November 26, 2011

Spinning Mistakes

Spinning or indoor cycling is a great and extremely popular aerobic workout.  However, as with all group fitness classes, some instructors are performing moves that can cause injury.  Be aware that what you see on TV or on Youtube can be harmful to your body.  Jillian Michaels stirred up a firestorm of controversy over the dangerous moves her contestants performed on a spin session during The Biggest Loser.  Many instructors use moves that may be dangerous in the name of creativity.  Indoor cycling can be very safe, but make sure you are aware of the following:

Your instructor should be certified as a group fitness instructor by a national accredited organization.  As with personal trainers (see post from Nov. 2, 2010), there are no standards or requirements for group fitness instructors.  ASCM and ACE are the most prestigious certifications.
Your ears are the body part most likely to be injured.  Music is an integral part of indoor cycling, and the classes are notorious for cranking up the volume.  You can try to speak to the instructor about lowering the music, but if that doesn't work (see post from Dec. 2, 2010), keep yourself out of hearing aids by wearing ear protectors in class.  You can purchase inexpensive silicone or foam earplugs that will reduce the volume while allowing you to hear.
Seat, handlebar adjustment and good form are keys to a safe ride.  If you are unsure of the correct fit, ask before the class starts.
I will get into some riding specifics in the next post, but here are two red flags to watch for:
Do not let anyone adjust the resistance on your bike.  No one can know how much resistance you are feeling.  Ride at your own pace and level.
Do not use or hold weights while on the bike.  Not only is it ineffective, but it is unsafe.  You need your body and core stabilized to lift weights.  Your instructor may tell you it will increase your heart rate, but any increase is caused by the “pressor effect”.  Instead, you will probably slow down your legs, reducing the actual intensity of the ride.

If you love your instructor but he or she teaches some risky moves you can point her to these links:

 The first is a blog by a master instructor who emphasizes safety; the last two discuss contraindicated indoor cycling exercises.

November 19, 2011

Tips For a Healthier Holiday

Most people stress about weight gain over the holidays.  The average weight gain is only about one pound (although those already overweight gain an average of five pounds), but over the years that pound can add up.   Below are some strategies to help avoid even one pound:

1. If you are not hosting ask what you can bring.  You can make sure there will be one healthy choice at the meal.
2. Make activity part of the fun.  Sign up for a local Turkey Trot.  You can walk or run a race in a festive atmosphere.  Get the group outside for a game of touch football
3. Do not starve yourself before the party.  Eat a little first, and you will be less likely to gorge.
4. Arrive fashionably late.  You may miss the appetizers.
5. Watch the liquids.  Sauces and drinks, with and without alcohol pack on calories.
6. Use just one plate (instead of a salad and bread plate), and do not go back for seconds.
7. Eat slowly.  You will be more attuned to when you are full.
8. Make some painless substitutions to save calories:
    Eat the white meat with no skin.
    Eat a whole sweet potato instead of a casserole.
    Choose salad or steamed vegetables over a casserole.
    Choose pumpkin pie instead of apple or pecan.
9. Socialize more.  You will eat less.

The good news is you can still enjoy yourself.  You need to eat an extra 3,500 calories to put on one pound.  You can indulge a bit without going near that amount.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

(Check out the post from Nov. 23, 2010 for other tips.)

November 15, 2011

Another "Waist" of Time

Standing broomstick twists are another exercise that are ineffective and risky, especially for those with lower back problems.  You perform broomstick twists by standing with a broomstick across the shoulders and twisting side to side.  This exercise did not even make the top 13 of best abdominal exercises (, and puts stress on the ligaments and connective tissue of the spine.   An even more dangerous variation is the bent over twist; you do the same movement bent forward from the spine, adding forward flexion, and increasing the pressure on the discs.

If you feel you need this exercise for a sport that requires rotational strength such as baseball or tennis, you can make it a little safer by keeping the movement controlled (avoid momentum) and slightly bending your knees.  Avoid the bent over variation.

November 7, 2011

Don't "Waist" Your Time with Dumbbell Side Bends

The dumbbell side bend is an extremely popular but ineffective exercise meant to target the waist.  Side bends are performed standing, by holding a weight in each hand and leaning sideways.  This is a useless exercise for several reasons:
1. You cannot spot reduce.  The only way to lose inches from the midsection is to lose body fat through a combination of diet and exercise. 
2. Many experts question the safety of repetitive lateral spinal flexion.  Bad form can also make this a high-risk exercise; it is often done with locked knees, which puts stress on the spine.
3. The mechanics of the movement make it a waste of time.  If you are holding two weights, when you lean to the right side, the weight in the left hand will help you get back up.

If you insist on keeping this exercise in your routine, you can make it more effective by just using one dumbbell.  Make it even harder by balancing on one foot.  For more effective and safe abdominal exercises, see posts from Nov. 2010.