I think that arm day is a day when I actually see a lot of results right in the moment of working the muscles. I love seeing all the definition, veins, and toning that happens just from simple curls. You can use dumbbells, barbells, or cables …
6 Essential Items to Bring to the Gym
Ok, I have to be honest. I don’t bring a gym bag to the gym. I see a lot of people who because they carry their pre-workout, protein, towels, clothes for after working out, and so on. However, I typically go straight home after the gym so I am able to get my snacks, protein, shower, and change clothes at home. There are many more items I could add to this list that I don’t use. So when I say gym bag must haves, that means just items I take to the gym (and not all the time depending on the item).
Resistance bands have so much versatility to them. You can use them alone at home or take them to the gym to incorporate into your regular weight lifting workouts and up the intensity. I have a set of 5 levels of resistance from extra light to extra heavy that I purchased on Amazon for about $10. I tend to use the extra heavy the most for the ultimate resistance and challenge, but I have used the lighter ones for stretching out my legs gently as well. My primary use for the bands is on leg days, but they could be used for other areas like arm days too.
Ankle Cable Attachments
My gym has a lot of cable attachments, but there aren’t any ankle cable attachments. A lot of times people improvise with a handle piece, but it does not stay put on your feet all the time. I ordered some ankle straps from Amazon that wrap around your ankle and strap together with velcro. Then you can easily clip the carabiner to the strap piece to do some great leg workouts. I typically use these for glute kickbacks, single leg standing abductors, or lunge squats.
Last year I started the 8 week Katy Hearn Challenge that my sister did the year prior. That is when I officially became a notebook carrier at the gym. I wrote out the specific workouts with some of the hashtags that Katy provided as well. This way in case I forgot how to do the exercise properly or had no idea what it looked like, I could look up the hashtag on Instagram to see a video demo. If you are working out with a specific goal in mind, such as losing weight, increasing strength, hitting a PR, etc. then a notebook is a must have! I also brought a pen with me to record the weight I used and the reps along with my personal weight each day.
The interesting piece is that this year I am going through the challenge again, so I am able to see what I was capable of doing last year versus now. It’s insane to see such personal growth in just a year. I was deadlifting 45 pounds and now I can do 90. My leg extensions were at 40 pounds and I can do 100 pounds now.
Book to Read
I mainly do weight lifting now, so cardio just isn’t as enjoyable. Sometimes I will watch YouTube videos, but there are some days that I’m not feeling that either. So, bringing a book is a great way to distract yourself from the 30 minutes of stair master. This is also a great way to force yourself to focus. Usually I get distracted by my phone or dogs when I try reading at home. Cardio gives you that time to get two productive activities done at the same time!
So this is probably an obvious one. However, if you do high intensity workouts, you need to stay hydrated. In general it’s good to drink a lot of water throughout the day. While working out it’s even more important due to sweating. Of course you don’t want to over drink especially if you are doing heavy cardio or HIIT exercises as you might feel sick. So be sure to pack your favorite water bottle before heading to the gym.
Not everyone listens to music while working out, but sometimes it can be a great tool to get you focused. Play a song that gets you pumped up for a workout. Music can just get you in the zone to do your best.
I used to have an armband and regular headphones. It was SO annoying. My headphones would always pull out of my phone when I did certain exercises. The cord would get in the way. I couldn’t see the screen when I wanted to change my music. So, I invested in some Bluetooth headphones from Amazon. Now, I don’t think these are the greatest headphones either, but they were under $30, so you get what you pay for I suppose. I no longer have to worry about yanking my headphones out while doing pushups. Changing songs is so much easier. I can even change the volume or pause the music just from the headphones. This purchase has definitely made working out easier and more enjoyable.
What items do you bring to the gym on a regular basis? Comment below!
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Intensify to Your Leg Day with a Resistance Band
This past Christmas my sister and I basically got each other the same gift…a pack of resistance bands. Clearly we are gym rats who know each other well! I had seen a few people bringing their own at the gym and thought that would be a great way to increase intensity at the gym especially on leg days.
We both ordered our bands on Amazon for about $10. The pack contains 5 varying levels of resistance from extra light to extra heavy. Both of us typically use extra heavy unless we are stretching and then we go lighter. Depending on the exercise, you’ll have to judge what you are comfortable with, but I would say increase the resistance to the highest you can handle. Don’t cut yourself short of a challenge!
Check out these 5 resistance band exercises that are sure to add some intensity to your leg day!
Shoulder Squats on the Smith Machine with Leg Abductions
This has to be one of my favorite exercises for leg day. I put a total of 30 pounds on the Smith Machine and place a squat bar sleeve/cushion for comfort. Place the resistance band around your ankles. Stand with your feet under your hips and your left shoulder under the bar. You want to have the bar comfortably resting. I typically put both my hands lightly on the bar just for balance.
Squat so that your butt is parallel to the floor and be sure that your knees don’t roll over your toes. After standing back up, extend your right leg to the side away from your body. That is one rep. I do this about 8-10 times and count that as a set. Then go to the other side of the bar to rest it on your right shoulder. This time you will be extending your left leg.
Squat shuffles are an awesome exercise because they can be done pretty much anywhere if you have your resistance band. Put the band around your ankles, bend your knees, and squat. While staying in the squat position, step one leg to the side and then bring the other leg in to get back in the starting position. I typically do these down an aisle at the gym by doing 10 staring with my right leg and then I go back up the aisle for 10 more starting with my left leg.
Try not to let yourself stand up straight or bounce during the shuffle. The goal is to remain low. Think about having a ceiling above your head that you don’t want to hit. You should feel the outer part of your quads and your glutes burning.
Sumo squats can be pretty intense without an band, so adding a band can really make it a challenge. I typically get a 45-55 pound dumbbell or kettlebell. Place the band about midway on your thighs. Stand with your feet pointed about 45 degrees outward. These are called sumo squats because you stand like a sumo wrestler, so be sure your stance is wide. Holding the dumbbell or kettlebell in your hands, squat down so your butt is parallel to the floor. You’ll have to keep your knees strong as the resistance band will try to pull your knees inward.
Kettlebell One Legged Dead Lift
Find a place that you can rest one hand on like a bench, rack, or even a wall. Get a kettlebell you can hold with one hand. Put the resistance band around your ankles. Your body will be doing somewhat of a see-saw movement. Ground your left foot and hold the kettlebell in your left hand. Tip out at the hips while lifting up your right leg until your chest and leg are about parallel to the floor. With the resistance band it’s going to be a challenge to get your leg up that high, but push yourself!
The key here is to not grab onto the bench, rack, or wall for your dear life. You are just doing a slight grip to stabilize your balance. Also, you want to keep a flat back and proper spine alignment. Do not round out or arch your back. Remember this is a leg day, not a back day! So if you start to feel too much pain in your back you should probably decrease your reps.
Reverse Leg Lifts
You could do this laying on a mat on the floor or to increase the intensity even more you could find a bench or aerobics stepper. You put the resistance band around your calves and lay on your stomach. If you are using a bench or a stepper, be sure that only your legs are hanging off. Have your legs a little wider than hip width to activate the resistance in the band. Keeping your legs somewhat straight, lift your legs up and then down. To change it up, you could do an out-in movement at the top of the lift.
If you are starting to get bored with your workouts or you feel as though you’ve reach a plateau, I highly suggest incorporating resistance bands. These can be used at home or in the gym. Plus, they are useful for stretching and even other targeted areas.
What are your favorite exercises to do with a resistance band? Comment below!
5 Moves to Build Your Quads
I have already done one leg day circuit post, but since legs are my favorite to work I figured I’d do another post. I will probably do more in the future as well just because there is such a variety when it comes to working legs. This post will primarily focus on quads which tends to have different variations of squats!
Some things to be careful with on leg day:
- Don’t let your knee go over your ankle otherwise you may end up hurting yourself (specifically with lunges or squats)
- Ever hear, “lift with your legs, not your back?” Try to work on using your legs in all the workouts and not your back. You may notice when you first do these workouts (especially if you are not used to them), that your lower back will be sore. That means you need to rely more on your leg strength. It takes a lot of thinking while doing the exercise, but then you’ll be working the right area!
- If you have knee issues you may want to wear a knee brace or sleeve. Hamstring workouts tend to really bother my knees, so I sometimes go lighter on those workouts.
I do 4 sets of each workout. You can decide how many reps to do based on your level of intensity. Over time, you should either increase reps or weight.
Workout: Barbell Squats
Muscle Group: Quads
Barbell squats can be very challenging and require a lot of focus in order to have the right form. If you are a newbie at these I suggest going light and having someone spot you until you feel comfortable. Squats still make me nervous when I go up in weight. I’m constantly trying to find ways to improve my form by asking for my sister’s opinion. It also helps to watch yourself in a mirror if possible.
- Start off by warming up with the bar which is usually 45 pounds. This helps you get your form right.
- Your stance can vary, but I tend to point my toes out very slightly and prefer a more wide stance.
- Position the bar comfortably on the back of your neck and shoulders. Try not to let the bar roll directly on your vertebrae on your neck. This will cause a lot of discomfort.
- Use a light grip with your hands on the bar. I typically leave my fingers up instead of around the bar. I do this because before I found that I was gripping the bar so tightly that it was putting more unnecessary pressure on my shoulders and neck.
- Start to squat down like you are sitting in a chair. You should try to get your butt to at least be parallel to the floor.
- Try to keep your chest up and your back neutral. You don’t want to arch it too much or curve it too much because then you are applying more pressure on your back instead of your legs.
- When coming up from the squat think about driving all your weight into your feet and only relying on your legs to push you up.
- At the top of the movement, squeeze your butt and thrust your hips a forward a bit. This may feel awkward at first, but it makes the workout more effective.
Workout: Sumo Squats
Muscle Group: Quads
- Get a single dumbbell that you can hold with both hands (I typically do 50 pounds).
- Stand with your feet in a wide, but comfortable stance with your toes turned outward about 45 degrees.
- Grab the weight with both hands, but keep your arms straight the whole time.
- Squat until the weight almost hits the floor, but doesn’t ever really touch.
- Stand up while squeezing your leg and glutes at the top.
Workout: Leg Extensions: Double Leg and Single Leg
Muscle Group: Quads
- Adjust the leg extension machine to your height and comfort
- Start with both legs using a heavier weight
- Then in the same set, lower the weight and only lift with your right leg.
- Then switch to your left leg.
- Each set is double-single-single….YES! Your legs will feel like they are on fire! 🙂
Workout: Seated Leg Press
Muscle Group: Quads
- Adjust the seat leg press to your height and comfort
- Put your feet so that they are hip width apart
- Push your body back with your legs and then lower back down without re-racking the weight
- Try not to lock your legs and make them completely straight as this can be dangerous.
Workout: Cable Squats
Muscle Group: Quads & Glutes
- Lower the cable all the way to the ground.
- Attach a close grip handle.
- For the weight you can probably start fairly heavy as legs tend to be stronger than arms. I generally use about 50 pounds here.
- Grab the close grip handle with both hands and take about 2 steps back. Stand with your feet under your hips.
- Squat low to the ground and then come up with control to squeeze at the top (your body will slightly be angled) without re-racking the weight.
- This is going to be more challenging to control because of the pull from the cable.
After a day of working quads I usually am drenched in sweat, super sore, and pumped. Hopefully you felt the same! Did you try these workouts? What did you think?