As I write this post on out-of-the-box workouts, I hope Mother Nature takes pity on us with more cool weather in Chicago soon so we can enjoy ditching the gym and taking our workouts outside. I know what you're thinking: Wait a second. Now that I committed to a gym, you’re telling me NOT to go? YES (weather permitting), and here’s why . . .
The best workouts take place outside the traditional gym environment. I'm about to give you about a million reasons why. Ok . . . not a million, but enough to make my point.
Guess what? You don’t need all that fancy equipment! Unless you're a professional athlete, your body weight and some creativity is really all you need. Machines do a great deal of the work for you anyway, so they're not the most direct route to fitness. Waiting for machines is a complete waste of time, and who has extra time these days?
Outside, there are fewer distractions (magazines, TV, people-watching and conversations). And when you're outside doing your own thing, so is everyone else. No one cares what you’re wearing, how you look, or what fitness level you’re at.
Being outdoors also creates a better mind-body connection. Numerous studies have shown that a closer connection to nature is good for our minds and bodies. In this world of 12-hour workdays and in-your-face electronics, we could all benefit from a little extra sunshine and fresh air.
When you get your fit on outdoors, you have more options (both manmade and natural surfaces of varying textures and inclines, etc.), creating a greater challenge for your body and yielding quicker results.
Here's one to think about: you didn’t need a gym membership when you were a kid, did you? I didn't think so. I bet you were outside walking, running, biking, and playing all kinds of sports. Fitness should be just as fun for grown-ups as it is for kids! Watch a kid hopping or skipping rope and let that inspire you.
Unlike during your childhood, you probably work hard and take vacations to keep your sanity. You can’t take your gym with you, but you can make any destination your own personal gym. I know I’d rather run down a new beach at sunrise or hike a new trail than watch hamsters running on treadmills or look at myself in the mirror at a gym.
Finally, if you're not working (as is unfortunately the case for many people these days), you may not be able to afford a gym membership. Maybe you're cutting back where you can to prepare for future uncertainty. Whatever the case may be, know that you can be fit and healthy sans gym.
Did you know there are 580 parks in Chicago? What follows is a list of my top 5 Chicago parks for workouts and the features I like about each. Even if you don’t live near one of these parks, you can still get a good workout in any park using simple bodyweight exercises and a little creativity.
#1 Lakeshore East Park
- 1/3 mile paved (one lap)
- 3 stairways
- 2 incline ramps
- Large grassy area for drills
- Playground nearby in Millennium Park
#2 Loyola Park
- 3/4 mile beach
- Complete outdoor gym with body weight exercise stations
#3 Lakeshore Park
- ¼ mile track
- Large grassy area for drills
- Body weight exercise stations
#4 North Avenue Beach
- 1 mile beach between North and Fullerton Avenues
#5 Montrose Beach
- ½ mile beach
- Large grassy area for drills
- 1 large hill
Since Chicago weather is unpredictable at best, I’d like to share some tips for getting the best workout in your home during inclement weather. There’s an influx of new members at gyms (and their colds and flu viruses) during winter, so skip it! Bonus: no messy boots in the bottom of your locker. You only need a small amount of space—just a bit larger than the frame of your body at the most. Use your own bodyweight initially; this is enough of a challenge for most people. Run stairs in your or a friend’s building. If you enjoy biking or are training for an event during the winter, use an indoor bike trainer. For variety, more of a challenge, or if you travel, invest in a few pieces of portable equipment. You can buy simple yet effective equipment for a much smaller investment than a gym membership. I recommend things like resistance bands, jump ropes, TRX, sandbags, kettlebells, and medicine balls to take you to the next level.
I hope I have inspired you to reconsider that gym membership, or at the very least to spend more time outdoors. If the above ideas sound interesting but you still need help making them happen, I’m happy to help. Now close your browser and get outside!
Clients and friends frequently ask me how to train for various events and activities. Spring is upon us, which means motorcycle enthusiasts and scooter riders (expecially in the city) are hitting the road, making fitness for riders a hot topic. Riding a motorcycle or scooter is a fun and challenging activity. It’s a great way to get where you’re going, escape from the everyday doldrums, spend time alone in the outdoors, and learn a lot about yourself while exploring new places. But, like any other outdoor activity, riding is best enjoyed when the body is conditioned for it. A strong lower and upper back, good hip flexors, strong shoulders, a firm grip, and conditioning of the abdominal muscles are all important, particularly for long rides. Proper conditioning will help you stay alert, improve your reaction time, and avoid fatigue and muscle aches while your body is in riding position for long periods of time.
Some of the best exercises for this (or any) kind of conditioning utilize very simple equipment that can be found in a gym or used at home. This equipment includes a kettlebell, a medicine ball, a jump rope and a pull-up bar (I like Iron Gym: www.getirongym.com). For kettlebell training, I recommend starting with a 26 to 35 lb. bell for men, and a 17 to 26 lb. bell for women. For medicine ball exercises, I recommend a 14 or 20 lb. ball (one with handles; SPRI makes good ones: www.spri.com). Any jump rope will do. You can also find all of these items at Perform Better: www.performbetter.com.
The kettlebell is probably the single best tool available for strengthening the core. There are many kettlebell exercises, but a couple of them are particularly useful for developing the necessary conditioning for riding. The swing is the one movement which incorporates the hip flexors, abdominal muscles, the hamstrings and glutes, lower and upper back, the shoulders, and the grip. The swing develops the overall strength and conditioning of the upper and lower body with just one movement. Swing the kettlebell between the legs, and then all the way up to the chest level, for many repetitions. Enter the Kettlebell! by Pavel, available at www.dragondoor.com, provides excellent information on the swing and other kettlebell exercises.
Another great kettlebell exercise for riding conditioning is the Turkish get up. This is great movement for developing the core muscles, the back and shoulders, as well as the thighs and glutes. Start from a lying position on your back, then pick up the kettlebell using both hands and press it with one hand. Slowly stand up while your working arm is in a straight vertical position. Then push into the ground with the opposite arm and try to get up. Once you are up, reverse the movement all the way until the kettlebell is back on the ground.
The medicine ball is a great tool for balance and strength. Some of the exercises you can do are: front wood chops, squat or lunge with extension, squat or lunge with rotation, squat or lunge and overhead press, push-ups with one or both hands on the ball, and sit-ups with the ball on the chest (press overhead when you reach the sitting position).
Some of the routines I recommend involve a combination of exercises using the kettlebells, medicine ball, jump rope and some pull-ups. Normally 3-5 sets of 8-15 repetitions would be enough to challenge the muscles. The jump rope can be used for an active recovery either between sets or exercises for 30-60 seconds. It’s best to alternate one exercise for upper body and one for lower body during each workout. The pull-ups are great for upper body strength and they can be mixed with any of the above movements as well as with push-ups. For abdominals, mix crunches, sit-ups or planks.
All these exercises are very simple. If done correctly, then 2-3 days a week of the sets and reps listed above would be enough to get back any conditioning and stamina lost over the winter so you can feel just as good when you arrive at your destination as you did when you started your trip. Now get going on those workouts, and don’t forget your helmet when you’re ready to ride!
With both my Undergraduate and Masters' degrees in fitness and over 20 years experience as a Personal Trainer, I'm excited about the opportunity to share my knowledge via this blog. Never before have so many people had such access to information as they do today via the internet, and yet people continue to struggle with weight loss, fitness, and living a healthy lifestyle. As a group, Americans have never been more unhealthy despite having all this information at their disposal. I'm here to help dispell some myths and help as many people as I can to get on the right track. No matter your age or physical condition, it's never too late to make a positive impact on your health and enrich every area of your life!
I have trained a diverse group of clients. For some clients, fitness enhances health and everyday life. For others, it’s a matter of life and death. Whether training athletes or seniors, stay-at-home moms or busy executives, or government and military personnel or police officers, my beliefs are the same. Whatever clients' fitness levels or goals may be, my job is to help them achieve and maintain better, healthier lifestyles so they can be successful in all aspects of life.
As an educator, my job is to teach people how to utilize their surrounding environment to their benefit and get a great workout wherever they are. Lack of traditional weights or a full-scale gym (or a Personal Trainer, for that matter) is not an excuse to avoid working out. I don’t believe in excuses. None of us (including me) can change things for the better without first being honest and acknowledging where we are so we'll know what is required to get to where we want to be. Life is not forgiving, particularly to those trying to justify inaction. Life is multi-dimensional, and that is how we need to approach it. This is the core of my philosophy. Do something new, something good for yourself, and you will be rewarded on many levels.
Thank you for reading my inaugural blog! I look forward to sharing my ideas, answering questions you may have, and hearing your feedback.