Thursday, November 28, 2013

So on this Day You rest from all Your Work.

Once you have stuck to your exercise plan for a week or two, exercising can turn into a serious addiction (a good one, if you ask me). You start to feel restless if you don't exercise for a day, and your mind wonders off thinking about what exercises you will perform at your next gym session (yes, I daydream about the gym...). If you are seriously committed to your fitness goals, you are willing to give 110% and more. However,you need to be cautious not to overwork your body.

When I first started working out and saw maximum results in a short period of time, I was so motivated that I went to the gym every day, and constantly pushed my body to exhaustion without breaks. I would do squats and deadlifts every day, and even if I could barely crawl up the stairs on all fours to my apartment, I would not miss a gym session. On the contrary, I would feel guilty if I skipped a day. That is not healthy. Your body needs rest and relaxation every now and then, and it cannot function properly if you don't treat it well. There came a point where I was too tired to get out of bed, I couldn't concentrate on my uni work, and I was constantly grumpy and anti-social. Furthermore, I couldn't see or feel any real changes anymore, which increased my frustration. I then decided to take a whole week off, where I would not exercise even once. After that week, my body re-booted and I felt more energetic than ever. I learnt the hard way that you need to give yourself time to recover, even if you think a day without squats is a wasted day.

Rest days are important for reasons of recovery, injury prevention and psychological well-being. After straining your muscles and breaking them during your workout, you need the right nutrition, plenty of sleep, and a day of rest to rebuild that muscle and its surrounding tissue. Furthermore, if you are constantly breaking down a muscle and overwork your joints, you are at great risk to hurt yourself (and imagine how many days you would have to take off then!). Psychologically speaking, it is just nice to not go to the gym for a day, and just do something totally relaxing and stationary (Netflix is becoming my best friend on those days). I don't think there is a general guideline on how many rest days to have per week, your should just listen to your body and follow your gut feeling. I personally work out 4 times a week, and always have a day off in between. That way I can concentrate on getting the rest of my life in shape, and ensure that I do not overwork myself. However, I have friends who only have one or two rest days per week, and it works for them. As with all the other aspects of health and fitness, there is no general formula; you have to find out for yourself what works.

Rest days don't only have to be applied to exercise. I recently converted to the 'cheat-day-lovers'. Well, not really, I think it's silly to eat healthy all week and then destroy all your efforts by consuming 5 doughnuts and 3 pizzas on your cheat day. But having something not-so-healthy every now provides a nice reward for your hard work, and keeps you motivated to stay healthy for the rest of the time. You can even try to keep your treats healthy by swapping to home baking and replacing sugar with honey, oil with applesauce, and white flour with wholewheat or almond flour. One of my favourite recipes for a treat is actually really, really simple:

Mash 1-2 ripe bananas, add 1/2-3/4 cup of oats, add some apple sauce, add some dark chocolate chips, shape into cookies and put it in the oven at 200° (400 Fahrenheit) for 20-30 minutes, depending on how squishy you like your cookies. Easy-Peasy!

Rest days will help you reach your fitness goals while keeping you sane. Don't overwork yourself. And if you don't want to listen to me, at least take advice from Him himself: 

"By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work."

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Do Cardio Swinger-Club-Style!

There is no formula for easy weight loss (life is tough). The only way to be healthy is through hard work in the gym and self-control in the kitchen. I am sure many of you have seen the memes and photos stating that a healthy lifestyle is “30% Exercise and 70% nutrition”, or that “Abs are made in the gym and revealed in the kitchen”. Unfortunately for all us cake and cookie lovers, these statements are mostly true. You can exercise as much as you want – if you go home and gorge yourself in pizza, fries and a burger (I’d be impressed if anyone of you could physically eat that) – you will see no changes. However, today I don’t want to talk about food (as much as I love it), but I want to concentrate on the exercise part.
This Monday I will change up my workout plan for the first time this semester. Why? Because after a couple of weeks of the same routine, your body will get used to the movements, and your muscles won’t rip and get sore as much, and the fat-burning process will slow down. If you don’t change your exercise plan regularly, it is very likely that you will reach a plateau. Therefore, every 4-6 weeks I swap around my exercises and change it up a little – that way it also doesn’t get boring!
My last plan focused on a full body workout every second day of the week, including strength training and cardio. From Monday onwards, I will have split days, meaning that I focus on a certain muscle group for my strength training, and still do cardio 4 days a week. The new workout plan was especially created and customized for me by, and I will definitely keep you updated on my progress (yay)! If you would like to take advantage of their awesome as well, Register for free at 
Both, cardio and strength training are necessary for healthy and sustained weight loss. Working with weights will build the muscles that you then use to burn fat during cardio. Cardio and Strength training come in a package deal, and you should try and concentrate on both. If you only do weights, your abs of steel will forever be hold prisoners by your persisting stomach fat. If you only do cardio, then you will first off take longer to lose excess weight, and secondly you will be what I like to call ‘skinny fat’, which means that you are skinny, but not toned. And let’s be honest, we all want an ass and a bit of definition.
For me, cardio has always been the worst part. I get super board spending half an hour of my valuable time on a cross trainer, or a bike, or even the treadmill. Going at the same speed for 30 minutes, listening to my workout playlist for the 674th time and counting down the minutes until I can finally concentrate on increasing the weights on my squats is really not that appealing. I can imagine that many people feel the same, and let’s just put it out there – CARDIO IS BORING! But - surprise, surprise - it doesn’t have to be. I put together my top 3 ways of making cardio more enjoyable.

Advise #1: Mix up your cardio and include some interval training.
Let’s say you are like me and do cardio 4 times a week. This is the perfect way to take advantage of all the machines in the gym. You can swap it up, using the bike, elliptical, treadmill, rowing machine (to be fair – no one wants to do 30 minutes on a rowing machine) and stepper (honestly – I don’t use this thing, it scares me. I am talking about this machine which is kind of like a mixture between an elliptical and treadmill, where you can either be running with long strides, or you are stepping with short, quick movements. My friend told me it is awesome, and great for the glutes, so I definitely wanted to try it out. I’m not sure if I am just a little retarded – but I couldn’t get it working! I could not start this silly machine! In the end I just looked like an idiot and went on the elliptical instead. Awkward times.) Anyway, you get the gist, there are many machines you can use to keep it interesting and stimulate all your muscles throughout the week. Now, the best thing to do on these machines is interval training, It ensures that you keep your heart rate in the fat burning zone whilst surprising your body with switching intervals of moderate and high intensity. Here is my favourite workout which you can do on any of those machines:
  1. Minute: 15 sec as fast as you can – 45 sec moderate effort
  2. Minute: 30 sec as fast as you can – 30 sec moderate effort
  3. Minute: 45 sec as fast as you can – 15 sec moderate effort
  4. Minute: 60 sec as fast as you can
2 minutes breathing break going at low-moderate effort
  1. Minute: 60 sec as fast as you can
  2. Minute: 45 sec as fast as you can – 15 sec moderate effort
  3. Minute: 30 sec as fast as you can – 30 sec moderate effort
  4. Minute: 15 sec as fast as you can – 45 sec moderate effort
2 minutes breathing break going at low-moderate effort
Repeat this process, and you have done 20 minutes of high quality, sweat producing, fat reducing cardio. I promise it will leave it’s marks on your gym clothing!

Advice #2: Set yourself a ‘compulsory’ goal.
I hate running. Always have, always will. I am just not made for running. However, in the beginning of this year, I spontaneously decided to sign up for the Edinburgh Rock’n Roll Half Marathon. I just wanted to see if I can do it, and I was looking for a challenge. I started training for the race, running every second day of the week and doing my Long-Run every Sunday. Funnily enough, I started to really enjoy running, and never skipped a day. Having a goal and knowing what I am training for really helped me focus and keep on track. Sign up for a race or a challenge, and you will feel more inclined to get your cardio in, and will have more fun doing so. Here is some proof that I actually did it (if you know me, you probably wouldn't believe me otherwise...?

Advice#3: Try Crossfit.
I have to admit that I am a crossfit-lover. I started doing ‘proper’ crossfit last semester in a group and with a trainer, and it was awesome fun. However, as I am a poor student, I wasn’t able to afford the class for long. So I looked up some of the workouts online and started doing them in the gym together with my flatmate (her boyfriend calls us 'The Two Assassins' because of that). I think that crossfit is a great way to combine cardio and strength training, and seeing that all the workouts are different and usually never longer than 30 minutes, it is something that fits into every workout plan. The workouts are also adjustable according to fitness and skill level. If you are more experienced, you can add weights to movements like squats and lunges, and if you are just starting you can use your own bodyweight (I still can’t do proper pull-ups, so if you see a crazy girl jumping up and down on a pull-up bar it is most likely me). Once you know all the basic moves, you can even come up with your own WODs (workout of the days). You see, it is a great way to mix up your cardio and never get bored. You also feel super cool and strong whilst doing a crossfit workout, so it is great for confidence as well.

Here is an example, the workout is called Barbara:
20 Pull-ups
30 Push-ups
40 Sit-ups
50 Squats
5 rounds for time, 3 minutes rest between rounds.
Do this workout and record your time. Do it again in a month time, and compare your times. It is a great way to see progress and improvement!

This little list should give you some sparkling ideas of how to make cardio more fun and prevent boredom. I was thinking of a punch line earlier (I always like to finish off on a high-note), and here is the best I could come up with:

Cardio is like love-making when you're old - don't skip it, swing it! (...if you know what I mean...)