January 30, 2011

Get out of your rut

Are you working out faithfully three times or more a week but getting no results?   There are a variety of things you can do to get out of your rut. First of all, give yourself some applause for sticking with it; it is no easy task.  Secondly, you may need to re-evaluate your goals; chances are you are not going to look like a supermodel, so ease up on yourself.   You can be sure you are getting health benefits and more energy, even if the scale seems stuck.
The best way to get out of a rut is to change things up.  I cannot tell you how many people I see at the gym who do the exact same workout every day.   Not only is this mind numbing, but your body adjusts to routine and stops improving.  Try a treadmill instead of a bike, take a sculpting class instead of Pilates, hire a personal trainer or rent a fitness DVD.   Take it outside; even in the winter an outdoor workout can make the mundane new.  Download some new music: Google “workout music” and you can find a variety of sites where you can stream or download tunes guaranteed to rev up any workout.  If you absolute refuse to change your basics there are still things you can do to reinvigorate your muscles (and your brain):
Do your workouts in reverse: You still need to warm-up first and stretch after, but if you reverse the order of your exercises you will be surprised at how different it feels.
Change the tempo: One day do each exercise very slowly.   This is amazingly difficult as it takes momentum out of the picture and forces your muscles to do more work. 
 Do one and a quarters: Lift the weight for a full range of motion, release it a quarter, then complete the exercise: (For a bicep curl bring the weight to your shoulder, lower the weight a quarter of the way, bring it back to your shoulder, then lower it back all the way).  This is another way to increase intensity without changing the exercise.
Train in pyramids: Do one set with very light weights for 16-20 reps, increase the weight and do another set of 8-12 reps, increase the weight again, then do 6-8 weights.  Next workout go from heavy to light for reverse pyramids.

Try to find something you enjoy; it is hard to get stale if it is something fun. Change it up and do so often; you will rev up your routine and get better results.

January 23, 2011

Caution on this exercise:

The yoga plough is another high-risk exercise.  This move is done on your back by bringing your legs up in the air, and then backwards behind the head and neck.  The purpose of this exercise is usually to stretch the lower back, but it involves transfer of body weight onto the cervical spine.  This causes an extreme amount of flexion to the neck and can cause significant problems.  Many fitness experts advise against this move for everyone, but for those with osteoporosis, neck or back problems, the plough is especially dangerous.
You may protest because this is a common move in yoga classes, but a good instructor will prescreen the students and give a modification for those at risk.  You will also be taught how to progress in a slow and safe manner. 
Unfortunately, many have transferred this out of yoga and into a fast ballistic type movement.  I see legs flung up in an uncontrolled manner and compromised necks almost every time I am in the gym.
Below are two much safer ways to stretch your back:

1.Knees to chest:

For knees to chest; lie on your back, bend your knees, grab your thighs with both hands and gently pull your knees to your chest.

 2. Back extensions:
For a back extension; lie on your stomach, place your hands under your shoulders with your arms bent, then lift your torso as your straighten your arms.  You do not have to straighten your arms all the way; make sure you keep your hips on the floor.  Hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds and then repeat.

January 17, 2011

Keep Those Resolutions!

Are your New Year’s fitness resolutions flagging already?  You are not alone; it takes at least twenty-one days to six weeks for a new behavior to become a habit. In the meantime, here are some tips to keep you going:

Enlist a friend: Make fitness social and it will be more enjoyable.
  If your friend is dragging you down do not let that be your excuse, find someone else or go it alone.

Re-evaluate your goals: “Lose weight” or “start exercising” are not specific enough.  Make sure your goals are specific and realistic; they will be easier to meet.  For example “get to the gym three times a week”, or “lose one pound a week” are both specific AND realistic.

Find something enjoyable:  If you dread going on the treadmill every morning it is unlikely you will continue.  Try the ellicptical, an aerobics class or join a tennis league.  Almost any activity will make a positive impact on your health.   Finding something you like to do will make it much easier to stick with it.

Write down your resolutions and tell people about them:  It is much harder to relapse when you have told everyone you know.

Do not let a setback throw you:  If you miss the gym one day, it does not mean you have to give up.

Set up an e-mail reminder service:  A variety of free services and apps can send you reminders. Studies have shown this to be an effective tool to help motivation.

Tell yourself you will just do 10 minutes.  Chances are once you start you will feel good enough to keep going.

Focus on the internal:  It is easy to be caught up with how you look, but if you focus on how you feel (fewer aches and pains and more energy are immediate benefits), you will find it easy to stay motivated and actually reach your goals.

January 13, 2011

Save your knees

Many people do not realize that something as calming as stretching can cause injury.  The still too common hurdler’s stretch is a prime example.  The exerciser sits with one leg straight, and the other bent back with the foot by the buttock, and leans forward over the straight leg.  This extreme bend strains the ligaments of the knee.

Above is a safer way to stretch the hamstrings:  From a seated position bend the leg so the knee points outward, and the foot is near or at the thigh of the straight leg.  From this position you can gently lean forward (making sure not to round your back) until you feel the stretch in the back of your leg.

January 9, 2011

Sticky trainer/coach issues

Several of you have written to me with a similar concern: “I love my trainer/instructor/coach, but she/he has me doing some high risk exercises.  What should I do?”
My first response is to have you give him or her this blog link.  One of the main reasons I write this blog is to counteract what I see in the gyms and health clubs.  Several of you have posted links here from your Facebook page and I appreciate it; that has certainly helped spread the word.
If you love your trainer/instructor/coach so much you should be able to talk to him or her.  I know it can be a touchy situation; you do not want to appear confrontational.  I would suggest approaching in a similar way to how you have written me.  Stress the positive first.  Mention how much better you feel or how much you enjoy the classes.  Then ask a specific question.   If you are doing multiple curl ups or windmills, or stretching before you work out, ask why.  Perhaps your trainer has a good reason for the move.  If not, let him or her know you would prefer to work that area in different way.  If your trainer really refuses to change you can always plead, “that hurts my back” and speak the truth, for most of these moves will eventually hurt your back.
Dealing with a coach, especially your child’s coach can be equally sensitive.  It seems the majority of coaches (including those of million dollar professional athletes!) still have players stretch right before a game and do some very high risk exercises.  I would suggest printing out the abstracts of the two articles below, and showing them to the coach.  Each shows how pre-game stretching is actually detrimental to athletic performance.  I cannot imagine any coach wanting his or her players to run slower or decrease their jump height!

The fitness world is always changing, and it is hard to keep up with all the research, but most of what I have written about on this blog is not new.  It just seems the old school way of doing things is ever present and hard to overcome.  Feel free to e-mail this blog link to your friends, and maybe we can eventually get everyone exercising in a healthy way.

January 2, 2011

Another high risk exercise

The behind the neck pulldown is probably the most common high-risk exercise I see at the gym.  This exercise puts stress on your neck, back and shoulder.  It is obvious in the picture above that he is leaning forward and hanging his head, which causes a great deal of stress on the vertebrae in the neck.  In addition, this position causes a great deal of external rotation in the shoulders, which overstretches the connective tissue of the shoulder.  Eventually, especially with heavy weights, this will lead to a rotator cuff injury.
This is an easy fix because pulldowns in front of the neck are just as effective.  If you are looking to add variety or difficulty try this exercise sitting on a stability ball or kneeling on a BOSU trainer.