Whatever the week has in store for you, I hope you find the strength to know whether to hang in there or simply let go. Whether you hope to make physical or mental gains in the days ahead, a little exercise can go a long way in the journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
So here we are, four weeks after the start of 2013 and you’re sticking with those plans to make this year a healthy one. Way to go! If you’ve had a few off days, don’t sweat it. (Remember, this is the gal who abandoned her chopped veggies for a steady infusion of chocolate treats during a five-day vacation in Amsterdam!)
On this Workout Wednesday, I wanted to tell you about the new group exercise class I’ve become addicted to. If you’re looking for me on a Wednesday night, chances are you’ll find me front and center at the “UXF Burn” class offered at the New York Sports Club not far from where I live. NYSC describes the class as a 45-minute combination of cardio and strength training that can burn up to 600 calories in one class. However, I think the words of my high-energy instructor Lou offer a better definition of what makes the cross-training experience such a rush: “It’s Romper Room for adults.”
Lou starts us off with the necessary warm-up and then gets our hearts pumping with some killer cardio circuits for the first 25 minutes of class with a wide variety of moves including jumping jacks, ice skaters and high-knees. We then keep our heart rates up as we move through high-rep / moderate-weight circuits to work every muscle group with exercises ranging from squats with bicep curls to lat rows and kickbacks. Last week, instead of the whole class doing the same strength-training routine at once, she divided us into two sides for a “face-off.” Each side of the class had a series of six exercises to complete in 90-second intervals before switching sides. These included:
- Bridge with chest press using a 15-20 pound weight
- Jump rope
- Double crunches
- Dips using a step
“Romper Room” indeed! The variety of exercises and the non-stop movement between each one makes this class fly by in record time for me. I can honestly say I have so much fun during this class I almost forget I’m actually working out, at least until the sound of my pounding heart fills my ears and sweat blinds my eyeballs!
I realize you may not have access to a class exactly like this one, and you may not even have any interesting in seeking one out. However, I hope telling you about my excitement over the addition to my routine serves as a reminder that exercise can be fun and even fitness veterans like me are always looking for new ways to enjoy working out. Whether it’s jumping rope or trying a new group exercise class filled with moves that make you feel like a kid again, remember, variety is a key component to staying on track with your plans to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
People are always asking what motivates me to exercise. I’ve offered a variety of reasons in past posts, but today I want to focus on just one. Exercise gives me strength.
In the fitness world, strength typically refers to how much weight you can lift when performing different strength training exercises. No doubt you’ve heard people comparing strength levels based on how much they can bench or press.
However, a broader definition of strength shows it’s also related to a capacity for exertion or endurance. Obviously, increasing that capacity can help in a countless number of activities that take place outside the gym. How easy or difficult is it to carry a few bags of groceries from the store to your car or even all the way home? How about picking up and holding a child? Are you winded after walking up ten flights of stairs, or only one? Incorporating exercise into your daily routine is a surefire way to gain strength and tackle the many facets of your daily routine with greater ease.
Now let’s move beyond the physical. There’s an old equation that goes something like this: a strong body = a strong mind. From a personal perspective, at times when I feel the weight of the world upon my shoulders, there’s nothing like some mind-clearing cardio or punching a speed bag to get some perspective. Some of my biggest moments of clarity have happened with sweat blinding my eyes and the sound of my pounding heartbeat filling my ears.
Instead of sitting around stewing over a problem at work or even worrying about a loved one facing an illness, why not give yourself a chance to really breathe? A long walk or a kickboxing class could offer your mind and spirit the boost of strength they need. The issue or issues you were stressing over will still be there when you’re done. However, based on my experience, a little oxygen can go a long way in helping me focus on how I’m going to handle the situation.
I want to close by sharing a quote I stumbled upon recently that deals with the emotional side of strength:
“Some people believe that holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go – and then do it.” -Ann Landers
I kick off this new work week addressing a great question from Ally. She asked about “muscle confusion,” a key concept in the workouts you see all over TV that promise to get you “ripped” in 90 days without going to the gym.
First, I have to admit due to space limitations in all the apartments I’ve lived in since getting out of college, I’ve always worked out at the gym. So, I’ve never bought or used any of these 90-day surpreme workout programs. However, I do know many people who use them and love them.
Second, from an exercise science perspective, muscles can’t technically get “confused.” What they can do is grow stronger through a process called volume overload. Another phrase you often hear when people describe their fitness goals is a desire to “tone up.” Again, this is technically an incorrect statement as sticking with an exercise program won’t “tone” muscle, but it can help you improve your overall muscle definition. Basically, whether you’re working out at the gym or in front of the TV, if you increase the workload placed on your body, you burn more calories than you store, which leads to a loss in body fat and an improvement in muscular definiton.
Ally also asked me how often I change my resistance training routine. What I learned through the National Academy of Sports Medicine is that whatever phase of training you’re in, you should stick with a current routine for a minimum of four weeks before moving on to the next level. This gives your body time to adapt to the stimuli you’re placing on it. That doesn’t just mean changing the exercises you’re doing, but adding to the workload you’re demanding your body to perform. When it comes to resistance training, that workload increase comes in the form of reps x sets x weight.
Remember, change doesn’t have to be drastic. It can simply involve cutting back on the amount of rest between exercises to push caloric burn to the max. Change can also involve filling your schedule with group boxing class on Monday, group body conditioning on Wednesday and a solo weight machine circuit on Friday. Want another reason to mix up your routine? It’s simple: too much of a good thing is never good. Doing the same exercises every day is a surefire way to increase your risk of overuse injuries. Which brings me to another important reminder: your body needs adequate rest to make adequate gains. So, be sure not to work the same muscle groups on consecutive days.
I want to wrap up with what could be most important: in a world filled with instant everything, you need to be patient when it comes to reaching your diet and exercise goals. Anything done in an extreme fashion may produce fast results, but these results are often unsustainable. Drastically restricting your calorie intake and working out for 90 minutes, seven days a week may get you into that dress for the reunion. Chances are once you go back to your normal lifestyle, the weight will come back and any gains you made will be lost.
In the end, the choice is yours. Whether you try a 90-day DVD exercise program, join a gym or start taking tennis lessons with a friend, the key is to find what works for you so that you stick with it and don’t stray from the path to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If only I knew more about human movement science back in my 20s (and probably even in my teens), I’m pretty sure I could have avoided a whole lot of hurt in my 30s. This is why I will never shy away from writing about the importance of stretching muscles so that you can strengthen others correctly. Since my high school friend, Jennifer, took the time to write in and express her shared interest in learning more about how the various muscle groups work together, I thought I’d take this opportunity to address some other common postural distortions that can wreak havoc on your body if you don’t take the time to address them.
In my previous post about flexibility training, I discussed how sitting at my desk for long periods of time causes the tightening of my hip flexors. Unfortunately, that’s not the only part of the body that suffers because of my day job. I admit my posture can get pretty bad after typing at the keyboard for awhile. Instead of sitting up straight, I slouch or round my shoulders and stretch my neck out much more than I should. Needless to say this creates lots of tension in my neck and shoulders. (Just ask my chiropractor.)
This tension is a common problem for many office workers, and it comes from the tightening of the upper trapezius, scalenes and levator scapulae. If you bring that tension to your workout without stretching the muscles, it’s likely that when you try to perform an exercise that requires a push or a pull (e.g. a seated row or using a chest press machine) the shoulders will elevate and the head will protrude forward. This also indicates the mid/lower traps, rhomboids and rotator cuff need strengthening.
Again, while I can’t assess how you move through this blog post, I can tell you about what has worked for me in addressing this specific postural dysfunction as discovered by one of my own personal trainers in the past. This link illustrates a static stretch that helped my overactive upper traps and scalenes. I would perform one to three sets on each side, holding each stretch between 20 and 30 seconds. To strengthen my weaker muscles, my trainer had me perform the ball cobra. When it comes to strength training exercises for anyone just getting started on a fitness program, the recommendation would most likely be to one to three sets of 12-20 reps.
On any given day, our bodies are put under so many different stresses. The more we know about how flexibility and strength training work together in taking care of the muscles that move us, the better our chances of being able to stay on the right track to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
You took the plunge and signed up for a gym membership. You change into your workout wear, turn on the iPod…and find yourself completely overwhelmed surrounded by a sea of equipment. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. One of my best gal pals from Northwestern University, Molly, recently posed the following questions:
“My problem with getting/staying fit right now is not knowing exactly what to do with myself once I’m at the gym. Should I just focus on cardio? (I’d like to lose a few pounds.) If so, do I stick with one machine like the treadmill and work on building speed and endurance, or switch it up and try the elliptical sometimes? Should I start again with the weight machines, which I haven’t done in a while? (I’d also like to tone up and gain strength.) Take a class?”
Two important points to address right away:
1) They key to losing weight is burning more calories than you take in. That can be done through cardio and/or resistance training. Whether you’re an exercise novice or seasoned gym-goer, your body will benefit most from a combination of the two.
2) Find what you like to do at the gym, and you will stick with it. Then with some help from perseverance, self-discipline and motivation, you can get the results you’re looking for.
Reminding myself how good I feel after a workout fuels my perseverance and self-discipline. As for motivation, if you’re new to the gym, I strongly recommend meeting with a personal trainer at least once. Aside from helping you get familiarized with the gym, a personal trainer will also conduct fitness assessments to determine if you have any postural distortions that need correcting as part of your routine. In the simplest terms, you will learn what areas of your body need to be stretched and which need to be strengthened.
Many gyms welcome new members with a complimentary training session. If your gym doesn’t offer this service and a personal training session is not in your budget, then recruit a friend who does know his or her way around the gym to be your training partner.
Group exercise classes can also be a great source of motivation. With classes ranging from cardio kickboxing to Zumba, there is something out there for everyone. To avoid boredom at the gym, I’m a big fan of mixing up group exercise classes with your own program during the week.
Cardio is a topic that warrants its own blog post. For now, I recommend newcomers try the treadmill, elliptical and stationary bike for 10 minutes each. Determine which one you like best, then work on being able to run, stride or cycle for up to 30 minutes where you notice a moderate increase in your heart and respiratory rates. Doing this five to seven days each week with two days of resistance training is a good workout plan to strive for.
One final note: it takes six weeks before something becomes a habit. So, your first trip to the gym is the first big step in making exercise part of your routine to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!