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!

Happy New Year!

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Always strive to be a better you. Yes, I constantly say that you don’t need a new year to make a resolution, but I do agree that New Year’s Day does feel like a fresh start and a good day to remind yourself of your goals; New Year’s Day is an apt time to focus and recommit. So, here’s a reminder photo to stay focused on your dreams, goals, aspirations, etc. Cheers!