When it comes to working out, I’ll admit that I’m a total running junkie. Give me a treadmill or a sidewalk and a playlist full of Rihanna jams, and I’ll go for miles. While I’ve dabbled with yoga, Zumba, and other group exercise classes, I’ve never found an activity that makes me break a sweat like a good old-fashioned jog.
This all changed when I was invited by Reebok to be a part of actress Nina Dobrev’s “squad” for the ultimate staycation, which included two insanely intense workout sessions, brunch, and an overnight stay at the William Vale Hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Reebok also gifted me with new workout gear from the Reebok x Les Mills collection.
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The day started on the hotel roof (in 90-degree heat!) with Bodyflow, a Les Mills class that incorporates yoga, Pilates, and tai chi. Our group of reporters, fitness influencers, and all-around badass women bent our bodies into downward dog, pigeon pose, and more as the instructors encouraged us to feel calm and centered. Not only was the view of the Manhattan skyline spectacular, but I left the session feeling super relaxed.
The real fun, though, kicked off after brunch. Since Dobrev is a strong believer in switching up her workout routines, she made sure our afternoon would be exciting. “I’m one of those people who gets bored so easily,” she said to our group. “I like yoga, I like to do high-intensity workouts, I like to do all kinds of crazy things, and that’s exactly what Les Mills is.”
Dobrev promised that the next workout would kick our butts, and she kept her word. We took a boat across the East River and boarded a moving barge in the Hudson to do a Les Mills Grit session with Lissa Bankston, her trainer. Bankston explained that Grit is a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout designed to define and build lean muscle. The moves are perfectly timed to whatever upbeat song is playing, and even the recovery periods are all about action.
Although the workout only lasts 30 minutes, Bankston says you have to be at your max capacity (read: give it your all) 85 percent of the time. You’ll really get your heart rate up, and you’ll sweat, a lot.
As we lifted our barbells, lunged, and jumped, Bankston rallied us to keep pushing for one more rep. “That’s the most important aspect of Grit,” she told me after the workout. “When you’re tired and feel like stopping, you have to find the will inside yourself to do just one more rep.”
The half-hour flew by, and even though every muscle in my body burned, I kept going while Bankston encouraged us to focus on self-love. I was surprised that my body could keep up with such a fast-paced workout, and I had never felt more powerful. Sure, my quads were on fire the next day, but Bankston reminded me to appreciate my body for all that it can do.
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After the workout, Bankston admitted that the HIIT class was a challenge for her at first too, but since then, it’s gave her more definition and tone than ever before. “We switch up the moves in the classes every three months,” she said. “This way, your body never gets used to the moves and is constantly challenged.”
Les Mills offers Grit online, so you can test the classes from the comfort of your home. For now, I’ll stick to my treadmill workouts, but if the opportunity arises, or I need a reminder of how strong my body is if I push my boundaries, I'll be back at another HIIT session.
My daily planking habit had an improbable start: a tweet. The post is lost to the flow of the feed, but in my memory, it was simple—a woman sharing her trick of adding just five additional seconds to her plank time each week.
I sit hunched over my desk all day, a vision of poor posture, so the idea of planking—developing my core strength, and, bonus, possibly preventing some of my persistent lower backache—is appealing. And when I mention the woman’s trick to my husband, Jason, he’s intrigued too.
We agree to try it out together. And really, what I thought would happen next is that we’d plank for a day or two. Maybe a week—maybe. But to my surprise, here we are, months later, casually asking each other every day: Hey, want to plank?
Here are seven things that I realized as Jason and I created and maintained this daily planking habit.
Want to succeed? Make it easy
This goal is almost comically achievable. Our first week, we plank for just 30 seconds a day. And that, I think, is part of the key to our success. When Jason asks if now is a good time to plank—even if my five-minute reminder about a meeting just flashed on my screen—there is indeed enough time. And keep in mind, planking is a zero-equipment move. All you need is a floor. I’ve planked in PJs, in tights, in office outfits, and most of all, in everyday jeans. No need for a costume change to plank it out.
Our planking routine is simple: At a random time we lie on the floor. One of us sets a timer for the week’s time (plus three seconds), hits “start," then does a 3-2-1 countdown. Each week, we add five seconds to our total daily plank time. (It's not always doable—more on that later.)
And grab an accountability buddy
Some days, it’s me that suggests planking. Far more often, it’s Jason. There’s no question in my mind that if planking were a solo operation, it would’ve fizzled out long ago. Like paying in advance for a yoga class or signing up for a 5K, an accountability buddy gives a nudge that encourages commitment.
Bring in a neutral party for form critique
The first time we plank, we lie parallel on the floor, staring at my iPhone screen. We watch three YouTube videos in a row, full of spandexed, confident instructors who share tips: Don’t hold your breath, keep your head in position, try these variations, and so on.
We’ve planked before, of course, but it’s been a while. My form is not perfect. But it turns out, getting that feedback from my husband only makes me cranky. He may well be right that my head is too far down or that my lower back has collapsed, but the comments make me uneasy and I rudely tell him to keep his eyes on his own planks. (Since Jason's an artist, accustomed to constructive critiques from peers and outsiders, he’s far more appreciative and open to feedback.)
Keep it going, even if you backslide
Once, during a trip to visit his family, Jason and I plank together over FaceTime. But we're not always that diligent. Sometimes we flat-out forget. We plateau for weeks at 50 seconds, then again at a minute. Each five-second increase gets more and more difficult. I wish our planking routine was flawless—I'd love to have a streak sans interruptions. That's not the case, but I figure, better to have planked for the majority of days in the past three months than none of 'em.
Of course, the cat gets involved
Do you have a cat? Have you met one? Then you won’t be surprised that our cat, Cashew, is a frequent participant in our daily planking. At first, she’s confused why we’re on her level—the floor's her zone, not ours. Then she seems certain it’s a new game: She runs under our held-up bellies as if we’re playing limbo. It makes me giggle (an extra workout).
Once we hit 50 seconds, planking is particularly challenging, and Jason gets in the habit of calling her over midway through the session for a fuzzy distraction. We’re months in now, so Cashew’s less intrigued—and sometimes snoozes through our plank time—but often, she’s an active participant, winding her way under and around us.
There's a side benefit to our relationship
Planking with Jason makes me feel close to him. It’s the most manageable of projects—easier than hunting for a new apartment, caring for our cat, dealing with work issues, illness, family drama, or so many other things we’ve done through the years. But it is still something that just the two of us are doing, and doing together.
Also: Sometimes at the end of our planking, it’s conversation time. Most are small-scale. (As in, “Wow, have you noticed how dusty it is under the TV stand??”) Sometimes though, we talk through weekend plans or even bigger topics. It’s nice, even if it sometimes means the planking portion of the day sometimes stretches beyond the ding of the timer.
I feel ready for more
Most days, when the timer goes off, I collapse downward immediately. Lately though, I've been trying to hold the position just one more second, or swooping into downward facing dog. I've resurrected my seven-minute workout app on my phone, have big plans for my warm-weather jogging, and am pondering the best time to sign up for a swim class.
Having this just-over-a-minute plank in my day makes me think more about fitness and what bigger, more challenging goals I'd like to go after next. And even if there is no noticeable difference to my abs, I feel stronger, more capable, and just a smidge more fit.
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Let’s talk about girl crushes. I totally have one on Jessamyn Stanley, whose class I had the pleasure of taking at The Yoga Collective in New York City. A certified yoga instructor in Durham, North Carolina, this 29-year-old is simply awesome—not just because of her friendly spirit (she gave me a big hug at our first meeting), but because every time this self-described "fat femme" steps onto the yoga mat, she proves that getting bendy has little to do with your shape or size.
Need proof? Just scroll through her Instagram account. Each pose she posts to her 227,000 followers is of her twisting or contorting herself into challenging positions, often while clad in nothing but yoga pants and a sports bra. The difference between her and the other yogis who have reached social media stardom: Stanley is many sizes larger, and is still flaunting her flesh in all its glory.
“I cannot be contained within a definition,” explains Stanley, who confesses that if yoga were a person she would marry and have kids with it. “I think that it is important for other people to see that and to acknowledge that they don’t have to be contained by a definition either, and they can just be whoever they are.
After we got down (dog) for about an hour, Stanley opened up about why yoga is such an important part of her life, breaking stereotypes, and loving the skin you are in.
Why do you love yoga?
It is the thing that changed my life, honestly. I was in a dark place of depression and I always wanted to loose weight and “be healthy,” and I had never given it any real energy, and then I just reached this place where I was so sad for a lot of different reasons. Yoga pulled me out of that. But more than that, it has allowed me to acknowledge that those times in life don’t go away. There is always going to be something happening where you are like “Oh my God I can’t handle this!” And it always reminds me that there is reality; that these boxes that we live in are not real.
What is your favorite pose and why?
It always varies depending on what stage I am at. The poses that resonate for me are the ones that are very difficult for me. They are the ones that I have to work on, and eventually stop obsessing over, and see, oh my god, I can be this person who is not ego driven, and I can just be in it to do something. So I love poses that get me to that place. For a long time it was Camel; right now it is Dolphin or Ardha Pincha Mayurasana, and it has been for a while. It’s a very difficult pose that seems much easier than it is. It has just taught me so much over the years, especially in terms if building my practice.
There is an image associated with what a yogi looks like, and you are not that. What are your thoughts on that?
That is probably the reason why I am teaching. There is this stereotypical idea, this physical picture that comes with it, which is typically a slender, white, traditionally educated, and affluent woman, and if you are not that then you are automatically different. That is why social media is cool. I feel like I can get out there and show what the yoga lifestyle really looks like, and being able to showcase that is critical at this point. At the end of the day, we are not trying to be popular; we are just trying to be ourselves. And if I can encourage other people to do that, than that is amazing.
What makes you feel body confident?
I feel the best about my body when I am just walking around and not thinking about what anyone else thinks about me. So much of our lives is what does this person think of me, and how can I affect this person. And as confident as I am in myself, that urge doesn’t go away. But in those moments, in those glimmers where I am just totally in myself, those moments are priceless; it’s gold. You can’t walk away from that. And I wish I could bottle that and give that to every person on the planet.
Do you have any advice for young girls, or even women, who struggle with body image?
If I could go back and talk to myself when I was younger—because I used to have horrific body image—I’d tell myself, "Don’t think about what other people think about you; you think about what you think about you. And try not to obsess over everything." You must always just work towards this light; work toward living in your truth. As long as you are doing that, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you.
Drop it like it’s hot? How about drop it like a squat? If you usually shy away from lower body exercises in favor of above the belt training, it’s time to wise up. Whether or not weight loss is your goal, you’ll get serious pay-off by training your lower half. Your quads, hamstrings and glutes are home to some of the biggest muscles in your body, and those muscles will torch calories both during and after your workout, thanks to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), the process by which your body replenishes its oxygen stores.
Plus, working your lower body will pay off in about a million different ways. “Lower body strength, much like your core, is a foundation for all fitness,” says Justin Rubin, Daily Burn trainer for True Beginner. Challenging your legs and glutes will translate to better balance, strength and agility — all of which are important for day-to-day activities like racing up the stairs (without burning thighs) or even getting low on the dance floor.
Best of all, you don’t even need a pimped-out gym to get started. We asked Rubin to demonstrate four beginner-friendly moves that can be done pretty much anywhere. (Translation: No equipment required!) For a solid workout, repeat each exercise for one minute, doing as many reps as possible. Then recover for 30 seconds. Complete five rounds and you’ll start to feel the burn! If you want an extra challenge, try the optional towel modifications listed below each description to engage your upper body as well.
4 No-Equipment Lower Body Exercises
1. Reverse Lunges
Targets: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, core
How to: Begin standing with your feet hip-width apart, hands on your hips (a). Shift your weight onto your left leg and step your right leg straight behind you (b). Lower directly downwards until your front and back knees are at 90-degree angles. Hold for one second (c). Next, engage your left thigh and push off your right leg, coming back to a neutral, standing position (d). Repeat on the other side, alternating sides for a minute.
Extra credit: Hold a towel taut between your hands. When you step back for a lunge, twist your upper body in the opposite direction of your back leg. (Example: Twist to the left when you step back with your right leg.)
Targets: Glutes, quads, hamstrings
How to: Begin with your feet under your hips, legs no wider than your shoulders. Your bodyweight should be in your heels and your arms should be relaxed by your sides (a). Keeping your chest upright and your shoulder blades pulled back, bend your knees and sink down, making sure your knees do not extend beyond your toes. Your arms should extend straight in front of you. Imagine you are touching your butt to a chair (b). Now, drive through your legs and squeeze your glutes to stand back up, letting your arms come down to your sides again (c). Repeat for one minute.
Extra credit: Hold a towel taut between your hands. As you squat down, bring your arms overhead, so your face is in between your biceps. When you drive upwards to stand back up, slowly let your arms come back to your sides.
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3. Side Lunges
Targets: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, core
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands on your hips (a). Take a wide step to the left, letting your left foot point diagonally away from you and keeping your right foot planted (b). Keeping your weight in your heels and your chest lifted upwards, turn your left foot and knee out slightly as you sink down into a lunge. Make sure your knees do not come over your toes (c). Next, push off with your left leg, engaging your inner thighs and glutes, and bring the leg back to the neutral starting position (d). Repeat on the other side, alternating sides for a minute.
Extra credit: Want to engage the muscles in your arms? Hold a towel taut between your hands, with your arms extended straight upwards. When you step to one side for a lunge, bring your arms down so the towel touches your outer thigh. Bring your arms upwards as you step in.
4. Curtsy Lunges
Targets: Glutes, quads, inner thighs
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands on your hips (a). Shift your weight to your right side and step your left leg behind your right leg so your legs are crossed. If you imagine a clock underneath you, your left toes should be at roughly 4 o’clock (b). Bend both knees, not letting them come over your toes, and sink into the lunge, keeping your chest upright (c). Engage your quads and squeeze your glutes as you drive off your left leg, standing up and bringing it back to the starting position (d). Repeat on the other side, alternating sides for one minute.
Extra credit: When standing upright, hold the towel taut in front of your chest. As you step to each side for the curtsy lunge, extend your arms and bring them down so the towel is in front of your shin. Be sure to maintain good upper body posture. Once you drive off your back leg, bring your arms and towel back to your chest.
You know that to be a runner, you’ve got to, well, run. Many think that’s enough, but if you want to be a strong runner, incorporating other exercises into your routine is a must. That’s where this workout, created by Stephen Cheuk, founder of S10 training and S10 recovery in New York City and Health Advisory Board member, comes in. “This routine has an emphasis on balance and joint mobility and will help you become a stronger, more mobile, and more efficient runner,” says Cheuk. So go on, give it a try—your runs and your body will be better for it.
Banded hip flexor stretch
Attach a medium resistance band to a sturdy object, such as a squat rack. Step the left leg into the band, allowing it to rest where your butt and hamstring meet, and then step the left foot far enough back so that the band is taut (A). Keeping your back straight, lower into a lunge as you raise arms (B). Push into left foot to return to start; repeat.
Hip cars (controlled articular rotations)
Start on all fours with hands underneath shoulders, knees underneath hips, and core tight. Bring right knee forward (A), and then rotate it out to the side so that thigh is parallel to the floor (B). Continue rotating until your knee is pointing down and your foot, flexed, is up (C); return to start. This is one rep. After desired reps, reverse motion.
Sit tall on a step or bench with left ankle over right knee, or to more mimic running, pull knee into chest with foot facing ground. Rotate ankle and foot clockwise (A, B, C), until you return to start. This is one rep. After reps, reverse direction.
Single leg box squats
Stand tall with your back facing a bench or step, a slight bend in knees, and hands out in front of chest; lift right foot, extending right leg out in front of you (A). Slowly lower down to bench (B). Keeping torso upright, immediately push through left foot to return to standing; repeat.
Single leg Romanian deadlifts
Stand tall with a 10-pound dumbbell in left hand, and lift left foot off the ground (A). With back flat and abs tight, hinge at the hips, lowering the weight down, allowing the left leg to float up behind you (B). Once the weight reaches mid shin, push through the right heel to return upright; repeat.
Weighted Bulgarian split squats
With the end of a 10-pound dumbbell clasped between hands and in front of chest like a goblet, stand a couple of feet in front of a step or bench. Extend right leg back, placing your foot on the step (A). Bend knees, and, while keeping shoulders down and back, lower down until right knee is hovering over the ground (B). Pause, and then press through left heel to return to start; repeat.
Barbell hip thrusters
Sit on the floor with your shoulders against a bench, your spine neutral, and a barbell— loaded or unloaded—directly over your hips (A). Brace your core as you drive through your heels, squeezing your glutes to lift hips (B). Lower hips back down; repeat.
Standing resistance band core pushes
Loop a medium resistance band around a stable structure, like a squat rack. Stand with the left side of the body to the rack. Grab band with hands, holding it at chest height. Take a few lateral steps away from the rack, until band is taut (A). With a slight bend in knees and core tight, extend arms straight out (B); pull them back in. This is one rep; repeat.
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