Tag Archives: Strength training

Proper Plank – New Tips

I originally posted this blog called ‘Proper Plank’ one year ago. I’m always learning new tips on better ways to do things and I found a more effective way to do this amazing core exercise. This one trick will totally engage your core like never before. Face it, if you can hold plank for more than a minute, or two or three,  you really should be challenging yourself in new ways to make it harder and get the most out of it. Below is my original post, and my new tips appear at the end in bold (Points 6 and 7).

I’ve recently seen plank challenges all over social media. Plank is my favorite total body, core strengthening exercise. It’s challenging for everyone, from beginner to the super fit, especially with advanced variations.


To the beginner, plank may look like merely balancing on your forearms and your feet for as long as you can, but it’s so much more than that. It’s pretty difficult to tell everything that’s going on by looking at a picture. You can get so much more benefit out of the exercise by having proper body position, alignment and by engaging the proper muscles in your body.

Here I’m reviewing forearm plank position.

1) Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders and your weight should be on your elbow area, not on your forearms or wrists caused by a forward lean. Your hands can be in whatever position that is comfortable. I see many people grasp their hands in the middle, which is a little easier. I like to go the more challenging route and point my forearms straight ahead with palms facing up. Try both ways and you’ll feel the difference. Making fists, like the picture above, it also an option.

2) Your spine should be elongated and in a straight line from your head to your feet.

3) To keep your spine in alignment you have to contract your core muscles and your glutes. This will ensure your spine doesn’t sag in the middle. If you’re sagging, your’e not engaging.

4) Instead of just balancing on the balls of your feet, drive your heels back. This will also help keep you in alignment and engage your quads.

5) Your feet can be together or hip width apart. Again, it’s what’s comfortable for you.

6) Once your quads and glutes are totally engaged, create a tension between your elbows and your feet by driving your elbows back towards your feet (without moving them) and your toes forward towards your elbows (without moving them either). If you create this tension correctly you will feel a definite contraction through your core. Keep this contraction as tight as possible. If you must release it, go down out of plank, rest as needed and then go back in the same position. This one tweak will give you more bang for your buck. 

The stronger you get in your abs, back, shoulders, chest, quads, glutes and calves, the longer you will be able to hold the plank position. Yes, it uses all of these muscles. That’s why it’s so great! Added benefits are it helps your lower back become more resilient to injury and it will tone and tighten your abs.

7) If you master the tips in step 6 and are looking for an increased challenge, place your elbows an inch or so above your shoulder line (rather than directly underneath your shoulders as suggested above). This will create a longer lever and make the work more difficult. Additional advanced options include elevating a hand or foot and holding.

Try these tips and feel the difference!

Happy Planking!



Understanding Protein

If you’re confused about how much protein you need per day, you’re not alone. There’s not a cut-and-dried answer. Everyone has a different “need” depending on gender, weight, activity level and goals.

I’ve been doing a lot of research to try to answer this question for myself. There is a lot of information out there. Here is the lowdown on what I found.

What is the RDA for protein:

The purpose of the RDA guidelines is to inform you how much of a specific nutrient your body needs on a daily basis to function properly. So basically, depending on your weight and activity level, the RDA for protein can be viewed as the minimum requirement to keep you healthy.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein for men is 56 grams per day and 46 grams per day for women.

Chances are you may need more. But how much more and why?

What is Protein?

Protein is one of the basic building blocks of the human body, making up roughly 20 percent of your total body weight. Muscle, hair, skin, and connective tissue are mainly made up of protein. Also, protein plays a major role in all of the cells and most of the fluids in your body.  Although your body is good at “recycling” protein, you use it up constantly, so it is important to continually replace it.

Protein is made up of smaller units called amino acids. Your body can produce some of these amino acids, but others must be consumed through the diet. Animal products (meat, eggs, dairy) and many plant foods are good sources.

Follow this link to see what’s included in the protein food group:


Protein and Weight Loss

When you want to gain muscle and lose fat, eating the right amount of protein is key. Protein and the amino acids that make it up are required for two main reasons.

1) To construct muscle – they are the building blocks

2)  They act as a switch to ‘signal’ that it’s time to start up the “muscle building machinery”.

Leucine is probably the most important amino acid that stimulates this “switch” and is highly present in protein rich food.

Because protein is required to build muscle AND to signal the body to start this process, it’s important to spread out protein consumption evenly throughout the day.

How Much Do You Need?

“When it comes to building muscle and losing fat, research consistently shows that doubling the RDA spaced out throughout the day is the path you want to take to get the best results the fastest”. (BJ Gaddour, “Men’s Health, Your Body is Your Barbell”). This seems like a good rule of thumb in general. Let’s see what other people say.

Nutritionists use a standard to estimate your minimum daily protein requirement.

Multiply the body weight in pounds by .37.

Using this formula, a 150 lb. man would require a minimum of 55 grams of protein per day. This falls right in with the RDA.  And if you’re very active and exercise frequently, professionals agree you can nearly double this requirement. Be advised, though, if you’re shooting for a gram of protein per pound of body weight, or more, you’re probably overdoing it. The extra protein will not necessarily benefit you. Also, that’s a lot for the body to process and the extra calories will most likely end up as fat.

To look at it another way, it is recommended that 10-35% of your daily calories come from protein. This is a rather large range and where you fall in it also depends on your weight and activity level. For a  diet of 1800 calories per day, this means anywhere from a minimum of 45 grams of protein to over 150 grams of protein per day. That 35% is a pretty high number and may be overdoing it for a lot of people. In my diet, I lean towards around 20% protein.

So you see, there are various rules of thumb to figure out the ideal protein for you.

Tracking the Protein Grams you Eat

Many foods contain protein, but at the end of the day, how do you know how much you’ve consumed?

Here is an easy rule of thumb:

Remember the numbers 1, 5, 10, 15, 25 to roughly estimate protein intake.


  • 1 gram of protein for every serving of fruit and vegetables
  • 5 for every egg or handful of nuts you eat
  • 10 for every cup of milk or yogurt
  • 15 for every cup of beans or half-cup of cottage cheese
  • 25 for every 3-4 ounce serving of meat

Protein and Exercise Recovery

After a workout your body switches immediately from performance mode to recovery mode. It’s important to rebuild broken down muscle so you can come back stronger in your next training session. It is a great idea to refuel with protein right after your workout. Try a protein shake. Whey is a rapidly digested protein source loaded with leucine that will help maximize muscle recovery and growth.

Nutrient Timing: Exercise Recovery and Carbs

I found an extra helpful tidbit in my research about muscle recovery and carbs.

Nutrient timing is the concept that certain foods benefit your body more at specific times of the day than at others. After exercise, your muscles want to restock their supply of carbohydrates in the form of  glycogen. This is the time that your muscles are primed to take in the carbs you eat. In fact, after exercise is one of the few times carbs are preferentially transported to your muscles and away from your fat cells.

It’s a great idea to plan your starchiest meal of the day within 2 hours of your training. This could be breakfast, lunch or dinner depending on when you workout.

Your other meals of the day should consist of protein and nutrient dense carbs and vegetables.

A Few Last Words…

I hope this helps answer some questions you have about protein or got you thinking more about nutrition. As a trainer I am all about the workout but honestly, 75 – 80% of the weight loss equation concerns what you put in your mouth.

Wishing you much success!






Deck of Cards – The Workout

If you play your cards right you can get an excellent workout whether or not you’re a few cards short of a full deck!

Just a little humor to introduce one of my very favorite workout formats! I’ve seen different versions of the Deck of Cards concept, but this is mine.


What Is it?

You really do use a full deck of playing cards to guide your workout! Place the deck face down and flip one card over at a time. Each suit is assigned a certain exercise, or in my version two different exercises, and the number on the card tells you how many reps to do. Face cards and Aces are always 15 reps. Your challenge is to complete the entire deck.

Why I LOVE it!

There is definitely an element of surprise. You can do this over and over again and always have a different result. You can also change out the exercises each time you do it so it’s a totally different workout. The possibilities are endless. If you want ho-hum and boring, please do not try this at home. It gets extra fun and challenging if you turn over 2 face cards of the same suit in a row. That’s 30 reps please!

How to Play

The first suggestion is to grab a friend or ten! Of course this can be done solitaire style, but a partner can help you press on if you end up having to do 30 Burpees in a row. Yes I did use the ‘B’ word, and it’s highly recommended you include them as part of this workout because they are awesome. I’ve done this format in a boot camp, with partners and by myself with my dogs licking my face. The last option would be OK minus the dogs.

Planning the workout

You can choose 4 body weight/cardio type exercises or use mine below. Each is assigned a suit.

  • Push-ups – Hearts
  • Burpees – Spades
  • Sit ups – Clubs
  • Squat Jumps – Diamonds

You can choose 4 strength exercises (add weights) or use mine below. Each is assigned a suit.

  • Overhead press – Hearts
  • Squat – Spades
  • Russian twist – Clubs
  • Hammer curl with tricep extension – Diamonds

First, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle the deck. You don’t want to know the order of the cards, that would ruin the fun!

Second, divide the deck equally in two.

The first half of the workout is your cardio time. You will only do the 4 body weight/cardio type exercises for the first 26 cards. For example, for every Heart you turn over you will do pushups, and for every Spade you will do burpees. Remember, you do the number of reps that’s on the card you turn over,  and all face cards are 15 reps.

After you complete the first 26 cards you move on to the strength portion of the workout. Now every time you turn over a Heart, you will do the overhead press, Spades become squats, etc.

I threw in a special exercise for Aces just for variety.

Every time you turn over an Ace, whether it’s in the first half of the deck or the second, you perform walking lunges with a twist, 15 each side or a total of 30.


My favorite way to do this workout is the way I described above, however, you can put it together in different ways.

First, you can just do the top 4 body weight/cardio type of exercises for the entire workout, while also adding in the walking lunges for the Aces. This  works especially well if you don’t have equipment. When you add up all the reps per exercise type, it’s quite impressive! (But if you like nice round numbers like me, you might want to throw in an extra rep of each!) Here are the stats:

  • Push-ups 99
  • Burpees 99
  • Sit ups 99
  • Squat Jumps 99
  • Walking lunges with a twist 120

Second, you can do the whole workout with weights, like the second half of the workout. I’ve never tried it this way though, so if you do, let me know how it goes.

Third, you can throw all my suggested exercises out the window and use your own!

Final Thoughts

I’m going to lay my cards on the table and say I love to combine cardio and strength in all my workouts. The beauty of this though, is that YOU hold all the cards. So what will it be?

What Drives You?

Is there a certain something that adds excitement to your life? That floats your boat? That tickles your fancy? I have a passion for physical activity and a healthy lifestyle.  It wasn’t always that way though. I’ve evolved over the years and it’s been a pretty radical change.

Growing up, physical activity meant recreation: softball, tennis, volleyball and bowling. It was whatever my friends were doing. It was whatever organized activity could fill my Saturday morning or after school. It was social.

As a teenager I occasionally went to the Elaine Powers exercise studio with my mom. It was there I fell in love with movement to music and I discovered aerobics. We also did a lot of doggy type exercises on all fours which I didn’t like as much. Knee up, extend leg out, in and down…up, out, in and down. If you’ve ever done them, or seen them done, you know what I mean. I only did them in class and if people were watching, unlike my mom who did them faithfully everyday at home. She had a different goal than I did at the time. I only did what I liked.

When I was married with children and we were dirt poor, Jane Fonda became my best friend. Well, her VHS tapes did anyway. I was desperate to get the weight off and she was the one who helped me. I actually dressed for the part too. You couldn’t work out with Jane Fonda without a proper leotard, even if no one’s watching. (Leg warmers were optional).

When times got better financially I joined the gym and took every aerobics class I could find. I found it helped me reduce stress. It made me happy. I did high impact, low impact, and then I discovered kickboxing. I loved it all.

My focus changed again when someone in my life got a horrible illness. Watching such a strong personality have to fight for her life made me angry and I released this aggression at the gym. It wasn’t fair! I felt my intensity soar as I imagined destroying the cancer with punches and kicks. Take that! Go away!

After I lost this person my focus changed again and I viewed working out as a gift. I was healthy  enough to do it. Not everyone was. I decided to enjoy this gift and also make myself as strong as possible so I’d be ready to fight anything that might come up in my own life. I began strength training around this time.

Then I lost my mother way too early to ill health. This was devastating beyond belief. I realized that just making myself physically stronger wasn’t enough. I had to help others too. Movement still makes me feel amazing, but there’s so much more to it than that. You can’t change your genetics or your family’s health history, but there are things within your reach that you can control to be a healthier you. In my opinion, diet and exercise are key. They are nonnegotiable!

My love of fitness started out as recreation, then it was for fun, stress relief, weight control, aggression release, then it became a gift and finally a passion for myself and to help others.  I am definitely a product of my experience! I’m driven to help people be the healthiest they can be. That’s what floats my boat!

My Favorite Way to Work Out and Why! (With Bonus Sample Workout)

Take it from a former Cardio Queen, walking on the treadmill or doing your Mama’s old school aerobics is not going to change your body.

Don’t get me wrong, any activity is a good thing. Any activity will burn calories. But if you’re going to put the time in anyway, why not make it really count?

The key is to burn calories during your workout, and also change your body composition, (build muscle) so that your body runs more efficiently and burns more calories all day long.

My Experience

I’ve worked out my entire life. Before I was a fitness trainer or even a fitness enthusiast, I was a cardio junkie. My vice was high-impact aerobics. I didn’t like lifting weights for a couple of reasons. First, I had no idea what to do. Second, what little  experience I did have reminded me that after I lifted weights, I felt pain. That was enough for me to avoid any kind of resistance training completely.

I will never forget the summer I put in about 5 hours per week in aerobics class and then couldn’t fit into my jeans after Labor Day. I was sure I was at least maintaining, but some how I had gained  weight. That was it! Time to get serious!

How I got started

When I truly got serious about transforming my body into what I hoped would be a fat burning machine, I started working with a personal trainer.

I did’t know the proper way to do anything, so I thought this was a great way to go. If you want to see results from your workouts, form and accountability are key. And with someone watching your every move, you can’t get away with anything. That is exactly what I needed!

How Long did it Take to see Results?

The first couple of weeks were pretty brutal.  My muscles had never been worked like this before. After I regained use of my noodle legs, I started feeling stronger, powerful even. I loved that feeling. I began seeing results in myself in about 2 months and others started noticing in about 3-4 months. That’s pretty amazing considering I had been reigning the cardio kingdom for a few years and I saw absolutely no results.

Fitness is my Passion

I was so excited to see results in myself that I decided to become certified so I could help others.

Over the years, my fitness plan for myself and my clients has evolved as I learn what’s new in the industry. I always use myself as the guinea pig, and if I like what I’m feeling and seeing, then I bring it to my clients.

My Favorite Way to Work Out

Finally, we get to it!

My two main goals with every workout I create are:

  1. Burn as many calories as possible during the session
  2. Focus on strength exercises to build lean, body transforming muscle. This muscle will help you burn more calories all day long.

If you compare how many calories you burn during an hour of weight lifting vs. an hour of running, running will win hands down.  Cardio does burn mega calories while you’re doing it, but traditional cardio isn’t going to build up the lean muscle you want.

In designing workout programs, I include a cardio element to ensure the heart rate is always up. The increased heart rate will help you burn more calories during the workout session and the strength exercises will build up muscle so you continue burning more all day long.

20 Minute Workout Plan

There are so many articles, trainers and opinions regarding the best way to work out. Who’s right? Well, a lot of people! There is no ‘right’ way to get there. There are numerous avenues to get you from A to B. The key is to find something that fits in your life. You have to like it.

I like variety and a fast pace. Can you complete your strength training for the day in 20 minutes and get results? Yes! This is your starting point. You can add on later when you’re in beast mode.

Planning your Workout

There are 4 categories below. This is not an exhaustive list. It’s very basic. But you can create an effective workout with these exercises. I encourage you to add your own!

If you have a question on form or how to perform a certain exercise, google and YouTube are great sources.

Total Body Cardio Exercise (Choose 1)

  • Jumping Jacks
  • Squat Jumps
  • Burpees
  • Jack-Push-Climb (3 exercises put together. Start with a Jumping Jack, hop down to a pushup position and do one pushup, finally, still in the pushup position bring each knee into the chest for a mountain climber. Hop back to your feet. That’s one rep)

Lower Body Exercises (Beginners don’t use weights) – Choose 2

  • Squats
  • Lunges – You can choose which type: 1) Stationary, with up and down motion, 2) alternating forward lunges, 3) alternating backward lunges, 4) walking lunges
  • Curtsy or Bowler’s Lunge
  • Lateral (Side) Lunge

Upper Body Exercises – Choose 2

  • Bicep Curls
  • Tricep Dips
  • Overhead Press – hold weights at shoulder level and press straight up overhead – advanced add squat to this making it a total body exercise
  • Lateral Raise
  • Row

Total Body/Core – Choose 2

  • Pushups
  • Cable Rotation
  • Wood Chop
  • Pull ups
  • Plank to Pushup (Begin in pushup position, go down to plank position on forearms, go back to pushup position. That’s one rep).
  • Renegade Row (alternate rows from plank position)

Write down your exercises, but in the order below.  I’ve also included my exercise choices:

  1. Total Body Cardio – Burpees
  2. Upper Body – Bicep Curls
  3. Lower Body – Squats (holding weights in each hand)
  4. Total Body/Core – Pushups
  5. Lower Body – Curtsy Lunge or Bowlers lunge (with weights in each hand)
  6. Upper Body – Dips
  7. Total Body/Core – Renegade Rows

Do 8 Reps of each.

Only rest after an entire round. Do as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes.

If you’re advanced, you can increase the time to 25 or 30 minutes, OR choose a number of rounds, say 8 – 10, and continue until the number of rounds are completed.

If you’re a beginner, start with no weight for the lower body exercises and light weights for the upper body. Concentrate on getting your form down first. Then add the weights.

The point is to keep your heart rate up the entire time. Challenge yourself! Be creative and add your own exercises, alternating between upper and lower body.

Another consideration: Try to include at least one exercise where you rotate (cable rotation, wood chop, adding an upper body twist to your lunge) and at least one exercise where you move in a lateral (side to side) direction. (This would include side lunges or curtsy lunges. You can also add motion to your squats by walking in a lateral direction.) This will ensure that you’re training in all 3 ranges of motion equally: forward and backward motion, side to side movement and rotation. Life calls you to move in all of these directions. You should train this way!

Just Keep Moving!

This is my favorite way to work out because you get strength and cardio all at once. Boom, you’re done! I still love doing cardio and dedicate a couple days a week to just that, but I add this type of workout in about 3 times per week.

Try it, you might just love it!

You are a Calorie Burning Machine!

Have you ever wondered how many calories you burn during the day, and how? Working out is a great way to help ensure you burn more than you consume, but your workout is only a small portion of your entire day.  What about the rest of the time? Do you burn calories watching tv or sleeping?

You may not realize that your body is like a fiery furnace which burns calories each day, all day long.   While working out and other physical activity helps maximize this burn, it really accounts for only about 15-30% of the calories you burn in an entire day. Your actual burn through activity depends on your exertion level, fitness level and many other factors.

So how does your body burn the remaining 70-85% of calories each day? How can you maximize this? (And YES, you can make your body burn calories more efficiently!)

What is Metabolism?

The standard, scientific definition of metabolism is, “All chemical reactions within organisms that enable them to maintain life.” What?

Simply put, metabolism is the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy.

Your Body needs Energy for 3 Primary Purposes:

  1. To maintain the ‘hidden’ basic functions in the body such as breathing, blood circulation, repairing cells, adjusting hormone levels, etc.
  2. To power physical activity
  3. To process the food you eat

A Closer Look at #1 – This is called your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)

  • You burn the most calories during the day with no effort at all!
  • Resting Metabolic Rate or RMR is the total calories burned by maintaining a heartbeat, breathing, maintaining body temperature, etc. It includes only the calories you burn at rest.
  • RMR accounts for 60 – 70% of your total daily calories burned

RMR is Different for Everyone

  • RMR can vary as much as 25% among different people, mostly because of differences in muscle and organ mass
  • Resting muscle requires a lot of energy to maintain itself. It is more metabolically active than fat and makes the greatest contribution to RMR
  •  75 – 80% of your RMR is determined by your muscle mass…do you see a pattern here?
  • Women have lower RMRs than men
  • During sleep, RMR falls by about 10%

A Closer Look at #2 – Physical Activity

  • Your body burns calories during all types of physical activity including exercise, sports, work, leisure activities and everyday activities, even fidgeting and keeping good posture!
  • Physical activity accounts for 15-30% of total daily calorie burn
  • This is where most people focus on burning calories
  • Fit people can exercise with greater intensity and duration, burning more calories overall

A Closer Look at #3 – The Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)

  • You burn calories by eating!  Chewing, swallowing, digesting, absorbing and metabolizing the nutrients you take in is called the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)
  • TEF peaks about 1 hour after eating and lasts approximately 5 hours
  • Protein maximizes TEF – it takes more energy to digest
  • TEF is lowest for fat – it doesn’t require much energy to store excess dietary fat as body fat
  • TEF accounts for about 10% of your total daily calorie burn

Burn More Calories!

If you are currently working out, excellent! Please continue! And if you don’t currently have an exercise program, you should begin!  In either case, you should focus your workouts on increasing muscle mass, which will, in turn, maximize your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). Muscle is the best fuel to feed your fiery furnace!

Remember, your RMR accounts for 60-70% of your total daily calorie burn.

Muscle is your most metabolically active tissue. Not only does it create all calorie burning movement, but it requires a lot of energy to maintain itself.

Increasing your muscle mass burns more calories at rest and at play.

Burning more calories at rest? I like that!

How Do You Gain Muscle?

The best way to gain muscle is by adding resistance training to your workout schedule. I would suggest doing some sort of resistance workout 2 to 3 times per week to start.

What is Resistance Training?

Resistance training or strength training are collective terms for a variety of strength-building exercises that make use of resistance to grow muscles. There are many ways to do this!

  • Body weight exercises are a great way to start, especially if you’re new to exercise.          Body weight exercises include pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups, squats, lunges, plank, etc. where you use the weight of your own body as the resistance.
  • Lift weights
  • Use resistance bands
  • TRX

There are so many more options!

Happy Lifting!



Insel,P., Ross,D., McMahon,K., Bernstein,M., Nutrition Fourth Edition. Burlington: Jones & Bartlett, 2013

BJ Gaddour, Metabolic Training Certification, 2012

“Metabolism and weight loss: How you burn calories”, Mayo Clinic Staff, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/metabolism/WT00006