Taking a Mental Break

It’s true that nature inspires, humbles and gives a moment to be at peace with yourself and find clarity. From my experience, I think nature naturally makes people feel this way, so we should all get out and experience our surroundings more often. Last Sunday, I went to Old Man’s Cave at Hocking Hills with my mom for Mom’s Weekend here at Ohio University. For those who don’t know, Old Man’s Cave is about 30 minutes from campus and could easily be considered a gem in the “backyard” for Ohio University and surrounding areas.

There’s something so special about exploring nature, especially locations close to your home! Going to Old Man’s Cave allowed me to escape the same scenery I see every day on campus and reminded me to take a break from the stresses of school. I reflected on the blessings in my life and could greater appreciate where I am right now and embracing it all!  Plus, de-stressing was effortless since you’re surrounded by such a natural form of beauty that you forget materialistic matters.

From a fitness perspective, you sure get in a lot of walking and elevated walking, even some stairs. Old Man’s Cave had an aspect of hiking, but it was at a slow pace filled with many areas to stop and take in the beauty. I definitely felt my heart rate increase during the “hike” and it was just enough to serve as my exercise for the day.

 

With finals around the corner and end of the semester stresses creeping up, go clear your mind in the outdoors around you. No matter if you’re looking for inspiration or a place to relax, get out and explore the natural beauty of nature. You won’t regret the time you spend. Remember it’s important to take a breather and get out and enjoy what’s out there for you to explore!

 

6 Exercises to Get Strong, Toned Arms

With warmer weather on its way, tank tops and sleeveless sundresses are sure to start making their appearances. No matter what, you shouldn’t shy away from building your arms. Strong arms help me feel overall more fit, and I’m able to perform certain exercises at greater ease. I was wondering if any of you readers have heard of this new product named, SARMs? I’ve seen some news about it floating around the fitness industry and read sarms reviews. Apparently, there is little to no side effects of using this and also helps with muscle gain. Maybe this is something I will look into further.
But in the meantime, another benefit of working your arms is that usually within one workout, you’re able to work many different muscles in your arm at the same time. I usually only train my arms once a week, so keeping up on your arm strength and appearance doesn’t require much dedication, depending on what your personal goals are.

Here’s some of the most effective arm workouts I do at the gym:

1. Simple Barbell Curl – Choosing the proper barbell weight is completely up to you and the current strength of your arms. I choose a 20 lbs. barbell and did 3 sets of 12 reps.

*Keep your elbows tight to your torso and lift directly up and directly lower the barbell back down.

2. Incline Bench Dumbbell Curl – Grab a bench and go to work! I place the incline bench at a level where I’m almost sitting up straight, but I still am leaning back. You can play around with the incline and feel what incline gives you the most bicep burn.

*When lowering the weight back to a starting position, allow your arm to completely straighten out.

(Oops. I lost this picture to feature! If you need a visual on how to do this exercise, here’s a helpful link) https://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/main/popup/name/incline-dumbbell-curl

3. Single-Armed Tricep Extensions – A while ago I started incorporating more exercises where I can focus on one expenditure at a time. When you do so, you can really focus on working the muscle you are intending to work. With this exercise, take a lower weight than you may normally use for tricep extensions. Be sure to keep your elbow close to your head and extend from the elbow to raise the weight above your head. Now, slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head as you hold the upper arm stationary. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

4. Tricep Pushdown – Attach a straight bar to a pulley and grab it with an overhand grip. In the starting positon, your forearm should be upright, holding onto the bar. Slowly contract your tricep and extend your arms downward while keeping them close to the body. Be sure your upper arms do not move during this motion. Repeat 15 times in 3 sets.

5. Lying Tricep Press/ Skull Crusher – Lie on a flat bench with an e-z bar or straight bar. Raise the bar in front of you at arm’s length. Slowly lower the bar towards your forehead, bending at the elbow. Be sure to keep your upper arm steady. Now, use your triceps to bring the e-z bar back to the starting positon. Repeat for 3 sets if 10.

6. Bench Dips – This is a great burnout exercise to finish with! Using your own body weight, keep your knees bent and slowly lower your body, bending at the elbows. Using your triceps, bring your lower body back up to the starting position. I try to do 3 sets of 8 reps.

 

Top 5 Female Instagram Accounts to Follow

  1. @laisdeleonfitness
Photo from Instagram

I remember Lais being one of the first fitness accounts I followed on Instagram. I have even purchased products from the brand NLA For Her that she is a representative for, such as the whey protein powder. Two years ago, I went to the Arnold Classic fitness expo in Columbus, Ohio to meet her at the NLA For Her kiosk. When I met her, she was friendly and even complemented my legs! I was definitely caught off guard in the moment and felt so honored. I took a picture with her and she even thanked me for supporting her fitness mission. Her page consists of product promotions and features numerous videos of her exercise routines and training tips. Her videos are easy to follow and she will go through the workout that she decides to feature at a pace the viewer can observe and take notes on. Lais gives a description in the video’s caption to explain the workout! It’s beneficial to anyone – whether you are new to the gym or frequently make the trip there.

  1. @katyhearnvideos
Photo from Instagram

Obviously, this Insta account is strictly videos! I like it because I know what type of post I will receive on my timeline from Katy. All of her videos are filmed in her very own gym! I think it’s a great way to market her brand and may inspire others to become their own business owners. Her videos demonstrate workout circuits for all different parts of the body. Some of her moves are creative and may help anyone struggling with boredom in the gym!

  1. @nicole_mejia
Photo from Instagram

Nicole is an entrepreneur who created her fitness brand, Fit and Thick. I love her brand because she represents woman who are “thick” and not society’s ideal thin image. She emphasizes that it’s beautiful to have larger thighs and a booty! She has a great online apparel store and also offers workout and meal plans. Nicole isn’t afraid to get personal or let her followers see her awesome personality.

  1. @suzie_kb
Photo from Instagram

Suzie’s posts mainly consist of training videos on her page. What i personally love about these is that it’s very clear how to properly perform the workout. Before I head to the gym, I frequently check her page for a workout that pertains to the muscle group I intend on training that day. In addition, Suzie has a good selection of songs that go along with her training videos, which also gives me some new music to listen to while working out.

  1. @toneitup
Photo from Instagram

This is a fire duo! I’ve even watched their Tone It Up series that aired on Bravo TV. Their Insta account lead me to their YouTube channel, which I absolutely love. Simply search Tone It Up and I encourage you to subscribe. Both of the girls, Karina and Katrina, have bubbly personalities and great workouts for a busy girl, like me. Honestly, any type of work out you could possibly want is on their YouTube page. It’s a great resource for those who are beginners of a fit lifestyle, interested in learning more or for the experienced.

 

Love Yourself, Love Your Body

This past week, I went to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for spring break with some of my best friends. For the majority of the trip, we were in bikinis hanging out on the beach or at the pool. That’s just how vacation should be in my opinion! Anyways, surrounded by other college girls in bikinis it could have been very easy to compare myself to them and pick my body apart, but I didn’t. I actually felt more liberated and confident with my body than I had been in the past.

The truth is, everyone has different body shapes and sizes. It’s not realistic to compare yourself to others who have completely different genetic traits than you! Those traits range from height, bone structure and where people tend to store their fat. For instance, it’s not realistic to compare yourself to a petite girl that’s 5’2”, when you’re 5’7” and have a more muscular, curvy build. There’s only one choice, and that’s to love your body now and at every stage. It’s the choice that will bring you the most happiness.

One day during spring break, my friends and I were talking about how easy it is to compare our bodies to other girls on a daily basis. The conversation came up because we were constantly around other girls in swimsuits and noticed how often we put our own bodies to shame. We all came to the conclusion that there is no sense in doing so when everyone is shaped so differently. It’s much easier and freeing to accept your body, rather than comparing yourself to someone that literally isn’t you.

Ultimately the choice is yours, but you might as well love your body! You’ll end up feeling more confident and excited to make any changes you feel are necessary for your body and health because you are accepting of yourself as you are right now. Remember to make changes for yourself and no one else. The process to being comfortable in your own skin isn’t easy, but it’s much more enjoyable when you start to love your body as it is.

Everyone is so different and that’s truly what makes you beautiful and sets you apart from the rest of the crowd. No one can compare to you! 

 

You Can Do It, Put Your Back Into It

 

Yes, I’m referring to Ice Cube’s late 90’s R&B song. You can do it, if you put your back into it. What I’m really trying to say is that a strong back will allow you to increase your overall strength and physical abilities. There are so many exercises that require a strong back to really reap results from a workout. If your back is weak, you can’t perform certain movements well, such as a plank or squat.  Training your back will also keep your posture in check and even prevent injury in the future.

I incorporate a back routine into my workouts twice a week. I usually like to pair training my back with shoulders and/or arms. It’s easy to forget about your back because you usually aren’t looking at it in a mirror. If you take some time in the gym to train your back, you just might have to start looking at it more often.

Here are some of my go-to back exercises. While training my back, I’ll do all of these within one workout!

*While doing back exercises I find it more beneficial to use a lighter weight and hone in on my mind to muscle connection. This means to focus on feeling your back muscles being used and properly contracting them.

  1. Lat Pull Downs on Cable Machine – I love starting out my routine with this one! It wakes my back muscles up and lets them know they’re about to get to work. Like I said start your first set with a lighter weight in order to focus on working your lats. I do 3 sets of 10, increasing the weight with each set.

            Photo by Paxton Hood
  2. Underhand Seated Cable Row – I also use a lighter weight on this exercise as well and like to even bump my reps up a bit. 10 – 12 reps in 3 sets is a good place to start. Do what feels best and choose the weight you still feel muscle contraction, but not too much to where you can’t hold the pull back for a couple seconds.

                           Photo by Paxton Hood
  3. Rows on Incline Bench with Dumbbells – Focus your strength on your shoulder blades and pull your elbows back. Complete 3 or 4 sets of 10.

                           Photo by Paxton Hood
  4. Single Arm Dumbbell Bent Over Row – Be sure you core stays tight and use moderate weight. Creating more of a swinging motion, bring your elbow back as far as you can. Keep your shoulders level. I do 3 sets of 15 reps.

                         Photo by Paxton Hood
  5. High Cable Face Pull – Use the rope attachment. When starting this exercise, keep your butt out, lower back arched and chest out for practicing good form. Slowly pull back, squeezing your back as much as possible. Try starting with 2 sets of 15.

             Photo by Paxton Hood

*With all exercises, remember to rest 45 seconds to 1 minute between each set!

 

 

 

Five Foods for a Flat Stomach

With spring break just around the corner, I know I’ll most likely be in a swimsuit for the majority of my trip and I want to look and feel my best. Recently, I have slightly switched up my diet and seen changes in my stomach. Keeping your food intake consistent in terms of portions and relatively eating around the same time each day will help with digestion and decrease your chances of looking bloated. Along with a ton of water (I’m currently trying to drink a gallon a day), burning calories at the gym and eating these foods, you will well be on your way to a flat tummy for the beach!

I know that by being in college, especially living in residence halls without access to a kitchen or a car to get to a grocery store can make it extra difficult to get healthy food into your body. The food choices I included below are all available to me at either campus dining halls, campus marketplaces or both. This way, hopefully, you don’t need to go out and drive somewhere to pick up these flat stomach foods or spend extra money outside of meal swipes if you don’t want to!

 

  1. Greek Yogurt – This is a quick snack and also is packed with active cultures, which act as probiotics that help with digestion. My favorite brand is Chobani in the raspberry flavor and I have been eating one yogurt at least 3 or 4 days a week.
    Photo from grocerybutlers.com

     

  2. Almonds – Almonds have healthy fats and also give me energy. After eating a handful of almonds, I don’t feel hungry anymore and they cure any craving I have for sugar in the moment.
    Photo from healthandbloom.com

     

  3. Berries – From blueberries, raspberries to blackberries you can’t go wrong. They are all loaded with antioxidants which help with workout progress and recovery. Once again, berries have fiber and will help you feel full and satisfied.
    Photo from pinimg.com

     

  4. Spinach – I love this leafy green because I can add it to various foods such as pasta, scrambled eggs and sandwiches. So, there are many ways you can eat spinach without having to just eat it by itself. Plus, spinach is very low calorie when compared to broccoli and other green veggies.
    Photo from dingo.care2.com

     

  5. Turkey – Turkey is the leanest meat in terms of a protein source. With fewer few calories, turkey helps build lean muscle and is not hard on the body for digestion.

    Photo from clipartfest.com

There are numerous other food sources that support a lean and tight stomach, but these are the foods I have personally made an effort to include in my diet to support my workouts. I also encourage whey protein to be utilized in a diet plan. It supports muscle building and burns fat at the same time! Take a look at my last article in lieu and check out why I love whey protein so much.

*Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to increase the digestion process and moderate your metabolism.

Recover and Reboot – My Post Workout

Leading a fit lifestyle means being able to keep a consistent gym routine, but fueling your body properly after a sweat session is just as important, if not more important. Maybe you aren’t seeing the results you feel you should have achieved by now, or you’re lacking energy in the hours after your workout. The problem is probably not what work you’re putting in at the gym, but what you’re doing afterwards. Make your workout count.

This may be obvious, but stretching after a workout can only benefit your active lifestyle and future fitness progress. I find that it serves as a cool down after finishing up a workout. It takes me to a relaxing state of mind and allows me to feel less stiff and wobbly after lifting or cardio. When I stretch, I mainly focus on my lower body and hold a stretch for 30 seconds at a time. Stretching also allows your muscles to release tightness and will allow future muscle growth. Without stretching, muscle tears and joint damage can occur. In addition, your growth in the gym won’t progress in a timely rate. Who wants that?

Photo by Paxton Hood

Aspiring to look fit and feel healthy, I decided to give protein powder a try several years ago. Since then, I have continued my protein powder advocacy. It may be easy to believe that protein powder isn’t as nutritious for your body as solid foods, but for an on-the-go college student, protein shakes are quick and fuel your body. I mix one scoop of my Optimum Nutrition chocolate whey protein powder with water and shake it in a Blender Bottle. Whey protein burns fat at a faster rate and replenishes energy.

Photo by Paxton Hood

I drink the whey protein immediately after I get back to my room or while walking out the gym doors. Post workout is the best time to digest a protein shake because your muscles need healing after working them. The protein repairs the muscle fibers and helps build and maintain muscle. I also notice it helps curve cravings for sweets and makes me feel full. One of my favorite attributes of whey protein is that is prevents my stomach from bloating!

I recommend whey protein in chocolate or vanilla. I choose protein powder based off of the grams of protein in one scoop compared to the amount of calories and fat calories being consumed. The protein brand with the most grams of protein with the least amount of calories is what I look for. Start with the basics and find out what you like best. If you happen to be iffy about the flavor of protein powder, I recommend mixing the powder with cold water or low-fat milk.

Photo by Paxton Hood

Other alternatives to protein powder are a glass of chocolate milk or a pre-made protein shake you could pick up at a grocery store or gas station. The chocolate milk has a balanced mix of protein, sugars and carbs, which is the formula for workout recovery. If you’re interested in purchasing whey protein, try your nearest drugstore or grocery store.

To help with muscle soreness and to assist with protein absorption for my muscles, I drink a Branched-Chain Amino Acid. This also comes in a powder form! I also mix the BCAA with water in my Blender Bottle. Not only do they taste great, but they help with fatigue caused from physical activity. BCAA’s are the building blocks of protein, so that means it allows for quicker muscle growth and health.

I started drinking a BCAA a couple years ago because I learned from fitness professionals that it can help take your personal fitness to the next level with proper nutrition and workouts. Currently, I drink PMD Sports BCAA in the lemonade flavor. It’s refreshing and definitely keeps my energy levels balanced, making it easier to stay awake in class. I purchase these at GNC or even online sites, such as bodybuilding.com. I always choose the cheapest option!

If you don’t want to spend the money on supplements like whey protein or a BCAA for post workout nutrition, try eating some sort of protein source to replenish your muscles. Foods such as, turkey, chicken, and a fruit smoothie are alternatives. As a busy college student, I find it easiest to invest in protein powder because it’s quick, simple and cures my hunger for a period of time after a workout.

Start your post workout routine by stretching and rebooting with the proper fuel. This will ultimately make you stronger and create consistent and fulfilling steps toward to your body goals and health.

Photo by Paxton Hood

If you have any questions about protein powder or BCAA’s, don’t hesitate to send me a message or comment below!

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My Pre-Workout

No matter the time of day, I’m consistent at preparing for my workouts. Preparing helps me get the most out of my workout and allows me to use my time wisely in and outside of the gym. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I’m unmotivated to go to the gym and feel tired, but when I set aside the time for a workout I need to take that opportunity. Working out is when I get to focus on myself and be in control of how I want to spend my time. This is how I prepare to pump myself up for the gym and get ready to own my workout! My pre-workout routine doesn’t take too long and I always leave for the gym feeling ready to work.

First, I start to think about the next day or week ahead and when I have time to go to the gym. Sometimes it’s in between classes or at the end of the day when I’m finished with my school priorities. If you like to make to-do lists or write in a planner I suggest you write down when you’re going to work out. It feels great to check it off a list! For some reason it makes me feel more productive about my day. Also, thinking about the next day allows me to think about what I want to work on at the gym. The choices are endless, but planning out what I want to work on gives me the visual of what I’ll be doing in the gym and what areas of the gym I’ll be using. This way, I won’t walk through the gym doors and spend time wondering where to even start.

Once I’m getting ready to go to the gym, I think it’s necessary to eat something, especially if you have an empty stomach. Most often I’m coming back from class and straight to my room to change. My go-to snacks are a banana or handful of almonds. Both of these options I frequently have in my room and they’re both easy to grab. These give me a boost of energy and enough carbohydrates to get me through a work out. If you don’t put anything in your body, you won’t have any energy to burn off and could end up feeling sick during your work out. By no means am I saying to eat a full meal! Just a little something goes a long way.

 

Photo taken on my iPhone

 

I do use pre-workout supplements to get me through a workout as well. I strongly believe they are a beneficial resource in helping me get the most out of my workout. They boost my mood, energy and endurance level, which gives me the drive I need to push myself during exercise. I’m currently using C4 by Cellucor in the orange dreamsicle flavor. I’ve used this brand and others several times, but I always go back to C4 because it works best for me. Not all pre-workouts are the same in terms of how they make you feel. I’ve tried some pre-workouts that others swear by, but it doesn’t have a useful effect while I work out. Everyone responds differently to different products. If you find pre-workout supplements intimidating, there are alternatives such as Spark.

Photo taken on my iPhone

Music is crucial for a killer work out. I always plug my phone into the charger for a bit to make sure it has enough battery to play my music through an entire work out. Even when I’m in my room and getting dressed for the gym, I put on my favorite pump-up music from Spotify or YouTube. Listening to music beforehand gets me hype and also serves as a de-stressor from anything that has happened during the day! If you don’t already, turn on your favorite songs while getting dressed for the gym. There’s nothing better than a pump-up music session.

Photo taken on my iPhone

While I’m listening to music and sipping on my pre-workout, I pick out my gym clothes. Right now, I don’t necessarily have any fancy workout gear, but I do like to match and feel good in what I’m wearing to the gym. For example, I make sure my shoes match the colors I decide to wear or make sure I wear pants that fit how I want them too and ones that I don’t have to pull up with every move I make. Everyone is different, but the workout clothes I decide to wear must make me feel confident and are efficient to work out in. I usually find super cute workout clothes at TJ Maxx or Marshalls. You still get brand names for a fraction of the original cost.

By now, I would be getting ready to walk out the door and start trekking to the gym. I have a water bottle and my headphones in, still vibing to the music. Find a pre-workout routine that works best for you and gets your energy level amped up for a productive work out! I believe once you give yourself a little more time to prepare, you’ll start feeling better about your trips to the gym and loving yourself a little more from it.

Get to work and keep moving forward!

 

Building from Behind

One of my favorite days at the gym is when I dedicate my workout to glute training. To make it clear, this is booty work day! It never fails to make me feel empowered, yet exhausted at the same time. I love having a strong lower body, because that’s where I have always needed my athletic abilities from. Let’s be honest, I need a strong backside to walk up Jeff and Morton Hill every day to get to my classes.

For those who don’t know me well, I played volleyball all throughout high school and on national teams as the libero or defensive specialist. I needed to be quick on my feet and low to the court. My movements on the court powered from my lower body (plus core). Having built glutes was a necessity.

Volleyball lifting and conditioning was a major part of being a high school athlete. I had a coach telling me what lifts to do and how many reps for each set to perform at all times. In the weight room, our lower body lifting was structured with parallel squats, power clean, box squat etc. Once my volleyball days were over, I quit doing these lifts. I began to coach myself and became interested in all things fitness. Naturally, I familiarized myself with glute training knowledge from fitness magazines, such as Oxygen, and from women in the professional fitness industry.

Dedicating a couple days a week to strengthening your glutes will be rewarding! You may leave the gym feeling sore and tired with these moves below, but the shapely and toned backside will be worth it. I hope these exercises are a switch from what you may already be doing, or will spark your interest to start training your backside with purpose. All of these are moves that I incorporate into my glute/leg day at the gym, but sometimes I switch it up so I don’t become bored with the same exercises each time. Many of these serve as building blocks to alternative glute exercises you can do. Some variations allow you to even do these without equipment, depending on your location for exercise.

TIP #1 – For all exercises, balance your weight through your heels. This will take weight off your quads, so your glutes will be more engaged and grow! It may take some concentration to get used to, but when done right, you’ll feel the burn in your bum.

TIP #2 –When you come up from a squat, direct your hips/pelvis forward and squeeze your glutes. The more you activate that muscle, the greater the growth and power into the glutes.

*I do 10-15 reps depending on the weight I decide to use. For instance, the lower the weight I’m using, the more reps I’m doing with that lower weight.


1.Weighted Walking Lunges with Kickback – You can do this with or without weights. Weights overtime will add more ‘umph to your glutes, though. Sometimes, I like to do this one without weight on the bike path or even in a stationary position in my room.

Photos by Paxton Hood

2. Kettlebell One-Legged Deadlift – This will allow you to concentrate on one side at a time, making it clearer if you feel the burn in your glutes or not. If you can’t find a kettlebell with the proper weight you need, use a dumbbell instead.

Photos by Paxton Hood

3. Elevated Squat with Dumbbell or Kettlebell – The lower you go, the better! The elevation allows you to bring the weight lower than your feet, which allows more room for your glutes to engage. Remember to focus your weight on your heels and to keep your back straight.

Photos by Paxton Hood

4. Weighted Glute Kickback on Cable Machine – Hook the ankle strap onto the cable machine and then wrap the ankle strap around the base of you lower leg. Face the weight stack and slowly kick back the working leg while contracting the glute.

Photos by Paxton Hood

 

5. Hip Thrust with Weighted Plate – At a steady pace, push the weighted plate upwards, pressing your upper back into the platform and pushing your hips upwards by flexing your glutes.

Photos by Paxton Hood

6. Stiff-Legged Kettlebell Deadlift – You can also use a pair of dumbbells for this as well. Keep your back straight and focus on powering your weight through your heels.

Photos by Paxton Hood

 

7. Walking Squat – For me, this one is a game changer. It will exhaust you, but I can’t find another exercise to mimic what this does! It combines slight cardio with weight training, getting your heart rate up and burning fat.

Photos by Paxton Hood