Archive for January, 2014

This week for me has been all about the pyramid.  I frequently change up my routines and rep schemes to maximize either strength, endurance, or power.  Enter, pyramids…with this classic workout scheme, you can get the best of “all” worlds.  Simply put, pyramids follow either an upward or downward scheme of reps, weight, or sets.  If you’re creative, there are an endless number of ways you can create your own pyramid.  The most popular variations are

  • Ascending:  This is where you increase the weight but decrease the reps with each successive set
  • Descending:  You decrease the weight but increase the reps with each successive set
  • “Triangle”:  This will include both ascending and descending

Here’s why I love it:  You can set up pyramids to include as few or as many sets as you want.  The higher reps can increase muscular endurance, the moderate reps/weight can focus on muscle hypertrophy, and the super low reps/heaviest weight can enhance your maximum strength and power.  These rep schemes are mere guidelines for their “intended purpose”…any resistance training you do will build muscle and time under tension is one of the greatest determinants.  Again, another reason to love pyramids.  If you do the triangle version, you can have as many as 7 +sets….increased volume = increased time under tension = gains!


Here is an example of a higher volume pyramid set that you can do:

  • Set 1:  Light weight: 15 reps
  • Set 2:  Light/medium weight:  12 reps
  • Set 3:  Medium weight: 10 reps
  • Set 4:  Medium/heavy weight:  8 reps
  • Set 5:  Heaviest weight: 3-6 reps
  • Set 6:  Medium/heavy weight:  Aim for 8 reps
  • Set 7:  Medium weight:  Aim for 10 reps
  • Set 8:  Light/medium weight:  Aim for 12 reps
  • Set 9:  Light weight:  Aim for 15 reps

Notice for the descending portion, I wrote “Aim for” with the reps.  If you’re working intensely (as you should be!) during your workout, you may be fatigued and not quite able to complete all the reps with good form/safety.

And here is an example of a lower volume “Ascending” Pyramid set:

  • Set 1:  Light weight 12 reps
  • Set 2:  Medium weight:  10 reps
  • Set 3:  Heavy weight:  6-8 reps
  • Set 4:  Heaviest or attempting PR:  2-4 reps

So you see, the only limitation is your imagination.  If you’ve never tried pyramids before, add some to your next workout!

Before we get started, I’m going to poke a little fun at myself (and maybe some of you too! :-))

You might be a gym rat if…

  • You own more workout clothes than regular clothes
  • Your sink is full of dirty shaker cups
  • You think the 5 food groups are chicken, egg whites, brown rice, protein powder, and broccoli
  • You have a special pair of shoes for leg day
  • You think your job is seriously cutting into your gym time
  • You can easily count by 45’s
  • You get more excited when your supplement package arrives than on Christmas or your birthday
  • Your taglines are “beastmode on” “killed it” “nailed it” or “grrr”
  • You can’t pass by a mirror without at least one flex or pose
  • You’ve perfected the mirror selfie
  • You eat most of your meals cold and out of Tupperware
  • The saddest day of the week is “Rest Day”
  • You just finished a killer workout but all you can think about is your NEXT workout

Feel free to add any more that you can think of in the comments section!

Ok, but seriously, I want to talk about one of my favorite products that I’ve been using on a consistent basis from Top Secret Nutrition:  BCAA Hyperblend Energy.  Now, let me tell you why I love this stuff.  First of all, it has caffeine in it (and if you’re like me, you can never get enough caffeine ;-)).  There’s 150mg in each scoop to be exact – about 1 1/2 cups of coffee.  But that’s just the start:  There is a 3:1:1 ratio of leucine:isoleucine:valine.  Leucine has been the star player out of all the BCAAs for its role in protein synthesis, providing energy to muscles, and overall muscle recovery.  It is also an essential amino acid meaning you need to either get it from your diet or supplement (because your body cannot make it).  There are also other ingredients included in this supplement to aid in absorption.  All of this for about 5 calories….winner!

So, how do I use it?  Well, I could literally drink this stuff all day long!  My favorite ways to use it:

  • during a longer workout when I will need the extra fuel for my muscles and the additional energy from the caffeine
  • for an afternoon pick-me-up when I am between meals and want a little something to get me past that 2 pm slump.  It’s great to add to my big jug of water so it makes drinking all of my fluids much easier.  There are 3 great flavors to choose from:  watermelon, pink lemonade, and blue raspberry.  Don’t want the caffeine?  Not to worry, TSN also has regular BCAA Hyperblend WITHOUT the added caffeine.

“I’m going to go warm-up first”…  So I hop on the treadmill or bike for 5 minutes before my workout right?  Well, sort of…I’m certainly guilty of improperly warming up myself.  Our precious gym time can be short and who wants to waste time warming up…I want to get to the good stuff!

What is a proper warm-up, what will it do for me, and how should I do it?  A proper warm-up will serve several purposes.  It will increase your body temperature, improve circulation and therefore oxygen delivery, improve elasticity and control of muscles, and prevent injury.  I also find a mental benefit.  It gives me those extra minutes to get focused on my workout.

Below I’m going to give an example of a series of activities that can get you ready for your workout:  you can take as little as 5 minutes if you like.  (Don’t forget your Top Secret Nutrition Cardio Igniter or Pump Igniter first! ;-))

  1. Go ahead and get on the cardio equipment for a few minutes if you like.  I would limit this to 5 minutes maximum.
  2. Foam Rolling:  doing a little self myofascial release can be great before or after your workout.  See my previous blog on Foam Rolling for more specifics  This step isn’t absolutely necessary, but if you have the time and the equipment, I definitely recommend it.  Personally, I do most of my foam rolling after my workout at home.
  3. Here’s the bread and butter part.  Dynamic stretching – this is essentially stretching with movement.  Gone are the days of stretching each muscle with a 30 second hold before engaging in activity (save this for after).  There are no static holds involved (each movement is held for no more than a few seconds).  You can pick and choose any activity that will suit your workout or you can do a full body circuit of dynamic stretches.  Some examples include:  jumping jacks, arm circles, lunges with a twist, knee-to-chest (alternately pulling the knee in toward the chest while walking/standing in place), straight-leg high kicks, or any other variety of bodyweight activities (push-ups, lunges, squats).  You just have to be creative and make sure that you are working at improving your overall range of motion and flexibility for the muscles involved.
  4. Rehearsal Lift:  Don’t just load up the weights and go.  Perform one to two sets of your target exercise with a significantly lighter weight before you hit your working sets.  DO NOT overdo the reps here.  Just because you can easily bang out 20 reps doesn’t mean you should; limit it to 10 reps or less.  Save your energy for the big weights!

So, steps 1 and 2 are not entirely necessary but go ahead and do them if you have time or want to.  Definitely stick to steps 3 and 4 if you want to improve your lifts and prevent injury.  Overall, it shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes.  Now get going!

The end of 2013 was one hell of a roller-coaster for me and my family.  The rush of the holidays on top of  everyday life can certainly wear one down.  But that is small beans compared to what was to come.  On Christmas night, in one sudden moment, I lost my mom.  She had been ill for awhile but this was completely unexpected.  Several days after the funeral, my dad landed in the hospital for almost a week.  The last couple of weeks have been one blurred nightmare.

This has certainly been a serious wake-up call.  In an instant, it can all be changed forever.

Health – something we certainly don’t think too much about until we don’t have it.  I don’t care who you are or how much money you make, if you don’t have your health, you’ve got nothing.  If you follow my blogs or my facebook page regularly, you’re most likely into some facet of fitness.  So, good for you!  We all need to take good care of ourselves to the best of our abilities.  There are many things that are under our control and some that aren’t.  Exercise, food choices, sleep, smoking, alcohol use, etc. – we can all make conscious choices regarding these.  We can’t change our genes or family history of certain diseases but we can choose to live our lives to minimize the effects.

I am not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions.  I know it’s the start of a new year, but why do we have to wait until January 1st to make a positive change in our lives?  That aside, I am going to work to make goals for 2014 regarding health not just physique goals or competition goals.  Being a mom, I am often putting my own needs on the back burner to take care of my kids.  But, what good would I be if I wasn’t healthy?  I plan to catch up on any medical stuff I may have set aside to make sure I’m as good on the inside as I am on the outside!

So, I challenge you to do the same.  Keep on top of your health as much as you keep on top of your workouts or meal prep.  Try to quit a nagging bad habit if you have one, drop the weight that’s been plaguing you, get more sleep, get off the computer and go workout (but finish reading this first! ;-)), or whatever else will positively influence your health.  Let’s make 2014 one hell of a healthy year!