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Here’s to a Happy and Healthy Fall!

Happy first Motivation Monday of the fall of 2018!

Many of us mark the official change of seasons by packing up the beach gear and craving all those pumpkin-flavored treats. So I thought it was the perfect time to offer yet another reminder about how a little patience can go a long way when it comes to adjusting to a new season filled with new demands. That reminder isn’t just for my loyal readers. Putting the words “on paper” in this post is another kick in my own you-know-what to be better to my body in the days ahead.

The great news is I start the fall season with a discharge from physical therapy! After nearly two months of treatment for an overuse injury in my knee, my wonderful physical therapist Jun Zhang deemed it safe to let me back into the wild. However, just because I no longer have to meet with Jun at the Orthology studio in Chelsea, I still have work to do on my own. The stretches and strengthening exercises he taught me for my adductors and abductors will continue to be a part of my daily exercise routine. I also have to wait just a little bit longer before I can run back to the heavy bag at Best Kickboxing NYC. I’m going to “test” my knee over the next couple of weeks with jab / cross / weave drills to make sure my knee can handle the twisting needed for the tough muay thai inspired classes. Now that I’m so close to getting back to doing what I love, it’s almost harder to wait it out. But I will. I keep reminding myself of something I’ve told others so many times: going back too quickly could mean end up exactly where I don’t want to be – back in physical therapy.

I have shared a little about my physical therapy journey as a reminder that injuries can happen whether you’re a novice or a bona fide fitness fanatic. The key is to not ignore the pain in your body or the voice in your head telling you something’s not right. The longer you put off treatment, the longer it can take to get back in the game that you love. So, listen to your body and follow through with your prescribed treatment. In a world of instant gratification, it’s important to realize slow and steady will always be a way to win the continuous race to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

 

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Flexibility Friday

It may have been a shorter work week than usual, but I say TGIF anyway!

If you’re like most people, you’ve clocked countless hours this week sitting at a desk crouched over a keyboard. Or maybe you’ve logged hours in your car on that daily commute or took a road trip for winter break. Regardless of your daily activities, chances are you suffer from an all-too common problem for modern-day Americans: bad posture. This matched with an ever-increasing sedentary lifestyle for people everywhere make a recipe for disaster where your body is concerned. This is why incorporating flexibility training (a.k.a. stretching) is more important than ever. It is one of the best ways to decrease muscle imbalances, joint dysfunction and overuse injuries.

While I can’t assess how your body moves via this post, I can tell you about one of my biggest “problem areas.” When I’m not out in the field producing shoots, I spend way too much time sitting in front of my computer. Since I’m almost always on deadline, I tend to lose track of just how long I sit there. These extended periods of sitting unfortunately cause tightening of my hip flexors, which are made up of five muscles including the psoas.

Stretch & Smile! Photo by Leslie Hassler

What happens if I I don’t take the time to stretch my hip flexors and just get right into the “heart” of a workout?  There are plenty of terms in exercise science to describe the problematic results, including altered reciprocal inhibition, synergistic dominance and arthrokinetic dysfunction.  Here’s what those problems look like when it comes to performing one of the most popular exercises known to man: the squat. If I repeatedly perform squats with a tight psoas, the “wrong” muscles end up doing the work. The gluteus maximus should be the prime mover, but tight hips flexors inhibit the gluteus maximus from doing its job and getting strong. Instead, the workload gets picked up by the “B team:” the hamstrings and erector spinae. Not only does this make the butt-kicking exercise pretty much ineffective for actually toning my butt, but I’m also putting myself at risk for low back pain and potential injury.

Here’s a link featuring some good static stretches for the hip flexors. If you’re just getting started on an exercise program, your focus will most likely be on corrective flexibility in order to improve any muscle imbalances and altered joint motion.  To that end, static stretches and self-myofascial release should be the key components in your flexibility training program.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if I could go back in time and change one thing about my life-long love affair with fitness, it would be to incorporate much more flexibility training into my routine. It is truly one of the best things we can do for ourselves in order to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Cross Training

I hope you enjoyed some rest and recovery time over the weekend. As you outline your attack plan on how to fit fitness into the week ahead, I offer this bit of advice: mix things up a bit.

Whether you’re a fitness novice, getting back to a routine or have been exercising for years, variety can make the world of difference when it comes to sticking with a fitness regimen and also preventing injuries. Doing the same routine day after day causes repetitive stress and can lead to overuse and stress-related injuries. Some of the more common ones include:

  • Chondromalacia patella (often referred to as “runner’s knee”): An overuse injury causing pain in the kneecap. Pain can occur from weight-bearing knee flexion activities like squats or sitting for long periods of time with bent knees. Symptoms may also include swelling or grating noises.
  • Stress fractures: Microscopic fractures usually to a weight-bearing bone like the tibia in the leg or metatarsals in the feet.
  • Tendonitis: Inflammation in the connective tissue that joins bone to bone. (One common form is “tennis elbow”)

If you love group exercise classes, one of the easiest ways to avoid overuse injuries is to mix up your schedule. For example, the twisting, dance-like movements executed in Zumba classes put extra stress on your knees and can be damaging if the surrounding muscles (e.g. the quadriceps) are weak. The same can be said of cardio kickboxing. Repetitive high kicks and other movements places stress on the hip region. If any of the above mentioned exercises are not performed in proper form, the risk of injury is even greater.

I am not saying you can’t take your favorite group ex class multiple times during the week, but try to give yourself a day in between to allow the muscle groups to repair and recover.  If you’re a five-day-a-week-group-ex “addict,” here’s a possible schedule:

  • Monday: Cardio kick
  • Tuesday: Pilates mat (Followed by 30 minutes of cardio)
  • Wednesday: Zumba
  • Thursday: Pilates mat or Yoga
  • Friday: Cardio kick or Zumba

The same can be said for strength training.  Most beginners should aim for a resistance training workout of two days per week and not on consecutive days.  If your schedule forces you to strength train on back-to-back days, split the muscle groups over two days.

Stretching is one activity you can do every day of the week. One of my personal fitness goals this year has been to incorporate more flexibility training into my routine. If only I had made that goal a priority earlier in my life, I’m sure I could have avoided many trips to the doctor along with multiple X-rays and MRIs.

That being said, we can all push ourselves a little too hard at times. However, if a couple days of rest, ice and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories don’t alleviate the pain, you should talk to your doctor. Preventing injuries is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your body and mind are working together to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

The Importance of Rest

Take a Break from the Weights!

Earlier this week, I offered some cardio guidelines to help beginners get their heart rates going. Now that we’ve made it to another Friday, I thought talking about the importance of letting the body rest and recover was a good way to head into the weekend.

Whatever your fitness focus – running, weight training, participating in group exercise classes – rest is an essential component of your exercise routine. If you don’t allow your body to rest and recover, you’re simply putting yourself at risk for overtraining.  That can lead to a gamut of problems including injury and overall fatigue. AFAA’s Fitness: Theory & Practice (Fifth Edition) describes the following as symptoms of overtraining:

  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Amenorrhea (when a woman stops getting her monthly period)
  • Overuse or stress-related injuries (e.g. stress fractures, tennis elbow and runner’s knee)
  • Increased resting heart rate
  • Slower recovery of heart rate
  • Decrease in strength performance
  • Constant muscle pain or soreness when moving, bordering on pain

Avoiding these symptoms doesn’t have to be difficult. Just give yourself a break now and then! A rest day allows for muscular repair and recovery of the central nervous system. I always give myself at least one day off from the gym every week. For those of you who can’t imagine even one day without activity, you can still take a leisurely walk or bike ride, or maybe you can substitute that strength or cardio class with an extra-long session of stretching.

On the other hand, if you want to enjoy a rest day curled up on the couch in your kick-around clothes reading a good book or catching up with your DVR, go for it! Remember, taking a rest day doesn’t mean you’re being lazy. It only means you’re giving your body the strength to get back in the game so you can have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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