Training with Kettlebells and Sandbags

Functional athletic training with little or no equipment has been making serious leaps in popularity recently. Whether you’re training with your own bodyweight, hefting around a heavy sandbag, or swinging a kettlebell, these workouts combine strength training with flexibility and cardio for killer core workouts that improve your power and performance.  They let you train healthy movement patterns across multiple planes for a functional stability and strength that will see you through your favorite athletic pursuits. Since you’re training movement patterns, there are a few things to keep in mind to avoid injury and to get the most out of your session.

Safely. Setting up a safe environment is key when you’re working with kettlebells. Keep a good amount of space between you and you any training partners (including pets!) and make sure you have a flat, stable floor to work on. Hopefully you won’t lose control of your kettlebell, but it happens…so avoid injury and risk by training in a safe, forgiving space. You should also pay extra attention to picking up your bell or bag with good form. Avoid rounding your back and focus on bending your knees to pick up from a low position. You’ll want to continue this action of lifting low and engaging your core throughout your workout.

Stability. Kettlebell and sandbag training sessions challenge your stability from your ankles up by taking you through a large range of motion with a shifting load. That’s the reason some athletes tackle these sessions barefoot. Avoid highly cushioned shoes or those with elevated heels, which will add instability to your form and reduce the power of your actions. A minimalist shoe designed for weightlifting or cross training is a better bet and will let you use your feet to power through the movement.

Posture. Putting most of the load into your shoulders and upper back is a common mistake made by newcomers. Success in these training techniques requires more action in the lower body. Start with a lighter weight and work into a deeper squat, using the power of your legs and glutes to lift the weight. Press into your heels to lift your hips and focus on stabilizing the weight with your hips and low core as you move the weight to your shoulders (or higher). The kettlebell swing is a good movement to start with as you practice this sequence of actions. As the weight comes low, you should be bending the knees and shifting your weight back into your heels. As you swing the weight back up, you should reverse the process by pressing into your heels to lift your hips, powering the swing from your lower body and core. At this point, shift your weight forward and lift the kettlebell higher.

Finally, there are two are two basic approaches to choosing your swing height. Bringing the kettlebell to shoulder height works your core stability and ensures that you have control of the kettlebell. It’s generally considered to be the safer approach. If your shoulders are healthy and your core strength is good, you can work into overhead swings.This is a bigger cardiovascular and strength challenge, and gives you the opportunity to work in additional movements (such as squats or twists) at the top of the swing. For more training ideas on how to use your kettlebells, kettelbellworks.com offers a great overview of ways to train and tips for getting the most from your training sessions.

In addition to kettlebells, sandbags are another versatile, low equipment option for strength training. A good bag should come with several, well secured handles, allowing you to work even more movement patterns than is convenient with a kettlebell. Men’s Fitness has a nice starting workout, as well as tips for setting up your sandbag. Because of their shifting weight load, sandbags seriously challenge your stability. You can optimize this challenge by including (well-sealed) bags of water in your sandbag, or using a not-quite full bag. Both kettlebells and sandbags can be combined with bodyweight exercises and your favorite Vision Home Fitness equipment to add a bigger challenge to your movement patterns and increase your strength training load, preparing you for nearly anything.

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Adding Strength Training Into Your Cardio Routine: Part 2

If you’re seeking to gain greater muscle definition, visible strength, or want to better address muscle imbalances, there’s no need to add expensive equipment to your strength training workouts. Incorporating a few dumbbells and resistance bands isn’t a big investment in time or space and you can even tuck some into an ottoman or under a bookshelf if you don’t have a lot of space to store equipment. As a continuation of our circuit-style strength training article, here are a two inexpensive ways to increase your strength training options.

Add a few free-weights. Dumbbells will give you options for targeting your biceps and back muscles, which tend to be areas we want more growth and definition than can be easily reached through bodyweight training. You can also start adding resistance to your lower body and core work by combining upper body dumbbell work with a lower body or core movement such as a lunging bicep curl or a chest press using a fitness ball.

Adding dumbbells is generally something you want to do if you’re seeking muscle growth and more power, which means you want to stick to low or moderate reps (not more than ten) over the three sets you perform. For most women, start with about 10 pounds for working the arms and 15 pounds for the back. Men can generally add five pounds to those numbers as a starting point and build from there. To get started with basic dumbbell exercises, this website provides a way of targeting almost any body part using these simple weights.

Snap to it with resistance bands. If you want to see improvement in performance and function, as well as long, lean muscle, resistance tubing is a great alternative to free weights. Tubing also travels well, making it a great way to stick to your workouts on the road. You can begin by adding in lower body challenges or use tubing to target your entire body and core. If you’re looking for inspiration, these resistance band exercises will give you plenty of ways to step up the intensity of your intervals, and increase your power and performance both on and off the sports field this spring.

Overall, adding in strength and bodyweight circuits into your cardio routine is a great way to keep your heart rate up so you don’t have to choose between strength training and cardio when time is short.

Do you have a favorite bodyweight or strength circuit? Share in the comments below.

Adding Strength Training Into Your Cardio Routine

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Are tight schedules and a lack of equipment keeping you from getting the benefits of strength training? If you find yourself making excuses rather than making your workouts, it’s time to develop a program that works with you and your schedule. Low equipment and no equipment forms of strength training are excellent ways to build muscle and improve your functional movements. Plus, adding in circuit-style strength training to your cardio workouts at home can keep your heart rate up so you don’t have to choose between strength training and cardio when time is short.

From burpees to tuck jumps, there are plenty of equipment-free ways to keep your heart pumping while you build muscle. If adding impact to your workouts seems a bit extreme, you can choose no-impact options such as planks and squats. Bodyweight strength training will increase your functional capacity, making you stronger for the movements you do (or should be doing) every day.

A great program might start with a warm-up on your Vision treadmill, indoor bike or elliptical, followed by five stations of exercises targeting the chest and/or back, lower body, core, arms, or entire body at once. Spend one minute at each station and repeat the entire circuit 2-3 times depending on your schedule. During the second and third rounds, you can increase the intensity on your fitness equipment to be sure that you keep your heart rate within your cardiovascular training zone. If you’re already in good shape, try to aim for intense intervals during your time on your fitness equipment, as well as during your lower and full body exercises.

For options that will suit everyone from beginners to athletes, this list of 50 Bodyweight Exercises you can do anywhere will give you plenty of choices to design your first circuit and keep it fresh for months to come. If you need help designing your first workout, here’s an example of a beginner workout using bodyweight exercises.

Whether you’re just getting started or want to seriously power up your workouts, low equipment and no equipment forms of strength training are excellent ways to build muscle and improve your functional movements.

Check out part two of this article on how to add in more free weight and resistance band workouts to boost your home cardio routine.

Five Simple Ways to Boost Your Heart’s Health

As we round the corner into spring, it is a great time to check-in and renew your commitment to a healthy year. A heart-healthy year. If you want to be healthy into your old age, it’s important to begin treating your heart well early on. The American Heart Association emphasizes maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, a healthy diet, and smoking cessation as primary steps towards preventing heart disease. Assuming you’re up to date on your most recent physical, blood work, and doctor recommendations, what are the biggest ways to impact your heart with your daily choices? Here are five simple ways to boost your heart’s health.Heart Healthy Tips

Avoid Processed Foods. Steering clear of processed foods not only limits hidden sugars, sodium, and fake ingredients that sneak into your diet, it also forces you to emphasize the foods that reduce inflammation, improve your immunity and are packed with fiber, protein and micronutrients that do everything from boost your heart health to increase your ability to recover from your last workout. Try switching your breakfast cereal to oatmeal, which can assist in lowering your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, or building your meals around five foods that benefit your heart to include more produce, lean protein and healthy fats in your diet.

Get Your Workouts Started. For overall heart health, get moving at least 150 minutes per week. That can be 30 minutes every day, 10 minutes a few times each day, or an hour a few times each week. If you are new to working out regularly, or have current heart issues, this is a good zone to stay in for a few months to build up your endurance and confidence. Once these workouts become easier to accomplish and part of your everyday routine, it’s time to start making them tougher. You can start by adding in a tough workout (see below) once or twice a week.

Toughen Up your Workouts. Including tough workouts in your program is one of the best ways to help you manage your weight, as well as challenge your heart to make it stronger. Working out hard means your workouts can be shorter, accomplishing more in less time on busy days. A hard workout also means you’re challenging your heart at a higher level, increasing your cardiovascular fitness, your post workout recovery demands (calorie burn) and building muscle. If your current workouts are bringing you into your aerobic threshold (about 60-70% of your maximum heart rate) and you’re in good physical health, you can start to bring in some interval training that increases your heart rate to between 85% and 100% of your maximum heart rate for brief periods (30 seconds to 2 minutes) during your training. You can do this by increasing either the speed or the resistance on your Vision home fitness equipment, or by using the interval setting provided on most machines.

Lift Weights. To keep improving your overall health and daily functioning, considering adding in some strength training. At a minimum, shoot for two strength training sessions each week, hitting the major muscle groups of your body. If you’re looking to start building muscle and improve your performance, slowly add in a third session to help you see results. (Just be sure to give yourself a day to recover between workouts.) To get even more out of your workout and increase the cardiovascular impact, combine movements to target multiple muscle groups at once, such as stepping into a lunge with a bicep curl or doing full body planks and push-ups to strengthen nearly everything in your body. Another idea is to including strength training as a part of a circuit approach, alternating 60-90 seconds of one exercise with the same period of time on your cardio equipment. Your body will be cashing in on the body changing benefits of a weight routine in no time.

Manage Stress. By choosing regular exercise and a healthy diet, you’ve taken some important steps towards controlling the stress in your life. You can add to those steps by including mindfulness, gratitude, meditation or yoga in your fitness routine. For more suggestions, check out the American Heart Association’s resources on understanding and managing stress. These steps can all pay you back with a happier life now – and better health in the long run.

Do you have a question about general fitness, goal setting, getting the most out of your Vision Fitness equipment, etc.? Our fitness experts would love to answer your question in an upcoming blog post on VisionFitness.com. Just leave your question in the comments below.