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Road Rules: 6 Training Tips to Take on Your Next Bike Ride

Written on September 26, 2014 at 3:13 pm , by

Written by A.J. Hanley

“You’re not in Spin class anymore,” I told myself as I wheezed my way up a hill of the Best Buddies Challenge: Hearst Castle earlier this month. But it wasn’t just any hill—the 62-miler, my chosen distance for the annual charity bike ride, cruelly started at the base of a 600-foot climb. (For perspective, that’s about a million right turns to your flywheel.) I’m not ashamed to admit that ride, which winds along California’s stunningly scenic Pacific Coast Highway, ending in San Simeon, kicked my butt. I felt confident going in—after all, I’m a semi-regular yogini and runner who crushes it in the front row of my twice-weekly SoulCycle classes. But according to Strava, my moving time was 5 hours and 40 minutes, which gave me plenty of time to think about what can help and hurt you in an endurance activity like this. Overall, it was an amazing experience, and I’m hoping to do the full century (100 miles) in the Best Buddies Challenge: Hyannis Port in May. Only then, I’ll use these hard-won strategies to go the distance.

Put your pedals to the pavement. There’s no question my group-cycling sessions have helped keep me fit, but no indoor workout could have prepared me for the 5,100-foot elevation gain. I’d only bought my road bike three weeks earlier, which didn’t give me much time to train—a mistake since road cycling requires a whole different set of skills. On a fixed-gear stationary bike, you’re in control of the resistance; outside it’s determined by environmental factors like terrain and wind. Do your research—study the race route and topography map—and then train accordingly.

Get a bike fitting. After nearly blowing out my knee on a too-small hybrid a few years back, I know the right two-wheeler can make all the difference. Be sure yours can withstand the rigors of a long road trip, and if your bike is older, it may be time for a tune-up at your local bike shop. Thankfully, my ride for the Challenge was a spanking-new Cannondale Synapse, which was designed for feats like this. So I simply brought it to the shop to have the height and angle of the seat and handlebars adjusted to my body, and my SPD pedals were tightened just enough so I could clip in and out easily. It’s a quick trip to avoid a long road of injury—well worth it, if you ask me.

Pack snacks. According to my Garmin Edge bike computer, my calorie burn for the day was a whopping 2,244 calories. That means my pre-ride dinner and breakfast PB&J were ancient history before 11 a.m. To keep from bonking, have some easy-to-digest carbs (think bananas, energy gels and gummies) on hand, in addition to lots of water.

Dress the part. I used to think a recreational biker like myself didn’t need head-to-toe cycling apparel. But it’s what keeps you visible, aerodynamic and dry. A bike jersey, I learned, can also double as an overnight bag: In addition to an array of snacks, my back pockets housed arm warmers, my cell phone and I.D., CO2 cartridges for my tires, lip gloss and a tiny fold-up brush (don’t judge). Bibs, too, have become more user-friendly. Padded in all the right places, my new Sugoi RS Pro Bib Shorts have a “Pit Stop” design that lets you unclip for easier bathroom breaks.

Pace yourself. It’s true that I’m a little speed-phobic, but these windy downhills were daunting! I often found myself holding my breath and pumping the breaks compulsively until my fingers seized up. Then, in an effort to catch up with my friend Amy on the ascents, I’d power up it in a higher gear, which only served to sap my energy and stress out my quads. Clearly, I’m no model of efficiency. My goal for future rides is to relax a bit, focusing less on speed (or my lack thereof) and more on maintaining a steady and sustainable cadence.

Find motivation. Each time I struggled during this ride, I thought about my reasons for participating, and it gave me the push I needed to keep going. The bike race is a fundraiser for Best Buddies International, a nonprofit dedicated to finding jobs and fostering friendships for people with intellectual disabilities. Some of the Best Buddies walked, ran or rode that day (one cycled 100 miles on a city bike!); others raised lots of money for the cause. I told myself that if the obstacles they faced weren’t insurmountable, then neither were mine.

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 Triathlon Training: How to Fuel for Your Best Race

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Learn How to Dance—At Home—With the Brooklynettes

Written on September 22, 2014 at 10:57 am , by

Written by Jacklyn Kouefati, editorial intern

If you’re rhythmically challenged like many of us (translation: me), the thought of dancing probably makes you squirm in your seat. I’m much more of an admire-from-afar type of person who prefers to keep a rather large distance from dance floors.

While that’s fine (to each their own), that doesn’t mean you need to fear dance cardio classes. I recently hit up one at Crunch Gym led by the Brooklynettes—the Nets’ dance team—who taught us a workout inspired by an actual hip-hop routine they perform courtside. The dance combines old-school moves with calorie-burning booty shakes—but don’t worry. You learn the dance in two parts before combining everything together.

You can try it too with Crunch Live, a streaming service that lets you follow along with different instructors right from home. Crunch Gym member or not, sign up for a year ($90) or pay per month ($9.99), and you’ll have access to more than 40 workouts (and counting!). But because we’re so excited about the dance we learned, you can try it free for a week. Just sign up on the Crunch Live website, choose a membership, and enter the code FITMAG by September 29th to dance along with “Center Court Choreography with the Brooklynettes.”

And to our fellow can’t-dance gals who are already cringing in their chairs, the routine is a surefire way to get your heart pumping in the privacy of your own home. You don’t have to be a professional dancer to enjoy this workout—pinky promise.

Photo by Mira Steinzor

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Triathlon Training: 4 Running Mistakes To Avoid

Written on September 18, 2014 at 9:00 am , by

Before competing in triathlons and Ironman races, our expert and Zoot Sports sponsored athlete, Jennifer Vogel was a runner—an ultra endurance runner, to be exact. Having set records in ultra marathon distances of 35 to 100 miles, this pavement pounder knows how to succeed on her own two feet. And to succeed at that level means you’ve got to make some mistakes along the way. Since she points out that many tri-newbies are runners first, we put our heads together to help you avoid some common missteps on the final leg of your race.

Not taking in enough fuel. If you have a half-marathon or marathon background, you might have a good grasp on fueling, but in a triathlon you have to remember that you’ve already pre-exhausted your stores during the first two legs. The best time to figure out the right nutrition plan? During all those training sessions. Try different formulas—gels, chews, liquids—to find out which sit well when you’re on the go. What works on the bike might not work as well on the run, so practice makes perfect. And remember the golden rule: Never try something new on race day.

Skimping on the bricks. Brick workouts are when you practice transitioning from one sport to the next, essentially doing two workouts back-to-back. Translation: your legs usually feel like bricks when you do this. The most common brick is the bike-to-run since it’s the easiest to practice with less gear changes required. If you feel exhausted at the beginning of your second workout, don’t fret—it takes most people about one mile to get their muscles used to the new movement. Runners are used to feeling fresh-legged at the beginning of their races, so practicing bricks will help retrain your muscles and give you a good opportunity to test out your nutrition plan.

Clocking positive splits. One of the keys to triathlon is allocating enough energy to perform well in each sport while still leaving some gas in the tank to finish all three legs. When you finally get past the swim and bike, it’s easy to excitedly speed out of the second transition. But remember to reserve energy for the second half of the run. You want to aim for negative splits on the back end; start opening up your stride in the final miles and finish strong.

Wasting time with laces. It’s not totally necessary to ditch your laces if you’re a beginner triathlete, but it’s worth shaving a few seconds off your transition time for the more experienced competitors. Think about replacing your running shoes with triathlon sneakers, like the Zoot Sports Women’s Ultra Tempo 6.0 . Not only do these feature Quick-Lace, which allows you to lace up with one swift pull, but they also have internally seamless features to help prevent blisters and TriDry technology that keep your feet dry during the run. Love the shoes your in? Try swapping out the laces for Speed Laces ($6, speedlaces.com).

Photo provided by Jennifer Vogel 

More from FITNESS:
Triathlon Training: 9 Things Triathletes Can Learn From Cyclists
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Triathlon Training: Meet Zoot Sports Athlete Jennifer Vogel 

Triathlon Training: Mastering the Swim at Any Level

Written on September 4, 2014 at 9:00 am , by

If you’re lucky enough to come into triathlon from a swimming background, congratulations—you’re already one step ahead of most people! But if you’re just getting into it, don’t stress. You just have to brush up on the basics and dive right in. In fact, whether you’re a newbie Nemo or a seasoned shark, there are plenty of ways to improve your swimming skills and ace the first leg of your race. Jennifer Vogel, a triathlon coach and Zoot Sports sponsored athlete gearing up for the Ironman World Championship in Kona, shares some of her best tips for upping your underwater game at any level.

If you’re a beginner….

Remember to breathe.  This may sound like a no-brainer, but even the most fit people might not be able to swim the length of the pool at first. It’s not because they’re not fit enough, but it’s usually because they aren’t breathing properly. Practice bilateral breathing—turning your head to both the right and left sides—from the start to avoid forming bad habits.

Take it slow. It’s a natural instinct to hit the water at turbo speed because you don’t want to drown. But you’ll get winded and exhausted in no time, so start out slow and steady and build from there.

If you’re intermediate….

Meet with a coach. If you really want to take your sport to the next level, having someone analyze your stroke is important. It might set you back $60-$80 for a one-hour session, but that’s money well spent because you’ll get an expert eye and opinion. Ideally, they will take a video of you underwater, as well as above, so you can actually see what you’re doing wrong, rather than them just telling you. Swimming is mostly about technique, rather than strength, so nailing proper form will make you faster, require less energy and keep injury at bay.

Invest in a wetsuit. Depending on which races you sign up for and the water temperatures, a wet suit isn’t essential in the beginning. But once you know you want to continue competing in triathlons, it’s a smart investment. Not only will it make you more hydrodynamic (translation: traveling easily through water), it increases buoyancy and keeps you warm in colder water temps. Vogel uses a full sleeve option, but I opt for this sleeveless version so my arms and shoulders wouldn’t feel restricted. Check out more selections here.

Gain more open water experience. Training in the pool is easy and effective, but unless you’re racing in one, it’s best to get as much open water experience as possible. Pools don’t have a ton of waves, murky water and, well, potential fishies and seaweed lurking around. The more comfortable you are in that setting, the less pre-race anxiety you’ll have and the more energy you can put into kicking butt and taking names.

If you’re experienced…

Join a masters group. These are adult swim groups for ages 18 and over, typically comprised of triathletes or former swimmers. A masters team will provide structured workouts and drills, as well as a group setting to help  hold you accountable. It’s sometimes mentally easier when you can swim in a group setting like this as opposed to repeating laps in a pool on your own.

For everyone…

Focus on posture and core work on dry land. Swimming engages your entire core and that’s where most of your power comes from, so you need to hold it tight while keeping your extremities very fluid. It’s about maintaining this balance between effort and ease. Planks are one of the best ways to strengthen your core outside of the pool—we recommend busting out a 30- to 60-second forearm version daily or try this workout.

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We Tried It: What It Takes to Be A U.S. Open Ball Person

Written on August 25, 2014 at 1:32 pm , by

Written by Anna Hecht, editorial intern

Tennis is an incredible sport, and the athletes are OMG-powerful, but there are some people involved in tournaments—specifically the U.S. Open—who don’t get a big spotlight on their athleticism. But man, they should. I had no idea what I was agreeing to when I accepted an invitation to participate in the U.S. Open ball boy—er, ball girl—tryouts, but I figured I could hack it. Spoiler alert: I can’t.

“How difficult can it be to run over and pick up a tennis ball?” I wondered. Too bad I didn’t think about the fact that a ball person is expected to do his or her job perfectly, while going unnoticed, during intense televised matches that are played by the best players in the world. Oh, right.

My first task during tryouts:  throw the ball across the court to a receiving ball person, without it landing inside the playing court boundaries. Just to clarify, it’s pretty freakin’ far. Like, 128-feet long. While I have decently accurate aim, my upper-body strength just wasn’t cutting it (and I have been working on my push-ups ever since). If by some freak accident I would have been chosen, my ball would have ended up hitting Serena Williams. As a former FITNESS cover girl, I’ve seen how tough she is. So obviously that would not be okay.

Next challenge: testing agility and speed, and doing it without causing a distraction.

At this, I was pretty good. But, knowing that there were about 400 ball-person hopefuls auditioning for just four coveted spots, I was pretty certain that at least half of them would be better at running cross-court to retrieve the balls “with two hands,” following an ended play or missed serve. Either way, the directions for getting the job done were simple: Stand with your hands behind your back, and when the ball hits the net, run, retrieve the ball and sprint to the sidelines. On it.

The tryouts lasted about 15 minutes, and I definitely had a ball (sorry, couldn’t help it). Down to the last second, I had a smile on my face as I worked up a sweat, and enjoyed an experience that I had never before considered. Granted, I didn’t get a callback for round two of tryouts, but as I watch the 2014 U.S. Open from home, which takes place through September 8th, there’s no doubt that I’ll be giving those ball boys and girls a second look to see who’s got the athleticism I’m after.

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Triathlon Training: 4 Tips for Transitioning into the Sport

Written on August 21, 2014 at 9:00 am , by

Maybe you swam on your college swim team, you’re a runner looking for a bigger challenge or you’re addicted to spin class and want to take your cycling skills to the next level. Whatever your reason for being interested in triathlon, getting into the sport can be a little tricky and sometimes intimidating. Zoot-sponsored athlete Jennifer Vogel and I put our heads together to come up with the best advice for breaking into the sport.

Study up and train hard. 
One of the most valuable things I did before my first triathlon was research the sport like crazy. I wanted to know everything I could to be as prepared as possible. Once you’re armed with some basic information, like a starter training plan and transitioning tips, you can use your workouts and experience to figure out the rest. There’s a lot of info out there, so take advantage of reputable sources and then put what you know into action during your workouts.

Don’t overestimate yourself in one sport. 
Vogel points out that many tri-newbies are runners first. But just because you can run a sub-2:00 half-marathon doesn’t mean you should skimp on training for those final miles. The same goes for naturally gifted swimmers and bikers. Everyone has their favorite and strongest leg, but you still need to practice pacing yourself through three different sports and mastering the bricks (transitioning from one sport to the next).

Ease into the equipment.
Triathlon is a sport that requires a lot of gear. Gear costs money. But don’t let the initial investment scare you away; instead, start small. Vogel suggests easing in with short sprint races that you can do without expensive items like a wet suit or tri-specific bike. True story: I did my first tri in a sport bikini and borrowed my brother’s old bike! Once you get a better idea of how serious you’ll become and what kind of goals you have, you can invest in better equipment little by little along the way. Not sure of the essentials? Check out our go-to list here.

Join a tri group. 
It’s the easiest way to make new friends with a common interest and you’ll have an instant network of triathletes to train with and ask questions. Vogel notes that a group helps keep you accountable and makes it fun, too. I’ve done all my training and races solo and quite honestly, I wish I joined a group early on. Trust me, during those long training days, you’ll be happy to have the company and fellow finishers give you more reasons to celebrate during your post-race party.

Photo by Kevin Steele

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The Prancercise Lady is Back!

Written on August 18, 2014 at 12:53 pm , by

Prancercise creator Joanna Rohrback just added some major accessories to her fitness wardrobe: horses. They’re completely fitting, given the creatures are what inspired her to invent the ”springy, rhythmic way of moving forward, similar to a horse’s gait and is ideally induced by elation,” which she demonstrates (flawlessly, of course) in her new video.

We listed Prancercise as one of the biggest fitness moments nearly a year ago (the original video—uploaded in December 2012—has over 10 million views). Naturally, this is a much-needed entertainment break for a Monday, even though the horses look miserable (scared?) the entire four minutes and 30 seconds of the video.

But at 62, Rohrback looks pretty amazing, so the galloping, skipping and frolicking through fields must be working for her. That said, we don’t necessarily encourage canceling your gym membership or calling your morning runs quits anytime soon. But when you want to let it all out, find a park and prance, girl. You won’t find any judgment here.

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We Tried It: Swerve Fitness

Written on August 15, 2014 at 10:10 am , by

What it is: The latest boutique studio to make its mark on indoor cycling, Swerve Fitness caters to those who want a blend of popular studios like SoulCycle and Flywheel Sports, or anyone who grew up participating in team sports.

Good for: Anyone who loves to get their heart rate up, work as a team and sweat—a lot. This workout is perfect cross-training for runners in the midst of training for a race (marathon season baby!) since it provides the analytics you crave after each workout. There’s also a healthy portion of upper body work incorporated into the class, so your arms get a hit of firm-and-burn power.

Where you go: The Flatiron District in New York City, specifically 30 W 18th Street, with plans to expand throughout the city.

How it works: Riders are divided into three team colors—red, blue and green—that compete against each other during class. Your bike is hooked up to a monitor to track personal metrics (think energy output, miles biked, calories burned, RPM), and the team’s average scores are displayed on boards at the front of the class. Riding on the beat is heavily emphasized, and you’ll encounter a 3- to 5-minute arm workout about halfway through class. Otherwise, there’s a ton of interval training throughout, alternating speeds and positions in and out of the saddle.

What you need: Comfortable, form-fitting clothing. Since you’re inside, we usually opt for capri leggings and a tank top (it can get hot in there!). Remember to bring a water bottle if you don’t want to pay for one, but good news: clip-in shoes are included in your class purchase.

Bonus feature: A smoothie bar is within the studio and you can either place your order pre-ride or right after. That way your refueling drink is ready as soon as you’re ready to go, or it’s prepared while you shower.

What it costs: $30 per class, but first-timers score 2 classes for the same price. Keep an eye out for their special deals online too, like their wedding package you can purchase with your sweetie or the refer-a-friend program. Don’t forget to share your #swervescore on social media too. Every time you do, you’re entered to win prizes like a free drink from the smoothie bar or a free class.

What we think: Love it! Whether you’re competitive with yourself or others, this class taps into that inner drive. If you’re more of a team spirit, seeing your color’s average swerve score will drive you to keep up the pace so you’re not letting the other riders down—and seeing someone else in your pack take the leader spot is enough motivation to pedal harder. More the win-it-all type? Every sprint race will kick you into high-gear, as the screens in the front of the class update which team is in the lead (thus winning more points). And if you just like to improve on your own terms, we recommend saving your Swerve Scores, which are emailed immediately after class. Can you go further in 45 minutes than last time?

Photos courtesy of Swerve Fitness

Want us to test another workout? Post a comment to let us know and you may see it in a future We Tried It! 

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Marathon Musings: 5 Strength-Training Myths for Runners, Debunked

Written on August 7, 2014 at 3:22 pm , by

When you commit to running a marathon, it’s pretty obvious that you’ll be doing one thing a lot: running. But what about all the other facets of fitness? I knew going into this that I’d be regularly cross-training (spinning, Barry’s Bootcamp and yin-style yoga are my faves), tons of foam rolling and squeezing in strength training. But I wanted to make sure that injury wasn’t waiting for me down the road, so I hit up my coach—Clif Bar pro athlete Stephanie Howe—for advice once more. Turns out there are a lot of myths out there, and she was there to bust ‘em all.

Myth: You gotta give all or nothing.
I used to regularly freak out that I wasn’t using weights enough, and became paranoid that injury was right around the corner when my work schedule only allowed me to hit the weights once or twice a week. Full disclosure: I’m a worry wart. When you’re training for a big race (um, I’d like to say this marathon is big), 1-3 times per week is OK. As a pro athlete who trains for 50-milers and beyond, Howe determines her gym schedule based on where she’s at in the season. “In the off-season, I try to get there 2-3 times per week, but when I’m training, it’s usually only once.” Once you find what fits for you, though, stick to it, she warns. “Consistency is key. I go to a strength training for runners class every week, and meeting a friend keeps me motivated and accountable.” Anyone want to join me? Tweet me @FITNESSsamantha.

Myth: Running does the same thing to muscles that strength training does.
When you’re sore, you’re sore. Doesn’t matter how you got there, right? Wrong. Not only will strength training help balance your body and prevent injury, but it will also give your body a break from the wear and tear it gets from pounding so much pavement. “Running is a catabolic activity, meaning it breaks down the body for energy,” explains Howe. “Strength training is an anabolic activity that stimulates the muscles to build up.” So in order to reach marathon-running perfection, I need to have a balance of both.

Myth: Abs are the only focus during strength training.
Yes, your abs are really important, especially when training for such a long distance (it’s where a lot of your energy comes from). But it’s not the only area that should be ready for action. “If you just focus on the core, you miss many other large muscle groups, like your arms and legs,” says Howe. Fun fact: the leg alone has 13 muscles in it, and well, they’re used quite a lot in running. So giving equal attention to other body parts not only covers your bases, but it helps prevent muscle imbalances. When you do that, you prevent injury.

Myth: It’s OK to lift weights on back-to-back days.
There’s one big thing I’ve noticed in my training schedule week-to-week: I’m rarely doing a “hard” workout two days in a row. So if I hit up bootcamp on Monday, I can count on an easy run being on deck for Tuesday. What gives? “You need to give your body time to recover and build back up between sessions,” explains Howe. “All the changes happen when you are are resting. If you don’t give your body that time, then you are breaking it down even further.” And nobody wants that.

Myth: You should avoid heavy weights.
It may seem counterintuitive—why grab heavy dumbbells when I want to be light and speedy?—but lifting heavier is pretty important, says Howe. ”It sparks neuromuscular changes that will make your body more efficient,” explains Howe. “These changes happen independently, meaning the benefits are found without changes in muscle size.” Translation: lifting heavy weights for a lower amount of reps, paired with running, will not result in Schwarzenegger arms, but rather a stronger bod and faster finish times. Noted.

And just for good measure, I wanted to know: what are the best strengthening exercises for runners? Howe recommends a lot of basics that focus on your foundation muscles (abs, back, glutes, lats, traps), arms and legs. “I grab heavy weights and regularly do bench presses, lat pull downs, squats and lunges,” she says. Make sure to focus on any imbalances, too. “I have weak hips, so I try to include a hip exercise each time I lift. And always take time to stretch.” Girl just won Western States (that’s 100 miles), so her plan must be a solid one.

Photo by James Farrell

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Fashionably Fit: Celebrate the Running Skirt’s 10-Year Anniversary

Written on August 6, 2014 at 5:45 pm , by

Written by Anna Hecht, editorial intern

What’s more fun than looking super cute while training like a beast? Answer: nothing. Which is why we totally love a good running skirt. This fall, the brand behind the original, Skirt Sports, celebrates its 10-year anniversary with a “Virtual 10 on 10 Run” on September 13th. As you probably guessed, we’re joining the fun and are pretty pumped to sport this season’s trendiest styles.

Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of what exactly a “Virtual 10 on 10 Run” entails, we must talk about just how crazy it is that the running skirt has officially been around for an entire decade. News like this can make a girl feel pretty old. I mean, we’re talking 2004 here, back when Usher’s “Burn” was the top pop single and movies like Mean Girls and The Notebook were rockin’ the big screen (We still love you, RyGos and Rachel).

It was also the year that professional triathlete Nicole DeBoom debuted the running skirt—while winning Ironman Wisconsin, no less—and used her prize money to start Skirt Sports, a brand that’s dedicated the last decade to making women look and feel great while running. Talk about major girl power.

So, what exactly is this virtual run, and how can you participate? From September 13-15, Skirt Sports invites women from around the world to run either a 10K or 10 miles (if you happen to live in Boulder, CO you can run with the Skirt Sports team!). Sign up here, and share your training and race-day adventures on social media—just remember to tag @SkirtSports. Every participant that registers will receive a gift certificate to Skirt Sports, a Lucky #10 race bib and a finisher’s gift post-race.

Still new to the world of running skirts? Check out some of our fave picks below. From the most fashionable styles to the best options for optimal performance, you’ll love the freedom that comes with wearing skirts while running your fastest. What are you waiting for? Time to suit up, sign up and pound some pavement. Happy training!

From Left to Right:

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