Author: Piper Phillips

5 Ways Exercise Makes You Happy

Sure, you know exercise is good for you. It keeps your weight in check, makes you stronger, and keeps your heart running smoothly into old age.

But did you know that exercise can also lead to greater happiness?

It’s true.

When you work out and stay active on a regular basis, it’s not just a coincidence that you feel less stressed out, less anxious and generally happier.

5 Ways Exercise Makes You Happier

1. It releases “happy chemicals” into your brain

Dopamine is a chemical in the brain called a neurotransmitter that’s necessary for feelings of pleasure and happiness.

Scientists believe that as we age, we’re constantly losing our stores of dopamine — which is why we need to constantly seek out experiences that release dopamine, or that you need dopamine to do.

The best way to increase your brain’s dopamine production? Exercise.

So just exercise more, and more “happy chemicals” will be released in your brain.

2. It eases stress

Regular exercise helps you become less stressed out in the short and long term.

That’s because when you exercise, you’re actually subjecting yourself to a low-level form of stress by raising your heart rate and triggering a burst of hormonal changes.

When you subject yourself to the stress of exercise enough, your body will eventually get better at handling the rest of life’s stressors.

And less stress equals a happier, healthier life.

3. It energizes you

We all have days when we feel way too tired to exercise — and I’m no exception.

But no matter how exhausted I am, I always force myself to fit in a workout.

And you know what? I almost always have more energy after my workout than I did before it.

In fact, research has shown that exercise is better at upping energy levels than stimulants.

So if you push yourself to get off the couch and get into workout mode, you’ll most likely feel more energized afterwards — and throughout the rest of the day.

And more energy equals greater happiness.

4. It leaves you feeling less anxious

Recent studies on the effects of exercise show that in people suffering from anxiety, the immediate mood boost from exercise is followed by longer-term relief, similar to that offered by medication and talk therapy.

In fact, according to Daniel Landers, a professor emeritus in the Department of Kinesiology at Arizona State University, exercise seems to work better than relaxation, meditation, stress education and music therapy at easing anxiety.

So next time you’re feeling anxious, skip the meditation and music therapy and try a hard workout instead — you’ll feel better for days on end!

5. It combats insomnia

Trouble sleeping? Lack of exercise may be your problem.

Staying active on a regular basis has been shown to improve sleeping problems of insomniacs and people with sleep disorders.

Not only can regular exercise significantly improve your sleep quality, it can also give you that pep that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning and do things.

And that equals greater happiness, every time.

Summary

Exercise, and get happy
Next time you’re feeling down, stressed or anxious, get off the couch and go get some exercise.

Because not only does exercise keep your heart happy and help you maintain a healthy weight, it can also change your outlook on life to a more positive one.

So exercise more, and you’ll be a happier and healthier person for life.

Best Alternatives to Squats and Lunges + Modifications

The Thrillist 31-day fitness challenge alternatives to squats and lunges

Hey, y’all!

If you landed on this page, chances are you’ve signed up for Thrillist’s 31-Day Gym-Free Fitness Challenge – I’m so glad you’re taking part! Lots of you have been contacting me about alternatives to squats and lunges, primarily due to your bum knees.

I get it.

Sometimes these exercises hurt me, too. Below you’ll find a whole slew of options, but I want to make a few notes before proceeding:

  1. If you’re dealing with an acute injury (something that just happened and is causing intense pain), please don’t start or continue the program until you’ve either: 1) talked to a doctor and you’ve been cleared to exercise, or 2) you’ve given the injury time to rest and it’s no longer causing acute pain. Preferably do both.
  2. I’m not a doctor and I’m not there with you to see or interpret which exercises or motions are causing pain. Use your best judgment when selecting alternative exercises and focus on those movements that don’t irritate or exacerbate whatever you’ve got going on. Not every exercise listed below will work for every person. 
  3. When in doubt, rest or stick to low-impact cardio, such as walking, swimming, or cycling. Even if you’re gung-ho to get on track with your exercise routine, it’s best to allow injuries the chance to heal, and it’s best not to exacerbate chronic issues you already have. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to a lifetime of health.

Now that that’s out of the way, feel free to proceed! I’m embedding videos of each exercise (some are mine, some are other people’s) below, with a few quick notes on proper form. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments, on Twitter or Instagram @girlsgonesporty, or through email: [email protected]

Another note! Many of these exercises are unilateral, which means they work each side individually. Make sure you always balance out the exercise by performing the same number of sets, reps, and/or time to each side. If you have questions about this, ask!

Equipment: While the Thrillist exercises are all equipment-free, some of these variations do suggest equipment, namely dumbbells, a stability ball (you can sub sliders or paper plates), resistance band, and a low step or bench.

Best Squat and lunge modifications

Squats and lunges aren’t for everyone, so there’s no need to feel bad if they’re completely off-limits for you, but if you can slowly work your way up to these movements, I highly recommend trying.

You see, both exercises are compound, closed-chain, functional moves that target all of the major muscle groups of your lower body while also engaging your core. They’re also great for developing and maintaining bone mass through the legs, hips and low back.

If you want to try a few modifications, check these versions out:

1. Shallow squats

Shallow squats are essentially the typical squat movement, but you only perform roughly the top quarter of the exercise. So instead of squatting down until your knees form 90-degree angles, you just press your hips back and lower your glutes a few inches.

You can do these up against a table or counter, as shown in the video below, or without, as shown in this video (they wouldn’t let me embed it – sorry!).

Just remember, keep your weight in your heels (try wiggling your toes while you squat to prevent yourself from shifting your weight to the balls of your feet), and initiate the movement by pressing your hips back first, rather than bending your knees first.

2. Wall squat

The wall squat is a static exercise that helps build strength at the exact angle where your knees and hips are positioned.

You can perform wall squats with any degree of bend in your knees, so there’s absolutely no reason you have to perform the exercise with your knees bent at 90-degrees.

Another advantage is that because you’re pressing your hips and torso against the wall, you remove some of the pressure from your lower body while still challenging your quads, hamstrings, glutes and core.

3. Chair squat

Chair squats are a good alternative because they focus on the “negative” or eccentric half of the squat, where you control the downward movement as you sit down into a chair. They also help you focus on proper squat form.

If you’re working your way up to a regular squat, don’t even worry about how you stand up from the chair after you squat down.

Stand up in whatever way feels comfortable to you, reposition yourself, then sit down again, using proper chair squat form.

4. Reverse lunge (shallow or deep)

Doing a reverse lunge is easier than doing a forward or walking lunge because you maintain more control over your torso and weight placement (your center of gravity doesn’t shift forward with your forward momentum), making it easier maintain proper form, particularly in your front foot.

Just make sure when you step backward, you keep your weight in your front heel (remember to do the toe-wiggle, like with squats), so when you bend your knees into the lunge, your front knee remains behind your toes, and aligned with your toes. You can try shallow or deep reverse lunges.

I love this example video, but again, they won’t let me embed it.

5. Static lunge (shallow or deep)

With the static lunge, you start with your feet staggered, one in front of the other, and you maintain this staggered position throughout the exercise.

As you perform each lunge, with a shallow or deep range of motion, you focus completely on proper lunge form without worrying about shifting your center of gravity forward or backward as you would when taking steps to the front or back.

As always, remember to keep your weight in your front heel and your torso upright and straight as you lunge.

Best Alternatives to squats and lunges

If for any reason, you want to ditch the squats and lunges suggested in the Thrillist 31 Day Gym-Free Fitness Challenge, that’s completely fine.

Here are some options for you to consider. Not all of them will feel comfortable for everyone, so give each movement a test to select the ones you like the best.

The first five exercises listed below are compound in nature, targeting more muscle groups at the same time, while the last couple exercises do more to isolate the hamstrings and glutes.

You can also sub in single-leg deadlifts or bridges, both of which are already included periodically in the Thrillist fitness challenge.

1. Step-ups

Step-ups are very similar to lunges in terms of the muscles worked, but because you have control over the height of the step and the change in forward momentum and center of gravity shift due to an overall smaller step-width, they tend to be easier on the knees.

Start with a low step – about 12- to 18-inches tall, and work your way up to a taller step or bench as you feel ready. As always, remember to keep your weight in the heel of your front foot.

Also, step down carefully from the step, fully controlling the downward motion.

2. Lateral box step-ups

Lateral box step-ups are a good alternative to squats, with the added bonus of greater engagement of the abductors and adductors. Start slowly with a low step, about eight- to 18-inches in height, gradually working your way up to a taller step or bench.

Remain in a “baby squat” with a slight bend in your hips and knees throughout the exercise, and make sure you’re fully planting your foot on the step, with your weight in your heel, before shifting your weight to perform the lateral movement.

As you get stronger, you can progress to a lateral step-over (shown below), crossing up and over the box.

3. Bear squats

Personally, I’m a huge fan of bear squats, as they’re a full-body exercise that takes you through the same range of motion as traditional squats, without placing as much weight on your lower-body joints. That said, they’re not for everyone, especially since they require a decent level of core strength and shoulder flexibility.

The key thing to remember about bear squats is that your knees never touch the ground.  You start in a high plank position, then press your hips back toward your heels as you bend your knees and extend your shoulders.

It’s as if you were performing a traditional squat, but from a plank position rather than a standing position.

When you’ve squatted back as far as you can (never letting your knees touch down!), you press through the balls of your feet and extend forward, returning to the plank.

4. Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts

Dumbbell deadlifts are a great way to work your posterior chain – the muscles along the back half of your body.

Make sure you focus on form – this exercise should primarily work your glutes and hamstrings, using them to “pull” you to the standing position, rather than relying on your back to do the bulk of the work.

As with most of the exercises on this list, remember to keep your weight centered over your heels, and be sure to initiate the movement by pressing your hips backward, keeping your core tight and strong throughout.

5. Lateral band walks

Lateral band walks aren’t a perfect substitute for squats or lunges, but they do engage many of the same muscle groups while also working the abductors.

If you can, lower yourself into a shallow squat while performing the band walks, pressing your hips back and bending your knees slightly (doesn’t have to be much!) as you perform the movement.

As you step to the side, your center of gravity will shift, so move slowly at first, focusing on form, without allowing your momentum to take over.

6. Stability ball or slider hamstring curls

To target your hamstrings and glutes, try performing a modifed hamstring curl using a stability ball, sliders, paper plates, or even a towel. I’m including several sample videos below so you can see the differences.

The main thing to remember is that your hips should remain lifted, glutes and core engaged, before and during the entire hamstring curl movement.

These are surprisingly challenging, so stop if or when your form starts to suffer.

If you choose to use paper plates, a towel, or sliders, make sure the apparatus moves smoothly across the floor. You don’t want it to awkwardly stick or catch during the exercise.

7. Quadruped hip extension

Quadruped hip extensions are great for targeting your glutes unilaterally. Really concentrate on squeezing the glute of the acting leg, controlling the exercise throughout.

Consider adding a resistance band for a greater challenge. Remember to keep your hips level and as steady as possible throughout the exercise.

Best Cardio alternatives to Squats

There are some cardio-based exercises included in the Thrillist fitness challenge that might not be comfortable if you have a hard time with squats and lunges. Consider subbing in the following, as needed.

1. Jumping jacks (jumping or stepping)

Select between the higher-impact, traditional jumping jack, or the lower-impact step-out version.

2. Side slides (slow or fast)

You can perform side slides fast, as shown, or you can slow them down and step them out for a lower-impact, lower-intensity option.

3. Bear crawl

Bear crawls are already included in the Thrillist challenge, but they’re a great alternative to burpees or mountain climbers if your knees can handle ’em.

4. High-knees

Step them out like an overexaggerated march, or jog them out at full speed.

5. Butt kicks

The video only shows butt kicks at-speed, but you can also slow them down to a walk, reducing the impact and intensity. Just make sure to swing your arms as you do the exercise to help get your heart rate high.

6. Inchworms

This exercise is included in the upper body days of the Thrillist challenge, but it’s a good substitute for more lower-body focused cardio. If you have some space to move, try the version shown in the second video.

7. Crab walks

If you don’t have shoulder pain, this is another good alternative for lower body-focused cardio.

8. High-low planks

Your lower body maintains static strength, while your upper body and core get a killer workout.

9. Lateral walking planks

This active motion is great if you have a strong core and shoulders. If you tend to have shoulder pain, this wouldn’t be my first substitution suggestion.

Best 10 Minute Jump Rope Workout for Burning the Most Calories

SKIP THROUGH YOUR WORKOUT

Jumping rope is an excellent high-intensity, high-impact workout that blasts calories at roughly the same rate as running at a 6 mph pace. In fact, according to Discovery Health’s Activity Burn Rate Calculator, a 150-lb. person burns roughly 113 calories during a 10 minute, moderately-paced jump rope workout.

The best part is that because the workout is so intense, your body will actually continue to burn more calories during rest and recovery, increasing your total calorie burn.

By adding just a few of these short, high-intensity workouts to your regular fitness routine, you may see significant, long-lasting results. Plus, all that hopping will help you sculpt stellar calves!

Check out our jump rope tips and try our quick, 10-minute workout!

8 TIPS BEFORE GETTING STARTED

  1. Choose the right rope. Your son’s plastic, segmented rope probably isn’t your best bet. Look for a rope that has sturdy, comfortable handles, an adjustable rope length and a solid cord. The type of cord is up to you, but look for ropes that offer sealed ball bearings for smooth, even rotation.
  2. Choose the right length. A rope that’s too long or too short can significantly impact your jumping success. When testing out a rope, stand on the center of the rope and pull the handles (without stretching the rope beyond its natural length) as high as you can under your armpits. You’ll know the rope is the right length when the handles reach the height of your sternum. If you have an adjustable rope, simply adjust the length until it reaches this height.
  3. Consider weighted handles. If you want to increase the intensity of your workout, consider getting a rope with weighted handles. Most of these ropes allow you to remove the weights, so you can start without them and add them back when you’re ready to make your workout harder.
  4. Remember practice makes perfect. If you haven’t jumped rope since elementary school recess, you’re probably going to flub it up! Don’t worry about it, just keep on trying. It takes time to find the rhythm, and as long as you keep at it, you’ll be a jump rope phenom in no time!
  5. Avoid the “in between” bounces. You want to jump at a steady rate so that you jump once for every rope turn. It’s a tempting habit to swing the rope slowly and add an extra “hop” between turns. There’s nothing overtly wrong with this, but as you add tricks to your routine, the extra bounce could throw you off.
  6. Give it a rest! If you find yourself becoming exhausted, and you’re only a minute into your routine, don’t sweat it! Jumping rope is tough. Take a break to catch your breath, then start back up again. Just remember, your 10 minute workout doesn’t include your breaks. Keep an eye on the clock and tack on time for every break you take.
  7. Do what you can. This is an extension of the “practice makes perfect” rule. If all you can do right now is skip, that’s okay! Do 10 minutes of skipping. If you think you’re ready to progress to jumps, one-legged jumps or other tricks, go ahead and progress. Changing up the routine is what keeps it interesting, but there’s nothing wrong with keeping things simple.
  8. Go at your own pace, but push yourself. Start at a slow or moderate pace to get the rhythm of jumping down, but as you’re able, increase the speed of your jumping routine. The faster you go, the harder you’ll work and the more calories you’ll burn. Even if you just pick up the pace for 30 seconds here or there, that extra effort will pay off in the end.

10 MINUTE JUMP ROPE ROUTINE

Add this jump rope routine to your workout once or twice a week. It makes a great addition to a strength training workout, or you can fit it in early before you head to work.

  • 0:00 – 1:00, Standard skips

Skip in place, almost as if you’re jogging, alternating feet as you rotate the rope.

  • 1:01 – 2:00, Standard jumps

Hop in place with both feet together, hopping once for each rope rotation.

  • 2:01 – 2:30, One-legged jump

Hop in place on your right leg only, hopping once for each rope rotation.

  • 2:31 – 3:00, One-legged jump, opposite leg

Hop in place on your left leg only, hopping once for each rope rotation.

  • 3:01 – 4:00, Reverse jumps

Start with the rope in front of your feet and rotate it in the opposite direction; it should rotate backward over your head and forward under your feet.

  • 4:01 – 5:00, Criss-Cross jumps

Begin jumping using your standard jump; after you’ve jumped over the rope once, quickly cross your arms in front of your body so that your arms are crossed before the next jump; after the second jump, quickly uncross your arms so that they’re back to normal before the next jump; continue criss-crossing your arms back and forth for the duration of the exercise.

  • 5:01 – 6:00, Ski mogul jumps

Begin jumping using your standard jump; after you’ve jumped over the rope once, rotate your hips and legs to the right while keeping your knees together, as though you were a skier going over the moguls – your legs should be rotated when you land; after the second jump, rotate your hips and legs as far as you can to the left while keeping your knees together; continue rotating your lower body back and forth for each jump.

  • 6:01 – 7:00 Lateral hops

Begin jumping using your standard jump; after you’ve jumped over the rope once, jump both legs as far to the right as you can before landing the next jump; after the second jump, hop both legs as far as you can to the left; continue hopping back and forth over an imaginary line for the duration of the exercise.

  • 7:01 – 8:00 Reverse jumps

Repeat a minute of reverse jumps to help balance out all the forward rotation you’ve been doing.

  • 8:01 – 9:00 Standard jumps

Slow the pace down and do a nice, slow minute of standard jumps.

  • 9:01 – 10:00 Standard skips

Keeping the pace relatively slow, skip out the remainder of your workout.

Find more fitness tips at Girls Gone Sporty.

How to Make Homemade (DIY) Sandbag Weights

BAG IT UP!

 

Using a sandbag for strength training is an excellent and inexpensive way to build strength at home. The concept is simple: sand is a heavy and unstable substance that constantly shifts around. This shifting movement requires your body to make constant micro-adjustments to manage the weight.Since sandbag fitness has gained popularity recently, you can purchase a pre-made sandbag trainer for $60 or more, or you can make your own for a fraction of the cost. We made one in less than 15 minutes with products we already had on hand, costing us nothing up front. While this method may not be as pretty as what you find in the store, it does the trick and saves you cash.

Supplies:

  • Medium-sized duffle bag (I got this one for free at an event, but it would probably cost about $10)
  • 60-lb bag of sand (Usually about $4-$5, but I had this one on hand)
  • 5 to 12 1-gallon freezer bags (I only had 5 on hand, but it’s a good idea to have double the number you plan to use so you can double bag them)
  • Duct tape
  • Scissors
  • Scale
  • Scoop

Step 1: Scoop sand into bags and weigh

Using a scoop (I used a Pyrex cup measure), fill up 5 or 6 of the gallon bags with sand, using the scale to measure each bag. Aim to put 10-pounds of sand into each one. You’ll end up with 50 to 60 pounds of bagged sand.

Step 2: Double-bag and seal

If you have extra freezer bags, double bag your sand bags, zipping each bag tight. Then, seal the zippered ends with duct tape to prevent leakage.

Step 3: Transfer bags into the duffle

Place all of your sand bags into the duffle bag. Use the bag that the sand came in to cover the freezer bags. The original sand bag was built to prevent the sand from leaking out, so it will add protection to your duffle in case one of the freezer bags breaks.

Step 4: Zip up and use

Once all your freezer bags are packed inside, your homemade sandbag is ready for use! Simply zip it up and get to work. The nice thing about this system is that you know each of the freezer bags weighs 10 pounds, so you can remove or add bags as needed for each exercise you perform.

Note: I also used duct tape to tape up the handles in a way that was more user friendly for performing exercises.

Find more fitness tips at GirlsGoneSporty.com