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Q&A: How Much Weight Should I Lift During Strength Training?

Written on January 6, 2012 at 3:50 pm , by

personal trainer coach nicole nichols

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

SparkPeople.com’s resident trainer and fitness expert, Nicole Nichols, offers up some advice for one of the most frequently asked questions as people start working out more in the new year. For more cardio and strengthening help from Nicole, check out her new DVD, 28 Day Boot Camp with Coach Nicole.

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Question: How much weight should I lift during strength training?

Answer: We are all at different strength levels and the muscles throughout your body vary in strength, too. So while 10 pounds might be the ideal weight for you to lift during biceps curls, you could struggle with that weight during lateral raises…or leg press it all day as if it were a bag of feathers. So keep in mind that the amount of weight you lift during one exercise could be too light or too heavy for another. That said, you’ll probably need to experiment with a variety of weights to find the appropriate level for each exercise you do. Working out at a gym makes that easy, but doing so at home will take a little more space and investment.

I think it’s a good idea to have at least two, and ideally three sets of dumbbells at home: a light, medium and heavier set, which is defined by your own fitness level. That could be 2, 5, and 7 pounds for one person, or 5, 10 and 15 pounds for another. Personally, I keep 6, 10 and 20 pound weights at home, which allow me to do a variety of workouts and exercises safely and effectively.

So how much should you lift? Here are the 5 guidelines you need to follow to select the proper weight for strength training.

  1. Aim low. The safest and most effective thing to do if you are a beginner is to master your exercises with little to no added weight. This allows you to focus intensely on proper form.
  2. Go slow. If you have to move at jackrabbit speed or harness momentum to lift the weight, it is too heavy. Period. The proper weight will allow you to move in a slow, controlled manner.
  3. Never sacrifice form for function. You might want to fast track your results by picking a  heavy weight, but lifting more weight should never trump doing it correctly. If you can’t do the exercise properly, then the added weight is not doing you any favors and may actually increase your risk for serious injury.
  4. Count your reps. In general, you are lifting the right amount of weight when you can perform 8-15 repetitions in excellent form. Once you get strong enough to do more than 15 repetitions more easily, it’s probably time to increase the weight again.
  5. Work to fatigue. This is the #1 key to selecting the proper weight. The weight you lift should not only meet the guidelines for form above, but should also challenge your muscles! The only way strength training is really going to benefit you is for you to overload your muscles—that means working them to fatigue. The weight you select should be challenging enough to fatigue your muscles within 8-15 repetitions.

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Hey, Busy Bees! Quick Tips to Fit in Fitness

Written on November 11, 2011 at 1:00 pm , by

Dumbbell and Stopwatch

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

What’s the No. 1 excuse for not working out? Lack of time. But if you look closer, you’ll discover that you do have the time to work out—and you deserve to use that time for yourself. Also, remember that “working out” doesn’t have to happen in the gym or last for an hour! Short 10-minute bursts of exercise, accumulated over the course of the day, can add up.

Here’s how to start fitting fitness into your busy life!

1. Be an active TV/Internet watcher. It’s unrealistic to never watch TV or to shun the Internet forever.  So when you do, try to incorporate some physical activity. When watching TV, make it a point to do some jumping jacks or push-ups during commercials. And instead of sitting in a chair when on the computer, try sitting on a stability ball.

2. Mix socializing with exercising. Do you normally spend time with your family or friends by going to dinner or going to movies? Make your social time more active by planning events that get all of you moving. Go for a family hike on a beautiful Saturday morning or make a date with your significant other or best friend at a group exercise class.

3. Turn chores into exercise. While cleaning might not be the most fun activity, it’s something we all have to do, and it can definitely be a workout if you want it to be. Set a kitchen timer for 20 minutes and see how much of the house you can clean. Try to be as efficient and quick-paced as possible, and you’re guaranteed to work up a sweat. If you’re doing lighter housework that is harder to get your heart rate up (like laundry or organizing), throw in some lunges or push-ups every few minutes.

4. Schedule an appointment. If you had scheduled a doctor’s appointment, you wouldn’t miss it would you? Working out is actually as important as going to the doctor or any other obligation that you prioritize. So whether it’s scheduling in an hour to go to that group exercise class, investing in personal training sessions or even making a date with yourself to do that workout DVD over your lunch break, write it in pen in your calendar and treat it like any other appointment you can’t miss!

5. Say no. If you’ve gone through this entire list of tips and don’t think a single one will work in your life, then it’s time to look at your priorities and responsibilities. Do you really have to bake cookies for that fundraiser? Attend that wedding shower of your second cousin? Remember that there’s nothing wrong in saying no. Yes, we all have obligations to others, but don’t forget about the obligation you have to yourself to take care of your body and your health!

Continued: 5 More Ideas for Fitting in Exercise


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Walking and Running Ideas for City People

Written on November 3, 2011 at 9:30 am , by

Running in Grass

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

If you reside in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago or San Francisco, you have access to some of the hottest and trendiest health clubs and group exercise classes right in your back yard. And even if you live in an urban part of Dallas, Seattle, Kansas City, Pittsburgh or any other large metropolitan area, you still have a lot of different workout options available. But what if running or walking outdoors is your favorite activity? Well, urban exercisers have to deal with the hustle and bustle of city life, which can put a damper on your exercise experience.

Urban living may give you the freedom to function without a car and easily walk to hip shopping, dining and entertainment destinations, but when you’re trying to actually fit in a workout, navigating the city safely and efficiently can be a bit of a challenge. After all, you’re up against pollution, traffic, possible crime, uneven sidewalks and other treacherous conditions, not to mention all the traffic and intersections that stop you multiple times mid-run.

Here are six ideas for where and when to navigate the urban landscape. Make sure to check out the complete article for bonus tips for when it comes to your safety and city life.

1. Park it. This is an obvious one, but it’s too important to ignore. City parks are made for running and walking!

2. Run in the place where you live. While parks are great for getting away, sometimes straying from the park can be a good thing when you need variety or a change of pace (pun intended). Jog or power walk through a residential area of town that has an interesting history or one that you find particularly charming or beautiful.

3. Play red light, green light. Next time you’re stuck at a stoplight, don’t just stop or jog in place, impatiently waiting for the light to turn green. Use the break to do some squats or use that street pole for a few one-armed push-ups or that city bench for an assisted plank.

4. Get on track. Running in a circle may not strike your fancy, but running and walking tracks can be great places for city dwellers to work out in peace. On the track, you can easily track your distance, avoid the traffic and distractions of street running and, if you’re lucky, you’ll have an easier-on-the-body rubberized surface for your workout.

5. Get active on your commute. Unless you work from home, you already have to commute to your job. So why not multitask with an active commute that doubles as a workout?

6. Hit the gym. You may love outdoor running and walking, but when the weather is bad or you work late hours, it’s hard to get out there and hit the pavement. A gym membership may be expensive, but it allows you to work out safely and comfortably.

Continued: Get Safety and City Tips for Each of the Ideas…


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Fitting Dessert Into Diet, with Top Chef Megan Ketover

Written on October 27, 2011 at 4:26 pm , by

Megan Ketover Top Chef Just Desserts

Photo Courtesy of SparkPeople

Top Chef: Just Desserts contestant Megan Ketover, who helped with The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight, revealed to SparkPeople how she stays so petite while whipping up pastries and other yummy goodies…

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Q: You’re surrounded by pastries and treats all day, every day. How do you resist eating them all? 

MK: I am very lucky because I take so many little bites throughout the day to make sure flavors are balanced, that I am very satisfied by sweets when the day is done. There are certain things that are so amazing when they come out of the oven, I do have to have some willpower to resist eating them all.  I just make sure if I am going to eat something decadent, it is going to be really good, and not waste my calories on junk.

Q: Do you have any tips for those who might be intimidated by baking? 

MK: With savory cooking, you can improvise and adjust amounts in a recipe, but baking is an exact science; so I always recommend that bakers get a scale to measure ingredients. Scales can also help to see what a real portion size is.

Q: For “The SparkPeople Cookbook,” you created recipes that were packed with flavor but low in fat? What are some ways that you make your favorite desserts healthier? 

MK: I have always liked the rich flavor of whole wheat flour, so switching out regular flour to whole wheat is an easy way to add fiber and nutrients. Flax seed is also an amazing ingredient to add that packs a nutrient punch without a huge quality difference. I have always enjoyed nutritional baking, but it is important to know what role the baking ingredients play in a recipe in order to substitute it well. It is always important to me that “healthier” desserts still taste amazing. There is just no point if it does not taste good!

Q: People tend to think of desserts as very high in calories–a food that they should rarely eat. How do you incorporate desserts into everyday life? 

MK: Sweets make people happy, they are satisfying at the end of a meal, so I encourage small portion sizes into a healthy diet. Fruits are great because they also pack vitamins, and dairy based desserts are a delicious way to add calcium and protein to a diet plan. Moderation is key; what works for me is to have a small portion of something really delicious and satisfying.

Continued: More Q&A’s with Top Chef Megan Ketover!


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Motivation Makeovers: Mind Games You Must Stop Playing

Written on October 20, 2011 at 12:37 pm , by

Food temptation and mind games

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

Motivation is like cold hard cash: You can never have too much! And when you’re trying to lose weight, it’s nice to have a wealth of motivational strategies. But, with so many motivational tips and tricks to sift through, why do we lose our motivation rather than reap the rewards? It could be because the mind game you’re playing with yourself won’t always work in the long run…

Mind Game:  Starting Out Super Strong
It’s Sunday evening and you realize that you spent the weekend indulging on brews, barbeques, and binges. A twinge of guilt has you psyched to start speeding down the road to wellness first thing Monday and you figure that going full throttle is the way to reach your weight-loss goals as quickly as possible. You’re excited for it! But pretty soon, your muscles are too sore to roll out of bed, you’re sick of salads, and you’re already thinking about throwing in the towel.

     Motivation Makeover: Maintaining motivation is like running a marathon. Instead of starting at full speed and running out of steam, it is better to focus on simply putting one foot in front of the other. Set small, achievable goals so that you can build momentum and feel successful in the beginning, and pat yourself on the back when you conquer each one.

Mind Game:  Being Inspired by “As Seen on TV”
There will always be a new diet or exercise program that promises fast progress and fantastic results. Reading about the latest food fad or watching a perky personal trainer push sweat-drenched clients through an infomercial workout can definitely spark your motivation. But trying every new fad that comes on the market may leave you broke and brokenhearted…

     Motivation Makeover: If you want a plan that works long term, stick with the tried and true. Keep your eating close to the earth with whole fruits, veggies, grains and lean meats. Get up and moving with whatever activity suits your style and schedule. Remind yourself that following through with real nutrition and fitness habits is a process: It takes the proper planning and commitment that can’t be found in a book, a box or a bottle.

Mind Game:  Flying Under the Radar
You’re already feeling self-conscious about losing weight, so you certainly don’t want your friends and family making more of a fuss. Besides, you’re confident that you can do this all on your own! Going it alone may seem like a good idea, but it is actually counterproductive. Soon enough, you’ll be feeling lonely and left out of social merriment.

    
     Motivation Makeover: Call in the recruits! Whether it’s a neighbor down the street, a fellow play group parent or a Facebook friend, get someone to join you on your weight-loss journey. Studies in behavior science show that changes that you make in the public eye have a much better chance of sticking in the real world.

Continued: Should you look at that scale?


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We’re Giving Away a Copy of the SparkPeople Cookbook!

Written on October 14, 2011 at 2:19 pm , by

Spark People Cookbook

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

Update 10/17/11: We have a winner! Congrats to Elizabeth from Walnut Creek, California! Thanks to everyone who entered!

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In the October issue of FITNESS, there’s a delicious, slimmed-down version of French Onion Soup that clocks in at just 266 calories per serving. In case you missed it, we’re defriending you. you can still get your hands on the recipe created by Meg Galvin, World Master Chef and Healthy Cooking Expert at SparkPeople.com, in the brand-new book, The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight. SparkRecipes.com Editor Stepfanie Romie worked with Meg and the rest of the Spark team to pull together a thick collection of light-and-healthy recipes, like:

  • Skinny Eggs Florentine
  • Lifesaving Lentil Soup
  • Bluegrass Jambalaya
  • Spicy Turkey Mini Meatloaves
  • Key Lime Tartlets
  • And more!

That’s all good news, right? Now for the great news: We’re giving away one of the cookbooks to a lucky reader this weekend! All you have to do is click here to answer a quick question and enter your contact info. We won’t use your info for anything else and we’ll announce on Monday morning who the lucky cookbook recipient is!

Good luck!

7 Reasons You Eat When You’re Not Hungry

Written on September 22, 2011 at 9:02 am , by

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

We’ve all done it, and sometimes we don’t even realize when it’s happening: We have all eaten something when we weren’t actually hungry. And while that’s OK from time to time, too much eating without thinking can really hurt your weight-loss goals (and possibly your health).

Take a look at these 10 situations that encourage you to eat when you’re not hungry…and how to solve them!

1. To Cope
Happy? You might eat a treat to celebrate. Sad? You might eat to soothe yourself. It may help to track your eating habits in a journal, noting your emotional state when you headed for that snack. Writing it down may help you make a connection you hadn’t seen before, like the fact that you eat when you’re lonely or angry.

2. Out of Boredom
For many people, eating seems like a good solution when there’s nothing better to do–whether you graze at home on the weekends or entertain yourself with lavish dinners out.  If you know boredom is a trigger for your eating, have a list of strategies in place to keep yourself busy: Catch up with an old friend, write an old-fashioned snail-mail letter, write in your blog, read, or workout! Eating won’t seem as appealing if you have a fun alternative to keep yourself occupied!

3. Because Other People Are Eating
It’s easy to indulge when others around you are eating, too. Research shows that our habits mimic our companions’ actions in situations like these. You don’t have to swear off happy hour with friends to watch your weight though. When your dining companions devour a second basket of bread or chips, or order dessert, don’t automatically follow suit. Check in with your hunger level to see if you really need it to be satisfied with the fun conversation.

4. Because Food is There
Whether it’s party food or an office candy jar, when food is in plain sight, it can be too easy to grab. If you’re unable to nix the trigger food altogether, move the treats out of sight—you’ll be less likely to grab a handful. So if you buy a bag of Oreos, put them on a high shelf in a cabinet—not on the counter. Instead of a clear candy jar, try an opaque one or move it to another location. When you’re already full and food is out at a party, stand with your back to the table or in another room.
Read more

10 One-Minute Health, Fitness and Mood Boosters

Written on September 9, 2011 at 11:46 am , by

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

When it comes to losing weight or making healthy choices, you probably think that it takes hours at a gym, plus long nights preparing and planning nutritious meals. But guess what? Quick and easy changes can also really improve your immediate health and wellness too!

So just how quick is quick? One minute—that’s it! Try any one of these 60-second activities to easily reap the healthy benefits. :

1. Drink a tall glass of water. We all know the many health benefits of drinking water, but did you also know that even mild dehydration can cause fatigue? So, the next time you feel your energy waning, grab a glass of water and guzzle it down!

2. Twist it out. So many of us spend every weekday seated in front of a computer. Not only can sitting all day wreak havoc on your posture, but it can also compress your spine and exaggerate its curvature.  A simple twist can help undo this. As you sit in your desk chair, simply twist your upper-body to one side, hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side. If you have the space to sit on the floor, try this torso twist stretch.

3. Take a deep breath. How often do you think about breathing? If you are like most people, you probably don’t think about it often enough. For a quick pick-me-up, simply take five deep breaths. Slowly inhale for at least five seconds and exhale for 10 seconds each time.

4. Put on a favorite song. There’s nothing quite like your favorite music to perk you up and get you feeling good. Listening to music has been shown to improve immunity and release endorphins. Bonus points if you dance along!

5. Sit up straighter. Did you know that bad posture can put unnecessary stress on your low back? Take a minute to focus on sitting up straight with your shoulders down and back.

6. Do 10 pushups. Being strong is important, but having functional strength is even more important because it makes everyday activities easier to accomplish. A push-up is a great, quick exercise for building functional strength. Drop down and give me 10—or as many as you can do in 1 minute.

7. Encourage someone. Isn’t it interesting how you always seem to feel better after helping someone else feel better? Whether you post a supportive comment on a friend’s profile page or write a few kind words in a card or an email, it can quickly boost your mood too.

8. Wash your hands. It seems like cold and flu season is always in full force (or just around the corner).  One of the simplest and easiest ways to stay well year round is to wash your hands…or just grab your waterless hand sanitizer.

9. Try aromatherapy. A number of different smells can have a positive effect on your mind and body. For example, peppermint can energize you through a workout and jasmine has been shown to reduce anxiety.

10. Give yourself a mini-massage. Massage has a number of health benefits, including reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and speeding muscle repair. While you may not be able to spend the time or money getting one at a spa, pampering yourself with just 1 minute of self-massage by rubbing your own hands, feet or shoulders can do wonders.

Continued: More Fast, Helpful Ideas…


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The Truth About Alcohol and Heart Health

Written on September 1, 2011 at 5:02 pm , by

drinks

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

The idea that alcohol may be good for your heart has been around for a while. (But while moderate drinking may offer health benefits, drinking more can cause a host of health problems.) Here’s what you need to know…

Research on Alcohol and Heart Disease
As research on this topic has continued to expand, researchers recently conducted another systematic review of 63 studies that examined adults without known cardiovascular disease before and after alcohol use. This latest meta-analysis was published in a 2011 issue of the British Medical Journal.

The analysis of these numerous studies suggests that moderate alcohol consumption (defined below) helps to protect against heart disease by:

  • Raising HDL “good” cholesterol
  • Increasing apolipoprotein A1, a protein that has a specific role in lipid (fat) metabolism and is a major component of HDL “good” cholesterol
  • Decreasing fibrinogen, a soluble plasma glycoprotein that is a part of blood clot formation
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Reducing plaque accumulation in the arteries
  • Decreasing the clumping of platelets and the formation of blood clots

However, these studies did not show any relationship between moderate alcohol intake and total cholesterol level or LDL “bad” cholesterol. And while some studies associated alcohol intake to increased triglycerides, the most recent analysis of moderate alcohol intake in healthy adults showed no such relationship.

What’s the Definition of “Moderate” Alcohol Consumption?
A moderate alcohol intake is defined as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. One drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol and is defined as:

  • 12 fl. oz. of regular beer (5% alcohol)
  • 4-5 fl. oz. of wine (12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 fl. oz. of 80-proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol)
  • 1 fl. oz. of 100-proof distilled spirits (50% alcohol)

Are Certain Types of Alcohol Better Than Others?
While a few research studies suggest that wine maybe more beneficial than beer or sprits in the prevention of heart disease, most studies do not support an association between type of alcoholic beverage and the prevention of heart disease. At present time, drinking wine for its antioxidant content to prevent heart disease is an unproven strategy. It still remains unclear whether red wine offers any heart-protecting advantage over white wine or other types of alcoholic beverages.

Continued: Get more  facts about your health and alcohol…


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Slash Your Grocery Bills: Brilliant Tips from Food Bloggers

Written on August 29, 2011 at 1:00 pm , by

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

A self-described foodie, Ashley goes weak in the knees for pricey items like avocados, coconut oil, fresh mozzarella, raw nuts, and Nutella. “We love to eat. What can I say?” admits Ashley, who blogs at (Never Home)maker with her husband, Stephen. But grocery bills in the $75 to $110 range forced the couple to re-evaluate their spending habits. By sticking to a budget, baking their own bread, and planning meals, they were able to save more than $120 in a month.

As Ashley, Stephen, and the following food bloggers demonstrate, it’s possible to spend less on groceries without sacrificing taste or quality. All that’s required is a little planning, knowledge, and creativity. Sink your teeth into these great tips:

Enjoy Meatless Meals: “I buy a lot of canned beans and use them as my main protein because they are cheap, healthy, and delicious! You can use cannellini beans to bulk up a pasta dish; top your salads with kidney or black beans to add flavor and texture; and mix beans in with brown rice and veggies and top with marinara sauce for an economical and delicious meal. You can even make a spread for a sandwich by mashing chickpeas and adding a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice!” (Anne from fANNEtastic Food)

Avoid Temptation by Having Your Groceries Delivered: “I make weekly meal plans, so I know exactly what food I need for the week. However, my money downfall is picking up all the ‘special offers’ and sweet treats I see on the shelves around me. So, I looked into getting what I need delivered. There is a small delivery charge, but I save more than that by avoiding the store.” (Rachel from Suburban Yogini)

Scour the Discount Produce Bins: “Shop the reduced produce area to find deals of fresh produce. I buy almost-brown bananas and freeze them. They work great in smoothies!” (Tina from Carrots ‘N Cake)

Buy Seeds: “Grow your own herbs! A plant that lasts all summer (or year) costs the same as a single herb package.” (Matt from No Meat Athlete)

$ocial Media: “Follow your favorite companies on Twitter and Facebook – you’ll be alerted to sales and giveaways! This past week, So Delicious let me know where So Delicious Kefir was on sale!” (Molly from Fuel Her Up)

Continued: Seven more money-saving tips…

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