Life is fast – or rather we tend to live life fast. Schedules are jam-packed, the days, weeks, months fly by. As we all know this tends to push fitness (and personal care in general) to the bottom of a long list, and for many that means you never get to it. Today I’m not going to address (again) how to make fitness a priority, how to squeeze it in, and how to plan ahead so your nutrition stays on track and healthy. I’ve done that many times herein. Today I’m going to simply talk about slowing down.
While of course I mean slowing down over all – stopping to smell the roses – enjoying those precious moments with your children and loved ones, etc., I am focusing more on slowing down when exercising.
As I’ve many times over in this blog successful body fitness can be achieved in as little as 20-30 minutes three times a week. The current trends (and my approach with clients) is faster paced combination exercises rapidly performed in a brief period of time (the aforementioned 20-30 mins). However, that does not mean that you can’t slow down the actual performance of range of motion in each exercise.
Slowing down the execution of your repetitions will put a bigger strain on the targeted muscles groups, which in turn will burn more calories, and cause more breakdown of the muscle. Then with proper nutrition, your muscles will recover, grow in size or tone, and burn more fat calories from your body.
I laugh when I see a huge man at the gym, lifting too heavy a weight, using about 20% range of motion, and slamming the weights up and down erratically. I have, when the opportunity presents itself, taken said man, reduced the weights by half, instructed him on proper form to utilize 100% range of motion while excluding all other muscle groups (isolations) and slowed his speed down by 80%. Lo and behold, 20 minutes later the man is struggling to curl the same weight I can curl, and is sweating, exhausted and super-sore the next day.
So the next time you’re working out, try lowering your weight a tad, make sure that your range of motion is fully extended to fully flexed, and slow down – way down. Try lifting the weights to a count of ten and lowering to a count of ten. You may only perform 8-10 reps instead of 15 but you will be truly targeting and exhausting your muscles.
I often intersperse the slow down concept with regular lifting speed. For example, I might have a client perform a set of fast curls, followed by a set of 10-count hammer curls. They’re not happy with me during, but believe me their arms get toned quickly! Sometimes I write a routine for a client what is comprised of normal speed moves for 4-weeks, followed by a new slow routine for the next 4-weeks.
Do not forget to apply this slow down concept to stretches (and you should be performing about 20minutes of total body stretching (head to toes) at least once a week). All muscles have a tendon leading in that has the job of protecting the muscle from being pulled to the point of “strain.” This tendon does not relax (let its guard down) for 12-20 seconds. That is why you must hold a stretch for at least 30 seconds to gain the full benefit to the targeted muscle. Once the tendon has relaxed, the muscle is then gently stretched. Stretching slowly will taking slow deep breaths will help ease the lactic acid building up (that sore burning sensation in your muscles), lower blood pressure, and clear your head.
Try the slow-down approach the next time you workout and let me know your thoughts / results on it. (As always, if you should desire a customized workout routine, please contact me via www.workouts247.com.)
Lately the most common question I get from over-weight or too-sedentary individuals, especially seniors, is how they can get a quick fix, short-cut, easy way to burn fat, increase their metabolism, improve their circulation, and strengthen their heart and lungs, all in one low-impact quick exercise. Keep in mind these individuals are usually not prone to enjoying any exercise, and their lack of physical endurance and flexibility makes many basic exercises (like even walking) a chore that they quickly give up on. So for you I offer up my quick, easy and cheap fitness trick: The Stairs!
Climbing stairs strengthens your lungs and heart which let you take in more oxygen, which is key to circulation and muscle stimulation and growth, which in turn burns more calories. When you walk up stairs, your body’s response is to release endorphins to handle the “strain.” Endorphins are natural mood lifters and anti-inflamatories. Stress is reduced, focus is improved, and your immune system is enhanced.
A study in European Heart Journal followed 69 hospital employees who used stairs instead of the elevator for about three months. Some of the results for the stair-climbing employees were:
- Body fat dropped 1.7%
- Blood pressure fell 2.3%
- LDL (or bad) cholesterol fell 3.9%
- Lung capacity went up 8.6%
Now before you say that you I can barely walk, there’s no way I can handle stairs take a deep breath and consider this, to get any real fitness benefit from walking you have to achieve a certain speed or length, all the while having nothing to hold on to — daunting for many. With stairs, however, you can get maximum body benefit with as little as one flight. You don’t even have to spend 20 minutes walking a stair climber at the gym, or handle five flights of stairs at the office. What you will need to do is incorporate steps whenever and where ever you can as much or as little as you can – with the commitment to do so regularly and always push yourself just a little so that you never plateau.
Here are some practical examples of using stairs to better your body:
Say you have a flight of stairs in your two-story house. You probably always walk up and down them several times a day. Next time you are taking the stairs to go to another room, stop and repeat the up and down (or down and up) 1-2 extra times, then continue on your way. Doing this 3-4 times a day is a simple way of increasing your fitness. Once that becomes easier, increase your speed a touch or add an additional up/down set.
Extra-credit: Sometimes when I walk past my stairs (not intending to use them), I just throw in a quick up and down (or down and up) then continue on my way. Try it!
For those of you in a high-rise building (or at least more than three stories), you probably have access to the fire-stairwell. Even if you’re up too many flights to use the stairs to go to and from – take 2 breaks (one a.m. one p.m.) and walk up and down just 2-3 flights of stairs. Throw in an extra set on your lunch break. Once that is no longer difficult on your system, increase speed or add a set.
Maybe there’s a stair climber at the gym, but since you only attend classes or perform a quick resistance training circuit you’ve never used it. Well, try adding 3 minutes of stairs climbing to your workouts, 3 times a week. When that become easier, add a few more minutes or increase your speed. An extra 5 minutes to your hectic schedule won’t kill you, and in fact it’ll do just the opposite!
If you have problematic knees, keep in mind that walking down stairs is harder on the knees than up. Take them sideways (walk turned to the side) on the down, and the pressure is transferred off the patella (knee cap).
Speed is not essential – however, if you always stop just when your heart rate and breathing seem a little strained, you’ll never improve your cardiovascular condition. Take it slow but stay steady and always push yourself just a touch further.
Seniors: if balance or falling is your concern, there’s no reason why you cannot hold on to the railing (especially on the walking downstairs angle). As long as you continue climbing you will still get the benefit. Just don’t pull yourself along, use the railing for stability but whenever you feel confident (especially on the upstairs), walk without holding on.
So give it a try, before you know it you stairs will be a part of your daily life that you will enjoy. Feel free to write me back and tell me your experiences. Now I’m off to run up and down my stairs!
Kids: They will do what you do. Teach your children to take the stairs whenever possible. We must not forget the terrifying rise of childhood obesity in America and this is just one more way to make fitness an automatic aspect of their lives.
It’s almost summer, and the gym is packed. Every year gyms enjoy the “seasonal” membership cram session from March through August as everyone attempts to put their bodies into pool-side shape.
Some of you clearly enjoy your daily hour spent strolling on a treadmill (at a steep incline while holding on is a stroll not a workout) while reading a magazine or catching up with friends on your cell phone. Then a quick 20-minute saunter through the resistance machines circuit and you are out the door, certain you have done your part to lean down and tone up.
Conversely, there are those who begrudgingly speed through a haphazard routine of machines and cardio equipment, all the while looking discouraged and bored. But still, you persevere because as we have all been told, and now believe, exercise is the road to body perfection, good health, and long life.
There are also a handful of dedicated “gym-rats” who love their 1-2 hours of daily assault to their muscles and challenges to their cardio-vascular system. But for the most part, the majority of gym members say they force themselves to workout, but wish they could obtain their exercise another way.
Now depending upon where you live, there are a myriad of wonderful choices that take or keep you outside having fun while exercising (biking, hiking, rock climbing, swimming, running, etc. But for those in Cities/States where outdoor activities are limited in the 100+ heat of summer (Arizona, Nevada) or the -10 degrees of winter (Alaska, Minnesota), the gym is often the only choice. Whether you view it as friend or foe, the gym is an easy, self-contained, climate controlled environment to help you change your body, so embrace it and get it done – quickly, efficiently, and enjoyably.
Below are a few points that will hopefully make the gym a friend to you all:
1. Exercise in your target heart rate. Everyone has a different Target Heart Rate (THR) depending on their Resting Heart Rate and their age. You may have noticed each piece of cardio equipment has a THR chart broken down by age (in increments of 10 years). These charts show percentage zones, the lower being the “fat burning zone,” the higher an “endurance zone.” Understand that these charts are very generic and only slightly helpful. Most trainers who work at your gym should be able to give you a more precise THR for you to aim to achieve proper fat burning.
If you perform cardio at a rate too low, i.e., you can carry on a conversation or easily read a magazine, you are doing nothing but burning a few calories which you will regain upon your next meal!
If you are performing cardio at too high a rate, i.e., you cannot talk without gulping for air, and are panting profusely. This means you are likely out of your fat burning zone as well, and therefore, defeating the purpose.
2. Effective Treadmill usage. How many of you walk on a treadmill for 40-60 minutes? How many of you are noticing only slight changes to your body from this activity (or no further changes after an initial weight loss)? Consider that after 3 weeks of the same activity, your body’s progress plateaus. Also consider that you could spend half that amount of time, and be twice as effective in seeing results! Wouldn’t you prefer that? If so, here’s a tip:
Keep the treadmill on manual mode. Every 1 minute change either the speed or incline (or both). Once you have reached your THR goal, yo-yo the speed and incline to maintain that THR within 15 degrees (i.e., if your THR is 150, stay between 145 and 160). Next, most importantly: do NOT hold on! If you have balance issues, or are briefly checking your heart rate, then please grab a handle. But all other times, holding on is a huge crutch and wastes your time.
Twenty to thirty minutes of walking at a steep incline (not holding on) at a speed that is slightly challenging but comfortable, combined with moments at a much lesser incline, but a faster walk, and even throwing in a few 1-minute sprints (as fast as you can run with no incline) is the best way to make the time fly, (and be effective too). This approach also has great toning effects to the back of your legs and buttocks.
3. Ellipticals. Aside from monitoring your THR, the only change I might suggest for your elliptical use is to alternate backwards and forwards every other minute. If there is tension or angle that can be changed, change them as well – continuing to alter something and your direction, every one minute.
4. Stationary Bikes. Pick a different pre-programmed mode each time you ride, and try standing up while you pedal for brief periods (on an upright bike), or changing seat distance on a recumbent.
5. Weight Lifting/Resistance Training. Change your routine every 3-4 weeks. Alter the order in which you perform your exercises. Make the weight lighter and perform more reps, or heavier with less reps. Increase your sets. Always, make sure you are challenging yourself to complete your reps and sets. Fifteen minutes of muscle exhausting focused work beats 30 minutes of exercises where you barely break a sweat.
If you can commit to one hour, five times a week, you may indeed see the results you crave. Needless to say, a personal trainer is a great way to get proper focus, direction, and instruction but if you are motivated enough, you can do it yourself.
Also, do not forget that your approach to exercise is only as successful as your nutritional intake (remember five meals, small quantities of good quality foods, less sugar and fat, and lots of water, etc.) Healthy nutrition (what and when you eat), management of your stress, and the proper amount of rest/sleep will also help you achieve your weight loss goals (nutrition alone plays a 70% role of body fat reduction).
If you incorporate these tips, your gym visits may be shorter and more satisfying, not to mention more effective! Once you see/feel changes to your body, it becomes easier and more satisfying to go to the gym.
(If you would like to have a customized workout routine designed for you by a trainer, visit www.workouts247.com where for a fraction of the cost of working with a trainer, you can receive a personalized routine catered to your tastes, time availability, and equipment preference, as well as a customized and easy to follow menu plan.)