Health and Fitness Tips and Inspiration

  1. Active Mother’s Day Ideas for 2017

    Mom and daughter canoeing on a lake for Mother's Day Thinking of the perfect Mother’s Day 2017?  Rather than gifts, Mother’s Day activities let you build memories with the special lady in your life.  Here’s our guide to the best Mother’s Day ideas for every level of fitness and adventure.

    Plant a Garden.

    This traditional activity remains popular each year.  Early May is the perfect time to clean up Mom’s garden beds.  In Northern climates, plant cold-hardy annuals or get a start on sowing summer vegetables.  Frost tolerant greens and veggies, such as snow peas, can be started as soon as you can work the soil.   Or spend the day planting herbs and planters that can be moved outdoors when the weather warms.

    Meal Prepping.

    We’re all trying to eat better, right?  Why not combine a Mother’s Day cookout with a healthy fridge of grab and go weekday meals.  The simple concept of meal prepping combines well with a Mother’s Day brunch or buffet.  Just focus on grilling plenty of protein and veggies.  You can even throw fruit on the grill (think pineapple or pears) to serve as dessert on Mother’s Day.  Later that week, Mom can use it to top her yogurt for breakfast.  You can find some easy inspiration here.

    Hike a Trail.

    Beautiful trails and state parks are within a short drive of nearly everyone. Spring is the perfect time to enjoy them as the leaves and flowers come back from winter.  While summer sun and insects won’t have reached their peak, you’ll want to remember sunscreen and insect repellent. Pack a picnic lunch for the trail or the picnic area that is probably near your vehicle. We love these Wisconsin hikes as a special Mother’s Day idea.

    Start Paddling.

    Beautiful May Day?  Ready for a little more adventure?  Paddling is a Mother’s Day activity that lets you and Mom experience the beauty of our rivers and lakes.  You can easily rent kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards at parks and private businesses. Need inspiration? Michigan locals and other Midwesterners can find suggestions for paddling trips in these links.

    Get your Bike Out.

    Whether you rent a bike or use this Mother’s Day 2017 excuse for a tune-up, early spring is the perfect time to enjoy a cycling adventure.  If you and Mom are up for adventure, head out to one of the Midwest’s local bike trails.  Stop along the way for a small-town lunch.   If a long ride is beyond your comfort zone, pedal to a local farmer’s market or florist. You’ll still enjoy the fresh air and time with your special person.

    Jump Around.

    Want to burn some serious calories while playing like a kid?  Trampoline parks are a fun Mother’s Day activity for any age.  You can find a park near you in almost any location. Bring your littlest companions along or just stick to the adults on this fun for all ages adventure.

    Wall Climbing.

    This indoor activity is another family friendly Mother’s Day idea.  Indoor climbing walls are surprisingly easy to find and you don’t have to worry about the weather.  You’ll get functional workout using nearly every muscle in your body.  The challenge of climbing a wall is great for building confidence and inner strength, both for Mom and kids.

    Ropes and Ziplines.

    Definitely a thrill for Mom and school age kids, outdoor ropes and ziplines are a challenging Mother’s Day adventure.  Frequently located near state parks and natural beauty, you can probably combine this with a stop for ice cream at a nearby park or waterway.  Here’s a great resource for finding ziplines and high ropes near you that you probably never knew were there. Mother’s day ideas are endless with a little planning and a spirit of adventure.  While the above activities are easy to tackle in an afternoon, you could combine them into a full weekend with camping or a getaway.  You can also combine two or more of these activities for a full day of adventure that will make Mother’s Day 2017 your most memorable yet. About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.
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  2. How Indoor Cycling Will Improve Your Outdoor Cycling Performance

    Man on Horizon Fitness exercise bike in his home.

    Did you know that continuing your indoor cycling workouts this spring can do amazing things for your outdoor rides? Outdoor cyclists need serious stamina to be prepared for a variety of terrain and conditions. Here are the most effective ways to continue training on your indoor cycle as you gear up for outdoor cycling.

    Build Climbing Strength:

      My favorite indoor cycling advantage is building climbing strength.  Indoor cycles let you practice repeated climbs, without worrying about surrounding conditions or finding sufficient hilly terrain.  The best cyclists focus on creating power from behind the hips by using the glutes as well as the quads.  Focus on maintaining a low, “hips back” position, while pulling slightly back on the handlebars to build posterior strength.  Work in heavy loads at cadences of 55-75 RPM, as well as at slightly lighter loads at a cadence of 85-100 RPM at a level you can maintain for less than 2 minutes.  This will build strength and explosive power that will let you blast over your next set of outdoor hills.

    Increase Turnover:

      It’s easy to get a little too comfortable with your cadence outdoors. Skilled riders can adapt their cadences to respond to changes in wind direction and terrain.  Dedicate specific portions of your indoor ride to holding a quick cadence while maintaining sufficient load and core engagement.  This high power output is just what you need to press to the front of the pack in your next outdoor race.

    No Coasting:

    Using a weighted flywheel means that indoor cycles require some level of constant effort (i.e. no coasting).  This teaches recovery in the saddle. Use lower intensity times to maintain an aerobic level of effort as your body recovers from the peaks of your workout.  On outdoor rides this translates to working recoveries that still increase the overall power output of your ride.

    Raise Lactate Threshold:

      Your lactate threshold offers tremendous training potential that can result in a higher V02 max and stronger cardiovascular output over time. Lactate threshold training is tougher than aerobic, causing lactic acid to begin to build up in our muscles.  It remains below anaerobic, without the accompanying muscle failure.  Lactate threshold training makes us more comfortable with continued tough efforts. Our bodies also become more efficient at clearing lactic acid from our muscles, ultimately increasing our lactate threshold.  Target your lactate threshold by completing indoor rides of 20 minutes at 85% of your maximum heart rate.  Intersperse lactate threshold training into other rides by including five minute efforts at a heart rate of 85%.  Your lactate threshold efforts will require a great deal of concentration and willpower, but you can be held for more than 3 minutes at a time.

    Planned Workouts:

    Varied conditions are one of the best things about outdoor riding.  Preparing and training for those conditions is tough without a big commitment of time spent on transportation and planning.  Your indoor cycle provides a fixed environment and adjustable loads to focus on drills that replicate the most challenging portions of outdoor cycling.

    Serious Calorie Burn:

    Even active recovery workouts on an indoor cycle result in an enviable impact on your metabolism.  To burn the most calories during your indoor cycling workouts, focus on your form.  Support your bodyweight and keep your core strong throughout your workout.  Avoid leaning on the handlebars.  Since you need to use your arms to create a strong base,  this is not the best time for catching up on your reading and social media.  Keep an eye on your wattage.  If it’s lagging, so is your power output, and by association, your calorie burn.

    Safety and Convenience:

      Outdoor riding can take a lot of time to prep your bike and your body for the experience.  On long weekdays, rainy or windy weather, or even during extreme heat, indoor cycling will blast calories and let you concentrate on your form.  Additionally, we all know that there are safety risks associated with outdoor riding.  When riding outdoors, concentrating on your surroundings can sometimes result in planned workouts and riding form suffering as a result.  While there is no substitute for the outdoor ride, the indoor cycle is really the best option for completing specific drills and accommodating scheduling and weather related challenges.

    Perfect Form:

     When you aren’t distracted by outdoor safety issues or challenges, you can focus specifically on your cycling position.  Drill these habits in your indoor rides so that you maintain them even during challenging conditions.  Good areas to notice include upper body tension, alignment of your knees, back position, and core engagement.  Breath control is another excellent area to focus on during indoor training rides.  You’ll be able to use it during both your pushes and recoveries in outdoor cycling events. Post-workout you can even complete a little cycling specific mobility work in the comfort of your home.

    Indoor cycling is not a replacement for outdoor cycling, but it does offer the perfect cross training complement to your outdoor rides. On your indoor cycle, mimic the conditions you want to train for as closely as possible.  Use your cycling shoes and consider trying out new clothing or nutrition options on your indoor ride so that you know how they will affect your performance out on the road.  Remember to hydrate just as you would for an outdoor ride. Lastly, plan your workouts by targeting specific drills and formats.  Both HIIT and Active Recovery days are important on the indoor cycle, as they can be difficult to stick to on outdoor rides.  Including drills targeting all of the areas discussed above will let you smash the varied challenges of your outdoor rides.
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  3. How to Start a Home Gym with a Strength Training Focus

    How to start a home gym. Two people exercising on a home gym Strength training in your home gym is a possibility.

    By now, you all know that a strong body is a healthy body.

    You also know that strength training can be one of the most efficient ways to lose unwanted body fat.

    And, ladies, you know that you won’t get bulky by incorporating strength training into your fitness routine.

    While treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes are great and can be a solid addition to your home workouts, I highly recommend the following pieces of strength equipment to not only give you unlimited options on the exercises you can do, but also to help you build the strong, healthy, fit body you deserve!

    Barbell & Weights

    A weightlifter using a standard barbell or Olympic barbell in a home gym. Barbells can come in various lengths and sizes but there are two main types that you’ll most likely have to choose from…standard and Olympic.

    Standard bars are one inch in diameter and utilize weight plates with 1 inch holes in the center. They’re a good starting point but are not the best option for heavier lifting (over 150 lbs.).

    Olympic bars, on the other hand, are built to handle a bigger load. They are typically 7 feet long and weigh 45lbs. without any weight added to them. The end sleeves are 2 inches in diameter, so the weigh plates have larger 2” holes through the center.

    Barbells allow you to do a wide variety of exercise from presses to pulls to squats to deadlifts. They also allow you to progress by being able to add small increments of weight as needed.

    Bumper plates are also a great option for your barbell and the home gym setting. These rubber plates are made for Olympic size bars and are easier to move around and a better (safer) option if you will be doing any floor-based lifting.

    Power Rack

    A in shape woman lifting with a power rack in her home gym. While it may sound a bit daunting, a power rack is actually one of the most versatile pieces of strength equipment you can add to your home gym.

    First of all, a rack goes hand in hand with your barbell. It allows you to do almost anything with your barbell from bench pressing to squatting to racking your bar for deadlifts, curls, push-ups, shoulder presses, etc.

    The power rack also adds the ever important measure of safety by allowing you to rack your weight and know that safety bars can be put in place in case you cannot complete a lift.

    Racks also allow you to add accessories to your home gym. Many offer built-in pull-up/chin bars and allow for add-ons such as dip attachments and band pegs.

    Racks come in many different sizes, so don’t be fooled by the thought of it taking up too much space. You’ll be surprised with just how much you can accomplish within a power rack with a barbell and weight plates.


    Chrome dumbbells in a row on a dumbbell rack. Dumbbells are just as versatile as a barbell and allow for an unlimited number of exercise options. And, like barbells, you’ll have a couple of different options to choose from.

    Selectorized dumbbells are also popular with the home-gym crowd these days. They’re a bit more expensive than the plate loaded bells, but allow users to quickly change their weight. They may not, however, be the best option for those in need of heavy dumbbells (above 50 lbs.)

    On the other hand, if you have more space and a higher home gym budget, you may want to consider going all out and getting a commercial-style dumbbell rack with fixed-weight bells. Most commercial gyms are equipped with dumbbells that range from 5-100+ pounds. This makes for a very convenient option as far as quickly grabbing the weight you need, but like I said, they will eat up a lot of space and add quite a bit to your home gym investment.

    Utility Bench

    A folding utility bench in a home gym. To get the most out of your barbell and/or dumbbells, I highly suggest adding a utility bench to your home gym.

    A bench allows you to perform any exercise that requires you to lay down (bench press, pullovers, tricep extensions, flyes, ab work, etc.) or work in a seated position (shoulder press, lateral raises, bicep curls, overhead tricep extensions, etc.)

    Benches are relatively inexpensive, but can get a bit more expensive as you move up to more of a commercial grade piece that is built with a heavier grade steel and often has more padding and higher quality upholstery.

    Benches can come in just a fixed flat position or one that can be adjustable up and down to accommodate for incline and decline exercises.

    The heavier duty benches should have wheels that allow you to easily move them around, while the home model flat benches are usually light enough to pick up and move.

    2 Bonus Strength Pieces

    A woman using TRX suspension kit in her home gym. While the equipment above will go a long way in providing you with a great strength-based home gym, there are a couple of budget-friendly/space-friendly pieces of equipment that you may want to consider adding:

    Suspension Trainer. Systems like TRX allow you to utilize your own body weight and are a great addition to a strength training routine. The straps are easily attachable to your power rack, a door or a support beam. They are relatively inexpensive when you consider the wide variety and overall number of exercises you can do with them.

    Resistance Bands. These are a great strength tool for any home gym and can be utilized for a wide variety of exercises. You can attach them to your rack, to a door, wrap them around equipment, or utilize your own body to stabilize them for a wide-variety of pushes, pulls, etc. Plus they take up minimal space….always a bonus when it comes to your home gym!
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  4. How to Push Yourself to Run Faster and Farther

    Runners are always looking for ways to push themselves harder. They want to get more out of their workouts or to beat previous personal records. The truth is that to get different results, you need to make some changes in your life and routine to help your body qualify for a harder, faster and longer running session.

    We'll be going through some effective techniques that will help you run faster, farther and have a more enjoyable experience. However, before we dive in, it's important to know your current metrics and abilities so that you’ll be able to track your performance and improvement over time.

    Apps such as "Strava" or "Under Armour MapMyRun" are perfect for this and available at no cost for both Android and iOS. If you want to track all aspects of your fitness routine download Viafit. You can pull in data from your favorite apps like MapMyRun or MyFitnessPal and tie it in with the data from your workouts on your cardio equipment. It’s great to see it all in one spot!

    Warm Up Is Essential

    If you rush your warm up or even forget to do it, you will significantly reduce the efficiency and longevity of your running session. Always make sure that you stretch and warm up before heading onto the treadmill or outdoors for your run. Warming up prevents your muscles from getting too tight, which can hinder your performance. It also helps your blood to flow more effectively through the body, improving your heart rate and oxygen levels for the session ahead.

    Run Outdoors

    Many runners take advantage of the great outdoors when training, and it is beneficial to breathe in the fresh air, and scenery.

    Our minds can often cut our runs short through boredom or lack of distraction. Outside, we have a lot to look at, which helps us to change our thoughts from how difficult or strenuous our run may feel to thinking about what we can see. The atmosphere is different, wind can pick up and drop down, and noticeable weather changes help us to let go of thoughts that can sabotage our efforts.

    Running outside does produce a harder workout due to gradient changes and surface areas, but it doesn't necessarily mean we won't run faster or further. With the distractions of weather and visuals, we find ourselves continuing and pushing through where we may have otherwise stopped.

    You can also supplement your outdoor runs with treadmill workouts. Treadmills allow you to change your inclines on a whim, push you to run faster at an even pace, and there are even social media, TV, and entertainment apps on treadmills that can help to keep you engaged.

    Change Your Route Often

    If you run the same route every session, it's going to get boring eventually. Sure you can track your performance and try to beat your time, which can help sometimes, but a more effective way to defeat your metrics is to change your route often. For example, let's say you run five miles each session and you do this in 50 minutes on average. You can take that data and use it for any route you use. Just make sure you run five miles and then check how fast you did it on your new route.

    Changing routes helps to keep things fresh and interesting. Seeing the same trail every session can make your mind turn off and leave you feeling like you’re stuck in a loop. Stick to the same running schedule but alter your course frequently to keep your mind guessing. It'll help pick up your energy as there'll be a sense of wonder throughout the session.

    Strength Training

    By training and developing your muscles, your body will be able to cope better with the stresses of running. Through fine-tuning your muscles, your fatigue levels will drop and your running time will increase and become faster. You don't have to go overboard; simply training your muscles for 15-30 minute sessions, two to three times a week is enough.

    Here are some effective strength training exercises for runners:

    • Squats
    • Deadlift
    • Lunges
    • Push-ups
    • Planks
    Using something such as the Hoist - V Express Home Gym as an all-in-one solution for strength training would be very beneficial, since it covers every area of the body and is simple to use.

    Make Adjustments and See Progress

    Overall, we can see that improving our runs involves both physical and mental adjustments. We must keep our routes fresh while ensuring that our body is finely tuned and warmed up for the sessions. Also, we can use strength training to enhance our stamina and speed when running.

    Author bio: Faith is a fitness and tech blogger who enjoys teaching from her personal experiences. She also enjoys keeping up to date with the latest solutions and technology in the health and fitness industry, using apps and wearable devices to track her performance. Faith is a member of the team over at eHealth Informer.
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  5. Which Fitness Equipment Burns the Most Calories?

    Wondering which home fitness equipment burns the most calories?  It’s no surprise that this is the question we hear the most when people are shopping for home fitness equipment.  Burning calories in your home gym is an important piece of any effective plan to lose weight.  Used correctly, the right piece of exercise equipment will burn calories, and even specifically target fat loss, support a healthy metabolism, and improve cardiovascular function.  So how do you know which piece of exercise equipment will help you burn the most calories?

    Calorie calculators are a good place to start, but they only tell one part of the story.  Calorie calculators provide a helpful reality check when it comes to planning your diet and total calorie consumption for weight loss.  Knowing the calories burned while running or cycling for an hour helps you consider how many calories you burn each day, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you which piece of exercise equipment will be the most effective for helping you to lose weight.  So how do you choose the best exercise equipment to burn fat and calories?

    Calories are really just a way of measuring the amount of power generated by our bodies.  The best exercise machine for burning calories on your body is the one that allows you to use your body the most, rather than relying on the machine to create the movement. Sounds simple? Not surprisingly, your current physical health, available time for training, and tolerance for some types of exercise are important things to consider if you want to burn a lot of calories while using your home exercise equipment.  

    Here’s How It Works:

    If you are in good physical health, without injury or physical limitations, and have plenty of time for training, the best exercise for burning calories is going to be running, hard, on a treadmill.  Hard running on a treadmill burns more than 700 calories per hour.  Additionally, running is a very honest exercise.  It doesn’t allow much cheating when it comes to supporting your body.  Unless you are gripping and leaning on the handrails (hard to do when running, but I have seen it), you are forced to hold your body upright, engage core strength, and move your legs forward.  All of these actions will make you burn more calories per minute.

    So what happens if you’re not a runner?  Elliptical machines, indoor bikes, rowing machines, and even a steep incline on your treadmill all offer great ways to burn calories for those of us who need something that is lower impact.  These methods of exercise also provide varying levels of opportunity to cheat when it comes to working out.  If you want to burn calories, cheating is anything that makes the machine, rather than your body do the work.  Avoid supporting yourself by holding on to the machine as much as possible. Leaning on the elliptical machine means you aren’t holding yourself upright. Standing on a bike with bad form or using very low resistance means you aren’t engaging your leg muscles to pedal, which results in fewer calories burned.  This is where calorie calculators break down and the number of calories per hour becomes much more individual.

    If you want to burn the most calories on your home fitness equipment, choose a piece of fitness equipment that you can use with good form and use good form while using that equipment.  If running hard on a treadmill for an hour is not something that you can physically (or psychologically) tolerate, it’s not going to be the piece of equipment that burns the most calories for you, even if it blasts calories in a laboratory setting.  Rowing is a calorie blaster that targets the upper body and provides a great low impact workout.  The calorie burn is also close to running.  Depending on the amount of time you plan to spend working out, rowing is a great way to make use of limited time by providing intense workouts that also build strength.

    If you have more time for working out but want to avoid high levels of impact, consider an upright cycle or elliptical machine and learn how to use it well.  Avoid leaning on the handlebars and use sufficient resistance to make your muscles feel tired during your workout.  Simply leaning on a machine while you read or surf the web, might look good on a calorie calculator, but your heart rate monitor and your waistline will tell a different story. When used properly, both biking and the elliptical can burn calories that are in keeping with running on a treadmill, from 500-1000 calories per hour, with the advantage of being more forgiving when it comes to impact.

    Remember when it comes to exercising to burn the most calories, it’s not so much the machine as the way you use it.  Use a heart rate monitor for objective feedback.  Calories are really a way of demonstrating the work performed.  The more of the work your body performs versus relying on the machine, the more calories you’re burning. Choosing the exercise machine that you can use well, without compromising your joints or core is the best way to burn fat through exercise.  
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