The Latest From Top Fitness
Gym rats and exercise junkies can go back and forth all day about what the best time to work out is. Some people think exercising first thing in the morning gets your metabolism going and boosts your energy. Others think that evening workouts are when you have the most stamina. Here’s a breakdown of advantages and disadvantages of popular exercise times to determine when the best time of day to work out really is.
The best part about morning workouts is that they’re often the easiest to follow through with (if you can get yourself out of bed). Unlike afternoon or evening workouts, there are no obligations, last minute work issues, or excuses about long days. While exercising will help you sleep better, it might be best to work out first thing in the morning. Evening gym time may elevate heart rate and body temperature in a way that disrupts sleep. Plus, that morning workout will give you a boost of energy once you get going, so you may be able to cut back on the caffeine. You may also feel better and more productive throughout the day. You’ve already conquered your workout for the day, so anything else that comes your way will seem easy.
The downside of jumping into a morning workout is that your body hasn’t had any time to wake up. Your body temperature and heart rate are lower, so muscles may be tighter and stiffer. You could be more prone to injury if you don’t adequately warm up. You may also not feel as energetic if you haven’t eaten and are running on empty.
Proponents of evening workouts often say that they feel better and stronger than when they work out in the morning. You’ve been up and moving all day and your body temperature is higher, so your muscles are already warmed up and you’re less likely to get injured. Testosterone, which aids with athletic performance, peaks in the afternoon, so you may feel naturally stronger. You’ve also hopefully eaten a few meals and some healthy snacks throughout the day, so you’re properly fueled for a tough workout. Working out at night can also be a great way to relieve stress. If you had a tough day at work, you can let it all out on your run or find zen in a yoga class.
One of the major disadvantages to working out in the evening is that it’s very easy for responsibilities or excuses to get in the way. If you have to work late, go get drinks with coworkers or are too tired and hungry when you get home, you may be tempted to blow off your workout.
Really, the best time to work out is when you know you’ll do it. After all, if you always sleep through morning workouts or make excuses for evening ones, it doesn’t matter what time is best. Determine what’s best for your body and lifestyle and work out then. You may feel too groggy to get through a workout done in the morning or too beat to do it after work. The most important thing is that you find time in your day to exercise, no matter when it is.
The squat is one of the most effective lifts you have at your disposal. For strength gains, fat burning, athleticism or muscle building, the squat is king.
To get the most out of your squatting, there’s a few things you should know. This is a big exercise, using big weights and challenging your body to the limit. It should be treated with respect. Here we will look at 5 ways you can rapidly improve your squat performance. All of these are going to quickly increase your squat numbers and overall strength levels.
- Mobility – I start the conversation with mobility for a simple reason. That is because it’s the area where I consistently see people lacking. In every gym I go to, it is rare to see someone who has proper mobility to perform a perfect squat with full range of motion.Without the required mobility to squat properly; at best you will be missing out on the benefits of using range of motion and the opportunity for maximum growth. At worst, you set yourself up for injury and possible harm.Before you worry about loading up the bar with more weight, or hitting max reps for time, you need to ensure you can perform a full range of motion squat with perfect form. First without any weight, and then carrying it over to weighted.
The first place to look for your mobility cure is the ankles. I see everyone trying to stretch their hips out all of the time, and that is important, but the ankles are much more often the limiting factor in squatting. With the most flexible hips in the world, you will still not be able to squat properly if you don’t have sufficient mobility in the ankles.
Focus on increasing ankle mobility first, and then assess if you need more hip mobility.
- Single leg work – One of the best ways to improve stability, strength and balance in the squat is with single leg work. Lunges, step ups, single leg deadlifts and pistol squats are all great ways to get better at squatting, without having to load up heavy squats.Much of the single leg work will be challenging your glutes and other muscles around the hips, improving stability and balance. All of which allows you to display more strength in the normal squat movement. A lack of stability doesn’t allow you to display the strength that you might well have. If you’re losing balance, you can never exert maximum force.A regime of single leg work twice per week will soon build stability and ensure you have balanced strength between both legs. This will make you stronger, but more importantly, better allow you to display the strength that you already have.
- Keep your feet stable – You might have seen people squatting in bare feet, or wearing special weight lifting shoes? This is to keep the feet stable. Refer to the above point for the importance of stability.If you are squatting in running shoes or other training shoes that have a soft heel, your weight will be rocking backwards and forwards over the soft sole, costing you stability. This means you are not as stable as you could be, and therefore not as strong, while being more prone to injury.Simply taking your shoes off can sometimes improve your squat as you gain more stability.
- A rock solid core – You’ve probably heard the term ‘core stability’ thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean for you when you’re squatting?The core is considered to be everything around the midline; the lower back, as well as the abs. When squatting, this area needs to be locked in place and as stable as possible, to allow force transfer from the body down in to the ground.The first important part of core stability is your breathing. When you take a large breath in and brace your core muscles, you create stability. Failing to hold your breath, or breathing in and out in too relaxed a fashion will lead to a weak link in your mid-section. Before initiating a lift, breathe in at the top, hold it on the way down and allow some air to come out on the way up.
As you breathe out on the way up, you should never fully breathe out. Instead, partially breathe out by hissing through your teeth, ensuring you keep your abs braced. The time to reset and breath in again is at the top of the movement.
If you are lacking stability in your midline, you cannot properly transfer force and like a lack of stability, will not be able to display the strength that you already have.
- Pull yourself down – This is something almost everybody gets wrong. When you squat you are not just letting gravity and the weight on your shoulders push you down into the ground. At least, you shouldn’t be.You want to actively pull yourself down on the descent. This loads all of the right muscles and ensures you have stability and control on the way down. To do this, you want to engage the hip flexors and hamstrings and actively pull yourself down into the squat. Try it and you will immediately feel the difference.
Put these 5 tips to action and your squat will start to take off.
As it’s a lovely sunny day, I’m feeling generous, so I’ve thrown in a bonus 6th tip for you.
Bonus Tip 6: Squat more often – The squat is an exercise that you can train a lot. Every day if you so desire. The legs can take a lot of volume and a lot of frequency. As long as you squat with good technique and are keeping the weight off the lower back, you can squat regularly. The more often you squat, the faster you will progress. Strength, muscle gain, fat loss; all will be accelerated by squatting more often.
Of course, most people do not need to squat every day, but 2 or even 3 times per week is a reasonable amount for anyone. The more you squat, the quicker you will progress.
We all have goals that we want to achieve. Why is it that some people seem to effortlessly achieve all that they want, while others struggle to meet even the simplest of aims?
Here we have 5 reasons why people fail at their fitness goals. If you’re guilty of one or more of these things, it might be what is holding you back from achieving the body that you desire.
- Actions not aligned with goals
You’d be surprised how many people have stated goals, but are doing things which clearly do not take them towards their goals.
As an example – and I’m sure this will not be news to you – you cannot out train a bad diet if you are trying to lose weight.
Trying to go to the gym and burn calories, while continuing to eat donuts for breakfast is simply going to frustrate you. You do not have to be completely robotic and never eat the foods that you like again, but you need to recognise how your actions are going to impact your results and align what you’re doing with what you want.
- Not tracking progress
If you don’t know where you started, or where you are now, how on earth do you know if what you are doing is working?
You must measure your progress and keep tabs on how things are progressing. Failing to do so often leads to us giving up because we think that we’re not making progress.
Who knows if we actually are?
When you are measuring, you are empowered. The data will tell you if you are doing the right thing or not. If you’re not seeing the results that you want, it doesn’t mean you have failed. It means you need to make some changes. Without tracking, you will not know this, and will feel helpless.
- You’re lying to yourself
How many times have you planned to train this week? How many calories have you planned to eat?
How many have you actually done?
Lots of people are simply not following the plan, but do not admit it to themselves. They think they’re doing the right things because they’re very strict on their diet Monday – Friday. However, when a little digging shows that at the weekend it becomes a free-for-all and you consume 7,000 calories, it’s little wonder you haven’t seen the outcome you hoped for.
Being blind to your ‘mistakes’ does not help you. You have to be honest with yourself and accurately assess what you are doing. Failing to be honest with yourself will lead to failing to see the results that you hope for.
The easiest way to be honest with yourself is to track everything. Yes, it can be annoying. So what?
You are either prepared to do what it takes to meet your goals, or you’re not.
It’s ok if you are not prepared to do the work. Just re-adjust either your goals or your motivation, to save the endless frustration.
- You’re majoring in the minors
If you’re following advanced training principles and doing all kinds of funky workouts, but failing to eat enough calories, you are not going to build much muscle.
If you’re only eating organic, farm raised Mongolian mountain food, but you’re eating 5,000 calories, you are not going to lose weight.
It’s great to get advanced plans and really focus on the specifics, but it has to come secondary to the basics.
So many people are training hard and trying to eat well, but failing to drink enough water or sleep at night. You have to get your priorities in order and do the things that are going to have the biggest impact first.
Advanced routines are for advanced people. If you’re in your first 3 years of consistent training, you just need to do the basics and remain consistent. Consistency will always be the key to success.
- You have no intensity
A lot of people in the gym are simply not working hard. Turning up consistently is important, but you also need to put in the work while you’re there.
Leave your phone in the locker and focus on working hard. Keep the rest periods short, push your body and always try to do a little bit more than you comfortably want to. It will pay dividends over time.
Find a training partner or coach that can push you. You will always work harder with someone else watching over you. The final 10% is the most important 10%. Every rep that is outside your comfort zone is worth 10 reps that are inside your comfort zone.
Get a handle on these 5 things and I promise you will start to see better results in your training. Then it is simply a case of remaining consistent. Keep doing it, day after day, week after week, year after year.
You can get an incredible transformation in a short period of time, but all great physiques were built in years – not weeks.
Two friends and I recently completed a four-day, three-night backpacking trip through Aspen, Colorado on the Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop. This trail is roughly 26 miles long; it starts at an altitude of about 9,500 feet with each of the four mountain passes reaching 12,500 feet; and it has some of the most amazing views that you will ever see in your life. If you’ve ever wanted do something like this, but were unsure whether you could do it, let me try to convince you.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about completing this trip. I’m 41 years old and had never been on an overnight backpacking trip. I do occasional 3-4 miles casual hikes with friends and family, but that’s it. I exercise regularly, but I’m not a gym rat. I like to run to stay fit, but normally it’s only 5K and never really over 10K. Overall, I consider myself to be of average fitness. Living in Pittsburgh at 1,300 feet the majority of my life, I really had no idea what to expect on these mountain passes.
I arrived in Denver, where my friends live, on a Wednesday. We planned on starting our hike on Friday so I had a couple of days to make some last minute backpacking purchases and to see what it’s like above 5,000 feet.
On Thursday morning I went out for a run. I was about 30 seconds off my normal pace, but overall I felt fine. The one thing I did notice was that even though my level of exertion was the same, I didn’t really sweat. That was definitely unusual.
That night, we drove to a little town outside of Aspen and stayed in a hotel so that we could get an early start Friday morning. When we get there, we’re at 9,000 feet and we’re quickly to sleep.
Day 1 – Moose
We arrived at the trailhead at exactly 8:00. Unfortunately, it’s raining slightly. We get our packs and ponchos on and we’re on the trail around 8:30. Less than 15 minutes into our hike, our trail becomes blocked by two moose. This is something you don’t see every day in Pennsylvania. One moose quickly walks away but the other is content to graze for about 10 minutes. When it finally decides to leave, it gives us a couple snorts and runs in our direction. I wasn’t charging at us, it just decided that was its best route to where it was going. Nevertheless, it got our hearts pumping.
Day 1 is intended to be a rather short 5-6 miles to our first campsite. We want to lie up before the first pass, so that we can tackle it first thing the next morning. The hike is a gradually climb all morning to about 11,000 feet. At around 1:00, it has stopped raining and we find a beautiful spot to set up camp at the base of a mountain range. Looking around at where I’m at, I’m already happy that I decided to do this trip.
I notice that I have a slight headache and I’m guessing it has something to do with the altitude and lack of food.
Day 2 – West Maroon Pass and Frigid Air Pass
On paper, today is our most grueling day. We are going to climb two passes (West Maroon & Frigid Air). That being said, I’m really optimistic at this point. My headache is gone. I feel good carrying the weight on my back. I’m ready to go.
After packing up camp, we start out on another rainy morning. Not the hiking conditions I was hoping for, but the scenery more than makes up for it. After hiking a couple more miles, the rain has stopped and I finally get my first look at a mountain pass and see what kind of hiking lay ahead. It’s no joke.
I don’t know what I was thinking. By definition, a pass is the low point between two mountains, but I guess the reality just didn’t click in my mind. These are mountains. To get to the top of the pass, the trail moves through a series of switchbacks. It’s basically a zigzag up the mountain so you don’t have to climb straight up. Even with this approach, it’s exhausting. After climbing for more than an hour and a couple dozen breaks along the way to catch my breath, the top of the pass is in sight. Honestly, I’m thinking in my head, can I really do three more of these? This is kind of the point of no return. We could turn back after this and be back to the car by nightfall. But as we reach 12,500 feet my decision is made…I have got to see more.
From the top of the pass, we descend another set of switchbacks down and then hike a couple more miles to the base of Frigid Air Pass. It’s already been a long day. We’ve been hiking for over four hours and looking up, I know what’s in store. So, it’s another series of switchbacks and a dozen more stops in order to ascend to 12,500 feet again. Reaching the top of the pass, it’s more awe inspiring views. I can’t believe I’m 41 years old and just now really appreciating this.
As tired as we are, we still have to get off of this mountain to set up camp. So we start down the other side and we find cover in a grove just before it starts to rain again. But no worries, after a long day, it’s a quick water run to a stream, something to eat and straight to bed.
Day 3 – Snowmass Lake
Again, I have a lot of optimism this morning. Yesterday was the toughest day in our planned trip, we only have Trail Rider Pass to make it through today, and though it’s cold, it’s not supposed to rain.
Soon after we leave camp we pass a huge waterfall. After a couple photo ops, we get back on the trail. About 30 minutes later we come to a wide stream and it seems there’s no way to get across without getting wet. So we take off our boots and socks, roll up our pants and keep moving forward. The trail then turns uphill as the pass comes into sight. We’ll need to climb 2,000 feet today to get to the top of Trail Rider Pass. To make matters worse, the weather is turning. Why should today be any different? But it’s not rain, it’s sleet. So, the ponchos come out again and we start up the mountain. After 45 minutes of steep uphill climbing, the sun comes out and the rain gear is put away. I’m grateful because even though yesterday was supposed to be our toughest day, this pass is by far the steepest and it’s getting the best of me. After another 30 minutes, the sun becomes short-lived and it’s sleeting again. At this point, the top of the pass is in sight, but still I’m cursing this route and Mother Nature. As we reach 12,500 feet for the third time, she has me eating those words. The view over the other side of the mountain has us overlooking a pristine mountain lake surrounded by steep granite cliffs and towering evergreens. I can’t imagine that I will ever see a more beautiful view in my life.
After a bunch of pictures, it’s down the other side of the mountain to Snowmass Lake. As we get closer, the views get more and more amazing. That night we get to do a little fishing and thanks to one of my hiking partners there’s trout for dinner.
Day 4 – Buckskin Pass
It’s our final day, the skies are clear and the sun is out. Today we have one final pass, Buckskin. From camp, we hike uphill most of the morning until we get to the pass. Starting up the switchbacks is a little bitter sweet. We’re all craving a big juicy hamburger or some greasy pizza, but we know this will be our last panoramic shot from the top of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. I’m not sure if it’s the food cravings or if it’s that we already have three passes under our belts, but this climb seems a lot easier. At the top, we take our last pictures of the spectacular views and start down the mountain.
From the top of Buckskin Pass it’s downhill the entire way to the trailhead parking lot. We’re all thankful for that after four long and tiring days of hiking. Soon, the scenery starts to look familiar and we realize we’re getting close to the trailhead. We start seeing more and more people coming in the opposite direction. We’re tired, dirty and I’m sure we don’t smell that great, but this trip has been so rewarding. As we weave through tourists out for a quick day hike, I feel like a real backpacker. At the trailhead, we stop and take one look back at everything we accomplished over the last few days. We take one last picture and we starting loading our gear into the car.
Looking back on the whole trip, I can’t believe I waited so long to do something like this. The physical exertion and sore feet were well worth the experience. So much so that I’m already thinking about where I can go next year…Montana, Canada, the Grand Canyon? There’s so much I’d love to see and now I have no worries whether I can do it. And neither should you. Stop wondering or worrying whether you can do it. Get some friends and plan your trip. If you haven’t done it, what are you waiting for?
It seems like the whole world is focusing on the elite athletes that competed on the international stage in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Many of the competitors have been training their entire lives to get to that point. They’ve spent years working on their respective sports like it’s a full time job, exercising for hours two or three times a day, eating carefully curated diets and finely tuning their bodies for competition.
While most of us don’t have the time, money or energy to copy their training, there are lots of tips and takeaways from Olympic athletes that we can incorporate into our own health and fitness routines.
With all that exercise, Olympians can basically eat whatever they want, right? Most likely, but they don’t. They understand that the food they eat is what fuels their body, and if they eat a lot of junk, their performances will suffer. A well-balanced diet, with complex carbohydrates, lean protein and plenty of fruits and veggies will fuel your body through all your workouts. Plus, once elite athletes find something that works for them, they stick with it. Many of them eat the same pre-workout breakfast every day for years.
Staying hydrated is key to performing well. In reality, most of us are at least slightly dehydrated a majority of the time. Drinking water consistently throughout the day, before you get thirsty, will help you maintain your energy levels. A good rule is to consume half your body weight in fluid ounces of water. So if you weigh 200 lbs., you should be drinking 100 ounces of water each day. You may need to increase this depending on how much you exercise or sweat. Unless you’re doing long, intense workouts or working out in the hot sun for hours, sports drinks aren’t really necessary.
We all need rest days. We’ll get burnt out and injured if we don’t take some time off. But for the world’s top athletes, rest doesn’t necessarily mean parking it on the couch all day, especially on the road to the Olympics. They do what’s called active rest. Going for a long walk or doing some light yoga on your days off will keep you blood flowing and your muscles loose.
When was the last time you got 7-9 completely uninterrupted hours of sleep? It’s probably not always possible for anyone, but for people whose job is to win medals at international competitions, getting decent sleep most nights of the week is imperative. It’s when you’re sleeping that your cells and muscles repair themselves, so it’s important for building strength and increasing fitness. You’ll also have more energy to power through the workday and your workout. Turn off all screens an hour before you go to bed, and take time to wind down. Wear earplugs or an eye mask if disruptions are a problem for you.
Set A Goal
When you exercise without a specific goal in mind, it’s easy to fall of the wagon and justify it. Who is it hurting? Setting a goal will help you stick to your schedule. While many people aim to lose weight, it’s not always the best motivator since it takes a lot of time and fluctuates frequently. Sign up for a race, aim to lift a certain amount of weight or swim at a certain speed. You may not win a gold medal, but you’ll feel great once you reach that goal!