Summer fitness on Capitol Hill

For those who have pushed exercising to the bottom of their to-do list during this busy congressional year, we set out to find a few quick, easy-to-perform workout tips to ensure members and staffers look good when the August recess begins.

We asked two trainers with ties to Capitol Hill to divulge routines they advise for good results in the shortest amount of time. Some of the exercises can be done on your way to work, at lunch or even at your desk. Some may seem obvious and some may seem counterintuitive. But if they are executed with maximum effort, consistency and discipline, our experts say you will see results.

Trainer: Kathleen Zumbar
Résumé: Coordinator of the House Staff Fitness Center (located in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building).
In her own words: “I always tell people, on a scale of 1-10, no matter how long your workout is, shoot for an 8. Meaning, ‘It’s hard, and I could push myself a little bit harder, but I don’t like it here.’ That’s a safe range for your workouts.”

Trainer: Erin Finley
Résumé: Personal trainer at two locations: Washington Sports Club at Columbia Heights and Definitions, a private gym in Georgetown. Scheduler for Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio).
In her own words: “I mostly work with people that want to lose fat and look good without working out very long. The maximum I would have anyone work out is maybe three to four hours a week, and I get results that way.”

 

Cardio and endurance

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Do: High-intensity intervals for five to 10 minutes, three to four times a week.

Don’t: Spend 30 minutes on the elliptical climber or jogging multiple times a week.

The benefits: Running the stairs of your office building or doing hill sprints up to the Capitol are easy, effective ways to boost your metabolism and keep your body working even after your workout is complete. You should mix up your intervals — jump squats, jump rope or the spin bike are all alternatives, depending on your fitness level — throughout the week to keep your body off guard.

Erin: “When you do interval training — really short, intense bursts — you’re actually working in an anaerobic zone and you’re pushing all of your systems, including your nervous system, to such a high point that you burn fat and calories while you’re doing it, but you get these residual benefits that last up to 36 hours afterwards.”

The problems: Getting on the elliptical, jogging or even running at a consistent pace for an extended period causes your body to adapt and will result in fewer calories burned, despite the long workout.

Kathleen: “After you get on that elliptical and you do 30 minutes, your body recovers and repairs when you walk out of here. So when you come back in the next day, or two days later, and you do 30 minutes on the elliptical again, your body is partying. It’s going, ‘OK, I don’t have to do a darn thing.’ It’s ready for you to do that 30 minutes again, so you lose the training stimulus.”

Suggestions: For beginners, time your workout to do 10-15 intervals of 10-second sprints up the stairs or hill and 20-second rests while walking back down. As you get accustomed to this, do 15 intervals of 15-second sprints and 15-second rests. You can eventually work up to 15 intervals of 20-second sprints and 10-second rests.

Advanced: When doing these intervals in the gym or with exercise equipment nearby, add repetitions of chest presses on a weight machine and reps on the rowing machine, followed by a maximum set of pushups. To build endurance, do reps of 15. To maintain strength, reps of 6-10 will suffice.

 

Strength and balance

Do: Leg raises with erect posture and “the cobra” (pictured above; instructions below).

Don’t: Shrug using heavy weights.

The benefits: Anybody who sits slumped over a desk and types on a computer all day, as many congressional staffers are known to do, will inevitably develop a weak lower back and suspect posture, our experts say. You can correct this with easy exercises like single or double leg raises, or by performing a cobra. These will help strengthen your core and undo the damage a desk and computer can cause to your body.

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Erin: “This is how you do a cobra: Lie prone on the ground, on your stomach, and you take your thumbs behind you, so your thumbs are pointing toward the ceiling. Your wrists should be out toward the walls, not in. You are basically holding this position prone to the ground, your trunk is lifted, but don’t move your head. Your eyes should be looking down. The most important thing is to keep your upper shoulders relaxed and squeeze from your lower shoulders and back. And you just hold it. You keep a double chin, which is a good way to remind you to keep your spine in line. You just hold it and you will feel the burn. That’s one of the easiest ways to just undo everything you do wrong.”

The problems: Shrugs work to strengthen your upper shoulders, which is the only part of your body that actually gets a workout from sitting at a computer all day or even driving a car. By overworking your shoulders with shrugs, you are weakening your posture and undoing all the positive effects of a cobra or other workout.

Suggestions: Start with three intervals of 20 single or double leg raises (raise one or both legs from the knee down while sitting in your chair) and add on as you become more comfortable. For the cobra, beginners should try holding the position for two intervals of 15 seconds. Like the leg raises, add to the length of your intervals — 30 seconds and eventually 60 seconds — as you become more accustomed to the activity.

Advanced: It takes discipline and a deaf ear to potential jokes from fellow staffers, but substituting your office chair for an exercise ball will strengthen your lower back, ensure your posture is solid and help relax your shoulders.