Master Morning Workouts

Tips to Starting Your Day Strong.

Pictured below is how I often feel after a good morning workout.

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A lot of people seem impressed when they see that I work out before work- at 5 or 6am. I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else for being an early bird- it’s more of me trying to anticipate my own vulnerabilities. Knowing myself- I know I may feel tired after work, or eat something suboptimal too close to gym time- so working out first thing in the morning ensures I’m not affected by either of these!

Studies have shown performance benefits for working out in the late afternoon, but a lot of us are just trying to get our workout in before work or school days take their toll.

Besides getting rid of your worry about energy drain and specific meal timing throughout your day, morning workouts are beneficial for:

  • Providing you with a sense of accomplishment because- YOU DID THAT!
  • Subsequent energy levels: This varies from person to person, but anecdotally, many people report feeling energized throughout the rest of their day - after getting more than the orange juice flowing in the morning.
  • Establishing Habits: If theres constantly a reason for you not to work out when you’re done with classes/work- getting into a regular routine is difficult. Getting it done in the morning avoids potential interferences.

My Tips

  • Sleep in your workout clothes.

Not only is sleeping in your workout clothes a tangible sign of your commitment, it makes your morning routine one step shorter. It’s hard to turn back when you go to sleep looking this determined.  

Minus the sweat of course, save that for the morning.

Minus the sweat of course, save that for the morning.

  •  But really, Sleep.

Despite wanting to wake up an hour earlier, you’d be surprised how many people don’t go to bed one hour earlier. Sleep has been shown to have a strong effect of athletic performance, so even if you manage to get up after a few hours of sleep- you won’t be maximizing your gains!

  •   Warm up

As you may have noticed, the preparation for a morning workout is both physical and mental. Warming up not only prepares your body to move optimally, but it could help ease you out of any early morning grogginess or grumpiness.

  •  

    Set a few alarms

If you are as hard a sleeper as I am a light sleeper- one alarm will simply not do. Know yourself. If you and the snooze button are on particularly good terms, have another alarm or 3 lined up to break up this destructive relationship.

  • Have a plan.

    What are you going to do once you make it outside/to the gym? How many miles are you going to run? Are you going to set a new PR on your back squats? Or just make more progress in the workout program you’ve been trying out. Keeping this purpose in mind will give you something to look forward to and make sure that none of that hard-earned morning hour is wasted. Feel free to check out my 8 week-program if you need a place to start.

  • Find a buddy

Don’t you hate leaving your friends hanging? We have other concerns if you didn’t say “yes”, but in my experience, having a gym date is one of strongest incentives for getting to the gym early. You aren't the only one that misses out if you don’t follow through with the morning workout- but you have a whole ‘nother person for keep your accountable!

  

If you follow all of these steps and still can’t get your morning workout in... try lunch time! A workout later is definitely better than no workout, and sometimes better than a morning workout if that’s your jive! Tests these tips out if you’re trying to get into a morning routine and let me know how it goes!

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3 Themes to Give Your #HealthGoals Longevity Part II: Love/accountability

Love will have the strongest influence on the longevity of your health journey. Whether it’s love for yourself, love others have for you, or loving aspects of the journey itself- a journey lacking in love will not be an easy or enjoyable one.

 

How does love translate into accountability? Accountability seems like a cold, punitive concept, but I see it as based on expectations and responsibilities. Love in all of its forms entails both. Wouldn't we all question those who say they love us, but treat us unkindly or do nothing to show it?

The same idea applies to you and your pursuit of wellness. Loving yourself is taking care of your body. A loving friend will be supportive. Loving the journey means doing what you need to do to sustain it. Consistently acting contrary to expectations makes one question if you are being sincere. *Note I say consistently, because we're human and things happen.

In order for any of these forms of love to manifest into long, happy, healthy wellness journey- you should identify your accountability measures. My favorite form comes in human- a workout partner. People who are with you shooting in the gym, or who don’t pressure you into eating another ten cookies when you’ve already had your fill. Friends don't have to be by your side every step of the way; but when they are, notice who gives who a hard time and who wants to see you succeed.

Personal accountability measures include calendars, journals, alarms, sticky notes, or apps that plan your sessions and show you your progress. 

And to make sure that you enjoy your food fuel and the workouts themselves, be diligent with your recovery and vary your routine with new forms of activity and recipes.

With accountability measures, comes progress. With progress and improved health, comes happiness- the end that lots of philosophers say we’re all seeking. For 2017 and beyond, I wish for all of you to find/serve your purpose, engage in copious amounts of self-care, and love without limitation.

 

Bookmark all three themes!

AskHuyen #3: Winter Running

A topic/question you want covered by AskHuyen: 

Running in the winter

Details/Specific Questions: 

Hey Huyen! The air is really dry in the winter, and I find myself getting a sore throat really quick. How do YOU run in the winter and make it more enjoyable?

Layers: Nike Dri-FIT Tank + Nike Dri-Fit Half Zip + Generic Half-Zip Sweater + Lululemon Half Zip + Gloves & Peruvian Handband Souvenir 

Layers: Nike Dri-FIT Tank + Nike Dri-Fit Half Zip + Generic Half-Zip Sweater + Lululemon Half Zip + Gloves & Peruvian Handband Souvenir 

Up there with San Francisco hills and shin splints, winter time is one of the true tests of a runner. Okay so shin splints may be in a league of their own, but for new and experienced runners alike, cold weather could take your outdoor running routine out of the…well...running… completely! 

As a Georgia resident, the weather does a lot of things throughout the year, including drop well below a comfortable temperature for jogs. I see the chilliness as a little challenge each year, and still run at least twice a week during the cold months. I'll cover my winter running strategies that may be useful for your throat issues and make your run more fun.

First, my strategies that keep me from getting a sore throat:

  1. I make sure my chest and throat are covered. Sounds obvious but sometimes people will just wear a crew neck sweatshirt that still leaves their throat exposed. I rock my Nike half-zips. If you don’t have a running zip-up that covers your throat, this breathable running scarf is a more affordable option. 
  2. I also consistently breath in through my nose and out through my mouth. My coaches made me do this in high school and it helped me manage cramps when running. Using this breathing technique in cold weather minutely delays the cold air hitting my throat and lungs, making breathing more controlled and less harsh.
  3. People really don’t think they'll sweat in cold weather, but depending on your exercise intensity and duration- it can absolutely happen. I usually run at least 3 miles and am always sweaty by the end. For the same reasons you hydrate well in the summer, stay well hydrated in the cold months, too. If you’re throat’s already dry, then cold, dry air will fast-track you to Sore Throat Central.

As for my general strategies,

Jogging in place at a traffic light.

Jogging in place at a traffic light.

  1. I start by putting more layers on top of that half-zip I mentioned earlier. Another obvious-sounding recommendation, but some people may choose to just wear their warmest winter coat or layered cotton long-sleeves. I like to have the option of unzipping or taking off a sweater, rather than being stuck in one hot jacket. The layers of cotton long-sleeves may be warm- but aren’t the most sweat-wicking fabric and can cling grossly to your body. I try to have a dry-fit layer closest to my skin.
  2. One of my crucial layers is my gloves because -Lawd, the first run I did this winter, I genuinely felt like my fingers were going to fall off. And it happens! Since your hands and feet are furthest from your core, they can lose heat faster and be more susceptible to frostbite. Even if it’s not cold enough for frostbite to be a concern, your uncomfortably cold hands can cause you to clench your fists, which could mean unnecessary tension in your arms and shoulders. So, wear gloves if you can!
  3. I do a dynamic warm-up to prepare my muscles. A few I do from this video include A-skips, butt kicks, birds, and high knees.
  4. Since I run around Nawfside Atlanta, aka the Gwinnett Suburbs, I stop at quite a few traffic lights. When I get to the lights I try to keep my heart rate up and my body warm by jogging in place, while bobbing my head to whatever’s bumpin' in my headphones.
  5. Speaking of headphones, I don't know how I made it through three seasons of cross country without listening to music while I ran. For some people, it helps put you in the right mindset to push yourself through the run.
  6. If you need a more literal push, you can never go wrong with a workout buddy who wants to run with you. Even if you're on different fitness levels, the fact that they want to go with you means that you have an accountability parter. If one of you is slower than the other, you can lunge while they power walk, or stop to do squats in place as they rest. An audible "let's go" can be the difference between literally going the extra mile, or turning around to go home.
  7. Finally, as your nose might be running, your head feels weirdly moist under your hat and you're wondering why you're doing this to yourself- remember the purpose you attached to this run. It's putting you closer to your health goals and proving that there's yet another obstacle that can't get in your way.
Nancy doing the Bird warm-up drill.

Nancy doing the Bird warm-up drill.

3 Themes to Give Your #HealthGoals Longevity Part I: Purpose/Intent

Resolutions come and resolutions go- especially as we get farther away from the night of sparkly dresses, champagne poppin' and countdowns. So instead of New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve identified 3 themes to guide you on your health and wellness journeys.

The themes are:

The two terms for each theme are interrelated. The first term keeps your sights on long-term holistic health, while the second is more training-specific and applicable day to day. I chose these themes based on lessons I’ve learned throughout my journey, and principles that I’ve personally applied. 

Considering the time y'all have and attention spans (no shots fired), this will be a three-part series starting with Purpose/intent.

Why are you using valuable mental space, exerting precious energy, and using limited hours to devote to health in the first place?

At first thought, maybe you signed up for that gym membership because you want to be serious about those abs you’ve been wanting to see in the mirror. Maybe at this point you just want to look great naked or find a boo. While I encourage body positivity and personal validation- these are real goals for people, and it's understandable why.

But ideally, your efforts won't be driven by a mirror, but from within. A purpose that continuously encourages you to be healthy even after you see your abs or talk to the fine guy/girl at the gym.

Some examples would be wanting to thrive and enjoy your daily activities. Having the energy to carry out your purpose in the world. Being more present or engaged when spending time with family.

Once you’ve identified the purpose of your journey, make your actions intentional and targeted towards it. From your general workout program design, to each exercise you perform, to the meals you eat, to how often you leave your desk at work. Have a plan for how you’re going to change up your routines over time to continue making progress. How is your diet and nutrient timing going to make sure you have enough energy? Are you squeezing your butt as you squat for maximal glute activation? Can you get up to take a lap around the office as a break from the deck your working on?

Beginning by setting aside 30mins to an hour for exercise is a start, but also focus on translating that purpose into intent, and be as active as possible in your wellness pursuit.

In our age of social media and gym selfies, it’s easy for our goals to have vain or superficial beginnings. The mirror can undoubtedly contribute to keeping you on track. However, starting with a deeper purpose and being intentional with your energy will keep you on this journey for the long haul.

Bookmark all three themes!

 

 

AskHuyen #2: Supersets for Super-Beginners

A topic/question you want covered by AskHuyen: 

Supersets!

Details/Specific Questions: 

I'm a beginner and would like information on supersets. The best workouts? What are considered "opposing body parts"? Help! ️

Photoshop skills on 10.

Photoshop skills on 10.

Response

Have no fear! Supersets are here! And beginner-friendly.

I’ll save the superset work-out recommendations for the end. First I want to establish exactly what supersets are, and why you’d even want to do them.

Though they may sound like the name for some extra advanced training method reserved for advanced lifters, superset just means that you’re alternating between two exercises back to back, often for opposing muscle groups and with little rest. (NSCA). 

Opposing muscle groups essentially act opposite to each other. For example during the bicep curl, the bicep contracts while the tricep lengthens. It’s usually pretty easy to identify them since most are literally opposite to each other on your body (quads and hamstrings, chest and upper back, abs and mid/lower back). Here’s a more extensive list using the scientific names.

I enjoy supersets when I’m trying to hit muscle groups hard while saving time. 

Alternating between opposing muscle groups during a circuit allows some muscles to rest briefly while you work the other muscle group. When I bench press, I’m primarily using my chest, while my back helps me stabilize. Then I can go straight into a bent-over row, where my back now does most of the work.

Emphasize brief* rest periods between the two exercises, because it helps keep intensity nice and high- increasing your Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), which translates to more work for your muscles and higher calorie burn. If I wasn’t supersetting and had just finished some heavy front squats, my quads would need to rest longer, allowing me to catch my breath for longer- decreasing my EPOC. Instead, I could superset the squats by going into deadlifts since my hamstrings would be ready to do more work.

With only two exercises per circuit, you'll also get the benefit of not moving around the gym as much or hog as much equipment as you might need to for a longer circuit. You can complete a superset of bicep curls and tricep extension with the pull of an iron pin/safety lever on the cable machine with no travel at all.

As a beginner, don't overdo it on your weights- focus on maintaining proper form. Despite that shorter rest periods can increase intensity, keep your training level in mind your rest periods so that you don't pass out. No one wants that. My good friend and C.S.C.S. Aaron High noted that supersetting completely different muscle groups could be best for super-beginners. During a quad-dominant front squat, you’re still activating your hamstrings somewhat, so to ensure enough rest, you can go straight into some push ups instead of deadlifts. 

As you train more you'll be able to lift heavier weights and rest less in between opposing muscle groups.

Okay, now here are some common supersets including those mentioned throughout the article:

  • Bench Press (Chest)- Bent Over Row (Back)
  • Bicep Curl - Tricep Extension
  • Squats (Quads) - Deadlifts (Hamstrings)
  • Leg Extensions (Quads)- Leg Curls  (Hamstrings)
  • Back Squat (Lower) - Push Up/Chin Up (can be assisted) (Upper)

Hope this helps and keep the questions coming!

AskHuyen #1: Breasts and Barbells

The most common questions I’ve heard about the effects of exercise on breasts are:

  1. Will too much working out make my chest smaller?

  2. Can I do any exercises to make my boobs bigger?

My answer to both questions would be - don't stress it! As long as you're working your opposing muscle groups proportionally, and you're getting stronger and healthier- that's what counts!

But just in case you're looking for more of an explanation, here's a few points I need to lay out first:

  • First, every boob is a beautiful snowflake. Really- the ratio of fat to glandular tissue in each pair of breasts varies from person to person. 
  • Next, spot treating fat on particular body parts is not an accurate conception of fat loss. When you lose body fat via exercise, you’re losing that fat throughout your body.
  • Finally, your chest muscles lie under the breast tissue. Increases in chest muscle does not equate to increases in breast tissue.

Therefore, the answer to question 1 is: it depends. “Too much working out” is relative, but the flatter chests you might see in female body builders are due to abnormally low body fat percentages. If you’re like me, and are trying to hold on to what you’ve been gifted while chiseling out some abs- then you do not have to fear as long as your body fat stays within a healthy range.

On the other hand, if you are trying to decrease your bust, exercise and a proper diet contribute to fat loss overall, which would include the fat tissue in your breasts.

The answer to question 2 is: technically no, exercise cannot increase your bust. But perceptually, exercise can. Working the chest muscles helps with posture, i.e. fixing imbalances such as rounded shoulders- allowing your chest to get its proper shine if that’s what you seek.

The bottom line is that chest exercises should be included as part of a balanced exercise regimen. Regardless of any concerns for the appearance of your chest, a healthy body that can easily participate in activities of daily living i.e. opening doors, washing scalps, or punching people (not my daily life but, hey)- requires attention of all major muscle groups.

 

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