As you can imagine, I’ve seen a lot of exercise trends over the past 30 years. Some fizzled out while and others have stuck around. One of the most popular and long-lasting trends has been Stepping. Starting in the late 1980s throughout the ’90s and well into the 2000s, you could sign up for a whole variety of Step Aerobics or Step Dance classes at any gym.
While newer trends may have taken over the popularity top spot, Stepping never lost its value. It’s still a great, super-effective workout.
The First Step
My good friend Gin Miller created Step Aerobics as a result of injuring her knee. Sound confusing? What happened is her physical therapist suggested she step up and down on a plastic milk crate as a way to strengthen the muscles supporting the knee. After experiencing the amount of effort it took to step up and down for an extended time, Gin thought it would be a great exercise for anyone, not just those rehabbing from injury, and she was right.
The thing that makes Stepping so amazing is that you’re doing double duty: an aerobic calorie burn, muscle sculpting and toning. Simply by adding the height of a platform, the movement of stepping up and down is turned into a weight-bearing activity, even without using dumbbells. By supporting your own body weight, you are creating resistance, which forces your muscles to engage deeper and the result is firm, toned legs and butt. Stepping has created a lot of attractive “assets” over the years. I still love doing a Step program precisely because NOTHING sculpts and tones the glutes and thighs quite like it.
When you move up and down on a step you are using all the lower-body muscles—hamstrings and quads, both the front and back of your thighs—glutes and hips. Change from a standard front step to a lateral or side step and you switch the focus to the inner and outer thighs. Start pumping your arms back and forth and you have a full-body workout.
I really like the freedom to mix things up. Turn on the music and dance through a Step routine with kicks and jumps. Grab some hand weights to increase the resistance. Raise the platform a little to challenge yourself if you feel like things are getting too easy. For beginners, I recommend to keep the step at four inches, but as your fitness level improves, raise it to six inches. You can even use the platform as a bench for triceps dips, or lower one side so it’s at an angle to lean against for an upper-body workout with weights, like a chest press.
Any Step workout is going to get your heart rate up, like running does, but here’s the big difference: it’s easy on the joints! Unlike the constant pounding of running or jogging, a Step routine has built-in shock absorbers that lessen the impact. Not only do most platforms have a cushioned surface, but by switching the support leg—step up with the left for a few reps, then start with the right—you’re alleviating stress. That’s great news if you have knees that can’t take a lot of strain. After all, remember Gin started stepping as a way to recover from a serious knee injury.
Also, because Stepping is a weight-bearing activity (even without dumbbells), you’re doing your bones good. According to the University of Arizona Bone Builders program, Stepping helps build both bone strength and density, which prevents osteoporosis.
And, as long as you can climb stairs, then Step exercising is appropriate for every age group, and great for any ability level. It’s okay to start slow because you’ll still get results. One study showed that people who stepped only during commercials while watching one hour of television—we’re talking three to five minutes at a time—burned an average 148 calories. Now, think about how much you could burn if you swap the scenario and stepped while watching TV and rested during commercials. A 130-pound woman can burn more than 260 calories in 30 minutes at a moderate pace.
And remember, the more into Stepping you go, the more you can bump up the intensity. Pick up the weights or pick up the pace. The faster you become, the more steps you’ll get in, the more calories you’ll use, the better you’ll look and feel.
Make it happen!
White Jeans for June
Last weekend marked the unofficial start of summer. Did you spend Memorial Day barbecuing with friends and family? Or did you go through your wardrobe pulling out all your summer fashions? After all, it’s okay to wear white now.
But, it’s been a long winter, so maybe, after trying on a few outfits, you wish your favorite pants, shorts or summery skirt looked more flattering or felt more comfortable, especially in the lower belly area. You know the region; it’s what some people call “muffin tops” or “love handles.” This is an area a lot of women find so hard to firm up. But when it is toned and tight, not only does it make your stomach look awesome, but your hips, butt, and legs look fantastic, too.
Even if your endgame isn’t a six pack, but just a nicely shaped midsection, the key to fabulous abs is a combination of toning, cardio, and nutrition.
Old-school, but effective
The truth of the matter is you’re not going to get great abs from crunches alone. That doesn’t mean you should completely forget about these exercises. They’re actually a great starting point because they target all the right muscles.
Did you know the abdominal or core area consists of three different muscle groups plus your back muscles? The rectus abdominis are the “six pack” muscles running from ribs to hips. The transverse abdominis hug or wrap around your midsection.
It is the obliques, though, that are responsible for any love handles…or lack thereof. These muscles run diagonally from the ribs to the front of the pelvis. When out of shape, they can slack and rest on top of the waistband of your jeans or shorts, giving name to the infamous “muffin top” look. When worked out and made strong, the obliques cut inward creating a defined and sexy waistline.
The key to targeting this set of abdominal muscles is to include a twist, literally, like a rowing crunch.
- Sit on the floor with knees bent.
- Lean back as far as you comfortably can while keeping a straight back.
- Pull your belly button in toward your spine to engage the abs.
- Clasp hands together in front of you with elbows pointing out.
- Keeping your back braced, twist to the left bringing your elbow slightly down toward the floor, but not touching it.
- Then come back to center before twisting to the right. Return to center after each twist.
- Repeat the whole move for 15 reps.
Toning the underlying muscles is only one part of the vanishing-ab-flab formula. Most women have a layer of fat covering our abdominal muscles. That’s why crunches alone rarely ever lead to flat stomachs. To melt away this fat so you can show off the muscles hiding behind it, you have to get moving. Yes, I mean sweat-producing, calorie-burning cardio.
You don’t have to become a competitive runner to get great cardio results. Even better than running at a steady pace for miles or just full-out sprinting all the time is alternating between the two intensity levels, or interval training. When you switch from a moderate pace to a higher intensity that cardio burst kicks your metabolism into high gear. The best part is that your metabolism stays in that super-productive mode for an extended time, even after you finish your workout. That means prolonged calorie burning.
- Warm-up: 4 minutes walking at a steady state—fast enough to get your heart rate up.
- 90 seconds moderate (on a scale of 1-10, keep the pace at 4-5)
- 90 seconds at level 7
- 90 seconds recovery (level 3-4)
- 90 seconds at level 8
- 90 seconds recovery
- 30 seconds at level 8-9
- Cool-down: 4 minutes steady
- Go through the full cycle FIVE times.
Want even more ideas on how to look great in your white jeans this summer? Here’s one that we don’t think about too often: water retention. When our bodies hold onto extra water, it emphasizes that pouchy look. Here’s how to keep belly bloating to a minimum:
• Swap water for sugary or alcoholic drinks.
Not only will water taste refreshing on hot days, but soda and alcohol add extra calories to your daily intake.
• Cut back on salt.
This mineral naturally makes us retain water, so ease up on it, especially on hot, humid days.
• Load up on fiber.
If you’re craving summer salads, add dandelion greens or spicy arugula for flavor and fiber. Another high-fiber favorite of mine is avocado, which is great in salads, with eggs, or spread over a piece of toasted whole-wheat or multi-grain bread.
• Drink your vegetables.
If you have a juicer at home, throw in some kale, spinach, cucumber, and celery with a little apple or lemon. No juicer? No problem. Skip the creamy smoothies and ask for a fresh green juice at your local juice bar.
Get ready white jeans… here we come!
2-in-1 Workout / Thighs and Butt
It’s no secret that most of us women want toned, thin thighs and tight, perky butts, but getting that may often seem out of reach. With a busy schedule and everything in between, you may find yourself sitting on your glutes and thighs more often than working them out. But even when life gets in the way, I’ve got a go-to 2-in-1 exercise that you can do in the comfort of your own home with no equipment needed! And, best of all, when you use my tips to work two body parts with just one exercise, you are able to gain maximum results in minimum time.
Now, you may be asking, how do I do it? When you perform Compound and Functional movements, this allows you have a more comprehensive workout with less time and effort. Compound movements are movements that force you to work multiple parts of your body and multiple joints at one time, while a Functional motion is an exercise you mimic in your everyday life, like the motion of sitting down in a chair.
It’s not that there is anything wrong with isolating muscles and training them as you would in, say, a bicep curl (not a compound movement). But there are limitations with that kind of training. You are not getting the improved function, balance, flexibility and coordination that come only when you treat the body like an integrated whole. In daily life, muscles work together. When you get on an airplane, for example, you must bend, twist and stretch in the narrow aisle to hoist your luggage and place it overhead. That twisting, bending and placing is an example of the Compound, integrated movements that occur every day at the grocery store, when taking out the trash, or when putting the kids in the car. This holistic style of training ultimately protects you against the aches, pains and risk of injury that may accompany age.
Try these 2-in-1 exercises to strengthen and tone your hamstrings and butt:
• Back Flye With Balance –
Stand on your right leg, holding light weights. Lift your left leg off the ﬂoor behind you and balance. Start with your hands directly under your body, palms facing each other, then lift the weights and squeeze the shoulder blades together. 12 repetitions on each side
• Squat Sit With A Rotating Twist –
Stand with feet hip distance apart, holding light weights in each hand. Push your hips back until your knees are bent to about a 90-degree angle, pulling weights to the chest. As you rise keep the left foot and hip parallel but pivot on the right toe, turning your whole body to the left. As you pivot on the right toe, squeeze the right glute while bringing the weights overhead toward your left side. 12 repetitions each side.
When you think of the famous sculpture of David, the butt and the hamstring are a blended area, not completely separate. You can’t have a strong butt and saggy hamstrings or vice versa — they go hand in hand. So working them together is how you get results – not working a single muscle over and over again. So let’s get started!
Here’s to your health!
I’d like to introduce you to your new best friend. His name is Gonzo. This Gonzo isn’t a Muppet alien with a big nose and an unrequited crush on Miss Piggy. Far from it. This Gonzo I’m talking about is an approach to exercise – a method that will help you burn MORE fat, in LESS amount of time.
Going Gonzo is another term for Burst training, or interval training, which uses short bursts of higher intensity when you work out. So for example, if you’re on a brisk walk for three minutes, then you do a one-minute burst, where you walk as fast as you can or you break into a run – that’s burst training. So how does it work?
First, it’s important to understand how to gauge the intensity levels of your workouts. You can do that with what I call your Perceived Exertion Scale.
Check out this video…
See that happy face? When you’re at about 60-75% of your maximum, you’re at that happy face level. That’s when you’re exercising at a nice, long, slow steady pace.
But when you push to a 75-85% that smile turns into a look of determination. You couldn’t carry on a conversation with your workout buddy, you’re focused, on a mission.
- Then, at 85-95%, you start to go Gonzo. Because that’s when you’re doing burst training. That’s when you’re going for broke. That’s where you make a Gonzo battle-cry face, because it’s an all-out effort that you can only keep up for a minute or two.
Here’s an example of how you can put it all together for an effective workout:
Warm up for 5 minutes to get your body loose and moving. Then:
30 seconds Happy Face Pace
30 seconds Determined Face Pace
60-90 seconds Gonzo Pace
Repeat this cycle 5 times.
Going Gonzo also helps you raise your Lactate Threshold. When you reach your lactate threshold, you’re starting to “feel the burn.” That’s the feeling of your body producing more of the waste product lactic acid than it can clear away. The more the lactic acid builds up, the more you feel the burn. The lactate threshold is what keeps you from pushing harder and breaking through your workout barriers. Check out this video that demonstrates how it works.
If you only work out at a steady state (in the happy face range), you never reach that limit. But when you push yourself to go Gonzo a few times a week by doing some burst training, here’s what happens:
You raise the calorie count of your workouts.
You train your body to clear lactic acid more efficiently, so you can work out at a harder level more easily.
You raise your metabolism for several hours afterward, so again, more calories burned more efficiently.
And you start to activate your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which improve muscle tone, and, once again, this cranks up your body’s natural calorie-burning engines.
- When we go Gonzo and do burst training, we start to tap into those deeper fat stores. If you’re already an exerciser – and we just saw in your survey that most of you exercise pretty regularly – burst training is the key to breaking through any plateaus you might have reached – so if you’ve been working out and suddenly you stopped seeing results, burst training can help you break through that plateau.
That’s what makes going Gonzo such a powerful timesaver, and that’s why people with packed schedules use this type of training. It’s all about efficiency, and performing at your peak levels. And when you’re performing at your peak, you’re more likely to be the best version of yourself – at home, at work, and in your community.