What a Performance

I haven’t posted in a long time, and for that, I apologize. Many people ask me when I’m going to write again and have even made topic requests. One question that is asked of me time and again is, what is/are my favorite active wear line(s)?

As a lot of you might know, I’m an avid gym rat and fitness enthusiast. Also, I sweat. A lot. So it’s very important to me that my sportswear’s performance is top notch. There are myriad brands to choose from, and the prices range from super affordable to do-I-need-to-sell-an-organ expensive. Other fitness/gym enthusiasts can identify with me when I say that buying gym wear is a sickness–you can never have enough!  That being said, I’ve spent a not-so-small fortune on my gym wardrobe and can now discuss the performance of a couple of lines for you today.

(If, after reading this post, you are interested in knowing about more high end, boutique lines as well, please let me know and I’ll be more than happy to oblige.)

Forever 21

On the more affordable end of the spectrum, Forever 21 has a stylish, colorful and well-planned line. They have bottoms ranging from sensible yoga pants to bright and somewhat sexy tights, to skimpy and cute shorts for the more daring (hi!); they have tops that go from crop to tank to short sleeved mesh tees and long-sleeved message tees.  All pieces are made in a variety of materials from basic cotton to dri-fit fabrics. They even carry sports bras that vary from low to high support. I always get compliments when I wear their items to the gym, and women are always shocked when I tell them that my outfits are from Forever 21; it never fails.

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Unfortunately, the clothing line’s lack of performance in the dri-fit area only allows me to wear its items when I’m not doing intense or long-term cardio; I only wear them during my weight training days or light cardio days because their materials can’t withstand the amount of sweat my body produces. For the price point however, I’m not too upset–like I said, they still serve a purpose in my wardrobe and so they stay in the rotation. At least they don’t have me slipping in my own sweat…another brand is responsible for my bruised knees…stay tuned.

Rating: 3.5 sweat drops out of 5

Calvin Klein Performance Wear

The next line under scrutiny is from Calvin Klein. Their active wear is medium-high in pricing and is a bit more modest in style than Forever 21, most likely due to their target demographic, and that suits me just fine. (I’m no spring chicken and sometimes I have to remind myself of that.) They have tops and tights of all lengths, colors and patterns, yet they have a wider and more forgiving size range (much more forgiving than teeny bopper Forever 21). Whenever I wear this line, I receive compliments on the colors and fit–before my workouts. Post-workout, I look like a walking puddle. Every. Single. Time. The tops and bottoms (more so the tops) completely lose their shape and make me feel disgusting. The material Calvin Klein uses doesn’t have any moisture-wicking capability whatsoever and they totally missed the definition of “dri-fit.” Oh the embarrassment of walking around, looking like you had a bladder malfunction!

Once my workout is complete, whether it’s cardio or weight training, I’m always standing in a pool of my own sweat; my treadmill has sweat splashed all over it; my weights are slipping in my hands–and this is with sleeved shirts;  the gym machines are soaking wet and I have to wipe everything down with multiple towels. When I walk through the gym to get to the locker room, freezing cold from the air conditioned atmosphere (due to my soaking wet clothes), while creating a trail of sweat  behind me, I literally have to peel my clothes off and wring them out like wet rags before packing them in plastic bags.

I’m highly disappointed in this active wear line. Calvin Klein needs to take “Performance ” out of its name. It doesn’t perform in any way except aesthetics–and again, that’s only pre-workout. For the price range, the reputation and the claims the line makes regarding its performance, it should far exceed the quality of Forever 21, Champion (which I like very much), and a slew of other brands, yet it misses the mark completely. The makers of Calvin Klein need to reconsider their presence in this category altogether if they don’t get the right consultants and testers on their team. I honestly can’t recommend this line to anyone in good conscience. The only high note for this brand is the sports bras–good compression and support.

Rating: 2 out of 5 sweat drops (because I like the sports bras, and I like the pre-workout compliments)

Nike (Pro)

If you follow my Instagram and/or Snapchat accounts (both TheVickylicious), you’ll see that I mostly wear Nike, specifically the Nike Pro line. Moisture-wicking technology is on point, their tops and bottoms fit like a second skin, allowing for full range of motion with no constraints. They’re always on trend and coming out with new and exciting colors and patterns; they continue to create new performance technology for weather conditions, compression, fluidity and support. Nike has gotten sportswear down to a science: aesthetics, fit, price range (from medium to high, but you can always find items on sale, and Nike outlets have great selections), need requirements for each activity, durability and performance technology–you name it, Nike has it figured out for us all.This is one brand that knows what it’s doing, proving why they have achieved world domination. There really isn’t much I can say about them, unless you’d like me to attempt a love poem…

Rating: 4 out of 5 sweat drops (shave a point for margin of error and some of the items that are insanely priced, just because Nike can get away with it)

There are a few brands I patronize more than others, and I’m always on the hunt for what’s different and new. If you’d like me to review more, just say so and I will document all my findings for you. This is an ongoing hunt for me because, as much as I continue to exercise, the need for gym wear will continue as well.

That’s the sweat life for ya!

 

***This post is not sponsored by any of the brands listed above. This post is not to offend any readers’ beliefs in business practices or politics.

Lift. Dead.

I love doing dead lifts in the gym whenever I do weights. I worked my way from 40lbs to start, doing 5 sets of 10 reps; now I’m at 80lbs, 90 on a good day. For the first time ever I was challenged to dead lift a much heavier weight. Challenge accepted! I put 70lbs on each side of the bar–mind you, the bar is 45lbs by itself–meaning I lifted 180lbs! I had to document this feat, win or fail.

You have no idea how proud and accomplished I felt after I finished. Will I do this all of the time? No. However, it’s good to test myself every now and then.

Next up, 200lbs!

*Music credit: “Black Card,” by Pusha T

Ring My Bell

For those that have been following my blog and/or my workout journey, you’ll know that I’m quite fond of kettlebells. I get a fantastic total body workout that encompasses everything I need to strength train each muscle group and to provide intense cardio without having to spend too much time in the gym. Saturday was my first day getting back into my routine since I broke my ankle in August and it hurt so good! I worked my arms, legs, back, chest, trunk/core and heart in 30 minutes and didn’t stop sweating till long afterward. Knowing that my body kept burning calories like a furnace throughout the day as a result was an added bonus.

A few months ago, I recorded my entire kettlebell routine, but never posted it. I’ve been asked by several people to do so and I promise I will in the very near future. In the meantime, here’s a small clip of two ab exercises I did on Saturday, using an 8kg kettlebell to engage my arms and back in order to make each move a compound exercise.

By keeping my legs flat on the ground as dead weight the entire time, my abs stay engaged for each exercise and makes my abs work harder. The first part of the video clip, you see that I’m starting with the weight above my body, bringing it overhead to navel-level, then raising the weight over my head again before I repeat the compound movement on the  way back to my starting position. In the approximate two seconds it took for me to lift my upper body up and go back down to resting position, I engaged my arm/shoulder, back, and ab muscles together. In the second part, I keep the weight over my head the entire time and only use one arm, keeping my entire upper body engaged in the movement the entire time; I repeated this move with the other arm as well by doing 20 reps on each side. Since it was my first day back, I completed 3 sets of 20 reps of both exercises (among others) after finishing my total body routine. These are two efficient core exercises that are very effective yet simple and I highly recommend that you give them a try, using a weight that is suitable for your strength/fitness level.

Let me know how you like them and share your exercise tips and workouts with me! It’s always nice to have company on a journey.

A Broken Ankle, Writer’s Block, Beauty and Ice Cream

Exactly two weeks ago I broke my ankle while leaving for my long-anticipated vacation in London. Instead of going to the UK, I ended up at an urgent care facility for x-rays, a cast and crutches. My long weekend was spent in my mother’s apartment watching endless hours of House Hunters International, Property Brothers, BBC America for our anglophile fix since we didn’t get to set foot on British soil, and PBS for the overdose. Thinking my immobility would be a great opportunity to write for the blog, study, and catch up on magazine and book reading,  the only things I’ve accomplished are the book reading, more TV-watching, and discovering Turkey Hill’s Lemon Meringue Pie Ice Cream (the bits of pie crust totally do it for me and take away some of the cloying sweetness)—I’ve been totally at a loss for words to type that would serve any purpose whatsoever! So here I sit during my lunch break, leg propped up on a cushion, mulling over the last two weeks, hoping they haven’t been completely wasted…blog-wise, that is.

Ahhhh! Sifting through my mental files (read: playing with my curls and touching my chin to check for makeup transfer), I am reminded of two, yes two, new beauty finds that are currently changing my life. The first discovery is the Living Proof line of haircare products. I put a sample of their Perfect Hair Day™ 5-in-1 Styling Treatment in my travel bag so I could try it out in London, but I ended up using it at my mom’s place instead.  According to the Sephora website, “Living Proof was founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts by world-class biomedical scientists and leading hair stylists, with the purpose of applying advanced technology to solve beauty’s toughest challenges.” Perfect Hair Day™ 5-in-1 Styling Treatment is “an oil- and silicone-free styling treatment that provides volume, smoothness, conditioning, strength, and polish in one easy step.” Living Proof’s claim to fame is how it eliminates frizz and flyaways without weighing hair down, while nourishing and improving your hair’s condition and texture. So many companies make these claims, however I have yet to find one that lives up to all of them. Thus far, my curls have refused to bow down to any label, so my skepticism was at an all-time high before trying it, especially with Jennifer Anniston as their spokesperson (saying I’m not a fan of hers would be a gross understatement). I was surprised with the results: my hair was completely frizz-free until I washed my hair two days later. My only issue was that my curls weren’t as shiny as I’d hoped they would be; however, the lack of poof in my hair trumped the shine. So impressed with Living Proof was I that I immediately went online (since it’s quite difficult to shop around on crutches) to buy the No Frizz Nourishing Styling Cream because it got an even higher rating the 5-in-1. It “…derives performance from Living Proof’s ‘miracle molecule,’ PolyfluoroEster, to create a weightless shield on hair that blocks humidity absorption, smooths the cuticle, and repels dirt. The PolyfluoroEster shield is established over the first five uses of the No Frizz regimen, so it becomes stronger, the longer you use it—and can be maintained with consistent use of No Frizz products.” On top of that, I also bought Satin Hair Serum to assure the victory of manageability and shine. “Satin Hair Serum is powered by a Sera-Smooth Complex, which offers superior smoothness, eliminates frizz, provides natural movement, leaves hair manageable, and is faster and easier to achieve a desired smooth style. It smooths without the tradeoffs of silicones and oils, doesn’t weigh hair down, and doesn’t create product build-up. Easy to use, lightweight, and long-lasting, it leaves hair grease-free and produces a beautiful, sleek look.” Even though I didn’t buy the entire line of No Frizz products as suggested, I figured the two I purchased should work well enough since the 5-in-1 had already made me a believer.

It’s been quite humid in New York City as of late, and I am shocked at how well my hair has been holding up to the heat and moisture after only a couple of uses of these two wonders. I washed my hair last night and applied the styling cream, my usual coconut oil because my hair is very dry, and lastly the serum. My curls have been staying poof-free and have less shrinkage (my curly girls will know what I’m talking about, so get your mind out of the gutter!). After sleeping on my hair last night (I don’t wrap my hair before I go to sleep, I leave it completely free), walking around on crutches in the humidity this morning, and sweating profusely as a result, here’s a real time pic of me/my hair (please forgive the bad office lighting):

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My hair usually only looks like this after I have just washed it and then fluffs up a couple of hours afterward. It never stays like this overnight and after sweating in humid weather. Almost one whole day later, my hair is still shiny, frizz free, and the curls are keeping their shape. This has never happened to me, and I am not exaggerating. I will take another picture when the day is over to see if the results last after another bout in this heat with my crutches.

8 hours and a switch from a side part to a middle part later:

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Lo and behold, still frizz-free! I am living proof that Living Proof’s No Frizz line works. Corny, I know.

Stay tuned for my next post when I will talk about my second life-changing product!

Until then,
The Vickylicious

Ancient Aztec Secret

On rainy nights, I either turn my little apartment into a spa or a private theater. Last night after an amazing workout that made me sweat like crazy and had my pores open like sinkholes, I chose the former. Not only have I been excited about the addition of my new Clarisonic Mia 2 face brush to my skincare routine, I’ve been loving the new products I bought a while back for my weekly facials. Incorporating these lovely machines and concoctions to my daily and weekly regimens has done wonders to my skin and I’m eager to share them with you.

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After cleansing with the Clarisonic Mia 2 and face wash, I towel-blot my skin and apply a thin layer of Reviva Labs’ Non-Chemical Light Skin Peel (bought from ulta.com). Following the directions, I wait 3-5 minutes before rubbing my face so that the peel starts rolling off under my fingers—much like dried glue (I know I can’t be the only one who played with glue as a child, peeling and rubbing it off like dead skin…c’mon!). After all of it has rolled off, I rinse and towel-blot my skin again. The dead skin has been sloughed off to reveal the clearer, brighter layer of skin underneath. Now my face is prepped and primed for my clay mask.

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I’ve been loving Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay lately (bought from amazon.com), religiously using it every week with great results. In a non-metal mixing bowl, I scoop the bentonite clay powder and the same amount of organic apple cider vinegar (as the directions state: equal parts of each). After mixing them together, I immediately spread it over my face like thick cake batter while my skin is still moist and receptive. As the mask dries, it starts to tingle when it tightens on the skin, so much so that you might be alarmed your first time trying this. Have no fear; that just means the clay is detoxing your skin while drying. I leave it on as long as I can stand it—roughly 20 minutes—then rinse it off with a wet cloth and warm water. After I’m finished, my skin is always blotchy and red for a few minutes, which is common among must users of this powerful clay, but again, have no fear: it will go away and your skin will be clearer and brighter, with tighter and cleaner pores. Please remember the final step: moisturize diligently!

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Over time, my complexion has become more even; I have less breakouts, and my pores are less noticeable. When I do get an occasional breakout, it heals faster and the scarring diminishes at a quicker rate. If you would like more information on the benefits of bentonite clay, let me know in the comments section and I’ll be more than happy to write about all of its benefits and uses.

Not only are these products effective, they’re also quite affordable and natural. They’re winners in every aspect—you can’t beat that!

Getting Creative with Squats

Traditional squats, Sumo squats, weighted squats, jump squats, gorilla squats, one-legged squats… There are so many variations on this dynamic, body-altering, life-changing exercise, and all of them have great cardiovascular and muscular benefits. It’s an essential compound exercise. Call me a jerk when I tell you this, I don’t care: I love leg day and incorporating cardio at the same time, especially when it comes to the almighty squat. Before I get into the meat of my post, I’d like to iterate some of the benefits of doing squats.

1. Squats build muscle all over, including core muscles
Squats build muscle and strength in the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves and entire posterior chain. They also contract the abdominal area. Studies have shown that contractions while squatting are more intense than a traditional crunch. Another factotum most people don’t know is that squats provide a highly anabolic environment for all other areas to grow when trained, due to the release of testosterone and growth hormone. This increases muscle mass and strength in all areas of your body.

2. Squats burn more fat
Another bit of information many people don’t know is that muscle burns fat. Because of #1 above, squats are a highly effective way to burn more fat. The more muscle you have on your frame, the more calories you will burn during training and post-workout. If you want to get lean, this is the move for you.

3. Squats are functional, help maintain mobility and balance
Squats are one of the most applicable exercises of all in the real world. They translate across myriad daily activities, help to avoid injury, and increases efficiency in everyday life.

4. Squats boost performance and increase power
Squats increase performance by helping you jump higher and run faster. So along with balance and mobility, add agility to the list of benefits. It takes a lot of effort to rise from the bottom of a squat. Having various points of load along the range of motion, the rise generates power and strength which translates to other movements in the gym, in sports, and in daily life. Squats are truly a universal exercise.

So why do jump squats? We do them to build strength-speed, increase power, improve rate of force development, and of course build up plyometric capacities (plyometrics: a.k.a. “plyos” in gym speak, are exercises based around having muscles exert maximum force in as short a time as possible, with the goal of increasing both speed and power). Standard squats help you build static strength while jump squats develop explosive power. Explosive power is the ability to generate force quickly (as previously stated at the beginning of this paragraph). Also, squat jumps rev up your heart rate. If you do a set of squat jumps between each strength move, you’ll burn more calories and build strength and power at the same time. Incorporating squat jumps will add a dynamic cardio component to any training session.

Now let’s jump into the fun!

The other night after a killer full body kettlebell workout that had me sweating buckets (I’ll post something about it in the near future), Shawn and I had a little fun in the gym’s empty studio before going home. People have been asking me to post workout videos again, so I felt it was only right to acquiesce to those demands. Below is a clip of forward and backward squat jumps on a punching bag.

Not only does this move do everything listed above, it further improves, balance/stability, agility, enhanced motor skill function, and gives that extra boost to the hamstrings, core and glutes; it’s an overall more explosive variation. My heart was pumping hard after doing only a few repetitions for this video clip, proving the intensity of the cardio benefits is strong. Add this to your strength training routine and you’ve got a great interval session in your repertoire. Always remember to practice proper form. With great form comes an even greater result. The better you get, the more variations you can incorporate.

Who said workouts couldn’t be fun?!  😉

I Am a Spartan

By no means am I wuss, a princess, or a diva; I have no problems getting my hands dirty and sweating. However, I’m not a tomboy and I’m not into the outdoors. I’ve never camped, hiked or whatever it is people think is fun to do in the woods—I dropped out of the Girl Scouts after one week and I avoid sitting outside for brunch in the summer when it’s too hot. I abhor humidity and can’t sleep if I know there’s a mosquito flying around in my apartment.

All that being said, I also like pushing my body to its limits, getting stronger and working out in any way that will get me my desired results; I want to be a physical beast (while still looking feminine). I want to know that if I have to run for my life, that if I have to scale walls or do whatever it takes to stay alive in a dire situation, my chances of survival are as high as possible. So when a fellow worker-outer started mentioning the Reebok Spartan Race I initially balked, but as everyone else signed up and grew increasingly excited, my boyfriend and I seriously began to consider it as well. And being the impulsive person that I am, I signed us both up two days before the event…then inwardly cringed. Not only did I feel physically unprepared and incapable, I didn’t even know how I could be mentally prepared for something as daunting as 4.5 miles of rocky hills and 15 grueling obstacles interspersed along the trail. Let’s just say I felt numb for those two days leading up to the race.

What exactly is the Spartan Race, you ask? Here’s the website’s description:  “Simply, Spartan Race is the world’s leading obstacle race series. It’s an event of pure primitive craziness that you’ll never forget! Spartan Race has:
· Races all over the globe
· Different distances for different levels and styles or racing.
· A unique culture and community of athletes striving together to overcome any and everything.”

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Our team ran the Spartan Sprint. After my initial shock of pressing “JOIN” wore off, I immediately started my own recon to find out everything I could about the course and how to prepare. The race is different every year, however I needed to see what kind of obstacles were probable so as not to go into this completely blind. The videos of races past, accounts from those who’ve participated in years prior, and pictures of men and women scratched up, tired and battered, had me at a total loss. Yet even all of that couldn’t prepare me for the actual experience of hurdles like scaling walls, rope climbs, barbed wire crawls over rocks, log, boulder and sandbag carries, monkey bars and nets, rock climbing, and jumping over fire. Hell, we had to scale a wall just to get to the starting line! I was ready to turn around and go back home as soon as I saw that craziness. Conversely, my mind completely changed when I saw one of the morbidly obese, out of shape contestants from NBC’s television show, The Biggest Loser, heave herself up and over that first wall: NO EXCUSES, BEAST MODE, FINISH THIS. There was no going back and I knew I had to test myself, body and mind. No more mental blocks were allowed to reside in my brain. If the man with one arm that was smiling a few feet away from me could do it, if the TV contestant could do it, then I could do it, too. I used to be that woman.

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Thank the gods on Mount Olympus that I stuck with it! While it felt like hell on earth at certain points (the barbed wire crawl was a big one), it was insanely awesome at the same time! Reebok has some smart people in their company; they design and engineer these races flawlessly. The courses truly show you what you’re made of in every aspect of human nature: fear, competitiveness, determination, strategy and ambition; physical and mental prowess, strength, capability and overall confidence. I regret nothing about joining this race. Self-doubt, fear of failure, and thoughts of defeat are now out of the proverbial window.

Right now as I type this post, the feeling of accomplishment is almost overwhelming. From being morbidly obese at 230 lbs with no muscle strength; from not being about to run one city block without losing my breath; from having joint pain because I couldn’t carry my own weight; I made it to the Tri-State Spartan Race in Tuxedo, NY on Saturday, June 7th, 2014. Every ache, scratch and bruise makes me smile and my eyes well with tears unshed. I went into this experience thinking this would be a bucket list item, but I already know this has now become an annual test for me—I’m hooked. Even my workouts will be geared toward preparation for future races. I am determined, I am focused, I am a finisher. I am a Spartan.

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PS: Yes, I sure did give myself a fresh manicure when I got home. You bet I did!