Monday, September 13, 2010

The 5 Best Workouts of my Life

On January 1st of 2011, I'll be celebrating my third year as a full-fledged dedicated gym-goer. While I had always been active growing up, it was never something I really put any thought into nor did on a regular basis. Like most girls, I adopted more of a gym "lifestyle" in my first year of my undergrad, which usually consisted in some form of cardio when I wasn't screaming at my friends to "lemmesleep lemmesleep lemmesleep" when they came pounding on my door for gym time at 7am on weekdays... we were crazy yes. Still, while it was fun and kept me in shape (sorta), it wasn't anything regular.

On January 1, 2007, I committed to delve in Andrew's hardcore gym world by getting really psyched up to give the Body for Life 12 week program a shot with him. While he'd done it before, I decided I wanted to take my health in my own hands, and doing it with a partner was probably the best way to go at it. Three years later, and with fitness highs and lows along the way, my fitness has become something I take both absolute pride and joy in. And however I may feel about it on a day to day basis, these three years paired with vegetarianism, then veganism, and now raw food, have been the first of the healthiest years of my life to come.

While I should probably save this post til January 1 I got really excited about my workout today and decided I wanted to share 5 of my all time favourite workouts with you. At this point in my workout life, I've got to say I've tried a lot to see what works best: strength training, cardio training, endurance, HIIT, mixed days, split days, P90X, Body for Life, bootcamp-style workouts, dance yoga, the list goes on. So I know what works (or I think I do). So without further ado:

1) Best Ab Workout ever: Stability Ball Routine from Muscle & Fitness Mag There are millions of great ab workouts out there, but this one has given me the best results by far. I can't repost it here because someone obviously still owns the rights, but it's the advanced ab cycle of Muscle & Fitness Magazine, May 2003. It consists of a cycle of four ab exercises done four times followed by a finishing set. It requires a stability ball, a couple weights, and your motivation, but you will see results by doing this one three times a week before your cardio. Yes, before. I've done abs on cardio days, weight days, solo, before cardio, after cardio, you name it, and I've goten the best results hands down from doing abs before a good sweaty cardio workout.

The great thing is, paired with the right exercise, you don't have to end up with a crazy man 6 pack if that's not what you are going for (though men will get a super 6 pack using it if they wish). With the cardio and weights I did, it toned in a feminine way, not in a crazy steroid way.

2) Best Cardio Workout: HIIT I could have sworn I wrote a post on HIIT already considering how often I do it. HIIT, which stands for High-intensity interval training (or interval training) is the best way to do your cardio ever. Not only does it enable you to build crazy endurance, it's also the best cardio exercise to make you release unwanted fat, build muscle, and not waste your whole day a the gym. You don't have to be one of those people doing useless 1 hour moderate workouts on the elliptical anymore. An HIIT session will give you everything you need in just 20-30 minutes. Plus, HIIT works on any cardio machine you like (or you can adapt it to the great outdoors).

What's the deal? There are two main ways I like to do HIIT: the "traditional" way and the Body for Life way. The traditional way usually consists in 3-5 minutes of warmup, followed by 6 to 10 cycles of 1 minute of high/maximum intensity exercise and 1 minute of light/moderate exercise. So if you're on a treadmill, you're pretty much sprinting for 1 minute and then walking/jogging for 1 minute. All of that is followed by another 3-5 minutes of cooldown. The Body for Life can be found here, and pretty much just consists of cycles than increase in intensity over 4 minutes rather than 2, so you're more steadily increasing your crazy rather than all at once. The upside of both these methods? They leave you feeling energized and awesome, and besides, anyone can do anything for 1 minute. Try it!

3) Best Complete Workout Plan: the Fitnessista's 12 Week Summer Shape Up Plan 2009: I don't know if it was going raw for the first time, Gina's workout plan, or both, but I have a total crush on this 12 week workout routine because while I was doing it (or something right), I got in the best shape of my then life. It combines a mix of cardio, strength training, core and balance strengthening, and whatever else you want to throw in there (like the aforementioned ab routine I can't get over). I started this workout in September of my final year of grad school, juggling classes, an internship, and a life, but managed to stick with it. I got to a goal weight I thought was just a fantasy, felt amazing beyond the imaginable, ran that 10k, and generally was at my happiest ever. Enough said, no?

4) Best Yoga Type: Bikram You can read about my experiences with Bikram here and here, but when I was a weekly Bikram regular, I had some of the more intense physical and emotional detox of my life. Because I had probably already done a lot of physical healing on a raw diet 6 months prior to the start of my Bikram practice, the effects it had on me were mostly mental. It gave me an incredible humility and clarity of self, while physically, it did amazing things for my balance, breathing, core strength, and flexibility. I used to be someone who hated heat, but there is something about the sticky sweatiness of Hot Yoga that makes you come out of that class feeling like a new person (it also helped that I did through all the winter months rather than in the summer). They were often the most enlightening 90 minutes of my week. Now I just need the motivation to get back into it again...

5) Best New Attempted Craze: Zumba I have to admit, I used to be one of those gym people who scoffed at Zumba, denigrating it for being the latest "silly woman's fitness trend" that probably doesn't work. Of course because I was so judgmental, I decided I had to try it. While I've only started doing it last week and can't really speak to the legitimacy of using this as a "workout," it sure is a hell of a lot of fun. Combining latin dance, elements of belly dance, Bhangra, and hiphop, your traditional 80s cardio class type stuff, and core and strengthening moves, Zumba is a 1 hour dance fitness program of serious entertainment.
Now, if you're a hardcore gym person who thinks you are too good for Zumba, I hope you can take my approach to it, ie. take it with a grain of salt. I'm not going into this expecting life changing results, nor am I thinking it's a lot of crap, I'm doing it once a week because it keeps me moving for an hour, it's really fun, and you should change up your workout every once in a while. Yes, some of the moves have you shaking your money maker a la Outkast's "polaroid picture". Yes, others have you pulling what can only be described as some form of MC Hammer. But that's the point to me. When you go into a Zumba class, you can let go of everything and reclaim your inner tutu-wearing five-year-old ballerina princess fairy for one hour every day or week. What's a workout if it isn't fun, right?

Well, hope that inspired you to get out there and move in some way! Remember, while I love food, that's only 50%, the other half is in how you chose to be active!

Workout of the Day
Stability Ball Ab Cycle (now you know which one!)
20 minutes of HIIT on treadmill + 5 minute cooldown
10 minute stretch

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