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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.

More from FITNESS:

We Tried It: Swerve Fitness

We Tried It: 305 Fitness

We Tried It: Body Conceptions

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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The Top 10 Health and Fitness Moments of 2013

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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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5 Things I Learned from Doing the New York City Triathlon

Written on August 6, 2014 at 11:13 am , by

Last year, my colleague Samantha and I participated in the New York City Triathlon relay-style. (You can read about our experience here.) But getting just a little taste of the inspiring event wasn’t enough for me. After that day, I made a promise to myself to do all three legs the following year and immediately marked my calendar to solidify the goal. This past Sunday, I competed in this iconic New York race—swimming in the Hudson river, biking along the Henry Hudson Parkway and running through Central Park—and got so much more out of it than just a super cool medal. Here are my top takeaways from race day:

1. Make Friends.
I have always trained for and competed in triathlons by myself, and quite frankly, it gets lonely. In the past, I’ve been too reserved and nervous to get chummy with other people, but this time I was feeling unusually calm and ended up meeting a bunch of awesome triathletes. Chatting with them kept me feeling relaxed and made my race experience much more enjoyable. So don’t be shy—even though it’s an individual sport, you’re really all in it together.

2. Stay Calm. 
As mentioned above, I was surprisingly chill on race morning. I can only attribute this to a ton of pre-race visualization and feeling properly prepared. I put in all the hard work in the weeks leading up to the big day and if you train right, there’s really nothing to worry about except having fun! The worst thing you can do is spike your heart rate before you jump in the water, so even if there are a few worries in the back of your mind, push them out and repeat positive thoughts to stay relaxed. It actually works and makes a huge difference.

3. The Bike Matters. 
Personally, my strongest leg is on the bike, but even if it’s not yours, it’s still important to care about what wheels you’re on. This year, I rode my Specialized Alias (prices vary, specialized.com). It’s like the Jekyll and Hyde of bikes: two personalities—a road bike for training and a tri bike for racing—all wrapped into one slick, aerodynamic package. The geometry is designed specifically to allow you to swap between road position and triathlon position with ease. This explains it in more detail, but it was the perfect bike for my training. I just popped off the clip-on aerobars for the long group rides I incorporated into my schedule and then snapped them back on for when I was practicing race pace on solo jaunts. On the Alias, I was able to shave five minutes off my previous year’s time despite slick road conditions. True story: I actually saw a girl riding a rent-a-bike from Central Park complete with pannier on the course (!). Needless to say, her struggle was real and I smoked her. So seriously, it’s worth it to invest in a solid set of wheels.

4. Pace Yourself.
I tend to be a zero to 60, all or nothing, give it 100 percent type of person, especially when it comes to working out. And hey, that’s not always a bad thing. But in triathlon, you’ve got to get through three events before you can taste the sweetness of that finish line. The smartest thing I did was start every leg slow and steady. If I had extra gas in the tank, then I kicked it into high gear near the end. With this strategy, I had the smoothest race and strongest finish yet.

5. Remember to Smile! 
I get laser focused during races and unfortunately suffer from “resting b*tchface, so this one is important for me. If you want some cool in-action race photos, you better cheese when you spot a camera lens. Plus, anytime I fake smiled I mean, real smiled at the crowd, they went nuts and their enthusiasm gave me the shot of energy I needed, which in turn made it really fun and led to lots of genuine grins. Yay!

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Your 10-Week Triathlon Training Guide

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Cyclists, Rejoice! A Low-Cost Bike for A High-Quality Ride

Written on July 23, 2014 at 9:50 am , by

Written by Anna Hecht, editorial intern

Too many times I’ve been in a rush to get to work with cyclists zooming by as I power walk at a fraction of the pace. Other times you’ll catch me jogging alongside cyclists in Prospect Park, wishing I, too, could ride around the entire city in just a matter of hours.

But I’ve always held off on buying a bike for one major reason: They’re either affordable and don’t last, or extremely pricey and for more serious riders. There’s no middle ground for a casual rider like myself. So when I heard about a new company, Priority Bicycles, and the fact that they’ve created a lightweight, low-cost, “maintenance-free” bike, I practically jumped in the saddle right then and there.

Now, if you’re anything like me, the first thought that popped in your head was, “Can there really be a maintenance-free bike?” After all, most any bike is bound to show some wear and tear eventually. But after talking with David Weiner, the founder of Priority Bicycles, I’m convinced this ride is as good as it sounds.

“Our most exclusive feature is our belt drive,” explains Weiner. “Most bikes have chains that rust, require lubrication and are susceptible to weather. Belt drives are more durable. We also use the rear hub to contain the gears and brakes, which isolates features that traditionally require maintenance on other bikes.”

On top of all that, the bike has puncture-resistant tires and the seat is held together with bolts, not quick release levers, in order to deter theft. And when purchasing the bike, Priority Bicycles sends a tire pump, assembly tools and a water bottle cage right along with it (usually those all come at an extra cost). Oh, and the bike looks good, giving you three different color options and a sleek, classic design.

When it comes to the low price—ahem, $399—Weiner explains that most everyone in the bicycle industry has “two markups,” meaning the bike company buys it from a factory, then bumps up the price to sell it to the retailer. That retailer turns around and does the same thing, marking it up a second time to the price you see in stores.

Thankfully, Priority Bicycles skips all that. “Our model is to sell consumer-direct only. We buy from the factory using our unique design and send it directly to the consumer. That effectively means you’re getting an $800 bike for $400,” says Weiner. Cha-ching!

Weiner came up with the idea a few years ago, after constantly doling out advice to friends about what bike to buy for their experience level. When he couldn’t find a company that offered high-quality equipment at an affordable price, he hopped onto Kickstarter and created a campaign.  Weiner had a modest goal of raising $30k, but clearly everyone wants a bike like this—the company is over $250k, and there are still 27 days left.  Once the campaign closes on August 14, the bikes will be sold directly from Priority’s website for the standard $399. But if you jump on to Kickstarter, you’ll score a special price of $374 and free shipping.

So hop to it because if you order now, the bike will be made and delivered before the holidays. Christmas gift, anyone?

Photo courtesy of Priority Bicycles

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We Tried It: 305 Fitness

Written on July 10, 2014 at 1:05 pm , by

While running on treadmills and hitting the stair-climber will always be great ways to get in some sweaty cardio sessions, we have to admit that they can get boring (especially when you end up staring at that same spot on the wall during each gym visit). So when the girls of Lole and 305 Fitness invited me to a dance party overlooking the Hudson River, I practically ran there, excited to see what its founder, Sadie Kurzban, had in store.

Not only did she kick my butt, but she somehow simultaneously made me forget that I was strengthening my core, leaning out my legs, and cranking my cardio to the very max. It probably had something to do with her wild spunk and the DJ’s amazing tunes (yes, there was a live DJ there—expect that at every single class), but that’s the whole idea behind 305 Fitness. My planks were interweaved with sashays, and squats didn’t happen without a little shimmying in between. The classes are designed to get you so pumped about what you’re doing, you forget that the fun dance moves are actually contributing to your workout.

You’ll be winded by the end of it and will probably burn the next day (my calves: ow), but it makes that feeling of accomplishment so much sweeter. Add in the realization that you were just dancing for much of the class, and you’ll begin to understand (if you haven’t yet) what we FITNESS editors stress all the time: that working out can be fun.

If you’re in the New York or D.C. area, check out the schedule, sign up for one of the 55-minute classes, and get dancing.

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Get Fit for Girl’s Education

Written on June 18, 2014 at 1:01 pm , by

Written by Anna Hecht, editorial intern

Ready to raise your endorphins and flex your feel-good muscles? From now until June 21, NYC fitness fanatics can participate in the first-ever NYC Fit Week, signing up for donation-based workout classes, that help fund She’s the First, an internationally recognized organization that sponsors women from around the world to become the first from their families to graduate.

In partnership with EMpowered personal training, She’s the First has teamed up with 14 NYC fitness instructors from some of NYC’s hottest fitness studios (oh hey, Barry’s Bootcamp and Flywheel). In an effort to raise gender equality awareness in the educational arena, 100 percent of the proceeds from this week’s events will fund educational scholarships for young women in low-income countries. Girl power for the win!

If you happen to be super swamped this week—or aren’t in NYC—don’t freak. NYC Fit Week is just a small part of She’s the First’s year-round national campaign, Run the World. Through this, supporters align their own fundraising goals with a fitness endeavor, like running a marathon, and start a fundraising page where friends, fam and and everyone in between can send in a donation. She’s the First’s annual goal is to raise $75K by the NYC Marathon on November 2, and they’ve already made it a quarter of the way!

But if you aren’t quite ready to make your own fundraising page, you can still get involved (seriously, there’s really no excuses here). Simply download the Charity Miles app, and select She’s the First as your charity partner. Check into the app whenever you head out for a run or hop on a bike, and 10 to 25 cents (depending on your activity) will be donated.

Clearly, girls’ education is a very important cause, and we couldn’t be more excited to join in and help. Visit RunTheWorld.ShesTheFirst.org to see the schedule and sign up for a class.

Photo courtesy of Kate Lord

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