Free Weights vs. Weight Machines

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In December, I bought myself a year-long membership to my local Planet Fitness gym. If you’ve ever been to a gym, you know they have cardio machines, free weights, and weight machines.

I’ve been going to the gym about 4 days a week, mostly using the cardio machines. I use the free weights and weight machines once in a while, and it got me wondering.

What’s better: free weights or weight machines? So, I’ve done some research, and as usual, I want to share with my readers!

Before I get into the nitty-gritty about the differences in the actual weights, we need to talk about fitness goals. Different fitness goals mean different fitness needs and training.

Structural Goals

These are goals pertaining to the structure of your muscles, like building mass or losing fat. Free weights are the optimal tool for structural goals, but weight machines are a good second choice.

Performance Goals

These are goals that focus on improving the function of your muscles, like training for a competition or sport. Free weights or body weight exercises are best for performance goals.

Now, we can focus on the weights themselves. I’ve used BodyBuilding.com and AWorkoutRoutine.com for the following information.

Free Weights

  • More versatile for different exercise moves
  • Stimulate the total body
  • Help your balance and core strength
  • You can train anywhere, even at home
  • Allow for natural movement
  • Use additional muscle groups, not just the one you’re targeting

Weight Machines

  • Can target a specific muscle group
  • Can isolate one muscle
  • Are easier and quicker to learn for beginners
  • Have less potential for injury
  • No spotter needed
  • You can lift heavier without as much risk of injury
  • Good for bodybuilders to use after a free weight workout

From my own personal experience, I feel like free weights give me a better, harder, more effective workout than weight machines. When I do a free weight routine, everything is tired, and I even get a really good cardio workout. I feel like I get more done in the same amount of time.

However, I do like the machines when I want to try squatting with a really heavy weight. I can’t squat much with free weights because I don’t have the upper body or back strength to hold a barbell that weighs more than I do. But with a machine, I can easily attempt squatting more than my bodyweight without the fear of hurting myself. The machines are also quicker and easier for adjusting the amount of weight.

Overall, I’d say it really depends on personal preference, fitness goals, weight lifting ability, and overall strength. Let me know in the comments whether you prefer weight machines or free weights!

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How to Exercise at Home without Equipment

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Working out at home is a more convenient alternative than making a trip to the gym, but we don’t always have the equipment we need to do our workouts. I have a few sets of dumbbells, an exercise mat, ankle weights, and some exercise bands, but they take up space (and cost money) that I don’t have!

I’m still in college (it’s my last semester!!), so finding space for my exercise equipment is hard since I live in the dorms on campus. We have a couple fitness centers here on campus, as well as a weight room, but it’s so much easier to exercise in my own room. Not only do I feel more comfortable working out without a bunch of my peers watching, but it’s convenient and MUCH cleaner. I don’t have to trek through the snow and below-zero temperatures to go to the gym.

I love getting my exercise done at home, but I don’t always have the equipment I need to get an effective workout. Here are some ways you can exercise in your dorm room, office, living room, backyard, basement, or anywhere else you want if you’d rather not make a trip to the gym.

Cardio

Zumba 

There are tons of free Zumba workouts on YouTube. Some users have posted full hour-long routines, and others post individual songs so you can create your own routine. Sharee, who blogs at Funeral for my Fat, has awesome Zumba videos! Click here to check out her routines.

HIIT Workouts

There are also tons of free HIIT workouts on YouTube. My favorite channel is FitnessBlender, but there are tons of others! Usually, HIIT workouts are all bodyweight exercises, so you won’t need any equipment.

Aerobics

Again, YouTube is the best for these too! Gotta love finding free videos online. Denise Austin has some that won’t bore you to death!

Kickboxing

Visit YouTube yet again to find free kickboxing videos! This Tiffany Rothe video is a good workout, and it definitely beats running on a treadmill.

Strength Training

Makeshift Weights

There are tons of things around your house that you can use as weights! Try using water bottles, soup cans, gallon jugs, small children, bottles of laundry detergent, a sledge hammer, a bag of sugar/flour, buckets of water, shopping bags, bricks, a book bag filled with books, two liter bottles, or a boombox. Just be careful not to drop anything that’s shaped weird or might get slippery. And don’t break anything important, like your boombox! Or your children for that matter.

Ankle/Wrist Weights

To make some temporary, cheap ankle or wrist weights, fill an old sock with beans, sand, or pebbles. Glue the open end to keep the filling in, and tie it around your ankle or wrist.

Chair Exercises

You can use your desk chair or even a table to do tricep dips, step-ups,or push-ups with your feet on the chair.  And if you’re feeling really strong, go ahead and lift the chair!

Body Weight Exercises

Get back on YouTube and find some awesome body weight workout routines. Again, my favorite is Fitness Blender, but there are tons of other workouts you can do with absolutely no equipment but your own body!

Muscle Toning

Pilates

The only thing you might need for pilates is a mat, but you can simply use a towel or blanket. My favorite website for pilates videos is Blogilates, but I know there are a ton of other free pilates routines on YouTube.

Yoga

Gaiam Fitness has some free yoga routines on YouTube, and there are tons of others too! You can also buy the yoga DVDs at Walmart (and probably any other store that sells movies).

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Wake Up and Smell the Workout: Exercise Schedule

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If you’re anything like me, you have a hard time figuring out your workout schedule for the week/month. There is so much conflicting information out there. I’ve read that you should workout at night, that you should workout in the morning, that you should do an hour of cardio each day, that you should do 30 minutes of cardio per day, that you shouldn’t workout if you’re sore, that you should do yoga if you’re sore, that you should lift weight before cardio, that you should lift weight after cardio, you get the point… enough with all this information!

I’m not an expert or anything, but after years of working out with different types of exercises and different lengths of sessions, I think I’ve finally figured out a good workout schedule for myself. I’m not going to say it’s best for everyone, but it is what works for me. I like to do different types of cardio, weight/strength training, and pilates.

I always like seeing how others set up their workout routines and schedules, so I thought it might be helpful for all of you to read about mine!

I workout 5 days a week, Monday through Friday. I let myself have weekends off, so I can rest and have some fun!

I workout whatever time of day I can. If I have time in the morning, I get up early. If I have time at night, I do it then. I don’t think the time of day you exercise matters; it’s whatever works best for you.

I typically exercise for 1 to 1 and a half hours per day, depending on how I’m feeling or how much time I have.

I usually do 30-40 minutes of cardio each day, alternating between HIITs (high intensity interval training) and running on the elliptical machine.

My routine is separated into 2 lower body days (1 day of weights and 1 day of pilates), 2 core training days (pilates for abs, 1 day of weights for back, and one day of pilates for back), and 1 upper body day (half with weights and half pilates). I only do one upper body day because I started getting really bulky shoulders/arms, so I decided to cut back.

I use FitnessBlender.com videos for all my weight training and HIITs and Blogilates.com for all my pilates workout videos. I also use the elliptical machine in the gym here on my college campus. I have free weights in my room: a set of 2 pounds, a set of 5 pounds, a set of 10 pounds, a set of 15 pounds, ankle weights that go up to 5 pounds, exercise bands, and a 1/2″ thick exercise mat.

So here’s my weekly routine!

Monday 

  • Cardio: HIITs  30-40 minutes
  • Weights: Legs & Glutes 30-40 minutes

Tuesday

  • Cardio: Elliptical 30-45 minutes
  • Weights: Back 10 minutes
  • Pilates: Abs 20-25 minutes

Wednesday

  • Cardio: HIITs 30-40 minutes
  • Weights: Upper Body 15 minutes
  • Pilates: Upper Body 15 minutes

Thursday

  • Cardio: Elliptical 30-45 minutes
  • Pilates: Lower Body 30-40 minutes

Friday

  • Cardio: HIITs 30-40 minutes
  • Pilates: Abs 20-25 minutes
  • Pilates: Back 10 minutes

Again, this is just what works best for me. Everyone is different, so I encourage you to experiment with different routines until you find one that works for you! I hope this helps you get some ideas of what you can do to spruce up your workout schedule!

How to Get Rid of That Stubborn Lower Belly Flab

belly flab

That darn lower belly flab. I hate it. I’m sure everyone does, but it’s sooooooo hard to get rid of it! I’ve been trying forever to get rid of it, but nothing seems to work. Lots of things have helped, but nothing seems to do the trick to vanish it completely.

I can’t be the only one with this problem. Lots of fitness equipment is aimed at reducing belly flab. Many diets target people who want to lose their tummies. Tons of workout programs have specific ab moves focusing on the lower abs.

So, are you a victim of this lower belly pooch (as some people call it) like I am? Before I dive right into my tips to help reduce your lower belly flab, there are a few things you need to keep in mind.

You can’t spot-reduce fat. Doing tons of ab exercises alone will not get rid of belly fat; it will just strengthen and tone your abdominal muscles. Strengthening and toning your abs is a great thing! But if you don’t burn the fat on top, no one will see your defined abs.

Genetics play a role in where your fat accumulates. No matter how much you watch what you eat, how long you workout, or how hard your ab workouts are, some body types will hang onto fat. Depending on your genes, you might have a slower metabolism, hormonal causes of weight gain, or a predisposition to having belly fat.

In order to call your fat stubborn, you must already have achieved a high level of physical fitness. Not to be rude or insulting to anyone, but if you’re not in shape at all or you have a high body fat percentage, your fat isn’t stubborn; it’s just part of your body. If you’ve already achieved a low body fat percentage and you still have a spot hanging onto fat, it’s a stubborn problem area.

Now that you’ve got the facts, let’s look at some tips that have helped me reduce my lower belly pouch. (I can’t say it’s gone, but it’s smaller than it used to be)

Reduce your overall body fat percentage. You need to lose fat everywhere, since spot-reduction isn’t possible. If you lose enough fat, your body will tap into your reserves, which might include your belly!

Do cardio. Cardio burns the most calories, and you need a calorie deficit to lose weight and lose fat. Most sources say you need 30 minutes of cardio at least 3 days a week, but I do at least 30 minutes every single day.

Lift weights. Strength training and weight lifting build muscle. Muscle burns calories, even when you’re doing nothing. This can help speed up your metabolism, burning more fat.

Eat clean. I’m sure this one’s obvious, but you need to eat as healthy and clean as possible. Avoid all alcohol, sugar, and refined carbs. Eat more fiber, fruits, veggies, and lean protein. Make sure you’re drinking enough water.

Tone your abs. Even though you can’t spot reduce, you can still tone up your ab muscles so they will look defined when the fat comes off. Not only should you do moves for your lower abs, but also your entire core. Work your upper abs, middle abs, lower abs, transverse abs, and obliques. Pilates seem to be the most effective ab workouts for me. Check out my favorite (and challenging) ab workout video below!

 

Sit with good posture. Sitting up straight will not only make you look taller and leaner, but it will also strengthen and tone your core. Plus, slouching isn’t pretty anyway…

Avoid eating foods that cause gas or bloating. If you know you’re going to be wearing a swimsuit or tank top that shows off your abs, avoid eating foods like salt, carbonated beverages, or too many raw vegetables.

Stretch your hip flexors. This is my favorite! It’s probably the easiest tip of all. Sometimes, lower belly flab looks worse than it really is because tight hip flexors make the lower abdomen protrude forward. This accentuates any fat in the lower belly, but it’s a really easy fix if you loosen your hip flexors! Check out this picture below:

tight hip flexors

For some good hip stretches, check out these 6 stretches for tight hips.

Hopefully these tips help you on your journey to losing your stubborn lower belly. No matter what, just remember, whether or not you lose your lower belly, you’re beautiful and healthy, and that’s all that matters!

How to Make Cardio Suck Less

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Let’s face it: cardio sucks. It’s hard work. You get all sweaty. Your muscles burn and your heart has to pump harder than it wants to. As hard and boring as it is, cardio’s necessary to keep you in shape. It’s good for your heart, and it keeps you healthy.

I do tons of cardio every week, and it’s not because I enjoy it. To be honest, I hate it sometimes, and I find it super boring most of the time. But after months and years of trying different types of cardio workouts, I’ve finally found some ways to make it fun! Ok, not really fun, but I’ve found ways to make it suck less. So next time you’re looking for a way to enjoy cardio, try some of these:

Think of fun things while running/jogging. Keep your mind busy by imagining you’re running toward your celebrity crush (or that cute guy you occasionally stalk on Facebook). Pretend you’re a survivor of a zombie apocalypse and you have to constantly outrun zombies, jump over dead people, and dodge obstacles and debris. Act like you’re running a marathon and you only have one mile to go, so all you have to do is give it your all for a few more minutes. Most importantly, use your imagination!

Create a new running playlist. Give your current playlist a break, and put together a mix of fast-paced, motivational tunes to keep you happy and excited to go for a run. Right now, my favorite songs on my playlist are “The Other Side” by Jason Derulo, “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons, and “Come and Get It” by Selena Gomez.

Run to the music. Try walking during the verses of a song and jogging during the chorus. For more of a challenge, try lightly jogging during the verses and jogging hard during the choruses. Or, if you want to really push yourself, jog during the verses and sprint during the chorus. This works almost like interval training if you do it right.

Take a fitness class with friends. I love Zumba! It’s so much fun, and it feels like you’re just dancing with friends. After an hour, though, I know I got a good workout based on how much I’m sweating. Some other fun classes are kickboxing and spinning.

Mix up your elliptical workouts. I like to watch tv while running on the elliptical to keep my mind busy. To make sure I push myself hard enough, I go as fast as I can during the commercial breaks, and go at a sustainable pace when the show is back on. You can also try bumping up the resistance and incline every few minutes to pretend you’re going up a hill; it’ll really get your blood pumping!

Find fun workout videos online. There are millions and billions of free workout videos online for your viewing pleasure. Try using YouTube or Hulu to search for fun cardio. My favorite fun cardio videos are from Fitness Blender and HASfit. Check them out below!

Fitness Blender: Red Light Green Light Cardio Workout

Fitness Blender: When I Say Jump Cardio Routine

HASfit: Hot Feet Fat Burning Cardio Workout