4 Traits of a Great Workout

Photo By Jason Jaskot

Photo By Jason Jaskot

I have been weightlifting for about 4 years now, but I have been active my entire life. I have been to numerous types of exercise classes, I’ve tried different workout regimes, and I’ve even made up my own. Through trial and error and seeing which plans make me feel the best and also show results, I have put together the 4 attributes that I think every workout should have. I like to call these traits the 4 S’s.

The 4 S’s are Stretch, Stamina, Stability, and Strength.
1. Stretch – It is important to start and end with a good stretch during your workout. Yes, stretching can sometimes feel tedious and annoying, but there are so many benefits to stretching that should not be over looked. Stretching not only improves your flexibility and mobility, but it can greatly reduce your risk of injury, and also even support faster and stronger muscle growth. When stretching you are getting more oxygen and blood flow to your muscles, therefore providing your muscles with more nutrients to repair and grow.
2. Stamina – It’s time to get your heart rate up. Cardio has endless amount of benefits no matter what your fitness level may be. Cardio burns calories for weight loss, strengthens your heart, helps reduce the risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, it helps you reduce stress, promotes sleep better, etc….
3. Stability – This is the one that I think many people forget to add into their workouts. Unless you are taking a Yoga or Pilates class, many workouts don’t incorporate stability into the regimen. Practicing your balance and stability will lead to fewer injuries, better posture, and improvement in your coordination and athletic skills.
4. Strength – This one is pretty self explanatory, but still can be forgotten, especially by people who are mostly just focusing on weight loss. It is very common to see people on the treadmill for an hour and then just leave the gym. Although they may be loosing weight, its usually is not in the areas they want to loose it in. I frequently get approached by people asking me how they get rid of their “belly fat” or “arm flab.” What I tell people who want to loose weight is that cardio and diet is obviously important, but strength training is your way of focusing on the exact body parts you want to improve on.

Examples of exercises for each aspect of the 4 S’s
Stretch – Arm Circles, Elbow Circles, Touch Your Toes, Lunges, Straddle, Splits
Stamina – Walking on an Incline, Running, Swimming, Stair Master, HIIT Workout
Stability – Planks, Holds, Handstands, Balance Drills, Yoga, Pilates
Strength – Weightlifting such as Bicep Curls, Tricep Extensions, Chest Press, Deadlifts, and Squats.

Try adding these aspects to your workout routines and let me know what you think. Contact me at corestrengthalec@gmail.com with questions, comments, or ideas for new topics.



For any of my Crossfit readers, you know exactly who Cindy is. “Cindy” is a WOD (Workout of the Day) done in Crossfit gyms around the world. Cindy is a full body workout that consists of only body weight exercises. What is great about Cindy is that people of all different fitness levels can do this workout because every exercise can be easily modified.

CINDY – 20 minute AMRAP(as many reps as possible):
5 pull-ups
10 push-ups
15 air squats

For 20 minutes, you cycle the three workouts and see how many rounds you can get in. My last time trying CINDY I did 19 rounds plus 5 push-ups. This means I did 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 air squats 19 times in a row, and the time ran out after I did 5 more pull-ups and 5 push-ups.
Cindy 2
In total I did 100 pull-ups, 195 push-ups, and 285 air squats in 20 minutes! Talk about a hard workout!

1. The pull-ups and push-ups can easily be modified depending on your fitness level. For beginners, a resistance band can be used over the bar to assist in the pull-up, or pull-ups can even be switched out for body weight rows using rings or a TRX. For the push-ups, they can be done on and incline instead of parallel to the floor, or they can be done on your knees.
2. This workout will really test your endurance and your heart rate will shoot up. If you have any heart or breathing conditions, consult a doctor first and don’t perform this workout unsupervised.
3. A dead hang pull-up will make this workout much harder Cindy 3
on your arms and back. Try kipping the pull-up to relieve strain. You will be doing a lot of reps; dead hang pull-ups will cause you to fatigue quickly.
4. When doing air squats, keep your back straight and get your glutes as low to the ground as possible. Remember “Ass to Grass” when doing squats. Also push through your heels, not your toes.
4. CINDY is a perfect full body workout to perform when you are short on time. It combines cardio with muscle building and will make you sweat like you have never sweat before.

Have you ever friend CINDY? Do you have other WODs that you really like? Contact me at corestrengthalec@gmail.com with questions, comments, or ideas for new topics.

New Years Resolutions

The new year is just around the corner which means that millions of people will be making goals to achieve in the next 365 days. One of the most common resolutions has to do with loosing weight and achieving “the perfect body”. Every year I hear countless amounts of people saying that they will loose the excess weight, they will build their muscles, and they will get the six pack they always wanted, but only a small fraction actually see any results. It is estimated that only 8% of people actually reach their New Years resolutions. Why is it so hard reach these goals? I have a few tips that will hopefully make it a little easier to stay on track.

My Personal Transformation @alec2austin

My Personal Transformation @alec2austin

The first thing we need to do is realize that small changes can make a big difference. Although you may have a big weight loss goal in mind, making a small change to your diet and exercise plan can make that once out-of-reach dream more attainable. Switching out a snack food for something healthier, not eating before bed, or even simply adding 20 minutes of cardio a few times of week can start the process of reaching your bigger health goals.

Another important idea to adapt when setting a resolution is that instead of just setting a goal, decide on what steps need to be made in order to reach that goal. Making a plan helps you better understand why kind of commitment it is to reach your “dream body.” It is A LOT of work and A LOT of commitment, but that still does not mean that it is unattainable. Once you plan out what needs to be done to loose that extra weight, you need to start applying the changes to your life, but not all at once. Making a lot of drastic changes in a short amount of time literally puts your brain and body into shock, which in turn makes these changes near impossible to adapt. So instead, apply one or two changes at first, and once you have adapted the new changes and turned them more into a habit, you can apply another change or two.

Jen Piccolo @jenthefitfoodie

Jen Piccolo @jenthefitfoodie

The last important thing to understand when making a resolution is that patience is key. Nothing happens over night, especially when it comes to weight loss or muscle building. There is no quick fix. Living a healthy lifestyle is just that, a LIFESTYLE. You have to adapt new habits to a point where you would rather go exercise than sit on the couch all day; you would rather eat chicken and vegetables than a Big Mac; you would rather go to bed than stay up late and watch movies. To some this may sound weird, but by adapting these habits, I have never felt better in my life. I am happier, I feel healthier, I have more energy, I am more productive, I have better focus, and overall live a more fulfilling life.

Think of it this way… If you have a resolution to lose 50 pounds in the new year, that may sound like a big almost impossible obstacle to overcome. 50 pounds?!?!…. That’s a small child! How can you do that? You have 365 days to reach this goal; 12 months to lose 50 pounds. This actually comes out to about 4 pounds every month or 1 pound a week. Now doesn’t that sound a little easier to do? If you set small shorter goals such as “I want to lose 4 pounds in January,” all of a sudden that big intimidating goal now seems way more doable.

Know that you are not alone and that we all are still trying to achieve our dream bodies. There are resources everywhere to help you get where you want to be. I know you can do it!

I hope this article helps you make next year the best year yet! I will help in any way I can and I would love to hear about your progress. Contact me at corestrengthalec@gmail.com with questions, comments, ideas for new topics, or updates on your personal fitness successes.

Is Shoveling Snow a Good Exercise?

Because Winter is now upon us, and we are definitely starting to see some heavy snowfall, I wanted to see if shoveling snow was a good way to get some exercise. I personally always dreaded going outside and clearing the driveway of snow, but after doing some research, I realized that it definitely has its benefits. According to an article done by Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D, at North Dakota State University, a person of 170lbs can shovel for 30 minutes and burn about 250 calories. (Click Here to See the Article) Because shoveling involves high repetitions of lifting a weighted object, it also can help tone your muscles in your arms, legs, and core if done correctly. Not too bad for a chore I hate doing.


It is important to also understand the dangers of shoveling before you go out and start throwing the snow around. A quote from masslive.com stated,

“According to a study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, some 195,100 Americans were treated in emergency rooms for snow shoveling-related mishaps from 1990 to 2006. Among those cases, 7 percent were cardiac related, which made up all of the 1,647 deaths in the study.”

Click Here to see the Article on Masslive.com

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Because shoveling can involve some heavy lifting at times, it also puts some people at risk of heart attacks. If you already have high blood pressure or are at risk of a heart attack, consult your doctor before you decide to go outside and shovel snow.
  • Make sure to always lift with your legs and tighten your core when lifting the snow.
  • Avoid twisting and lifting from your lower back to avoid lower back injuries which are common when shoveling.

So next time you go out to battle the cold and shovel, try to think of how it actually can help you reach our fitness goals. As long as you stay smart and safe by following the tips I shared, shoveling will can be more than just a chore, but a productive workout.

How did you like this post? Did you find it useful? Do you have any other ideas for future posts I should do? If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, feel free to contact me at corestrengthalec@gmail.com.

Do You Hate Running? Try Running In Reverse!

Ever since I was a kid, I never liked running. I didn’t mind playing a game of tag or running to a base during a kickball game, but when it came to long distance running, I never excelled… I flat out stunk at it. Friends of mine today keep telling me how they are preparing for different races, and all I can think about is how I can’t even stay on a treadmill for 10 minutes without wanting to pass out. I have tried entering races, running with friends, and even running with my dog, but I still can’t keep up. I have always wanted to reach that ‘runners high’ people talk about when they can just run for hours and just enjoy it, but no matter what I do, I have not been able to find a method that works for me… Until now!

Backward running
It may sound crazy, but one day at the gym, I decided to put the treadmill on a low speed and turn around. I started jogging backward, and eventually after a few mintues I was able to bump up the speed and pretty much run in reverse. I will admit it felt weird at first, but then I really started enjoying it. None of my joints were hurting, I wasnt running out of breath too quickly, and I was finally able to run for over 30 minutes without having any issues.

Now what are the benefits to running in reverse?
According to the New york Times Well blog and studies done by the University of Milan, running backwards can be easier on your joints, can help with muscle therapy, burn more calories, and increase balance. When running forward, a person puts a lot of tension and hard pounding on the knee joint. When running backward, however, there is much less hard pounding since our muscles and tendons act differently and instead of landing on our heels and taking off our toes like most people do when running forward, when running backward we land through our toes. Running backward also burns more calories because of the muscle and tendon activity. When running foward, we rely a lot of the motion and effort on the elastic energy in our muscles and tendons. When in reverse, this energy is not present, so we exert almost 30% more energy in order to run backward at the same speed. Our muscles are activated in order to stabalize our bodies in the backward motion which also helps improve our balance when moving both foward and backward and helps burns more calories.

When first implementing backward running, make sure to start off slow. It is a new motion for your body, and will take a little time to get used to. I currently only run backward at 4.5 mph on the treadmill to ensure safety, but also feel the benefits of the exercise. Trust me, after running backward for a few minutes, your calves and quads will be burning!

Try this exercise out and let me know what you think. Email me at corestrengthalec@gmail.com for any questions, comments, feedback, or ideas for future topics to discuss.

To view the New York Times Well blog article on reverse running, Click Here.

Sorry For Not Posting In A While.

Hello Everybody,


I first of all want to thank everyone for the support they have given me through this journey. I have gotten some great feedback on the blog and I couldnt be happier. In the past few months/weeks I had encountered some personal issues and some roadblocks in my everyday life that I had to sort through, which unfortunately left my blog on the backburner for a while. I wanted to write this post to let people know that I have not forgotten about my blog and plan to write more posts soon. Hope everyone is doing well.


Email me at corestrengthalec@gmail.com for questions, comments, or suggestions on topics you wouild like me to cover.

Workout: Outside Body Weight Workout 4/6/13

When traveling, sometimes it is hard to really find the time and place to get in a good workout. Today we experienced exactly that. DO NOT LET THIS BE AN EXCUSE TO DO NOTHING!!!!! Right now I am in Albuquerque, New Mexico and the weather could not have been more perfect for a workout. With little time and little equipment, my fellow cast members and I put together a quick circuit training workout that we could do outside just using our body weight. All you need to perform this workout is a bench, wall, or other object that is a foot or two off the ground. Here it is:

Alec Varcas Circuit Training

20 pushups
20 tricep dips
15 burpees
15 box jumps
10 squats
60 second plank hold
Sprint around the pool

We did this circuit 5 times!

The goal was to do this as fast as possible with very little breaks. It doesn’t sound too hard when you read through the workout, but once you get your heart rate going and you really push yourself to finish quickly, you will definitely SWEAT and your muscles will be screaming!

1. If you have never done any of these workouts, please do proper research and make sure your form is correct and safe! I will be posting some techniques for these workouts in the near future, so keep an eye out.
2. Circuit Training workouts are great to do with a group of friends. Seeing others push themselves hard, only makes me want to push my limits too. Plus if you are competitive, you can see who is able to finish the workout first!
3. BRING WATER! Circuit training can be very hard and if you do not hydrate, you are chancing dehydration which is never a good thing!
4. Push yourself. If you find this workout too easy, make it harder! You can add 10 more pushups, 10 more box jumps, 10 more squats, or even add more workouts to the circuit!

After this workout I realized that I did have a little more time so I also did 3 sets of:
20 belt kicks
60 second side plank holds on each side
40 power squats
30 pushups

All of these workouts together make up a great, quick full body workout. I usualy like to focus on one or two muscle groups a day, but it is great to mix it once in a while. Circuit training provides great cardio while also building and toning your muscles.

Do you have any circuits you like to do? Sent them to me! Maybe I will try them out and post them :-). Do you have any other questions? Email me at corestrengthalec@gmail.com.

Obesity in the USA

I was reading about nutrition tonight and came across a website that I thought was very interesting. It is obvious, based on the media we see and hear every day, that obesity is becoming a very big issue in the United States. There are countless reasons and theories as to why this is true, but did you ever wonder where the highest percent of obese people were in the USA? Do you want to know where your state racks up in the rankings? Check out http://healthyamericans.org/reports/obesity2011/ (Click Here) to see where your state ranks among the others. You may be very surprised!

Obesity Map from 2011

I was happy to see that my home state, Connecticut, was the third leanest state of the 50, but I was still surprised at how high some of the numbers were.

    – 15 years ago, Connecticut had a combined obesity and overweight rate of 45.2%. 10 years ago, it was 52.1%. Now, the combined rate is 59.8%.
    – The diabetes rate in Connecticut was determined to be 6.9 (up from 5.5 fifteen years ago).
    – 15 years ago, Connecticut had a hypertension rate of 21%. Now, the rate is 25.7%.

These are some scary numbers, and the sad part is that these are the numbers from the third leanest state! I can not imagine some of the numbers in the more obese states.

If you were wondering, the most obese state was determined to be Mississippi, and the leanest was determined to be Colorado. Where does your state rank?

Do you have any questions or concerns? Email me at corestrengthalec@gmail.com

Are you new to the Gym?

Alec Varcas Bicep

I was recently asked to do a post for people who may just be starting out the gym or who may be considering adding exercise into their daily routine. Most people have the same feeling when they join a gym… “What do I do?” You don’t know what exercises to do, you are scared people will judge you, and you don’t even know what your body can handle doing. This post will hopefully ease some of those worries you may be having and give you some tips on how to get a good start at the gym.

First of all, realize that people are not judging you. I personally am proud of you for wanting to make this change in your life! Getting the motivation to go to the gym is the first big step towards achieving a healthy lifestyle. We all started somewhere and we all know exactly what it feels like when you take your first few steps into the gym. We all are in the gym for the same reason, to improve ourselves! I have nothing but respect for everyone who takes time out to make exercise an important aspect of theirs lives.

Now, what do you do at the gym? You walk in and see a ton of different types of people, hundreds of machines and weights, and you honestly don’t know if you should just walk in with your chin held high, run and hide in the locker room, or just turn around and never come back. My suggestion is to first, put your stuff down in the locker room and then ask one if the gym employees to give you a tour of the gym. That is why they are there… to help you! Take a quick look around and learn about the different areas and exercise equipment the gym has to offer! ASK QUESTIONS! If you do not understand something, ask the employee while he/she is guiding you around. The more you understand and grasp now, the better!

I burned 921 calories in an hour...

I burned 921 calories in an hour…

Once the tour is over, it is now time to try out some of the equipment. I personally would suggest starting with an easy stretch in an open area somewhere, and then I would try using one of the cardio machines. Most gyms have treadmills, ellipticals, stair climbers, etc. and they are all pretty easy to use and understand. These are great to start with not only to get your body warm, but after using one of these machines for a while, I promise you that it will calm you down. You will feel less nervous about exploring the gym and trying out some new machines!

Ok, cardio is over; now it is time to do some muscle training. If you are really not familiar with weightlifting at all, try some of the machines the gym has to offer. If the gym is kept well, all of the weightlifting machines should have directions on how to perform the exercise and it also shows you which muscles the machines target. Start with the machine on a low weight and see if the motion is comfortable. If you believe you understand how the exercise is done, adjust the weight to a more proper resistance and try doing 3-5 sets of an exercise at the machine. If you have any questions, feel free to ask the staff at the gym, or even some other people working out. I have never come across a horribly rude person in a gym that is not willing to help.

Try out a few different machines, and when you feel like you your muscles are pretty tired and you worked them pretty well, it is time to call it a day… you will probably be sore tomorrow :-). Congratulations! You survived your first gym trip!

Now as you are recovering from this gym shock you just put your body through, you should now start researching different exercises you can do at the gym. You have see what machines and weights your gym has to offer so look up some different exercises you can do to target the areas of your body you most want to fix. There are thousands, if not millions of websites and videos offered online. I have been working out for a few years now and I still find workouts from blogs and videos that I would like to try. The more research you do, the more options you will have at the gym!

Now if you are really looking to make some fast progress and would like to do your absolute best at the gym, I HIGHLY recommend getting a personal trainer. A personal trainer can make a plan for you that directly reflects the goals you are trying to achieve. A good personal trainer will be able to keep changing up your routine in order to confuse your muscles and get good results quickly. A great personal trainer will also be able to give you diet and nutrition tips to practice outside of the gym to boost your results even more. Yes, a personal trainer can be expensive, but a few sessions with a great personal trainer can help you get into a proper routine to improve your health and quality of life in the long run. On a good note, if you are not sure about a personal trainer, some gyms actually give a free session with a trainer for signing up, and many personal trainers may work with you for a little time to see if you like their suggestions before you make any commitment to them. Try out a trainer! If you figure out that a trainer is not for you and you are more comfortable on your own, then at least you tried and now you know how you prefer working out!

I hope these tips will help you feel a little more comfortable about joining the gym! Don’t be afraid because there is nothing to be afraid of! If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at corestrengthalec@gmail.com