it would make sense that a cow’s daily grub affects, well, our daily grub. Research, like a 2013 study published in PLOS One, has found that organic, grass-fed milk contains fewer omega-6 fatty acids and more omega-3 fatty acids than the conventional stuff. Many Americans consume too many omega-6 fatty acids from foods like processed veggie oils, and not enough omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in foods like fatty fish, explains Ryan Andrews, M.A., M.S., of Precision Nutrition. And since omega-3 fatty acids support our heart and brain health, and our immune system, we wouldn’t say ‘no’ to getting more out of our dairy. According to the study, grass-fed milk is also higher in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a fatty acid that supports lean muscle mass.

Similarly, research suggests grass-fed animal products may also be higher in antioxidants like vitamins A and E. One review published in Nutrition Journal found that grass-fed beef contained more beta carotene (a precursor for vitamin A) than grain-fed beef. It also found that grass-fed beef packed more alpha-tocopherol, a form of vitamin E.

So, while that’s a pretty solid case for picking grass-fed dairy and meat products, does it mean you should also switch to a grass-fed whey protein supplement? After all, whey protein is made from milk!

The short answer: It depends on what you’re looking for. “Protein powder has gone through manufacturing in which many nutrients have been processed and removed,” explains Andrews. Chances are, you love your go-to whey protein isolate because it’s just the protein (and low in fat, carbs, and sugar, if it contains any at all)—but you don’t get the nutritional benefits, like extra omega-3s or vitamins, of grass-fed whey.

That said, there’s more to our food than its nutritional stats. “People are really starting to ask where their food is coming from and if it’s a sustainable choice,” says Andrews. Going for grass-fed may be a more environmentally-sustainable choice, on top of being an opportunity to support companies that prioritize the treatment of their animals, he adds.

It’s worth noting that many protein supplements utilizing grass-fed whey prioritize clean, natural ingredients across the board. You might notice that these supps use sweeteners like stevia, or stick with natural flavors. “There are a lot of facets that constitute clean whey,” notes Shawn Sherwood, vice president of research and development for Designer Protein. Those may include everything from being non-GMO to skipping artificial flavors and sweeteners, he says. If a supp’s super-clean street cred is a priority for you, look out for products labeled Non-GMO Project Verified, USDA Organic, and/or NSF certified.

Related: Shop the full selection of natural whey protein supplements.

 

The Effective Cardio Machine You’re Not Using

When you think “cardio,” a treadmill likely jumps to mind, right? But pounding away on this hamster wheel isn’t your only option. One of the most effective ways to get your heart racing also happens to be impact-free: the rowing machine.

“Rowing is one of the most effective forms of training because of the amount of large muscle groups that are used in every stroke,” says Greg Hammond, rowing coach and training subject matter expert at Concept2. Think about running or biking—even though your entire body is in motion, it’s mostly your legs powering your progress. But when you row, you recruit your legs, your core, and your shoulders, says Hammond. This means more muscles are calling for oxygen and fuel—and you’re burning more calories—all at once. (A half-hour of moderate rowing equals about 260 calories burn for someone who weighs 155 pounds, and 311 calories burned for someone who weighs 185 pounds, according to Harvard Health Publications.)

The full-body effort shows in the physiques of competitive and pro rowers. “They tend to have a good balance of muscle all over their body,” says Hammond. (Sounds pretty good to us!) And there’s another rowing perk that might just sell you: In addition to its muscular and cardiovascular benefits, rowing also spares a lot of wear-and-tear on your joints since it’s low impact. “Since you don’t experience a lot of pounding forces on the body, rowing is a great way for people who are overweight or have sensitive knees or hips to get in shape.”

Related: 7 Reasons Your Joints Are Aching—And How To Deal

But if this stationary contraption seems totally foreign (or old-school) to you—aside from its occasional appearance in and episode of House of Cards—you’re definitely not alone. Luckily, nailing the movement boils down to four simple steps. So take a seat on the rowing machine, strap your feet in nice and snug, and grab that “oar” handle.

  1. The Catch

This is the moment that your body is ready to spring into action—imagine an oar catching on the resistance of the water if you were rowing in a boat. Your upper body should be leaning forward with your arms straight, your core tense, and your knees bent.

  1. The Drive

This is when you start to apply force to the hypothetical oar. Pressing through your feet, and keeping your back upright (core tight!) and arms straight, powerfully push through and extend your legs. (While many newbies might think you row with your arms, the first part of the movement comes from your lower-body, says Hammond.)

  1. The Finish

Now you engage your upper body to dig that last bit of “umph” out of your stroke. At this point in the movement, your legs should be extended, but not so much that you end up locking your knees. Keeping your torso straight and your core tight, lean back slightly and pull the “oar” to your ribs by bending your elbows.

  1. The Recovery

Once you’ve gotten the most out of your pull, you have to reset your position in order to catch the hypothetical water again and take your next stroke. To do so, perform the prior three steps in reverse order: Extend your arms, lean your torso forward until the handle passes your knees, and then bend your knees until you return to the starting position. (Think ‘arms, hips, legs.’)

Related: Power through your workouts with a performance supplement.

If your still a little intimidated, don’t worry: There aren’t too many serious form ‘don’ts’ when it comes to rowing, since the exercise is so low-impact, Hammond says. Your form may even improve as you start to feel winded, since your body will naturally default to the most efficient movement possible. So just keep hauling along!

And since rowing doesn’t produce the joint-pounding forces that other forms of cardio and weightlifting do, it’s relatively safe for anyone to use during nearly any phase of training. Whether you’re old, young, a seasoned gym veteran, or just starting out, rowing is a great way to work up a sweat, suggests Hammond. Plus, a light and easy row can also provide a great recovery stimulus if you’re feeling super sore from a few days of going hard.

And the benefits of rowing are really catching on. Group classes—like Row House in New York City, Indo Row in California, and LIT Method in Chicago—are popping up all over the country.

Ready to hop on the rower at your gym? Whether you’re going for a moderate, steady row or pushing through sprint intervals, you’ve just found your new favorite workout.

Pick one of these three workouts from Hammond, and get rowing!

page-0.jpgRelated: 5 Treadmill Workouts That’ll Make The Time Fly By