Category Archives: Exercise

Make Better Exercise Choices

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Any exercise is better than no exercise, but if you’re taking the time to work out, make sure you’re choosing exercises that will truly improve your health and fitness.

The following exercises are too commonly performed in hopes of measurable results but often lead to injuries or disappointment.

The crunch with hands behind the head. The crunch is a staple exercise in many people’s abdominal routine, but there are just so many better options out there. Lying on the floor and pulling the head forward while rounding the torso a few degrees may create quite a muscle burn if done long enough, but it does not strengthen the core as many may think. Crunches performed incorrectly can actually strain the neck and accentuate poor posture.

Plank

Instead of the crunch, try any version of the plank. The plank is a great exercise as it strengthens many layers of the abdominal wall along with the stabilizing muscles of the back and hips while helping to improve posture. Set up in a plank as pictured. Keep your body in a straight line and be sure to squeeze your abs while continuing to breathe. Hold for as long as possible and record your time. Now, add 15-30 seconds to this time at your next workout and continue to increase this time at each workout over the next several weeks. With consistent practice, you should be able to hold the plank for several minutes.

Lying or seated chest press machine. This is the machine where you lie on your back and push a weight away from your chest. This is great if you want to add size to your chest, but lying on your back and moving a weight doesn’t involve much functionality. There are many more practical toning exercises out there for the typical person trying to tone up, lose weight, and get healthy. Using a fixed machine can actually limit your body’s natural range of motion and lead to tight joints and muscle imbalances.

TRX-Pushup

Rather than performing a chest press on a machine, try any version of the pushup. With a pushup, you are moving your body through space and requiring more total body recruitment. To perform a quality pushup, you must engage your core and stabilizing muscles – you’re in charge of how your body moves rather than the machine allowing you to move a certain way. If a traditional pushup is too difficult for you to perform, elevate the surface you are pushing from or try a pushup from your knees. If a traditional pushup is too easy, there are numerous options for progression, such as using a TRX strap.

Seated hip adduction/abduction machine. This is the machine you sit on with knees bent 90 degrees and either push your knees outward against resistance or pull them inward against resistance. This machine can target specific muscles of the hip, but it’s awkward at best. Trying to tone these areas won’t necessarily tighten and shrink the hips as many may think. These machines often lead to tight hips and imbalanced muscles.

Lateral-Lunge

Ditch these hip machines and try a lateral lunge instead. This lateral movement will work the muscles of the hips and upper leg while improving balance and range of motion. Stand with feet wider than shoulder width apart and toes turned slightly outward. Shift your weight sideways as you bend one leg and lunge down. The opposite leg should remain straight. As you near the bottom, make sure your heal stays planted on the floor and push your hips back. Return to your starting point and repeat on the other side.

So, encourage proper movement and overall results by avoiding exercises that are likely to hold you back.

7 Essentials for you Gym Bag

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Gym_Bag

The quickest way to spoil a workout is getting to the gym and realizing you forgot something important. We’ve probably all forgotten a t-shirt or our gym shoes at some point, but what are some other items worth having with you for your next workout?

After many years of gym-going, here is a list of seven things that you should always have in your gym bag.

1) Exercise Journal. No matter how great technology is, sometimes it’s nice to just have a notebook where you can write down your workouts and track your progress. Taking a look back to see what you’ve accomplished while progressing and planning for future goals is the foundation for seeing continuous results.

2) Workout Gloves. We don’t recommend wearing gloves all the time, but some exercises are much more enjoyable with a bit of padding and added grip for your hands. Wearing gloves for heavy lifts may actually increase your output.

3) Lacrosse Ball. This dense ball is not just for playing lacrosse. It’s the perfect density and size for isolated self-myofascial release, which is basically massaging out knots or adhesions in your muscles. If you’re going into a workout and something feels tight, lie on the floor on top of the lacrosse ball and let it sink into the tight muscle. After a few minutes the muscle should relax and allow better range of motion while hopefully alleviated pain and tension.

4) Water Bottle. Okay, this should be no surprise, but we had to mention it. Having a water bottle next to you at all times ensures that you’ll drink more water. A good quality water bottle makes drinking water more of a habit while making it more enjoyable.

5) Music Source and Earbuds. Music has an extremely powerful effect on your mood, which in turn affects your workout. If you’re constantly complaining about the music played at the gym, bring your own music with you. Personalize your list to get the most out of your workout. And remember, it’s worth having an extra pair of earbuds in your gym bag just in case.

6) Personal Items. Some basic things to keep spares of are hair ties, sweat bands or bandanna, a spare towel, and of course – deodorant. We’ve all had days where our deodorant has worn out before the end of the day or we forgot to apply it altogether. Re-apply as needed so you and the other gym members can stay focused on the workout.

7) A Spare Change of Clothes. It’s easy to forget to toss a clean shirt or pair of socks in your bag, so having a complete spare set in there is always good – shirt, pants or shorts, underwear, socks, and a lightweight pair of shoes. Remember to rotate them out every week so they don’t start smelling like a ‘gym bag.’

So keep your gym bag well stocked to get the most out of your workouts!

High Intensity Interval Training HIIT

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sprintersmall

Cardiovascular exercise is certainly an important component of a well-rounded fitness routine. Just like any other type of exercise, it’s important to add variety to your cardio routine to maximize progress and overall results.

A great way to energize your cardio routine is to practice HIIT (high intensity interval training). With HIIT, you are focusing on short bursts of intense exercise versus a long drawn-out exercise session. HIIT can be used with any type of activity, including running, biking, elliptical, swimming, rowing, boxing, and even certain types of strength training. It simply requires a short all-out effort followed by an adequate recovery period. Your heart rate will climb and peak during the work phase and slowly drop and stabilize during the recovery phase.

Below are 5 reasons you should add HIIT to your current fitness routine.

Train smarter. HIIT training elicits a similar hormonal response to strength training and therefore has a lasting effect on the body. Rather than just burning a certain number of calories during your exercise session, the high intensity stokes your metabolism for several hours after your workout is over. During this post-workout period, there is an increased fat and caloric burn. So you get the effect of the actual workout, as well as the bonus of extended fat burn for several hours after.

Preserve muscle. Extended steady state cardio can increase stress hormones and cause the body to become catabolic and actually break down precious muscle mass. Less muscle equals a slower metabolism and less daily caloric burn. HIIT training, on the other hand, increases natural human growth hormone which supports muscle mass and overall well-being.

No fancy equipment needed. Don’t worry if you don’t have a gym membership. HIIT training can be done anywhere and with limited or absolutely no equipment. Get outside and sprint for one block and walk for the next. Or, if you have access to a hill or incline grade, run up the hill at your fastest pace and then walk back down. Repeat as many times as you prefer.

Save time. A typical HIIT workout may last anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes depending on the intensity you put into it. If you have access to a track or a treadmill try running 100 meters as fast as you can and then jog or walk 300 meters. Repeat this for a total of 6 rounds and you’re done. You will have covered 1.5 miles, your heart rate will have gone through a variety of intensities, and you’ll be done with your workout in 30 minutes or less.

Improve fitness and performance. Pushing yourself up into your anaerobic zone with HIIT will have measureable benefits in cardiac output and therefore allow you to do more during your strength training and other cardio workouts. Many athletes, including marathon runners and triathletes, incorporate HIIT into their training routines to improve performance and cut down on the wear and tear of long distance training.

So keep things fun and exciting by adding HIIT to your weekly routine to elicit new results and improve overall performance.

Keep Changing Your Workout Routine

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Changing up your workout routine is great for progressing the body as well as keeping your head in the game. Boring workouts get boring results. We’ve taken three common exercises and modified them to make them more challenging and more interesting – the squat, the lunge, and the pushup.

The Overhead Squat. Begin with feet shoulder width apart while holding a barbell overhead. To stabilize the bar in the overhead position, you must extend the arms while engaging the muscles of the upper back and shoulders. Once the bar is stabilized overhead, you can move into the squatting portion. Slowly squat down as you inhale, ensuring that your heels stay heavy, while pushing your hips back and maintaining the natural curve in your low back. Drop down to a comfortable and stable depth. Exhale as you stand back to the top, but don’t lock your knees all the way out. Repeat. With the bar overhead, it becomes a total-body exercise and requires much more balance, stability, and flexibility than a typical squat.

Common Mistakes: Never let your knees travel forward of your toes and don’t allow your elbows to bend.

Regression: If a weighted overhead squat is too challenging, grab a lightweight bar or stick and perform the same motion without the load.

Overhead-Squat

The Lateral Lunge. Place feet wider than shoulder width and turn feet outward at a slight angle. With a dumbbell resting on each shoulder, shift your weight laterally and sit back on the heel of your bent leg while you allow your other leg to straighten. At this point, your bent leg should have a 90 degree bend as your opposite leg should be fully extended. Return to your starting position and repeat on the other leg. This lateral movement adds a new dynamic that will stress muscles differently than a traditional lunge.

Common Mistakes: Never let either heel pop off the floor – you must push your hips back and keep your posture upright.

Regression: If your flexibility doesn’t allow you to drop into the lateral lunge, hold on to a stationary object so you can support yourself as you push your hips down and back until you can perform the lunge with the desired range of motion.

Lateral-Lunge

The Hand Release Pushup. Take a traditional pushup position with hands shoulder width apart, feet together, and maintain a straight line from shoulder to ankle. Slowly drop down into the pushup until you feel your chest touch the floor. At this point, raise your hands off the floor so your weight is resting on your chest and torso. Push your hands hard into the floor as you return to the top of the pushup. Repeat. The hand release pushup requires strength and control throughout the pushup’s entire range of motion.

Common Mistakes: Don’t let your hips sag as you drop to the floor or push back up to the top position. Keeping your core engaged will help you maintain a rigid and safe posture.

Regression: If you can’t maintain proper form with the traditional hand release pushup, modify so your knees are resting on the floor rather than your toes. This position takes more weight off the upper body and also lessons the strain on the core. It should allow you to move through the entire range of motion while maintaining safe and effective form.

HR-Pushup

So switch up a few common exercises and take on the new challenge.

Boost Your Immunity

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Immunity

Coming down with the flu or a cold is pretty common this time of year. Wouldn’t it be great to have the upper hand on seasonal illnesses? Although you might not be able to totally avoid getting sick, maintaining a resilient immune system may lessen the severity, duration, and frequency of illness.

The following tips are natural ways to boost your immune system and overall health:

Cut out offensive foods. Inflammation is a natural response to getting sick or injured. Your immune system sends inflammatory cells to the region they’re needed to attack and repair the compromised area. But, if you’re eating foods you’re intolerant to, your immune system may go on the attack every time you consume these foods. Besides causing added stress in the body, your immune system stays compromised for longer periods of time which decreases the effectiveness of daily maintenance.

Add more nutrients. Micronutrients such as magnesium, vitamin C, and vitamin D all have immunity boosting powers. Foods such as ginger, bee pollen, and many fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which all aid in supporting a healthy immune system. Even adding lemon juice to your water can help alkalize the pH of your body and support healthy bacteria while making it difficult for acid-loving pathogens to thrive.

Improve your sleep. We all know how important sleep is to our mental health, but our body uses this time to repair and recover from daily wear and tear. A lack of sleep can lead to immune system suppression by increasing inflammation and decreasing the amount of disease fighting cells in our bodies.

Ensure proper detox. If your body isn’t eliminating everyday toxins from the food you eat or the air you breathe, you’ll have a hard time fighting off a cold. Proper detox begins with a healthy digestive system and adequate hydration sets the stage for efficient elimination. If you eat non-organic meats or if you had a recent dose of antibiotics, it’s a good idea to supplement with a quality probiotic to restore gut flora. This will aid in efficient digestion and keep things moving along properly.

Take advantage of strength training. Exercise has numerous benefits, but one that is often overlooked is the ability of muscle contractions to help drain the lymphatic system. The lymph system is a channel for toxins to be excreted from the body and a pathway for immune cells to travel where they are needed. Consistent muscle contractions drive the healthy flow of the lymph system.

Laugh and enjoy life. Obviously laughter seems to reduce stress in our lives, but it may also boost immune function. Studies have shown that laughter boosts natural killer cells that attack anything from infectious cells to tumor cells. Laughter will boost your body’s ability to destroy toxic cells and therefore lesson your chance for disease.

So take a few simple steps each day to give your immune system a fighting chance.

Train Your Core Without Situps

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How strong is your core? If you’re looking to tighten and tone your mid-section, it’s going to take more than crunches and sit-ups. Read on to learn more about the core and how to properly train it.

The core musculature attaches to the spine and pelvis, including muscles of the abdominal area, mid and low back, and hips. Specifically it includes muscles such as the rectus abdominis, erector spinae, external and internal obliques, transversus abdominis, and glutes.

Your core protects your spine from excessive flexion, extension, rotation, and lateral bending and works to stabilize the spine and hips during specific movements. Your core plays a major role in balanced posture and everyday mobility. If you’ve ever injured a core muscle, you’ll quickly realize how often you use these muscles – you’ll feel the injury every time you move.

Since the core works constantly to keep us functioning at our best, it makes sense to keep it working properly. Is your core weak? Try the plank test to determine if you have adequate core strength. Assume a traditional pushup position. Now drop from your hands down onto your forearms and hold your body rigid. How long can you hold before your hips begin to sag or your low back starts to strain? If you planked less than 60 seconds, your core could use some work.

So what’s the best way to strengthen the core? We like to incorporate functional exercises, so multiple muscles are working together as a unit to stabilize or carry out a specific movement. We recommend the following exercises to build overall core strength.

The Plank. This exercise is great for beginners because its simplicity allows utilization of the core without much complication. Just get in the plank position and hold. Time your sets for the first workout and try to beat that time during the next workout. You can also progress by adding a weight to your hips or raising one leg off the floor.

Plank-Pat

Pushup to Dumbbell Row and Twist. This is a great intermediate core exercise because it involves both movement and stabilization. Assume a pushup position while holding a dumbbell in each hand. Perform a pushup and as your arms straighten at the top of the movement, row one of the dumbbells toward your chest, rotate, and then press the dumbbell towards the ceiling. Return to your starting point and repeat on the other side. Choose a weight that allows for 10-20 reps.

DB_Row_Twist

Walking Overhead Lunge. This is an advanced exercise and should only be attempted once the core is strong enough to perform efficiently. Grab a moderately weighted barbell and press it overhead. Lock your arms out and stabilize the weight in an overhead position. At this point, perform 10 walking lunges in a forward direction. Once complete, turn around and perform 10 more lunges as you return to your starting point. Be sure to keep your arms locked straight and the barbell directly above your head. This will work the core differently than the previous two exercises and requires overall body strength and stability to perform.

Walking_Ohead_Lunge

So find a new way to strengthen your core and teach your body to perform at its best.

Exercises for the Seated Lifestyle

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How do you choose the exercises that make up your workouts? Maybe you base it on exercises you like or exercises you’re familiar with. Or maybe you have certain areas of the body you’d like to see change, so you focus on those muscle groups.

Obviously everyone has different goals, body types, and lifestyles, but one common issue we see with many of our clients is a weakness pattern through the core and posterior chain. If you find yourself sitting most of the day, it makes sense to choose exercises that counter this shortened posture. The following exercises will help strengthen many of the muscles that become weak through a seated lifestyle.

The Deadlift. Step up to a weighted barbell with shins nearly touching the bar and feet hip to shoulder width apart. Squat down toward the bar as you keep your heels firmly planted while maintaining a natural curve through your back. Grasp the bar slightly wider than shoulder width and tense your body. As you lift the weight, push your feet into the floor while exhaling. Be sure to keep the bar close to the body as you lift. Maintain your posture throughout the lift, keeping tension through your shoulder blades as you rise to the top position. Control the weight back down to the floor and repeat.

deadlift

 

Bent-Over Row. Grab a set of dumbbells and hold them at your sides with palms facing inward. With feet hip width apart, bend the knees slightly as you lean forward to about a 45 degree angle. Be sure to keep your posture while maintaining a tight core. Your body will stay in this position for the duration of the exercise. As you exhale, pull the dumbbells up and back while you bring your shoulder blades together. Your elbows should slide right past the sides of your body as you pull. Inhale as you extend your arms back to the starting position.

db-row

Reverse Cable Woodchop. Slide the handle on a cable resistance machine down to a setting just a few inches off the floor. Position your body perpendicular to the machine and set feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Drop down into a deadlift position, and with abs engaged, rotate your upper body away from the machine while you rise up to a standing position. Keep your arms fully extended and allow your hips and shoulders to rotate with the movement. Once you’re fully rotated and extended, control back down to your starting position.

r-cable-woodchop

So add these exercises to your routine to help strengthen the muscles that most likely need it.

Do you Deadlift?

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Deadlift_1

When it comes to getting the most value from a particular exercise, there aren’t too many movements that can beat the deadlift. This total body exercise demands strength, power, cardiovascular efficiency, and postural control. When performed correctly, the deadlift works the entire posterior chain – including the hamstrings, glutes, low, mid and upper back, as well as muscles of the quads, core, shoulders, and arms.

The deadlift is great for total body strength and conditioning as well as improving your muscular and cardiovascular endurance. A set of deadlifts may leave you more winded than a 100 yard sprint and the muscle overload and fatigue will elicit gains in strength and muscle density.

To Perform

Step up to a weighted barbell with shins nearly touching the bar and feet hip-width apart. Squat down and lean toward the bar as you keep your heels firmly planted while maintaining a natural posture through the back. Grasp the bar slightly wider than shoulder width and tense your body. As you lift the weight, push your feet into the floor while exhaling. Be sure to keep the bar close to the body as you lift. Maintain your posture throughout the lift, keeping tension through your shoulder blades as you rise to the top position. Control the weight back down to the floor and repeat.

Mistakes to Avoid

The most common mistake with the dead lift is not getting the hips fully involved. If you are rounding forward over the top of the bar rather than squatting down to the bar, you are compromising your low back as well as missing out on all the benefits of efficient biomechanics. A forward rounded posture further accentuates common muscle imbalances, but proper form will help to improve these imbalances and minimize your chance for injury.

How to Incorporate

Include the deadlift in your weekly workouts by treating it as a total body exercise. If you’re doing a split routine, include it as either a leg or a back exercise. By sticking with light to moderate weights and high reps you will greatly improve your muscular endurance and cardiovascular efficiency, while heavier weights will help build muscle density and overall strength. Try light to moderate weights one week and perform higher reps (10-20), then follow it up the next week with a heavier load and less reps (3-8).

Once you realize all the benefits of the deadlift, you’ll be ready to include it in your weekly workouts.

 

Resistance Training for Weight Loss

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DB Thruster

Although many people realize the importance of diet and exercise, few fully understand the value of resistance training and how it may be one of the most important types of exercise for long-term weight loss. Adding just 2-3 workouts per week can have a dramatic effect on your metabolism and your body’s ability to burn fat.

Don’t be one of the many who spend hours on the treadmill every week but see minimal results. Instead, implement the following workout designed for overall muscle toning and fat loss. Perform each exercise for 30 seconds using a moderate weight. Your goal is to get through all five exercises with minimal rest time – then recovering for 1-2 minutes before starting back at the first exercise. Repeat this series for a total of 3-5 rounds.

Dumbbell Thrusters – Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height with feet placed shoulder width apart. Squat down slowly until upper leg is near parallel to the floor then rise up out of the squat forcefully as you press the dumbbells overhead. Repeat.

Pushup – Assume a pushup position with hands placed shoulder width and feet placed hip width. Your body should be in a straight line from shoulder to ankle, making sure to keep your abs engaged. Bend your arms and drop down to a challenging depth before pushing back up to the starting position. Note: Pushups can be performed from the knees to decrease the resistance if needed.

Plank – From a pushup position, bend your elbows to 90 degrees and rest your weight on the underside of your forearms. Focus on holding your body in a straight line from shoulder to ankle, while tightening your abs and maintaining a neutral posture. Hold for 30 seconds.

Kettle Bell Swing – Grip a kettle bell with both hands while standing with feet shoulder width apart. Drop into a partial squat while folding forward at the waist and let the kettle bell swing down and back between your legs. As soon as the kettle bell reaches its lowest point, stand up forcefully as you push your hips forward and swing the kettle bell upward to shoulder height. Drop back to the starting position by moving with the momentum and repeat.

Mt. Climber – Assume a pushup position with more of your bodyweight shifted forward onto your arms. Now, bring your right knee forward and rest your right food on the floor while the left leg is still straight. With a light hop, quickly switch your foot position. Continue switching back and forth as you focus on driving your knee forward and engaging your abs.

So make resistance training an integral part of your workouts and start seeing results.

How to Finish Strong in 2015

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Helping-Hand-Small

As the weather turns colder, you may feel your energy levels dropping with the temperature. This causes many people to abandon their workout routines until New Year’s Resolutions come around in January. Don’t be one to let things slip at the end of the year. Practice the following tips to keep your health on track through the remainder of 2015.

Set a new goal. The ‘lose 10 lbs to look good in my swimsuit this summer’ goal is now expired, so it’s time to get creative again. Maybe you’d like to run a 5K with a co-worker or you’ve always wanted to try kickboxing. Now is a great time to set a goal that forces you to try something different – something that challenges you mentally as well as physically. Forget about the pressure of trying to reach a certain weight or pant size and instead, take up a new activity.

Re-evaluate your diet. Just as fresh food options change with the seasons, your diet should never be the same year round. Getting tired of the same old foods day after day? Now is a great time to introduce some new foods into your diet. Get creative and find ways to make the meals of the holiday season fun and healthy.

Keep a journal. Numerous studies show that keeping a food or exercise journal supports positive changes. Sometimes we don’t realize what we eat until we write it down or we’re just too embarrassed to write down some of the things we do eat. As far as exercise, how can you progress if you can’t remember your workouts from last week? Keeping track of all this keeps you moving in the right direction.

Get a friend involved. It feels great to inspire someone to lead a healthier lifestyle, but the unexpected outcome is that while you’re inspiring others, they are inspiring you as well. Support and accountability from those closest to you is a great way to build your relationship while keeping each other on track. Getting a friend involved in that 5K or new exercise routine will be helping you as much as it helps them.

Have fun with it. If exercise seems like a chore, it won’t take long for you to make excuses on why you don’t have time for it. If you hate doing traditional cardio on the treadmill, get into a sports league or join a martial arts class. Exercise should be an enjoyable part of our lives, not something we feel like we have to do. Active people understand that exercise is just part of their lifestyle and they make it as enjoyable as possible.

So while others are making excuses on why they can’t exercise as the year winds down, don’t lose sight of how important a consistent routine is for your body and mind.

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