Joli Guenther

  1. Time Crunching Workouts to Blast Fat and Boost Fitness this Holiday Season



    Letting fitness slide over the holidays is easy to do. Tight schedules, short days, and frequent celebrations sap the motivation of even dedicated gym goers. Your best weapon? Create a go-to workout that's time efficient (less than 30 minutes), convenient (in your home on your schedule), and effective enough to keep you coming back for continued results. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) meets those requirements and is adaptable and effective for any level of athlete. Here's what you need to know.

    HIIT is effective.
    Despite the shorter duration of these workouts (less than 30 minutes), the intensity of HIIT workouts results in a higher calorie burn both during and after the workout. This means that the post-exercise oxygen consumption (an indicator of resting calorie burn) is higher following HIIT workouts than other forms of training, and will stay high for two hours afterwards. After HIIT training your body is primed to use your holiday meal building muscle and fueling for your next workout, rather than putting on fat. HIIT is also demonstrated to specifically target abdominal fat. Additional health benefits of HIIT over steady state cardio include improvement in insulin levels, cholesterol, blood pressure, cardiovascular fitness, and body weight (ACSM)

    HIIT is efficient.
    A true HIIT workout is short in duration. 20-30 minutes is ideal. These workouts are well suited to busy schedules that require results in less time. HIIT workouts also deliver results with 2-3 workouts each week. While you can complement HIIT training with active recovery, strength, and endurance training for a full program, using HIIT sessions as your go-to during the last few weeks of the year will maintain fitness, provide mental health benefits, and support a healthy metabolism while you enjoy your holidays.

    HIIT is adaptable.
    You don't have to be a well-conditioned athlete to benefit from HIIT workouts. HIIT training targets work periods of 85% or greater of your personal maximum heart rate, which makes it responsive to your ability. HIIT workouts can also be adapted to any piece of exercise equipment to provide intense workouts that are lower impact and directed at the fitness level of the user. Elliptical machines and Indoor Cycles are both incredibly effective means of delivering HIIT workouts without the impact of running and jumping.

    HIIT is motivating.
    Knowing that your workout is limited to less than 30 minutes makes working hard more approachable. Understanding the benefits of HIIT also makes it easier to push into a level of training difficulty that you might normally avoid. The repetition of specific intervals in HIIT training sessions, as well as the constant variation in intensity, makes these workouts fly by. The post-workout benefits are also motivating in completing the workout.

    Here are two of my favorite HIIT workouts.

    Indoor Cycle

    Minutes 1-3, Warm UP: Work into a target heart rate of 75% of your maximum at a pace of 80-100 RPM under moderate load.

    Minutes 3-8, Interval 1: Speed
    Alternate 3 1 minute speed bursts with 1 minute recovery periods. During the speed portion, maintain the load that you established during the warm-up, increasing your cadence to as fast as you can control. During rest periods, focus on recovering and then returning to your warm-up pace and effort before your next work.

    Minutes 8-12, Interval 2: Climb
    Alternate three 45 second climbs with three 45 second recovery periods. Reduce your cadence to 60-80 RPM's and increase to a heavy load pushes you up out of the saddle. Maintain this load for 25 seconds then return to the saddle and maintain the load for 20 seconds more. Rest for 45 seconds by reducing the load and returning to a cadence of 60-80 RPM's. Repeat. You can also choose to maintain your position in the saddle if you prefer.

    Minutes 12-15, Interval 3: Power Tabata
    During your recovery from your final climb, return to a cadence of 60-80 RPM's with a moderate load (a level that returns you to about 75% of your maximum heart rate). Maintaining the same load, increase your cadence to close to 100 RPM's for 20 seconds. Rest completely during the ten second break. Repeat the effort for a total of six work periods.

    Minutes 15-20, repeat Interval 1, Speed.

    Minutes 20-24, repeat Interval 2, Climb.

    Minutes 24-27, repeat Interval 3, Power Tabata.

    Minutes 27-30, cool down.
    Continue riding at a reduced load and speed until your heart rate returns to 75% or less of your maximum heart rate. Finish by stretching your hips, quads, calves, hamstrings, and shoulders.

    This workout can be adapted to an elliptical trainer or recumbent bike using the same variations in load and speed. It can be used as a template for treadmill workouts as well.

    Workout 2: Sprint 8
    Vision Fitness's Sprint 8 Treadmills take the guesswork out of designing a HIIT workout. Backed by research, this patented program combats body fat gain, declining energy, and reduced metabolism through a HIIT style training program. Your workout will start with a warm up period followed by eight 30 second training segments with an intensity that is based on your fitness and performance level. This entire workout takes only 20 minutes and is a proven way to keep holiday weight gain at bay this year.
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  2. Creating Daily Habits that Support your Goals



    Habits are a powerful determinant of our daily behaviors. Our daily triggers and automatic responses have a big impact on our actions, including whether or not those actions support our long-term goals related to fitness and wellness. Think about it. If your goal is to make daily workouts a part of your life, are you supporting it by scheduling reminders of those workouts and preparing yourself with the clothing and nutrition you need? Or do you allow work and family demands to crowd into all times throughout your day? If you have big goals related to improving your health and even your relationships, examining the triggers that occur in your daily life and giving yourself the opportunity to rewire those responses, is an enormously powerful way to improve your success in moving towards those goals. To put this into practice, identify your goal and then create a trigger that will help you to automatically take action that supports that goal. Here are a few examples.

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  3. 5 Yoga Poses You Should Do First Thing in the Morning




    Yoga is a great way to start your morning. Your practice can help wake you up and ease stiff joints or achy muscles. It also improves digestion, flexibility, and focus heading into the day. While you might think this means you need to commit to a lengthy morning practice, taking the time for even a few postures can provide many of the same benefits. Here's an approachable practice that will increase strength and flexibility, improve balance and alignment, and leave you focused and energized before your first cup of coffee.

    Freedom Breathing
    Benefits: Increases circulation, lung capacity, and mindful concentration



    Standing with feet together and arms at your sides, inhale through the nose while moving hands together above your head; exhale while bringing palms together through your center. Repeat seven or more times allowing your breaths to become longer and deeper with natural pauses between the breaths.

    Standing Half Moon
    Benefits: Improves posture and core strength while gently lengthening each side of the spine.



    Standing with feet together and hands at your side, reach hands together overhead. Interlace your fingers while extending your index fingers. On your exhalation, reach your fingers towards the right while your hips press to the left, making a crescent moon shape. Hold the position for several breaths, finding strength in your stomach and reaching slightly further with each exhalation. Emphasize alignment by strongly engaging your thighs and pulling your right shoulder and left hip forward. Release to your starting position on an inhalation and return to the posture on the other side on an exhalation

    Back Extension followed by Hands to Feet Pose (variations)

    Benefits: Fully extend and flex the spine, completing the range of motion of the spine. Compress the digestive system and improve overall flexibility.


    Return to your starting position, raising hands overhead. While inhaling, look up and work to press your hips forward and tailbone down. Continue to lift your chest up, extending your hands and gaze behind you, creating a lifted backbend. Remain grounded by engaging your thighs strongly as you lift back.


    Follow with Hands to Feet pose. Fold down towards the ground, bending your knees substantially to allow contact between the body and legs. Reach your hands down to the ground and squat a few times allowing your heels to lift.


    Finally, reach behind your legs to take hold of your calves. Place your heels down and begin to lift your bottom up, lengthening the back side of your body. Continue to keep contact between the belly and thighs as well as the hands and calves as you continue to work to gently straighten the legs and spine.

    Plank Position with Kaphalabhati Breathing (optional)
    Benefits: Increases strength throughout the entire body, especially the core.



    Step Back into a full or half plank by bringing your hands under your shoulders and stepping your feet out to a push up position. Engage your abdominals as though you are about to cough and press the ground strongly with your hands. Contract the front of your thighs to assist in bringing your hips lower than your shoulders. Hold for several breaths, choosing to place your knees on the ground if that leaves you feeling better supported or add in several Kaphalabhati breaths to build additional circulation, warmth, and core strength. You can do this by quickly breathing in and out through the nose, pulling the belly sharply and strongly into the spine on your exhalation and allowing the inhalation to happen naturally. Try this for seven or more breaths for two or more rounds.

    Seated Spinal Twist:
    Benefits: opens the hips and shoulders, massages the digestive system, increases mental focus.


    To begin with a twist to the right, bring your left knee in front of you and place your left foot outside of the right hip (option to keep the left leg straight). Cross the right leg to the outside of the left with the right knee pointing towards the ceiling. Place your right hand on the ground behind your back, pressing into the floor to assist in lengthening your spine. Twist towards your right thigh, while inhaling and bringing the left arm up, taking hold of the right knee, or placing the elbow to the outside of the right knee. Hold for several breaths while turning your head to the right and breathing deeply into the belly and back of the shoulders. Repeat on the other side.


    Finish your practice with five or more minutes of a seated meditation or resting on your back to absorb the work you have done and begin your day refreshed, focused, and ready to move forward!


    About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin.
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  4. Are You Foam Rolling the Right Way?



    It seems like every week, we can find a new mobility tool on the market…one that's guaranteed to cure our aches, improve our performance, and leave us feeling years younger. While you can spend a small fortune staying up on the latest gadgets, the foam roller is one of the most reliable tools out there for increasing mobility, range of motion, and muscle recovery. Widely available and inexpensive, this is one addition you should include in your home gym. Once you've got it, getting the most from it requires using it, frequently and correctly.

    Self-Myofascial Release Technique: Myofascial tissue (fascia for short) is a connective tissue that covers your muscles and runs throughout your body. Over time, fascia responds to injuries or muscular tension by developing adhesions or scars. These adhesions create tension within the fascia that prevents it from fully expanding and contracting, limiting the mobility of the muscle that is contained within this connective tissue. In addition to reducing the mobility of the muscle directly contained within that fascia, mobility and nerve patterns of other muscles can be impacted because of the interconnectedness of fascia tissue throughout the body. Healthy fascia provides better circulation to muscular tissues and reduces neuromuscular imbalances. While it's tempting to simply roll across your aching muscles as a form of self-massage, foam rolling should target trigger points, areas of greater tension within the fascia. So how do you target myofascial tissue in your foam rolling?

    Slow Down: Targeting adhesions within your myofascial tissue requires using your foam rolling sessions to focus on trigger points, areas of increased sensitivity. The technique is simple. Start by rolling slowly along the targeted muscle, avoiding joint areas. When you find a sensitive or painful area, stay in that place, applying as much pressure as you can tolerate with the foam roller. Continue to apply pressure there for at least 20 or 30 seconds (remember to breathe). Ideally you should feel the tension in that area begin to release. Continue rolling and finding other areas of tension and focusing on those areas.

    Timing: The most effective time to foam roll is after your warm up and before your workout. After you have warmed up, the circulation throughout your body has increased, making your foam rolling sessions more effective. Additionally, by releasing areas of tension and dysfunction, your mobility will improve during your workout, reducing your risk of injury and increasing your efficiency. Don't worry, however. If you struggle to fit in a foam rolling session during the middle of your workout out, the second best time to foam roll is whenever you can do it. Try keeping a foam roller in your office or living room and take foam rolling breaks while you watch television, read, or work at your computer.

    Self-Myofascial Release Technique (SMRT) can be used on almost any muscle, taking care to avoid joint areas. If you wish to target areas of the low back or neck it is best to use a ball rather than a foam roller, in order to avoid the spinal vertebrae. Additionally, pregnant women should avoid foam rolling the inner calf, as that can be associated with premature labor. With these precautions in mind, foam rolling works well for nearly everyone. You can control the amount of bodyweight you place into the tool, allowing it to be adapted to your comfort level and pain tolerance. The slightly forgiving nature of the foam roller, make it better suited to SMRT than other, harder devices, which target deeper muscle tissues. Most importantly, remember to make a habit out of your foam rolling. While a session or two might improve your recovery, the biggest benefits will occur over time as circulation and muscle efficiency improve throughout your body.
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  5. The Best Stretching Exercises to Improve your Cardio Workouts (Part 2: Post-Workout)

    While stretching before your workout provides you with a greater range of motion and makes your workouts more comfortable, stretching following your workout is a great opportunity to improve flexibility and to reduce tension in the muscles while they are still warm and benefiting from the increased blood flow of your cardio workout. After your next workout, give these stretches a try to reduce your soreness and improve range of motion the next day. Stretches following your workout can address areas that you typically hold tension or feel unbalanced and can be held for a much longer period of time (up to five minutes!).

    Supine Hand to Foot Stretch (Hamstrings): Lying on your back, using a strap or exercise band, loop the band around your right foot. Gently lead the right leg towards your right shoulder, lengthening the hamstring. Hold for up to 2 minutes, bending the leg slightly if you feel a pull behind the knee or on the sit bone. After holding for up to 2 minutes, keeping both hips on the ground, lead the leg across the body and towards the left shoulder. You should feel a stretch on the outside of your right leg and hip. Hold again for up to two minutes. Finally, bring the leg as far out to the right side as you can comfortably hold, feeling the stretch on the inside of your right leg. This stretches all three segments of the hamstrings and can be helpful for low back pain.



    Half Bow (Quadriceps and hip flexors): Lying on your stomach, bring your hand or a yoga strap around your right foot. Keeping the right knee in line with the right hip, draw the right foot close to the body until you feel a stretch through the front of your thigh. You may also kick back into your arm or strap, elevating the knee. Hold for up to three minutes. Repeat on the left.



    Figure 4 (Hips): Lying on your back, bend your right leg, bringing the foot to the floor and the knee to the ceiling. Bring your left foot on top of your right thigh, flexing the foot and pressing the knee away from your body. For a greater stretch, pull the right leg closer using your hands or a yoga strap. Repeat on the left.



    Supported Bridge (Low Back/Psoas): Bringing both heels to the floor, lift up into bridge pose. Now place a yoga block or bolster under your low back supporting you in bridge pose. Lower your back onto the block. Over time, straighten both legs. Over time, come into a higher bridge and bring the block into a higher position.



    Seated Spinal Twist (Shoulders, hips, and back): Seated on the ground, cross your right leg over your left bringing your right ankle to the outside of your left knee. Place your right hand on the ground and bring your left arm over your right ankle as you rotate your shoulders and torso to the right. Hold for up to two minutes while focusing on opening the left shoulder and releasing the middle back. Repeat on the left side.



    Adding these flexibility exercises to your home fitness program will prepare your muscles for the demands of your cardio and strength training, allowing you to perform better and more effectively. They will also improve your range of motion and reduce muscle tension, allowing you to recover quicker and making your daily activities more enjoyable. For the best pre-workout stretches, read this blog post.

    About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin.
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