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How NOT to get bored in the gym – Part 2

May 28, 2010

Yesterday I detailed a few (more than a few) changes you can make to your workouts for chest, back and shoulders. Things like varying…

  • the equipment you choose–eg, BBs, DBs, cables or machines
  • your bench– eg, flat bench, incline bench
  • your position–eg, seated vs. standing
  • your grips–eg, using an underhand grip instead of an overhand grip when doing pulldowns or BB rows for back

All these things will keep your workouts FRESH, which is critical in keeping you interested in coming to the gym.

Let’s continue with a few of my tricks for keeping workouts fun and interesting!


BICEPS: I usually go for at least one exercise with DBs and one with a BB.

I often, but not always, do a 3rd exercise–which is usually whatever I spot when I look around the gym that (a) I haven’t done in a while, (b) doesn’t require elaborate setup and (c) doesn’t put me in the middle of a gaggle of other people.

DB exercises:  Choose from standing or seated alternating DB curls. OR, standing or seated hammer curls.

If I do more than one DB exercise in a workout (entirely possible), I’ll switch it up. Say, seated alternating DB curls (palms face up), plus standing simultaneous DB hammer curls (palms face your torso).

TIP: For an intense burn on the biceps, occasionally perform seated DB curls on an incline bench. You’ll have to go lighter, though! The stretch you feel in your biceps will be similar to what you feel when you perform BB curls with your elbows behind your torso (see below).

BB versions: Use a fixed bar, an EZ-curl bar, or, if you’re strong, a regular Olympic bar, which weighs 45 lbs.

You can assume 2 different positions on BB curls.

  1. Most people perform them with their elbows tucked at the sides of the  torso.
  2. BUT, you can also shift your elbows slightly behind your torso. This puts you into position for what bodybuilders call a “drag curl.” The bar comes up in line with your body and close to the front of your torso. It’s a different angle, and, so, attacks the muscle differently. 

When using a bar, vary your grip. You can select an EZ curl bar one day, a straight bar another day. And on that straight bar, you can move your hands from considerably outside shoulder width, to just outside shoulder width, to just inside shoulder width. 

Other options: Try cable curls using a bar to work both arms simultaneously OR metal D-handles or soft handles to work one arm at a time. Or, use the rope attachment to get some hammer curls (palms facing) in.

You can even do “superman curls,” where you stand in the middle of a cable crossover machine with attachments at the top of both sides and curl your arms inwards as though doing a “front double biceps” pose. On this, bring your pinkies towards your ears, which give you a nice little supination action to intensify the contraction on the biceps.

Still more: Preacher bench curls, using either a fixed bar or DBs or, if you don’t mind setting up for it, cables. Concentration curls (seated, on a bench OR standing, with one arm resting on the back of an incline bench set at upright). Machine curls. Functional machine cable curls, either facing towards or away from the machine.

You can really go wild here. So don’t get stuck in a rut when training biceps!

TRICEPS: I usually go for 2 overhead movements, plus 1 “pressdown” movement. This way, both the long and short heads of the muscle get worked!

Overhead movements: Skullcrushers (the EZ curl bar is gentler on your wrists); overhead DB extensions (AKA French presses); overhead rope triceps extensions.

Pressdown movements: Bench dips, dip machines, straight or V-bar pressdowns at a cable station

Other options: close-grip pushups, close-grip bench presses, DB or cable kickbacks

This is a lot for you to think about, right?

So I’ve decided to break this down and add a Part 3, which will address what you can do for legs, calves and abs.

Please–think of this as a hobby! Keep it interesting and fun!

After all, you wouldn’t stop at one simple stitch if you were learning needlework or knitting, would you?

You wouldn’t plant only one type of flower in your garden! 

Or stop at trying only one recipe!


Think of these exercise variations as recipes for your muscles.

Change them up and you vary the ways you stimulate your muscles–which is good for growth and good for keeping your workouts fun and fresh!

Flickr photos, top to bottom, edikeskin, Odannysgirl, <christine>, Coconut Recipes


How NOT to get bored in the gym – Part 1

May 27, 2010

 Eventually, you may get to a point where just the thought of going to the gym drives you to tears. Even doing your taxes seems a more pleasant task.

It doesn’t need to be that way.

Variety is what keeps your workouts fresh. Since working out is a “lifestyle” thing–that is, you’re in it for the long haul–it pays to find ways to work out that keep things fresh!

How the “big guys” do it

Advanced bodybuilders change things all the time. They HAVE to, otherwise they’d soon take up tennis, or volleyball.

One way they avoid staleness is by changing their workout split–that is, training different body parts on different days. For example, back with biceps (a smaller body part), back with chest (another large body part), or back with abs (where the mindset is almost that you’re training only one body part that day–back).

During other periods, they may ease up and train their upper body, or even their entire body, on one day, using lighter weight and moving more briskly from exercise to exercise.

Of course, they may have heavy weeks or lighter weeks. In which case, the number of reps they get change. OR, they may intersperse light, higher-rep exercises with heavier exercises within the same workout.

Additionally, when training any body part, they can break down their workout by:

  • Training apparatus – eg, barbells, dumbbells, cables, machines
  • Area worked – eg, for back, upper lats, lower lats, inner lats (rhomboids), outer lats
  • Their goal – eg, developing thickness vs. width in the back, OR striations/cuts vs. pure muscle growth
  • Grip – eg, for back, a close grip, medium grip, wide grip, underhand grip

But what can YOU do?

I mean, you just want to keep things fun, right?

Well, as with anything–say gardening–the more you know, the more interesting it gets. The more you know, the more resources you have. So it pays to keep learning.

Here are some methods I use when I hit the gym:

 CHEST: I usually pick two presses and a flye movement.

Presses: I make sure to get one flat and one incline movement.

So…you could do one flat DB press and one incline DB press. NOTE: Bench presses (using a BB) tend to be rough on your rotator cuff muscles (roughly at the front of your shoulders). For longevity, I do them infrequently. When I do perform them, I don’t go heavy, and I don’t come all the way down to my chest with the BB, which keeps excess stress off of that area.

Now, you could also add in machines. Hammerstrength or Cybex flat and incline press machines work well.

Flyes: Incline DB flyes are a “standard.” (Flat DB flyes are also tougher on your rotator cuff. If you do them, go lighter.) You could try the chest flye machines OR do cable flyes, where you stand in between the two ends of a cable crossover machine. 

The “functional” training machines you find in some gyms these days also offer great ways to do chest presses and flyes using cables. 

 BACK: I tend to go for 2 rows and 2 pulldown movements. Usually, not always.

I might have a day where I do 3 rows and one pulldown, but 2 and 2 is a good mix. I also like to throw in a back extension exercise at the end of my workout to stretch and strengthen my lower back.

Rows: Cable rows, BB rows, DB rows, Smith machine rows, machine rows. (On BB rows, I might do a wider, overhand-grip row OR an underhand grip, placing my hands a little closer in on the bar. On DB rows, I might take a palms facing the body stance, OR a palms facing rear stance.)

Pulldowns: Pulldowns to the front are safest. When you do a pulldown to the rear (behind your head), you are hyperextending at the shoulder and, again, causing a little extra stress to that vulnerable joint. You are safest avoiding these altogether, BUT, if you choose to do rear pulldowns, do them infrequently and go lighter!

In general with pulldowns, vary your grips: close grip, wide grip (outside of your shoulders), underhand grip (hands further in on the bar). Or try stiff-arm pulldowns at the cable crossover machine.

 SHOULDERS: (Yes, that is Marilyn Monroe doing BB shoulder presses, photographed by Philippe Halsman, I believe, in 1952. And you thought weight training would make you look like a guy!)

Your deltoid muscles have 3 areas to keep in mind while training: anterior (front) portion, medial (middle) portion, and posterior (rear) portion. A thorough shoulder workout targets all 3 parts of the muscle.

If you are doing a shorter shoulder workout, try to get in

  1. a basic shoulder press–you can use DBs (my fave), a fixed bar or BB (like Marilyn here), a machine press, even cable presses–and then,
  2. a side lateral, which you can perform using one arm at a time or both arms simultaneously. For example, try a one-arm cable side lateral or use both arms when doing seated or standing DB side laterals. 

 If you want to be super thorough and also target front and rear delts during your shoulder workout, add in:

  • Front raises to work the anterior portion of your shoulders (using BB, DBs or holding a plate with both hands). OR, use the crossover cable machine. Face away from the cable stack, with the rope coming up between your legs. Use a long, straight bar. 
  • Rear delt flyes, using DBs or cables or even your gym’s chest flye machine. Many of these gym machines are engineered so you can comfortably perform BOTH chest flyes and rear delt flyes.

I don’t want to overwhelm you with possibilities…so stay tuned. I’ll be back tomorrow with options for biceps, triceps, abs, legs and calves.

This is just to show you–there’s no reason to EVER get bored in the gym.

And there’s also no reason to stand around waiting while someone else hogs the equipment or bench that you want to use!

Flickr photos, top to bottom, babykailan,  paulmhooper, PocketSandNinja, and alizinha/CrossFitNYC

How YOU can get beautiful shoulders

May 26, 2010

 “A woman’s shoulders are the front lines of her mystique.”

– Al Pacino as John Milton, “The Devil’s Advocate”

“I often think that a slightly exposed shoulder emerging from a long satin nightgown packed more sex than two naked bodies in bed.”

– Bette Davis

Hehe, I love Bette Davis. And she had it right!

You just can’t beat pretty shoulders! Especially this time of year, when sleeveless tops and tanks are meant to showcase them!

It’s ironic, then, isn’t it, that a little work with the weights will give you such a lovely feminine attribute? 

And so nice that you can have them–no matter what’s going on anywhere below your shoulders!

Here’s a great and simple shoulder workout:

  1. Seated DB shoulder presses
  2. DB side laterals  – Superset these with:
  3. DB front laterals
  4. Bentover DB laterals

This shouldn’t take you long. Perform 4 sets for the first exercise, and 3 sets on all the others.

Shoulder Press: Your first exercise is a basic compound movement which will help put a little muscle on your shoulders. You can do presses seated or standing. If you do them seated, find a straight-back bench and keep your back pressed against the seat back for stability.

If you do standing shoulder presses, you’ll probably have to lighten the weight a tad. Be sure to hold your abs tight (tighten your core!) so you have optimum stability to perform the movement safely and effectively.

Front and side laterals: These can be performed efficiently as a superset. (Lateral means “away from the body.” You might also hear these called front raises or side raises.) The front laterals can also be performed using a bar. Don’t go too heavy!

To superset these two exercises, you’ll raise the DBs out to the sides of your body (getting your 8-12 reps), and then in front of your body (for another 8-12 reps). Ow! Your shoulders should be burning a bit. That’s to be expected. But if you feel pain, STOP.  

  • Side laterals (AKA lateral raises): Lift your arms straight out to the sides, to about shoulder height. Keep a slight bend in your elbows. To focus on the medial delts (the part that will give you that nice, rounded shoulder), tilt your hands as if you’re pouring tea. That is, your thumbs will be somewhat down, your pinkies will be up (closest to the celing).


  • Front laterals (AKA front raises):  If the weight feels heavy, you can alternate your arms to make the exercise a bit less strenuous. Go right arm up, then down, left arm up, then down. Lift the DBs up in front of you, keeping a slight bend in the elbow, to about the height of your face. It feels most comfortable to me when I slightly arc the DBs in a bit at the top of the movement, so that they are roughly in front of my face (rather than further out, in front of my shoulders).

Bentover rows: Finally, don’t forget your rear delts. You can do the bentover rows seated or standing. Either way, they’ll finish off the posterior (rear) deltoid muscles nicely. You’ll most likely have to go lighter on this exercise.

As always, form is more important than weight!

When to train shoulders

I like to prioritize shoulders, so I put them at the beginning of the week when I have the most energy. Currently, I train them with triceps.

But you can schedule your shoulder workout in any number of ways:

  • as part of a full body workout
  • after a larger bodypart, such as chest or back
  • or first before you do triceps and/or biceps

The key is to train larger body parts first in your workout. Why? Well,  if, for example, you train triceps before shoulders, you won’t have as much arm strength left to get enough quality reps when you work your shoulders.

Similarly, if you train shoulders before chest, you won’t have enough strength to give your chest a proper workout. Your front (anterior) shoulder muscles will be fatigued, so you’ll have trouble getting as many good chest presses as you otherwise might.

If any of these moves are new to you, and if you belong to a gym, don’t be shy about asking a personal trainer to check your form. (Of course, not when he or she is in the middle of training someone!)

Go light to start, until you get the form down. Then add a little weight as you can safely do so, while maintaining proper exercise form.

If you perform this workout with concentration and care, pushing yourself to get 8-12 reps, then once a week should do it!

Flickr photo, rim division

Build your muscle, save your brain!

May 20, 2010

 It’s amazing news!

A study reported in the November issue of the Archives of Neurology shows that stronger muscles are associated with a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment.

And that could mean you’re less likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).

Just another HUGE reason why you need to do some strength training as you age!

I love this news!

My father suffered from AD. So it hits home.

And every time I forget the reason I’ve entered a room (“Now why am I here?”), or every time I forget that I’ve already seen a certain movie (“Mom, we saw that movie together a month ago!”), I worry about my own fate.

The researchers looked at more than 900 adults living in retirement communities near Chicago. During the mean follow-up period of 3.6 years, 138 of the seniors developed AD.  

After adjusting for age, sex and education status, the researchers determined that the seniors’ muscle strength at the beginning of the study was associated with roughly a 43% decreased risk for AD.

43%! I’ll take it!

Like I always say, “I’ll be in the gym when I’m 90!”

Flickr photo, Jess Graves/DecorDiva

What’s MORE important than diet and exercise?

May 19, 2010

 How much diet and exercise advice have YOU collected

over your 50 years?

Probably a LOT, right? 

Don’t eat this, eat more of that.

Exercise this way, not that way.

Has it helped?

Diet and exercise tips can be great. And useful. 

If you recognize them as tools, not solutions in and of themselves.

YOU still need to take action. You need to implement your tools and see if they work for you.

  It’s that negative self-talk that gets in the way!

Comments like: “I’ve had such a rough day, I deserve some ice cream/wine/fries.”

OR, “I just can’t seem to lose weight no matter what I do.”

OR, “It’s all just too much effort!”

Excuses like: “I’m over 50, it’s impossible!”

OR, “I just don’t have time in my day to work out/pack a healthy lunch!”

Why are we stalling…deliberating…doubting…procrastinating?


Fear is the enemy of success, says David J. Schwartz, PhD, in his bestselling book, “The Magic of Thinking Big.”

To conquer fear, Dr. Schwartz advises, you need to:



Hesitation only magnifies the fear, warns Dr. Schwartz–so be decisive!

Every time you deliberate, “What good will that workout do?” you are stealing from the precious time you have available to take action. 

And sometimes you procrastinate so long that…working out is no longer an option. You wind up going grocery shopping or checking Facebook instead. 

Watch out for those negative thoughts

They can lead to a mental image (or several) of failure. Most of us have them.

  • Have you ever quit a diet?
  • Gone off your exercise program?
  • Been in great shape, and then “blew it?”

What to do? Dr. Schwartz has two suggestions:

1. Withdraw only positive mental images from your memory bank. Don’t waste time remembering how you regained weight, quit working out, messed up at work, etc. Focus on all the occasions you succeeded at something–a career accomplisment, nurturing a child, caring for an aging parent, planning a great party or vacation, getting in great shape for an event. You have LOTS to be proud of!

2. Deposit only positive mental images into your memory bank on an ongoing basis! You’ll automatically spend more time in a “positive mode,” and you’ll have more “positive stuff” to draw on, today and tomorrow.

You don’t need major events to make you feel good about yourself. Celebrate the everyday things you do that make you proud–preparing a great meal, cleaning out a closet, remembering a friend or relative on their birthday, giving your honey a backrub.

Believe it or not, feeling confident about your ability to get strong, fit and fabulous comes before all the exercise and diet tips in the world.

Flickr photos, top to bottom, by brechti images, Michael Skelton, Makbet666.

2 tricks to getting the body you want after 50

May 17, 2010

   That’s right, you CAN…

  • firm your upper arms
  • lose the back fat
  • resdiscover your waist
  • downsize your fanny
  • and trim your hips and thighs

How? You need to…

1.  WORK OUT as if you’re a “hardgainer.”

That’s a term bodybuilders and serious weight trainers use to describe people who can’t build muscle very easily. The truth is, after age 50, you  ARE a hardgainer. You don’t have the hormonal environment that allows you to add muscle easily.

My advice:

  • Perform weight-training exercise 3 to 4 days a week. More than that and you risk LOSING muscle!
  • Get out of the gym in 45 minutes. No more than an hour! Long workouts will have you LOSING muscle!
  • Replenish your muscles so they can begin rebuilding with a quick and easily digestible source of protein after the gym!
  • Work in the “muscle-building” rep range of 8 to 12 repetitions per exercise.
  • Use basic compound movements, like presses, squats, rows. Compound movements like these work a body part across two or more joints, versus isolation movements like curls or leg extensions, which work a body part across a single joint.

2.  EAT as if you’re a “hardloser.”

Okay, I made up that term. But it seems to be the way to go for people like you and me who can’t eat the same number of calories—and same foods—as we used to! (Don’t worry. You DON’T have to starve yourself. In fact, if you don’t eat enough nutrient-rich food, you won’t be able to build fat-busting muscle, lose fat and, just as bad, you won’t have energy!)

My advice:

  • If you’re unsatisfied with your current weight, try changing the proportions of proteins, carbohydrates and fats that you eat. Don’t overthink it, though, or you’ll stress yourself out! Read on…
  • Limit refined carbohydrates and improve the quality of those you DO have. Your body doesn’t process refined carbs as efficiently as it used to. Fill up on vegetables and huge salads! The bonus is you get lots more inflammation-soothing nutrients into your body!
  • Increase the amount of protein you eat throughout the day. (Not just at dinner!) Choose organic, grass-fed, or, at least, antiobiotic- and hormone-free proteins (chicken, turkey, beef) so you don’t increase your intake of xenoestrogens. Wild-caught fish is also considered (as of now anyway) a fairly safe option.
  • Take in more fat–a little each time you eat. Don’t worry about the calories, since you’re decreasing your portions of starchy carbs. Plus, a touch of fat will address those blood sugar spikes that increase insulin (the fat-storing hormone). Good options include organic, unrefined coconut oil, pasture or cultured butter, extra virgin olive oil, almond butter and avocado. 

My eBook, Get Strong, Fit and Fabulous supplies many more details and “how-tos,” but if you start playing with these tips on your own, you’re bound to start looking and feeling better right away!

And if you’re already exercising regularly and eating well?

Try changing your workout around. As for your diet, there’s always room for improvement! Incorporate more variety. Add more vegetables. Buy locally grown or organic produce. Sprinkle basil or oregano into a salad. Read more about fats and include those that nurture your body!

The top 2 myths about women over 50

May 14, 2010


It really gripes me when I encounter the usual myths about women my age, including these two biggies:

MYTH #1: Women in their 50s don’t care about themselves any more—and that’s why they get fat and sloppy-looking.

Fact: The hormonal changes experienced by women in their 50s make shedding weight and building shapely muscle difficult. Not impossible, but hard enough.

It’s not surprising some women conclude midlife weight gain is inevitable. You might eat what seems to be a healthy diet and you may exercise regularly, but your body fights you!

It’s likely that your old diet and exercise routine may need some tweaking.

Don’t be alarmed! 

It’s often as simple as looking at your dinner plate and adding a little more of this and taking away a little of that!  

MYTH #2: Women over 50 might as well forget about being slim and shapely! (This is, after all, middle age.) 

Fact: You CAN get slim and shapely. You may decide your weight at age 25 is no longer appropriate, but you can get trim, fit, toned and STRONG!

Now, the WAY to do that is to begin a strength-training program, or to upgrade the one you have.

What you don’t need is something designed for a 25-year-old guy who lives in the gym. I hear ya!

You want something…

  • easy to follow and understand
  • not too time-consuming
  • that will give you results

In my soon-to-be-released eBook, Get Strong, Fit and Fabulous, I’ll show you how you can get the results you’re after in 4 strength workouts a week!

Previous weight-lifting experience NOT needed!

Unfortunately, most personal trainers and magazine writers have no clue what women our age should do. Many think “more is better.”

Many more think they have to “take it easy” on us.

The truth is somewhere in the middle.

You need to “push,” but with CARE.

This is what you’re facing:

In your 50s, you are “hormonally challenged.” What I mean by that is that you have dwindling amounts of most, if not all, of your hormones. This makes building muscle (AND losing fat) a challenge for you, because you need the right balance of hormones in order to do either one.

In my next post, I’ll let you in on the 2 things you must do to get a body you’re proud to show off!

Flickr photo on top by Steve Pepple