Image credit workout911.com

by Harmony Heffron

A lot of women, even fit and athletic women, have a fear. That fear is of weights and strength training.

Close your eyes and you can picture her. Heaving giant muscles, masculine in frame and attitude, sweat dripping down her face.  She lifts weights that weigh as much as a small car. One look at her at the gym and you decide that maybe you’ll just stick to the treadmill, because lifting weights will just make you bulk up too much. Right?

Wrong!!!

Women’s bodies do not produce nearly as much testosterone as men’s. This means that it’s IMPOSSIBLE for a woman to gain muscle mass in the same way that a man does. That woman at the gym who seems so big is likely taking steroids (supplemented testosterone as well as other things) to bulk up like that.  I promise that will not happen to you! No matter how many reps you do, or how heavy the weights that you lift, unless you have a unique genetic composition and spend all day at the gym you will not turn into a lumbering gorilla. A woman’s body is simply not designed to become hugely muscular.  .

What weight training WILL give you is more energy, increased strength and a more toned and sculpted body. There are even benefits you may not have ever thought about.  According to the Mayo Clinic, strength training can also reduce your risk of osteoporosis, reduce your chances of injury and sharpen your focus.

As you start adding weights to your exercise routine there are a few things to keep in mind:

1) Warm up! Move your muscles before you try to lift with them.  Do whatever makes you feel loosened up and ready to go.  Stretching and a few minutes on a treadmill or elliptical machine is what I do.

2) Start slow and build up. You don’t want to injure yourself by lifting weights that are too heavy before you are ready, yet at the same time you want to lift weights that are heavy enough that you can just complete the desired amount of reps. This link will shed some light on the best size weights for you.

3) Breathe. I know it sounds obvious, but this is extremely important! By breathing in and out properly, you will increase the benefits of your strength training while reducing strain.

Good luck lifting!

A healthier office life? image credit treehugger.com

by Anthony Adragna

Looking for something to break up the daily routine of sitting in the office? Want to form a stronger community among your co-workers? Need to test your body in new ways, both physically in mentally? Strive to push yourself and your body to their outer limits? Those are just some of the benefits of signing you and your office up for an upcoming Spartan Race.

5) Break Up the Routine: Sitting in the office day after day, week after week can get DULL quickly. Maybe your office has seen productivity decline in recent months or perhaps company morale is at a low period. Sure you can crunch dollars and make trades, but your office needs a new challenge. Competing in a Spartan Race will force your employees outside of their comfort zones and push them to their limits.

4) Form a Stronger Community: You spend hours working with these people, but how well do you really know them? Doing a Spartan Race will allow you spend more time your co-workers outside of work. You’ll train together, support each other, challenge your bodies and minds, and find common connections from those experiences. There is no better way to come together as a company. 

3) Get Healthy: No matter if you are an active gym animal, or a lazy slob on a couch, the Spartan Race experience will help you get healthy. Surviving the race means preparing your body and mind for these new challenges. That preparation will hopefully lead you to eat better, work out more, and honor your body.

2) Test Your Body in New Ways: Even if you’re an avid exerciser, it’s unlikely your body has been tested in ways like this. Ducking under barbed wire, leaping through fire, carrying 28 pounds of pennies on your back… those are some of the potential challenges on your course. You may think you’ve pushed yourself to the limits, but you haven’t run a Spartan Race yet.

1) Push Yourself to the Limit: Negotiating that million-dollar deal may seem like the hardest thing you’ve done in your life, but that feeling will change after completing a Spartan Race. After finishing one of these endurance tests, you’ll be ready for anything your work can throw your way.  If work’s getting hard, let one of these races show you what a real challenge involves. By the end, you’ll want to go back to work.

6) Hone Those Skills You Need to Be Successful at Work: In the boardroom, you need to be fierce and aggressive to get the best results.  A Spartan Race forces you to rethink how you approach problems, and makes you think on your feet. The mental strength you’ll gain from one of these races will allow you to remain strong back at work, when faced with tremendous challenges.

image credit slate.com

by Anthony Adragna

Slate magazine has created a special feature on fitness and the nature of exercise. In an article entitled “Fitness for Foreigners,” the magazine asked writers from across the world how their respective countries define exercise and to what extent it dominates their lives. Their answers are revealing and show the rich cultural variety in “exercise.” Here’s a sampling of what the countries said and how they choose to (or elect not to) get off the couches.

Bangladesh: Very few people go to the gym as Americans do. Instead, they prefer to play badminton and cricket outside. As obesity continues to become a greater problem in the country, a select group of Bangladeshis now go to the gyms. Being overweight is hardly a problem there, though, as backbreaking work remains the norm.

Cambodia: People here prefer to work out by sweating in large, outdoor dance marathons that the writer called “between a Richard Simmons video workout and ‘The Macarena.’” Men, women and children, people young and old flock to outdoor parks and dance to the hits of Justin Bieber and Lady GaGa.

China: Most Chinese people remain much smaller than their American counterparts. Basketball and badminton remain the street sports of choice among young people, while the elderly prefer tai chi in parks. The gym culture remains in its infancy, but is steadily growing.

Colombia: Every Sunday morning, the streets of the capital city of Bogota are closed to most traffic, allowing for runners, roller-bladers and bicyclists to explore the various neighborhoods of city.

Egypt: With 40 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day, exercise remains largely unnecessary to stay thin. However, among the growing upper class, private gyms have begun to open. For the middle classes, a growing trend in exercise is weight lifting. Arnold Schwarzenegger posters line the walls of these impromptu gyms.

Iran: Surprisingly, this country has adopted many of the fitness traditions of the West. With air pollution at historic levels, many people now flock to the gyms to get some exercise.

Oman: Yeah, not much in the way of exercise here. The occasional soccer game and workouts by the army make up the fast majority of Omani exercise culture.

One of the main similarities between the countries is the prevalence of indoor gyms in capital cities, which tend to be among the richest places in the country.  To see how other countries address fitness and exercise, see the rest of Slate’s article.

image credit zawaya.me

If any invention marks the decline of human civilization, I think it would have to be the snooze alarm. The snooze alarm is based on the idea that when the alarm goes off, you are not getting up… They should sell the snooze alarm with an unemployment application and a bottle of tequila. Just make it a complete pathetic-loser kit. –Jerry Seinfeld

This post is part III of my morning series.  Part I called on the wisdom of personal development guru Steve Pavlina, who figured out how to always get out of bed when his alarm clock went off.  In Part II, I gave you the top ten reasons why you should work out in the morning.  Now, in Part III, I offer you a few tips on how to start working out in the morning.

First of all, it’s important to be in good shape before switching to an AM workout schedule.  That means that if you haven’t been very active in the first few weeks, get yourself back into your usual fitness routine before you try to work out in the morning.

Next, decide what time you want to wake up.  If you are waking up to exercise before work, calculate the time you need to exercise, clean up, eat a healthy breakfast, and drive to work.  Then add 30 minutes (or more if you are habitually rushed in the morning.)  You need to eliminate all obstacles in order for your plan to succeed, and being stressed is one of them. Far better that you miss an extra hour of sleep the first night (you’ll compensate soon enough by going to bed earlier) than that you are late to work with wet hair and feel off-kilter the whole day.

Set three alarms.  The first for 10 minutes before your chosen wake-up time, the second for 7 minutes before, and the third for one minute before.  (Even if you’ve done Steve Pavlina’s exercise—which I highly recommend doing before you start waking up in the morning—you are better-off giving yourself a “wake-up cushion.”  I know well the feeling of waking up for my workout twenty minutes late and trying to calculate through a bleary eyes whether or not I could still fit the workout in.)

Lay out your workout clothes—including socks and shoes—before you go to sleep.  Lay out your work clothes as well.

Choose the right song to listen to as you get ready.  The song will be different for everyone, and it might take you a few mornings to get it right for you.  You may find that you won’t want the same pump-up song you use at 3pm when you are easing into the sunrise at 5am.  If you’re driving to the gym, listen to it in your car.  If you’re running outside, listen to it as you do your warm-up.  You are not only energizing yourself by listening to a song with a strong beat that you like.  You are training your body to react a certain way to a specific stimulus.  You will listen to this song every morning at the same time while you are doing the same thing: getting in the zone.  You are revving up your psyche.

The final and most important element is ACCEPTANCE.  You will probably feel awful when you open your eyes and you won’t want to get out of bed.  Your workout may feel weird and you’ll probably be more tired than usual for the rest of the day.  It takes a few days for your body to get used to a different schedule, but once it does, it will be worth it.  You’ll see.

by Beth Connolly

What would you do if you were alone in the middle of the densest woods in Maine and the battery on your headlamp died? In the midst of a competitive adventure race (involving paddling across lakes and towing canoes through the woods), you bushwhacked off-trail to find the next checkpoint, which had eluded your team.  You left your teammates behind on the trail, with a heavy cargo of canoes—and your spare batteries.

It happened to Brian Duncanson, Spartan Race CEO.  During one memorable adventure race, he and his teammates paddled across seven lakes, carrying their canoes with them as they walked through the woods that separated each lake from the next.  They searched unsuccessfully for the next checkpoint, until they were too burdened by the canoes to go further.  So Duncanson set out on his own to find it.

He was alone in the woods without a light or a friend or hope of contacting his team, who were out of earshot–when a member of an opposing team stepped in to help out. Using the light of his opponent’s headlamp, the two men managed to locate the next checkpoint and make it back to the trail, where Duncanson replaced his batteries.

Adventure races, like Spartan Races, are all about cooperation–not only between team members, but also between opposing teams. “There are many times during a race when it becomes advantageous to temporarily cooperate with another team,” Duncanson says.  ”Whenever we’ve found things and not told other teams, it always came back to bite us, because we may need their help down the road.”

Despite close calls like these, Duncanson stays passionate about adventure racing.  “I really like doing different things, and I love being outdoors,” he says.  But “the most interesting thing is the fact that there’s navigation involved.  It’s a mental challenge as well as a physical one, like solving a puzzle.” Adventure racers use only a map and compass to determine their path through wilderness and swampland.  In this way, adventure races are quite similar to Spartan Races: competitors’ creativity and ingenuity are tested, as well as their physical strength and endurance.

For Duncanson, life and career are no different from the extreme challenges and team mentality of adventure races.  He’s been competing in adventure races for the past ten years, and his team was even sponsored by Guinness.  Adventure racing led him to his job at Spartan Race, since he met co-founder Joe DeSena at a race event.  Duncanson’s chosen career, athletic event organization, reflects his commitment to adventure racing as well.

“You’re on a team, and working together,” Duncanson says, whether it’s out in the woods or in the office.  “Different people have different personalities and different strengths.  I see my job as not only organizing race events, but also blending different personalities together.”

Do Spartan Races have anything in common with adventure races?
Duncanson says yes.  ”Number one, it’s about having a new experience and doing something out of the ordinary.  I think that’s what attracts a lot of people to come out and do the events.  You sign up for a 10K and you know what you’re getting into.  Spartan races are something totally different and a little mysterious.”


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image credit sikyon.com

by Harmony Heffron

I’ve seen the Spartan influence in a lot of places lately: movies, books, video games, even Spartan wetsuits.  Our obsession with Spartan culture is so prominent that now there’s a word for it: laconophilia.  Though I’m motivated by the images I see on TV of brave Spartans fighting battles against all odds, I find my true inspiration in the actual history of the Spartans.

Sparta was a state in classical Greece best known for its military prowess and disciplined, physically tough population, a reputation they certainly deserved. At one point they even managed to defeat the Athenian Empire.

From birth, Spartans were judged on their physical strength.  At age seven, the boys entered the Agoge, where they spent the next thirteen years of their lives training to become citizens and warriors of Sparta. Self-discipline, endurance, and physical strength were all goals of the training they received in preparation for lives constructed around war.  Every day was spent training their bodies and minds for the rigors of battle. Life was tough and demanding. Indulgences were few and far between.

According to Plutarch, a Greek historian (circa 50 CE), a Spartan only got the luxury of a bath a few special days a year.

The historian Helen Schrader stresses that Spartans were also trained intellectually as well as physically. In fact, boys would receive extra punishment if they did not respond quickly and concisely enough to questions. To be good soldiers, Spartans had to learn to think quickly, as well as just move quickly. A little strategy can go a long way in the field.

Spartans left the Agoge to become part of the military reserve at 18. Promising Spartans, at this time, were sent into the woods with only a knife in order to test their military skills and stealth.  After passing this test, at 20 years old, a Spartan became a true soldier, although he still had many more years of hard work ahead of him in order to become a full citizen.  The reality is that a Spartan’s training was never done.  In order to stay in peak physical and mental condition, a Spartan soldier could never relax.

There was no such thing as a day off in Ancient Sparta.

by Harmony Heffron

“Winners are not those who never fail, but those who never quit.” –Anonymous

For a Spartan, losing a battle was not something to be casually shrugged off, but a grave failure that usually resulted in death on the field.  If a defeated Spartan soldier managed to return home, he faced execution or banishment.

A Spartan woman typically told a man, as she handed him his shield before he left for battle, “Return with this or upon this” (Cartledge, P., The Spartans: The World of Warrior Heroes of Ancient Greece).

The shield a Spartan carried into battle was his most important piece of equipment.  He used it both to protect himself and to protect the other soldiers he fought with in a tight formation called a phalanx. If a soldier returned home without his shield, it was assumed he had lost it while fleeing from his opponent, and he was punished by death or banishment.

If you need an example of the incredible determination and courage of ancient Spartan soldiers, just look at the Battle of Thermopylae, considered one of the greatest last stands in history. In 480 B.C.E. a Spartan-led army of about 7,000 Greek men (sources vary greatly on how big the Greek army was at this point, varying between 3,000 and 9,000) tried to guard the pass of Thermopylae against approximately 100,000 Persian soldiers.

For two days the Greeks succeeded in defending the pass from the Persians–until a local man, Ephialtes, betrayed the Greeks and told the Persians of a small path leading through the pass.

Spartan King Leonidas I, who led the Spartan army, dismissed most of his forces.  He kept only 1500 men with him to make a last stand against the 100,000 Persians.

On the third day of battle, the Persians had completely surrounded the Greeks, who were left to fight only with spears. Herodotus, the world’s first historian, reported that after their spears broke, “Here they defended themselves to the last, those who still had swords using them, and the others resisting with their hands and teeth.”

Against such a large number of opposing soldiers, King Leonidas I and all of his soldiers were killed, but they took 20,000 members of the Persian army with them.

Though they were defeated in the Battle of Thermopylae, the Spartan army’s performance is remembered today for its incredible courage and bravery.  The Spartan soldiers fought to the last, determined to die on the field rather than escape with their lives and the infamy of defeat.

“Anyone can get off the couch tomorrow and do a Spartan race,” says Spartan Race Director Mike Morris. “Sure, you might suffer, but the feeling you get when you cross the finish line is going to bring you back again and again.”

Morris, who selects venues and designs Spartan Race’s unique courses, knows what it feels like to cross the finish line after an arduous race. He’s a competitive adventure racer who has competed in multi-day races around the world. Adventure racing, for those who don’t know, is a sport in which teams of two to four people hike, run, mountain bike, and paddle for upwards of nine days across hundreds of miles. They navigate their own way through forest and wilderness, from checkpoint to checkpoint, eating and sleeping when necessary.

Since 2003, Morris has competed in Adventure Races in Vermont, Florida, Missouri, California, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Canada, Georgia, and Costa Rica, and has raced in the yearly United States Adventure Racing Championships three times. He’s no stranger to adversity on the trail. In one memorable instance, he developed knee tendonitis eight hours into a three-day race through the mountainous terrain of Vermont and New Hampshire. Every time he bent his leg, pain shot through his body.

Did he consider quitting?

“Of course,” he says. “The pain was really bad. But I knew I couldn’t let my team down, even though we had to go a lot slower because of my injury.”

Adventure racing can involve getting soaked in 40-degree pouring rainstorms, meeting up with alligators while paddling through Florida swamps, and at times even falling asleep while hiking or biking due to sheer exhaustion. You rely utterly on your teammates for support and guidance, which is why it’s important to compete with people you know well, according to Morris.

Morris knows that not everyone can afford the commitment of thousands of dollars it takes to buy a mountain bike and travel to compete in adventure races. He sees Spartan Race as an alternative that is accessible to everyone. “Spartan Races are an opportunity for people to experience something different that might intimidate them, but ultimately will be that much more rewarding if they finish,” he says.

Morris believes that absolutely everyone can benefit from racing. “I enjoy the challenges of endurance racing,” he says. “It all comes down to mindset, which in more challenging and longer races is equally, if not more important than physical abilities. I always say, ‘If I can do it, anyone can do it.’”