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.

Part One: “All is Full of Love…”

…to quote one of my favorite Bjork songs ever. This weekend was definitely a special one for me, emotionally and physically. Completely banged up and tired as I am while writing this entry, all I can do is smile. Yes, I might look crazy and creepy for smiling in an empty apartment. All alone. In the dark. While all is quiet. But, hey. No one’s around to judge me, and even if there were, would I care? Of course not.
Moving on.
Yesterday, I participated in the 2015 Citi Field Spartan Race with a new team comprised of friends, old and new. Although a member of New York Health and Racquet Club for several years, this was the first time I was in an event representing them, more specifically one of their best group fitness instructors, Cedric Dujon, as one of his Fit Warriors. Some of you may remember that I participated in my first Spartan Race last year–that was with a team of over 70 people. The Fit Warriors was a team of 14 feisty and fun-loving individuals who made this event even better than I could have imagined.

PhotoGrid_1431316969604_wmNot once was there an “every man for himself” mentality; it just felt natural that we should help each other through ever obstacle and finish as a team, rather than to be competitive against one another and leave teammates behind. The comradely spirit that flowed between us gave everyone hope, strength and confidence that we could all get across the finish line, no matter how daunting the obstacles were. In all my years, this was the first time I understood what it felt like to be on a real team. Even more impressive was the fact that Cedric was the last team member to cross the finish line — our team leader made sure no one was left behind, that we were all accounted for and in good condition and spirit. Not only is this man a physical specimen, he has a heart of gold. Even now as I type, my heart swells with respect and appreciation for Cedric’s good nature and ethic. The people he attracts are all genuinely good people: caring, generous, helpful and kind. If this isn’t a testament to his good soul, I don’t know what is.
My membership at New York Health and Racquet will end soon and I’ll be at another gym through corporate subsidy, however I will support Cedric Dujon, Cedric Dujon Fitness, and will remain one of his Fit Warriors, ready for action whenever duty calls. CYMERA_20150509_172646Stay tuned for part two of my “Love Fest” Weekend…!
The Vickylicious

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.

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!

Sledding for Summer

As anyone that knows me knows, I am always trying to push my body with different workout routines, classes and exercises. This is necessary if I’m to reach my health and fitness goals sooner rather than later in life, and as summer quickly approaches, it’s time to step up my game once again.

Last week I revisited an old friend, the push sled (a.k.a. prowler). I haven’t visited him in a while because too many people warned against it because of my faulty knee, saying it would do more harm than good. Can I say that how wrong they were was an understatement? Not only did it feel great, it strengthened my knee and will continue to do so over time. Before I show you my test run, I’ll explain the workout and its benefits.

Besides providing an intense way to blast the legs—which I love—a weight sled puts your whole body under [good] stress and drives your heart rate through the roof, making it a fantastic way to rev up your metabolism. It increases your work capacity, helps in developing anaerobic power, and is great recovery after heavy training sessions. Sled training delivers overall strength, body composition improvement, and if used with the appropriate training protocols, can also make you faster (think sprinter) àall of my goals. Push sled workouts are one of the best ways to decrease body fat, especially *visceral fat, is with high-intensity work using a relatively larger volume. So how do you perform this incredible, do-all exercise, you ask? Keep reading.

Push sleds allow you to push either from a low position (making you more parallel to the ground) or from a high position. The lower position focuses more on your quads and makes for a more difficult workout. Most people tend to load up their sleds, too, but you shouldn’t start with a lot of weight, explains. Try loading the sled with one, 45-pound plate in the beginning, or even nothing until you get the gist of the movement and achieve proper form. Once you have the form correct, only then should you use a 45-pound plate and then add-load weight in increments according to your strength.

“Guys try to move the sled as fast as possible, and in the process they round their back and push through their arms,” says Mack from Men’s Health Magazine. “Instead, you should move deliberately and treat the exercise as if it’s a walking plank. As you move forward, you should maintain a straight line from your head to your ankles the entire time. Your power comes from your legs and hips, so drive your feet diagonally into the ground with each step.”

Since I’ve done this exercise before and I know I can add weight to the sled, I performed my test run with one 45-pound plate. I figured that if this was successful, I can stay at this weight until I become faster without sacrificing form, then add weight in 25-pound increments. Having a video of this is not for vanity’s sake, mind you, but to critique myself and to document my progress. Additionally, I’d like to help others in their journeys as much as I possibly can through any avenue with which I create or am provided. Let’s take a look:

Not half bad, right? I’ll definitely be doing this more and work on improving each time.

*Visceral fat, or abdominal fat, is a type of body fat that exists in the abdomen and surrounds the internal organs. Everyone has some, especially those who are sedentary, chronically stressed, or maintain unhealthy diets. Excessive deposits of visceral fat are associated with many serious health problems including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and increased blood pressure. Though it is possible to lose, it requires a larger commitment than spot exercises, like sit ups or crunches; a combination of cardiovascular activity and a lean diet is typically required. Hellooo push sled!

Holiday Training

You don’t need to wait till New Year’s Day to make resolutions or changes in your life. Set your goals and work then into your lifestyle so that you won’t fall off the “wagon” within a matter of days or months.

Just resolve to be a better you every morning.