Did you just kill leg day? Are you a rucker or a runner? Does your job require you to sit most of the time? Chances are high that for any of these reasons (along with any number of others), you've found your range of motion lacking in your hips. You may even feel how tight they are in your movements, or found that your low back is suffering due to the pull from your consistently static position (sitting) or through constant activation (training). One thing is for sure: I see the consequences of tight hips day in and day out with fellow athletes as well as clients. I make recommendations consistently on what should be done to ameliorate the problem, but felt it best to share everything in a full-on recovery series covering different areas of the body starting with this very prominent issue. Let's get started.
HIP MUSCLE ANATOMY
Before we get into the nitty gritty about what you can do to loosen up and strengthen your hips, let's get a visual about what the muscles are so we can pinpoint trouble areas.
The iliopsoas (that is, the iliacus and psoas together which share a common insertion point in the hip complex) is very commonly the region that is most often the "tight" hip flexor. This grouping attaches to the top of the hip and to the spine and is a common trigger of low back pain. Because the psoas attaches to the spine, this muscle also plays an integral role in lumbar spine stabilization.
The tensor faciae latae (TFL) inserts onto the IT band, so if you have had tight IT band problems you also need to take care of this area of the hips as it's also going to be terribly tight.
If you've ever had sciatic pain, you may have impingement from a tight piriformis as the sciatic nerve passes through this muscle. The piriformis stabilizes the hip join and lifts/rotates the thigh away from the body. It allows us to walk, shift weight from one foot to the other, and maintain balance.
The gluteus maximus is one of the strongest muscles in the human body and is one of the primary movers in running. The gluteus medius is a dynamic pelvic stabilizer, meaning it holds the pelvis in a neutral place during strides -- this muscle gets tight particularly in female athletes. The gluteus minimus assists the piriformis in external rotation of flexed thighs, assisting in balance.
The adductors are fan-like muscles in the upper thigh that pull the legs together when they contract and help stabilize the hip joint. They are part of the grouping generally called the groin muscles: adductor magnus, adductor longus, adductor brevis, pectineus and gracilis. Men in particular often have chronically tight groin musculature.
An additional hip flexor which is often forgotten is the rectus femoris, which is one of the anterior quad muscles. Its origin point is attached to the pelvis, making it a hip flexor which must be addressed in any treatment of tight hips.
Each of the many muscles in the lumbo-pelvic hip complex has a slightly different function which you may or may not be able to pinpoint in your daily movements. Together they allow the flexion of the hip joint, the rotation of the pelvis and the extension of the lumbar spine and are an important part of injury prevention and daily activity, regardless of whether you are an athlete.
TESTING YOUR RANGE OF MOTION
Let's assess the flexibility of your lumbo-pelvic hip complex. The Thomas Test is quick and easy.
Your first task once you've identified what's tight is to release the tension locked up in those areas. You may not be able to perform all of these initially, so start with the movement you can execute with the best form. As you progress with daily work on the same areas, your flexibility and range of motion will increase and you can progress to more challenging stretches.
KNEELING HIP FLEXOR STRETCH
LUNGE WITH OVERHEAD REACH
LIZARD POSE (UTTHAN PRISTHASANA)
LOW LUNGE (ANJANEYASANA)
PIGEON POSE (EKA PADA RAJAKAPOTASANA)
RECLINING PIGEON POSE (FIGURE 4 STRETCH)
STANDING FIGURE 4 STRETCH
STANDING PIRIFORMIS STRETCH
BOUND ANGLE POSE (BADDHA KONASANA)/BUTTERFLY STRETCH
RECLINING BOUND ANGLE POSE (SUPTA BADDHA KONASANA)/RECLINING BUTTERFLY STRETCH
YOGI SQUAT (MALASANA)
SIDE LUNGE (SKANDASANA)
FIRE LOG POSE (AGNISTAMBHASANA)
FIRE LOG POSE, PIGEON VARIATION
FROG POSE (MANDUKASANA)
STRAIGHT-LEG SUPPORTED BRIDGE (SETU BANDHASANA VAR.)
SQUATTING INTERNAL ROTATIONS
SUMO SQUAT HOLD
SMR: HIP FLEXORS
STRENGTHEN AGAINST INJURY
Once you've gotten the knots worked out of your muscles and upped your flexibility, you'll need to strengthen your muscles in order to prevent future injury.
GLUTE BRIDGES & SINGLE-LEG GLUTE BRIDGES
This glute bridge variation makes you work hard to achieve full hip flexion. You'll find you have much more glute activation.
CLAMSHELLS WITH RESISTANCE BAND
SIDE SHUFFLES WITH RESISTANCE BAND
SUPINE KNEE LIFTS WITH RESISTANCE BAND
This movement activates the psoas. It is crucial that you keep your spine flat against the ground when you perform this movement.
STRAIGHT LEG RAISES
SIDELYING ISOMETRIC LEG RAISES WITH RESISTANCE BAND
LATERAL LUNGES WITH SAME-SIDE ROTATION
ROTATING PIVOT LUNGES
DEEP AB BREATHING
TIGHT HIP MYTHS
I couldn't finish out this article without addressing some common misconceptions about tight hips. Let's go over what they are.
MYTH #1: TIGHT HIPS ARE ALWAYS BAD
Although the hips are often the source of many pains and injuries to the low back and legs, and although I frequently recommend the above stretches and exercises to clients and fellow athletes to assist in correcting these pains, a certain degree of stiffness is required for specific forms of movement. Runners, for example, require a degree of tightness in the hips coupled with leg mobility to propel themselves forward economically. For them, although some stretching is good to prevent excessive tightness, the strengthening exercises are more important to stabilize the hips.
MYTH #2: STRONG BUTT MEANS STABLE HIPS
One does not necessarily equal the other. The muscle that is most prominent in the glute complex is the gluteus maximus, but it's the gluteus medius that provides stability.
MYTH #3: I NEED TO OPEN UP MY HIPS
The hip joint's primary purpose is stabilization, however many types of athletes require a good range of motion as well. For weightlifters, if their hips are too tight they can't sink into a deep squat. For runners, overly tight hips shorten stride length and can slow up their pace. As with all things, finding a happy medium is the key.
MYTH #4: TIGHT HIPS ARE STRONG HIPS
Muscles can become tight from overuse and repeated contraction, but also from being under-utilized and weak. Both a long-distance runner and an office worker with sedentary lifestyle may suffer equally from excessively tight hips.
MYTH #5: TIGHT HIPS ARE THE ROOT OF ALL MALADIES
Actually, quad dominance is more often an issue for weightlifters, runners and cyclists. When there is a discrepancy in quad vs glute strength the quads take on the task of stabilizing the hips in place of the glutes. Over time this pulls the pelvis out of alignment, strains the hamstrings and IT band and can lead to any number of issues in the low back and knees that wreak havoc on performance. Weightlifters, runners and cyclists: work on the above strengthening exercises and on releasing the tension in those quads! I'll be covering legs in another installment of this recovery series.
21 Ways to Get (or Stay) Motivated
You made your New Year's resolution and you've been doing pretty good for those first couple of weeks -- but now you're starting to lose focus and are struggling to stay motivated. That extra hour of sleep sounds better than that morning run, or those free breakfast tacos are more appealing to you than your healthy homemade meal. You still want to reach your goals but you haven't established these new behaviors as habits just yet. This is the critical "make or break" phase where your decisions have enormous impact.
What can you do? Let's talk options.
1. REAL REWARDS FOR YOUR WORK
One surefire way to keep your healthy habits going strong is to give yourself a real reward for a job well done. Working out a positive "habit loop" which involves a cue to trigger the behavior (setting your running shoes next to the door), the routine (running) and then the reward (getting a smoothie or watching an episode of your favorite show afterward) will generate a Pavlovian response to the behavior, increasing the chances of the routine becoming habitual according to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.
Over time, the extrinsic motivation (that is, the tangible reward mentioned above) becomes an intrinsic motivation and the brain begins to associate the sensations of the new behavior with a surge of endorphins. Once your brain is trained to recognize the workout itself as the reward, you won't feel the need for the treat anymore.
2. JOIN A GYM OR GROUP YOU ENJOY
Logic stands to reason that if you're doing your new activities in an environment you like or with people whose company you enjoy, you're more likely to look forward to going. The cost of a given gym or club membership may be prohibitive for you, but definitely shop around and look at your options as best you can. There are many free or low-cost clubs out there, as well as online groups on social media who meet up in person. So long as you can find a way to look forward to being in the place you perform your new behaviors, or enjoy the company you have when you get there, you will generate a new form of motivation for yourself. A strong and supportive fitness community or appealing environment can make all the difference.
3. DRESS FOR SUCCESS EVEN WHEN YOU DON'T FEEL LIKE IT
Oftentimes putting your running shoes on even if you don't feel like running will help to talk you into enacting the behavior you're trying to maintain. Research suggests that our brains are susceptible to "enclothed cognition," which is a fancy way of saying that dressing the part helps to galvanize you toward completing the task. If you put on your workout gear, even if you don't feel like working out you are very likely to find yourself doing just that.
4. MAKE A COMMITMENT, POSSIBLY COMPETE
Joining a fitness or wellness challenge or signing a commitment contract with a gym buddy is a great way to keep you accountable. But don't just put in the work -- be sure that you check in regularly with the people participating in the challenge, or set up a schedule with your buddy so that you know that someone else is counting on you to show up and get it done. Don't let your gym buddy off the hook -- and make sure they don't let you off the hook either!
When you have a friend or two to train with and they're killing the workout, you also feel motivated to push yourself. If you're a competitive person, set up a competition with other people. Maybe you do a versus battle with coworkers for who has the highest number of steps each week, or set up a weight loss challenge; whatever it is, make sure there are some sort of rewards at the end. Anything from simple bragging rights to perhaps a gift card purchased with a money pool from participants who now have a financial stake in the event. You can even bet on yourself using Pact, where you and others pay into a collective pool and set individual goals. If you meet your targets, you cash out; if not, you lose the money.
5. NO RULES ARE THE BEST RULES
Once you set up strict rules for yourself ("I have to start on Monday otherwise I won't be able to do it") makes it easy for you to talk yourself out of that behavior according to Dr. Deborah Feltz, professor of Kinesiology at Michigan State University and author of several fitness studies. The fact of the matter is that life happens and your hard and fast rules don't allow for the bending that needs to take place on a regular basis when conditions are not 100% favorable. Be willing to be flexible and change up your routine if you need to in order to get in whatever you can. Even if you're scheduled for a long run, if you wake up feeling ill perhaps the most you can do is take a walk or perhaps an easy, short jog -- or maybe you need to change up your activity entirely and do yoga instead. Be willing to be flexible.
6. CHANGE IT UP
If you're a resolutioner and you're only a couple of weeks in this possibly doesn't apply to you just yet, but keep it in mind: you may just be bored of the routine and need to switch up what you're doing and how you're doing it. Once you fall into a rut of doing the same thing every day you stop feeling excited about it and your effort ceases to be focused as you start to run on autopilot.
You may want to select a fresh goal (even if it's only slightly adapted from your original goal) and adjust your plans accordingly. You may want to find a new place to execute it or new method to enact it. Your goals that you set may simply be too far off and you need to add some smaller sub-goals to keep yourself going. In either event take a look at what's making you lose interest and swap things up as needed.
7. RETHINK POSITIVE THINKING
Everyone's heard about the power of positive thinking, and perhaps have even experienced it for themselves. But visualizations and other mind tricks only work when you add realistic problem-solving to the mix according to Dr. Gabriele Oettingen, psychologist and author of Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation.
It's not just about making a SMART goal and visualizing the outcome (as discussed in last week's article), but it's also about identifying what is holding you back and then troubleshooting. During a study of students who wanted to eat fewer junk food snacks, researchers asked participants to imagine the benefits of snacking on better foods. Those who identified the thing that made healthy snacking difficult for them and came up with a plan to counteract it were most successful at sticking to their goal. The trigger? They wanted something sweet. The solution? Eating fruit.
If you feel too tired after work to work out, try swapping to lunchtime or morning workouts or go straight to the gym after work rather than stopping at home first.
8. TRACK THAT
Nothing kills motivation like the sensation that you're getting nowhere. Chances are you're making progress, but you may not notice if these changes are gradual. Weighing in each week or noting how much weight you're lifting and keeping a record -- or participating in a fit test each month for example -- are great ways to see where you're at with regard to your wellness goals.
Moreover, tracking what you eat raises your awareness and personal (internal) accountability when you log that cheat meal in on MyFitnessPal or your tracking app of choice. Especially when you link up with a friend and allow them to see what you're up to, you know that someone else is noticing what you do and that allows for external accountability as well.
9. PLAN YOUR ROUTE AND SET REMINDERS
Planning is a crucial element of reaching any goal, and most of us need reminders as well in today's culture of distraction. I talked all about it in last week's article, so check it out!
10. THE EARLIER THE BETTER, OR PACK SNACKS
If you're finding that you get distracted by the events of the day and your plans are consistently getting derailed you may benefit from waking up earlier and getting your workout in before your day begins. Getting out of bed is tough especially that first week, but it may just be your path to success.
If low energy is the cause of your after-work workout woes, be sure you're eating breakfast and packing snacks. Eating breakfast helps you stay energized all day long according to Wendy Bazilian, RD and co-author of The Super Foods Rx Diet: Lose Weight with the Power of SuperNutrients. Be sure it includes protein, a fruit or veggie, and a complex carbohydrate such as whole grain toast. A pre-exercise snack to eat about 45 minutes before you train is an optimal habit as well to attain energy to power through. Your snack should be small and easily digestible, and mostly carbs with a little protein. Something like an apple with peanut butter, for example.
11. CALL IN A PROFESSIONAL
You may find that you've reached the limits of your personal knowledge and need some expert advice. A certified fitness instructor or registered dietitian may be just what you need to help you reach your goals. These folks can program training that works best for you, teach you how to use your gym's equipment, account for your personal situation and conditions, set up a meal plan etc. If you have a professional service contract in place, this is also a tangible, financial commitment that may help you feel more obligated to your goals (yes, this is really a thing that helps motivate people).
12. STOP MAKING WELLNESS ABOUT HOW YOU LOOK
A frequent pitfall of resolutioners is obsessing with how they look and making that the be-all, end-all for their wellness goals. Chances are you desire to look like someone who has an entirely different body type and wellness history than yourself. While sometimes it's possible to reach a state of having six-pack abs or whatever your goal may be, it may also be outside of your genetics/body type. I for example will never have an hourglass figure because I have a short torso; I will also never have a thigh gap regardless of how small I am because of how my hip and leg bones are positioned. Set goals that begin with where you are and are attainable, and be sure to break down your goals into smaller victories along the way such as losing 5% of your body weight for example, executing a perfect push-up or running a full mile without stopping. Review last week's article for more about successful goal-setting.
13. DO WHAT YOU LOVE
If you hate every moment of the thing you're doing, you're not likely to keep up the habit. Prioritize workouts that you'll look forward to and plan meals that are appealing to you (but still healthy).
14. SHARE YOUR PROGRESS
Posting your gym selfie or results of your meal prep, checking into your accountability group, or just talking to a loved one about how your training or meal planning went is a great way to hold yourself accountable. Very often people I don't even know are paying attention to my posts will ask me during a lapse what I'm up to and when I'll be posting again; sometimes when I'm engaged in an easy-to-follow daily challenge others will participate along with me without posting about it. Knowing that people are watching and deriving inspiration from what I'm doing is a tremendous motivator for me.
15. DON'T BE AFRAID TO START SMALL
Got 5 minutes? Apparently you do if you're reading this! So make a plan to do a 5-minute workout every day and stick to it. Work your way up from there -- when you're comfortable with 5 minutes, bump it up to 10 minutes.
There are all kinds of free workout videos on YouTube for 5-minute workouts you can do right where you are. Take a look, set up a playlist and get crackin'!
16. DO IT FOR A NOBLE REASON
Sign up for a charity race or event or participate in an event that offers charity fundraising. Once you begin raising money for a cause you believe in, you now have a sense of debt that you need to strive for and a deadline in sight, the end goal of completing that marathon or finishing that event for the sake of the people receiving the charity and the people who donating on good faith that you'd execute your training. This is a phenomenal way to keep you focused on your target.
17. CONSIDER EXERCISE AN ESCAPE FROM THE DIGITAL WORLD
Put your phone on Do Not Disturb if you use it to listen to music while you work out or pick up a now-archaic MP3 player that's not attached to any network. Drop your phone all together in your gym locker, leave it at home or in your car. Take your fitness time as time in the real world away from your devices and think of it as your time off the grid.
18. ...OR MAKE IT A GAME
For some folks, the digital world is absolutely essential. So why not use that connection to your advantage? Try Zombies, Run! for example, or any app from MapMyFitness Inc which all have some "fun" components to them.
19. MAKE IT CONVENIENT
Train at a gym close to home. Train at home. Start your run the moment you step outside the door. Set up your meal plan and write up your grocery list in advance of the day you to go to the store. Prep your healthy snacks (cut up fruits and veggies etc) and put them into single serving containers and bring them along. Carry your water bottle everywhere.
The easier you make it to adhere to your chosen behavior, the more likely that you will engage it.
20. TRY THE 5-MINUTE RULE
What is the 5-minute rule? Set a timer and start your workout. If after five minutes you still don't want to be doing it, stop. In most cases, once you get started it doesn't seem so bad after all; starting is the hardest part!
21. TAKE A BREAK
Yes, that's right. Your lack of enthusiasm may potentially be a sign of overtraining and you may just need a day off particularly if you have been consistently training for a long time. If you do take a break, don't make it open-ended: set a hard end date for the break when you resume your normal schedule.
The new year brings potential for a fresh start. You're all fired up about cleaning up your nutrition and putting the work in to burn off the extra pounds you just gained over the holidays. You hit the gym for a couple of weeks, but then your adherence begins to wane as the excitement dies down. How can you keep this from happening to you? How can you keep your New Year's resolutions year-round? Let's discuss some strategies.
PROPER GOAL SETTING
One third of those who make resolutions quit before the end of January. This is in part due to a lack of planning and detail of the resolutions being made. Any goal you make should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely.
CREATE AN ACTION PLAN
So now you've got your goals ironed out, and they're SMART. Not only that but you have smaller sub-goals lined up as well. From here you'll need to develop a plan of action: how are you going to reach your goals?
Outline your gameplan. Write it down. Talk to a friend or family member about it and get some feedback. Put this plan somewhere easily accessible and review it regularly. Set reminders on your phone or write your necessary actions down in your calendar. Review the following week before it begins so that you can mentally prepare yourself for your newly-adjusted schedule.
MAKE IT A TRUE PRIORITY
Once you've set your goals, it is critical that you make the actions leading to those goals a true priority. This requires a shift in mindset regardless of what your goal is. Losing weight (and keeping it off), eating better (indefinitely), keeping a clean house (indefinitely), spending more time with your children (indefinitely): all of these things require a long-term lifestyle change.
It's said that when something is truly a priority to you, you will find (or make) the time for it. If it is not a true priority, you will make excuses. It's not something that most people want to hear, but it is true all the same.
The trick to this is to think of your goal as an unquestionable daily requirement. Just as you get dressed, eat breakfast, brush your teeth and go to work you will also put in that time at the gym, cleaning house, with your kids, etc. Take out the notion that you have a choice. If you really want to reach that goal, you WILL take the necessary steps to get there.
Part of the way you can help steel your resolve is by employing visualization techniques. When you feel your intentions wavering, take some time out and mentally picture your goal being actualized: you've lost the weight and fit into that dress you wanted; you have more energy and feel great from eating a healthy, balanced diet; your house is pristine and visitors are complimenting how clean you've kept it; you share a stronger bond with your kids from the time you have spent together.
But don't just SEE it -- FEEL it. How do you feel now that you've lost the weight? How do you feel about your eating habits? How does it feel to have such a clean and organized living space? How does it feel to share that irreplaceable time with your children?
Keep those mental images and feelings on tap so you can draw from them whenever you need. Write down your goals and keep them in a place you see frequently such as your bathroom mirror or at your desk at work, or keep them with you and repeat them thoughtfully whenever you are struggling.
Your accountability can be anything from hiring a personal trainer to checking in with a friend or relative to posting about what you did on social media or blog. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you have someone else following along who can and will ask you about your resolutions if you don't tell them first.
Set clear expectations and be sure that wherever or however you are creating accountability, you receive that feedback and questioning piece.
FIND SUPPORT & RESOURCES
Having support along the way is crucial to your success, but the good news is that there are all sorts of accountability groups online even if you don't know anyone willing to be that cheerleader you need when things get tough. Join a Facebook group or forum, introduce yourself and make it a point to get to know a few other active members to generate the rapport you need. Find a training or support group either in your area or online. Spend some time on your search engine of choice looking for resources: websites, books, reference guides or (better yet) honest to God people who are knowledgeable about the subject of your resolution. The more access to data and interaction you have, the more likely you will succeed because your goals will be in the forefront of your thoughts multiple times a day as you engage with those people or materials.
Keeping track of where you started and where you're going is important during any pursuit. Take photos of yourself before you start working out or eating better, of your house before you begin your new cleaning regimen. Write notes about how your relationship with your children is before you begin making more time for them. Be aware that you will likely feel all sorts of negative emotions when you do this, because after all this is something that you wish to change about yourself. But if you don't record your starting point, how can you truly track where you are in your plan?
Don't just take "before" photos or notes, either. Be sure continue doing so at specific intervals: each week perhaps, or each month. Be sure you update your log at a regular interval that is not too spread out from your last entry.
Review your log each time you add a new entry and compare where you are to where you were before. If something is not going well, reflect back on your actions and behaviors to see if you can discern the root cause. This will help you to adapt your action plan (and possibly your goals) accordingly.
REWARD YOURSELF FOR REACHING MILESTONES
It's too easy for you to say, "I've been doing good so I'm going to eat a cheat meal" and then that quickly turns into a return to your prior poor nutritional habits. Establish a reward system for yourself: when X happens, I will Y. "When I have lost 10 pounds, I will get that scarf I've been eyeing" or "When I have consistently spent time with my kids each day for 2 weeks I will plan a special date with my significant other for a place I've wanted to go."
It's optimal if the reward you intend for yourself once you achieve your intermediate task is related or beneficial to your end goal. This isn't a requirement, but it does better set you up for success. Maybe you purchase a new piece of training gear or something you can use to meal prep more conveniently for example.
LEGITIMATE REASON OR EXCUSE?
When your visualization techniques aren't working and you're on the fence about whether to persist toward your goal or take a break for a day, I find that it is incredibly helpful to take a step back. Look at the situation and the argument against taking the necessary steps toward your goal. Is that argument valid reasoning, or an excuse?
Examples of potentially valid reasoning:
Examples of excuses:
IT'S OKAY TO MAKE MISTAKES
Everyone falls off the wagon from time to time. It happens to the best of us. It is therefore crucial that you cultivate a sense of self-forgiveness when you mess up. If this is an issue you struggle with, take some time to read this article from Psychology Today.
Another important thing is to prevent the mistake from becoming habitual. If this is a challenge for you, take a look at this article about how to break bad habits.
It is okay to make mistakes. Each time you do and learn from them, you gain a little more self-knowledge to help you succeed in the future. Just get back on the wagon, let it go, and keep on rollin' from wherever you are now.
Nutrition Tips for Travel
The bulk of the nation is in the midst of travel or inundated with lots of dietary challenges with all the holiday parties, events with big dinners, and year-end celebrations as we ramp up for 2019. Historically this is the season that is busiest for me, and I don't have as much time to cook.
Although this week's article is about how to eat when on the move, it's also useful for people who are just too busy to meal prep. Nutrition is one of the largest factors in your overall health and wellness, so to toss that out the window because you have a lot going on or are traveling makes settling into your usual routine a nightmare once things calm down. So let's get to it: ways to mitigate the damage to your hard work.
PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES
The actual transportation portion of your trip is the first place you have an opportunity to take responsibility for your own success. Here are some things you can do while in transit:
I'M HERE. NOW WHAT?
The next thing to consider is what happens when you get where you're going. While many will be eating home-cooked meals at least on the holidays themselves and it's hard to tell Grandma that you don't want three helpings, those who love us care about our well-being and we need to think in terms of the long con rather than short-term satisfaction.
15 Fitness Myths Debunked
In the information age we have all kinds of research at our fingertips, but not a lot of time to sift through to find the accurate advice from the chaff. There are also plenty of commonly-held beliefs that hold sway simply because we hear them all the time. Today we'll deconstruct some common misconceptions and myths and (hopefully) perform a little course correction.
Myth #1: Crunches Will Give You a 6-Pack
The Truth: Abs are made through a favorable change in body composition achieved through a combination of cardio, resistance and core training supported by healthy eating habits.
Core work including crunches increases muscular endurance, strength, spinal stabilization and posture. However, if you eat a poorly-balanced and/or highly processed diet, refrain from cardio and resistance training you will not get that 6-pack. In my personal experience, that nutrition piece has been the key that makes all the training fall into place when it comes to midriff muscle definition.
Myth #2: Eating Late At Night Will Make You Fat
The Truth: The total number of calories you consume throughout the day is what matters.
When you eat your daily allotment of calories matters less than your energy intake vs. output. That said, eating smaller meals throughout the day or engaging in intermittent fasting helps keep hunger at bay and may prevent you from overeating, which is the common late night culprit.
Myth #3: More Protein Means More Muscle
The Truth: Your body can only synthesize a certain amount of protein; excess is passed through the urine.
The maximum amount of protein one can assimilate for the use of building muscle per meal is 30g depending on body type, kind of training you do and metabolism. When you exceed that amount, you place a strain on your kidney and colon as you pass that protein out through your urine. You may even see weight gain (that is not muscle). Nutritionists say that one should focus on eating a balanced diet.
Note: it is also commonly believed that eating protein every few hours is important to maintain muscle. Research, however, indicates that as long as you consume the required amount through meals there is no need for more.
Myth #4: Weight Training Means Getting Bulky
The Truth: If you want to turn into the Hulk, you'll need to overhaul your nutrition plan in addition to pumping iron.
Women in particular are often terrified that if they train with weights they will bulk up, and that just isn't going to happen because women lack the chemical makeup required. Unless a woman adjusts to extreme training volumes, strict dietary habits and potentially supplementation she will not turn into a bodybuilder -- and nor will men for that matter! Take a look at this article for an in-depth look at this concern.
Myth #5: The More You Sweat, The More Fat You Burn
The Truth: The harder your body is working, the more calories you will burn.
If you're running outside in Houston in the summer you'll sweat more than you would indoors on a treadmill with the A/C set to 60. Your sweat isn't an accurate metric.
Myth #6: No PAin, No Gain
The Truth: Pain is not an indication of muscle growth; it is an indication that you are working beyond your body's current capacity, are fatigued or possibly suffering nutrient deficiencies. Increases to your number of reps, the weight you can lift, cardiovascular endurance, and physical appearance are more reliable indicators.
You need to listen to your body in order to avoid injury. If you are always sore after a workout, you are likely pushing too hard and have a greater potential for injury. If your pain lasts for several days, you need to get it checked out as it may be an injury.
Athletes in particular (and by 'athlete' I am referring to anyone who trains consistently) are more likely to ignore pain during their workouts, which actually sets them up for injury as they don't go to the doctor or take steps to treat the issue when symptoms arise. See this article about workout pains you should never ignore.
Myth #7: Vegans and Vegetarians Can't Build Muscle
The Truth: Plants have protein.
I have been vegan for 2 years, and was vegetarian for a decade before that. I certainly don't have any problem building muscle. As with anyone else with any form of diet, it's about balancing your nutrition and putting in the work. Have a look at bodybuilders Nimai Delgado, Jon Venus, or Torre Washington -- they are all vegan.
Myth #8: Longer Workouts Mean Better Results
The Truth: Quality over quantity.
Short, focused, intense workouts are as effective -- and sometimes more effective -- than long workouts where you are distracted or not giving your full effort.
With the exception of endurance athletes who are specifically training to be able to continue heavy labor over long stretches of time, it is safe to say that if you only have 20 minutes to work out, if you give it all you have for those 20 minutes you will come away with great fitness benefits.
Myth #9: With Hard Work, Anything is Achievable
The Truth: Hard work delivers amazing results, but if the transformation you envision is in contrast to your natural body shape you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Be realistic with your body goals and try to draw inspiration from people who have a similar body type. You may also opt to perform exercises that help balance your proportions, but keep in mind that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
Myth #10: Cutting Calories is the Key to Weight Loss
The Truth: Not eating enough calories can lead to weight gain as the body will go into 'survival mode' and store everything it can.
Consult your trainer, nutritionist or doctor regarding how many calories you need in a day in order to maintain proper energy and functionality and make sure your intake is aligned with this number.
Myth #11: Carbs Are the Enemy
The Truth: Imbalance in energy intake vs output (how many calories you take in versus how many calories you burn during your daily activities) is what causes fat gain.
With ketogenic diets being a hot item in the nutrition world right now, it's easy to believe the fallacy that carbs are the enemy. Carbs are actually the body's preferred fuel source, but it's important to eat healthy carbs like fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, beans and legumes rather than refined carbs such as white rice, white pasta, processed snacks and sweets.
I personally have tried high-protein and high-carb macro ratios, and once my body adjusted to one or the other it functioned equally well. The key is to find an eating style that works for your lifestyle, as everyone's body performs differently.
Myth #12: Spot Reduction Works
The Truth: You need to perform exercises to tone the muscles while also working overall to burn away excess fat so that you will be able to see the muscles.
You can't tell fat cells to accumulate in a specific area, and you can't therefore burn them off in one specific area. Your focus should be on overall toning and weight loss, with strengthening work performed to tone the muscles you want to build up.
Myth #13: Early Morning is the Optimal Time to Train
The Truth: Consistency is the key, not the time of day.
My early bird clients always tell me that they love to work out in the morning because they get it done and have the rest of the day to do everything else. While it's true that morning workouts leave less room for other obligations to crowd out training time, everyone has a different circadian rhythm and preference. Train at whatever time works best for you, so that you can remain consistent.
Myth #14: Exercise is the Best Way to Lose Weight
The Truth: Slimming down almost always starts with significant changes to your diet.
Exercise burns calories, and the way to lose weight is to adjust that aforementioned energy intake vs output ratio. However, you can't just 'work off' whatever you eat -- truth be told, physically you feel worse eating unhealthy, processed foods and your performance suffers. Adjusting your nutritional hygiene is a major step toward seeing the results you want.
Myth #15: It Takes at Least 2 Weeks to Get "Out of Shape"
The Truth: Muscle tissue can begin to break down within a week without regular exercise, and degrades from there.
When you stop training, you will begin to see signs of de-conditioning in as few as 7 days of complete rest. Your body is programmed for "use it or lose it, so yet again consistency is key.
Correcting Tech Neck
Our technology is great, but it comes with certain costs. One of those is the health of our cervical spine and our overall posture. Each and every one of us is guilty of holding our tablets, phones or other mobile devices such as wearables, laptops and gaming systems down low and craning our neck to look at the screen. This affects everything from hormone production to balance and eventually serious injuries which may require surgery to correct. Today we'll discuss what we can do to fight this new wellness battle.
WHAT IS TECH NECK?
"Tech neck" is the layman's term used to describe the consequences of long-term forward-leaning flexion of your head and neck while looking down at your phone, tablet or other device. It can cause muscle strain, disc injury, nerve impingement and arthritic changes in your neck -- as well as the development of added neck wrinkles, continual neck and shoulder pain, headaches, and shooting pain down your arms.
The average human head weighs 10-12 pounds, but according to one study, with the head tilted 15 degrees forward the effect of the head's weight is equal to 27 pounds. By the time you tilt your head to 60 degrees, that effect shoots up to 60 pounds. As that weight increases and the spin falls out of alignment and extra pressure is placed on the spine. This will trigger neck pain, herniated discs, and in more serious cases surgery may be required.
Correct posture has been linked to increases in testosterone (male hormone), decreases in cortisol (stress hormone), and increased feelings of power and comfort with risk-taking. In short, our posture affects us in many different ways and fixing postural imbalances should be a priority especially in our primarily sedentary, tech-driven society.
All of us have some degree of tech neck, due to the culture we live in. First, let's talk about ameliorating the symptoms we have:
I covered many neck and shoulder stretches and exercises in my prior article, Stretching & Strengthening for Computer Users. As applicable, I will indicate below when details of the stretch/exercise can be found in that article.
As regards the damage to the skin itself, dermatologists recommend that you exfoliate your chest and neck once a week using a mask, mild scrub or peel. You may also use neck rejuvenation patches, which are made by a variety of companies to reduce wrinkling and skin damage.
You likely already suffer the effects of tech neck, but in order to truly correct it, you will need to engage not only with treatment methods, but also take preventative measures to ensure you don't exacerbate the condition. Here are some things you can do in order to maintain proper cervical spine health:
If all of the above steps have been taken and your pain is still a problem, seek help from a qualified medical professional.
Periodization and Plateaus
Maybe you made a New Year's resolution. Perhaps you have a special event coming up. You may just have woken up one day and realized that you aren't at the place you want to be with your overall health and wellness. For whatever reason, you start a training plan. It's going great, and you begin losing weight and building muscle. You stick to what works for several months, and end up hitting a plateau. Now the weight stops melting off. Maybe you even gain a little back. Suddenly you're having trouble getting back to that state you were in at first, with the type of strength and endurance gains that you were seeing so quickly at first. This is a natural result of becoming fitter. Your body adapts to the demands placed on it, and it requires new stressors (new movement types, training intensities and styles) in order to yield fresh weight loss and muscle gain.
PERIODIZATION: WHAT IT IS AND HOW IT CAME ABOUT
Periodization is an organized approach to training that involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period of time.
Periodization is known to have been used in sports as far back 2nd century AD, when Galen and Philostratus developed training theories which laid the foundation for contemporary training periodization in order to excel at the Olympic games. Galen in particular implemented the idea of building strength without speed and speed without strength, and then using intense exercises to combine both elements after they had been trained individually.
In the 20th century, a couple of fresh faces offered up the bones which would eventually meld together to form modern periodization.
A factory supervisor named Frederick Winslow Taylor founded the Principles of Scientific Management which laid out a systematic method of organization and planning in order to achieve the best outcomes in the most efficient manner.
Hans Selye was an endocrinologist who studied non-specific responses of an organism to stressors. He identified two types of stress: eustress, which generates beneficial muscle strength and growth; and distress, which leads to tissue damage and disease.
Selye's General Adapatation Syndrome (GAS) model describes predictable way the body responds to stress, outlined in 3 phases: the alarm stage, where the body isn't sure of what's happening and provides a burst of energy (also known as "fight or flight"); the resistance stage, where the body attempts to fight back by adapting to the stressor (muscle growth and improvement); and the exhaustion stage, when the long-term stressor is not removed and the body has depleted all of its energy (over-training). Speaking in terms of the GAS model, the principle of periodization is used to prevent over-training (the exhaustion stage) and keep the body constantly adapting to new stressors (the resistance stage) in order to consistently achieve beneficial results.
Modern periodization combined the principles of Taylor and Selye with Soviet 5-year plans. It originated in Russia after the 1956 Olympic games and is credited to sports scientist Lev P. Matveyev. After its initial implementation, Romanian sports scientist Tudor Bompa further expanded its scope.
In more recent years, GAS has been criticized as a basis for periodization theory because it describes response to a general stressor and was not created specifically for fitness training. As a result, two new models were developed: the Stimulus-Fatigue-Recovery-Adaptation (SFRA) model which states that training stress is dependent on many factors such as intensity and volume of training; and the Fitness-Fatigue model (also known as the Impulse-Response model), which suggests that fitness and fatigue are inversely related and thus strategies that maximize fitness and decrease fatigue are most optimal.
The SFRA model can be seen in the progressive overloads found in strength training and the implementation of rest days in order to give your body time to recover. A well-known example of the Fitness-Fatigue model is tapering, where training volume is dialed back in order to eliminate fatigue and express maximal strength, power and endurance leading up to a fitness event.
WHY YOU NEED PERIODIZATION
There are several proven benefits to utilizing a form of periodization in your workout cycles, as follows:
A study performed at the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University has shown that a periodized strength traning program can produce better results than a non-periodized program. It was published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2001 and its purpose was to determine the long-term adaptations associated with low-volume, circuit-type training vs. periodized, high-volume resistance training in women. These effects are also seen in periodized cardiovascular training as well, so regardless of the type of training you perform, periodization will accelerate your progress.
THE THREE CYCLES
There are 3 types of periodization cycles: a microcycle is a period up to 7 days; a mesocycle is anywhere from 2 weeks to a few months; and a macrocycle is the overall training period (usually a year).
Training programs placed on an indefinite loop (i.e., for general health and wellness not tied to a specific event) use 1 week for the microcycle, 1 month for the mesocycle, and 1 year for the macrocycle. If you have a hard deadline (such as an event), however, your cycles will change according to your needs.
Before discussing how to use periodization in your own workout cycles, it's critical to go over some of the fundamental concepts:
The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) uses the Optimum Performance Training (OPT) model. Clients of a NASM trainer will work on different aspects of physical fitness according to their goals on a periodized cycle. These cycles focus on certain key elements of fitness as shown in the diagram below. As a client progresses through cycles of the OPT training phases, their training intensities and loads increase per the aforementioned concepts.
Stabilization endurance refers to your base fitness and works on improving your balance, coordination, endurance and core stabilizer strength. This is also where corrective exercise is performed in order to ameliorate muscle imbalances, posture and general stability and proprioception.
Strength endurance trains up muscle strength while still working on your core stabilizers and endurance.
Hypertrophy cycles focus on muscle growth using high volume with short rest periods.
Maximal strength increases the recruitment of more motor units, rate of force production and motor unit synchronization. This is more sport-specific and often a main focus for bodybuilders and powerlifters.
Power refers to explosive energy adaptation used in sprinting and powerlifting. This is another sport-specific focus that is not often implemented by those seeking general fitness benefits.
The above categories of training are employed in different periodization models according to preference, need, and how the body responds to each. The most common models are linear (traditional) periodization, block periodization and undulating periodization.
This refers to the system developed back in the 50s and 60s by Matveyev and later honed by Bompa. When using this form of periodization, the training volume decreases over time while training intensity and load increase over time with a taper at the end leading into the next cycle.
This is a training structure in which volume and intensity/load both go up and down repeatedly over time. There are two primary subcategories: weekly undulating periodization (WUP) and daily undulating periodization (DUP).
WUP fluctuates in volume and intensity each week. So if in a linear/traditional style you would lift 70% 1RM (one rep max) on week 1, 75% on week 2, 80% on week 3 and 85% on week 4, a weekly undulating approach may instead be 70% on week 1, 80% on week 2, 75% on week 3 and 85% on week 4. Rather than simply increasing each week, the intensity goes up, down, up, down.
A daily undulating periodization style would mean that if your weekly intensity is 75% 1RM, your first session that week might be 70% and your second session 80%. The overall intensity will equal the week's scheduled load, but how you reach that goal within the week is through a series of different intensities.
This style of programming was originally designed for sports that had more than one major competition or event per year. It is more generally described as having a block focused on strength endurance, followed by a block focused on hypertrophy, following by a block focused on maximal strength, followed by a block focused on power and velocity (followed by a competition block if a team sport athlete).
For years, periodization theorists (and enthusiasts) have argued about which model is the best (and why other models are inferior), which is why the research has treated them as separate concepts.
USING PERIODIZATION IN YOUR TRAINING
If you're working with a personal trainer or following a pre-made fitness program, you are already working within the periodization model. However, if your workouts are independent of this form of guidance, you can style your plan using periodization methods by considering the factors below:
Most sports utilize 12-week cycles, meaning that the training style and focus remains the same for 3 months and then changes using any number of the above-listed variables. If you have a particular event in mind, however, your cycle duration may change.
Depending on your starting fitness level, you may need to cycle between the first two phases of training (stabilization endurance and strength endurance, as described above) a a few times before progressing to the hypertrophy stage. For general weight loss and fitness, you will remain in phases 1 and 2 for most of your training. You may vary any of the aforementioned factors in order to provide variety within that scope, however. A few ideas for starting your own program design can be found here. There are all kinds of periodization samples and mock-ups online, with a variety of theories behind each. Take the time to find what works for you -- or seek out a personal trainer to assist in your personal programming.
WHEN LIFE HAPPENS
Every training plan and trainer says the same thing: consistency is key. The problem lies in the following: For professional athletes, their lives revolve around training. For everyone else, training revolves around their lives.
What I mean by this is simply that life happens and sometimes things come up which interrupts your perfect training schedule: work gets busy; you get sick; your kids get sick; vacation; family joys or crises happen; and so on. Unless you are a professional athlete, this means your training will drop back or be put on hold until things clear up again as working out is not your first priority. Here are a few important things to remember when things come up:
As fall marches on toward winter, it's important to dress properly for your workouts in order to ensure that you may continue training without injury or excessive discomfort. Unless you live in a climate which is mild year-round, the chill of the latter half of the year can present a challenge -- sometimes even a roadblock -- to the maintenance of your usual fitness regimen. Today we'll go over some tips on what to wear, how to layer and how to train as the seasons become cooler.
DRESS FOR SUCCESS
The main thing to remember about training in the cold is that the key is layering clothing made of technical materials.
There are two main methods of dressing for colder temperatures, but what I will describe today is the "Wicking Method" as I find it to be the most common, most popular tactic. For more information on the "Sauna Method," check out this TrainingPeaks article.
DON'T WEAR COTTON.
Cotton is great for towels, but terrible for training gear because it absorbs water and sweat and retains it. There's nothing worse than having cold sweat rubbing up against your skin when you're exercising outdoors in the winter (or any time of the year, let's be real).
Tech materials such as nylon, polyester, spandex, polypropylene and any number of blends wick moisture away which keeps you drier and warmer. They also tend to dry much faster than cotton. If you'd still prefer a natural material, wool is a good choice.
Everyone's cold tolerance is different, as is each person's workout. Someone from Minnesota can handle the cold much better than someone from South Florida. And if you're doing a long run for several hours outside, your needs will be different from someone who is attending an hour-long bootcamp session. A good rule of thumb is to add 20 degrees to the outside temperature to calculate your "training temperature," which is how warm you feel once moving. This doesn't take into consideration the humidity (rain) or windchill, and it's dependent on body size, training intensity and duration of exercise. Smaller people or those working out for a short or easy session should only add 10 to 15 degrees to estimate training temperature.
It's best to try out the information listed below and adjust as necessary for your training needs. Rather than a single thick layer, it is always better to wear several thinner layers so that you may adjust as needed during your session.
Your base layer can be any sleeve length which works for you, but should be made of breathable tech material. It is best if this layer is form-fitted. Your outermost layer should be condition-appropriate: if it's windy, wear a windbreaker or wind vest. If it's sunny, opt for fleece, wool or another cold weather shirt over your bottom layer. Consider arm and leg warmers, particularly if you are a cyclist. Swimmers should consider a long sleeve rash guard to provide an extra later of insulation if they have trouble keeping warm. When it's raining, be sure to always wear a waterproof outer layer.
A great deal of heat escapes from the head, so the colder it gets the more you will want to consider protecting your head and neck. Hats and beanies/skullcaps are warmer than headbands. Turtlenecks help keep your neck warm and protected, but neck gaiters/buffs can be used to protect your face and may also be removed once you warm up. Balaclavas, in addition to making you look like a ninja, provide extra protection for your entire neck and head including your face.
Your hands and feet are most likely to get cold quickly as when the temperature drops your body relocates much of the blood to the core to preserve your internal temperature. This can help protect against hypothermia, but leaves your extremities prone to frostnip (skin numbness or tingling due to cold) or all-out frostbite (damage due to freezing skin). Depending on the temperature, consider gloves or mittens that provide appropriate insulation. If it's particularly cold you will need a glove liner as well. For the feet, be sure to use socks made of tech material or smart wool. Cyclists may consider neoprene booties, toe covers or shoe covers.
If you're training in the snow and ice be sure that your shoes have a good grip. If running in snow, try vapor barrier or waterproof socks (SealSkinz is a good brand); another option is to wear a plastic bag between your socks and shoes.
As it gets dark earlier, be sure to wear reflective clothing or add lights and reflective straps or a vest to your outermost layer. You will also want to keep dry, warm clothes on hand in your car or at your starting point so that you may immediately remove your wet training gear.
Athletes who routinely consume water or sports drinks in the summer heat are much less likely to do so in the colder months. Cold weather is often drier, especially at higher altitudes. More fluid is lost as vapor through breathing. Cold also suppresses thirst so athletes don't think they need as much water. Failure to drink carries the same risks in the cold as in the heat: dehydration, bonking and even fatigue-related injury, so it is critical to establish and execute a hydration schedule during the winter months.
Drink water or a sports drink during all workouts lasting longer than an hour on a schedule of 4-6oz every 10 to 15 minutes. Consider heating your drink of choice before heading outdoors to make it more palatable, as many do not drink because they don't wish to feel cold.
DON'T WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE THIRSTY TO DRINK!
When your body temperature drops, your appetite is stimulated as your body attempts to entice you to consume extra food to keep it fueled and warm. If you become chilled during your winter workout, you will likely find yourself craving more fuel than usual. Due to thermogenesis, 30-60 minutes after you eat your body generates about 10% more heat than when you have an empty stomach.
Cold weather itself does not increase calorie needs and you don't burn extra calories unless your body temperature drops to the point that you begin to shiver. However, your body expends a lot of energy warming and humidifying the air you breathe when you exercise in the cold. If you are wearing a lot of extra gear -- skis or boots, a heavy parka, snow shoes etc -- then you will expend some extra calories from carrying the additional weight but the extra clothing of your average winter runner will not affect nutrition requirements.
Although more calories are burned when the air is especially cold and dry and snow, ice and slush makes your muscles work harder, in milder winter weather your nutrition needs are predominantly affected by your ability to dress properly for the weather. If you're consuming considerably more calories thank usual in temperatures above freezing, you probably need to adjust your training gear.
TIPS & TRICKS
These days everyone uses computers to some extent or another. For those whose occupation revolves around work at a desk, a major challenge is combating the shoulder, neck and back issues common to hunching over your keyboard and staring at your monitor.
OSHA guidelines recommend getting up from your desk every 60-90 minutes to walk around and stretch for at least 1 minute, but there are many more things you can do in order to prevent chronic pain and postural imbalances. Let's go over some of these.
AT YOUR DESK
The first thing we need to cover is what you can do sitting at your desk. Let's face it, this is what you're most likely to do if you do anything! So let's get to it.
Hold each of these for 5-10 seconds before moving on to the next one.
VERTICAL WRIST STRETCH
1) Hold one arm out straight and bend your fingers downward, pointing toward the floor. Hold onto your fingers or press gently on the back of your hand to deepen the stretch.
2) Keeping your arm outstretched, bend your fingers upward, pointing toward the ceiling. Hold onto your fingers or press gently on the palm to deepen the stretch.
DIAGONAL WRIST STRETCH
1) Make loose fists and bend your wrists in at an angle with the knuckles pointing downward. Hold for 5-10 seconds.
2) Flex wrists up and outward at a diagonal with knuckles pointed upward. Hold for 5-10 seconds.
1) Extend your arms out to your sides with fingers fully extended. Imagine that you are reaching as if to brush the walls with your fingertips; you want to stretch them as far as they will go and hold that stretch.
2) Move your arms in slow, small circles moving forward for 10 repetitions and then backward for the same number of repetitions. Your fingers should remain straight and your arms fully extended the entire time.
1) Begin by fully extending your arms with your fingertips activated as mentioned above, as if you are stretching to reach the walls. Your palms should face downward.
2) Reach your arms overhead slowly, turning your palms in as you do so, until your hands touch at center. Your arms should remain straight with elongated fingers. Hold this position for 5 seconds and then return to starting position. Repeat 10 times.
1) Begin by shrugging as if you are trying to touch your ears with your shoulders.
2) Rotate your shoulders and arms forward as if you are trying to hug someone in front of you with your shoulders. It helps if you use your arms to ensure you are getting a full extension.
3) Drop your shoulders down as far from you ears as you can. Imagine that you are trying to touch the floor with your shoulders.
4) Rotate your shoulders backward, squeezing your shoulder blades together as if wrapping them around your spine. Again, it helps if you use your arms to ensure you are fully extending. Rotate forward 10 times and then reverse for 10 more repetitions.
1) Place your palms together in front of your face with your elbows at shoulder level.
2) Slowly draw your arms downward, pushing your palms together as if trying to squish something between them. Your arms will feel strong tension. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeats 10 times.
BEHIND-THE-BACK SHOULDER STRETCH
1) Scoot to the front of your chair. Reach your arms backward clasping your hands and interlacing your fingers.
2) Lean forward and raise your clapsed hands as far as you are able. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then lower. Repeat 5 times.
FRONT SHOULDER STRETCH
1) Reach your arms forward clasping your hands and interlacing your fingers with your palms facing away from you.
2) Raise your arms above you, stretching your arms up as if you are trying to touch the ceiling. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then lower. Repeat 5 times.
1) Place your hands lightly behind your head. DO NOT tug on your neck.
2) Press your elbows back as if trying to touch the wall behind you and hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
BACK OF NECK STRETCH
1) Extend your chin forward as far as you are able using only your neck muscles.
2) Retract your chin as far as you are able, as if you are trying to touch the back wall with it. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
1) Tilt your head forward tucking your chin to your chest and looking down at your lap.
2) Rotate your head to one side, pausing when your ear is in line with your shoulder. Keeping your shoulders down, imagine you are trying to touch your ear to your shoulder. You will feel a stretch in the opposite side of your neck.
3) Continue to roll your head backward until you are looking at the ceiling and you feel a stretch in your throat.
4) Rotate your head to the opposite side, pausing when your ear is in line with your other shoulder. As before keep your shoulders down and imagine you are trying to touch your ear to your shoulder. You will feel a stretch in the opposite side of your neck.
Repeat 10 times rotating one way, and then reverse direction for another 10 rotations.
1) Tuck your chin to your chest, looking down at your lap.
2) Lean your head back, looking up at the ceiling.
3) Keeping your shoulders forward, turn your head to look over one shoulder.
4) Keeping your shoulders forward, turn your head to look over the other shoulder.
Repeat all of these 10 times.
1) Fully extend your arm and your fingers.
2) Flex your wrist, pointing your fingertips at the back wall and hold. Hold for 5-10 seconds.
3) While your wrist is flexed, tilt your head to the opposite (relaxed) shoulder and hold for 5-10 seconds.
Repeat 5 times.
1) Sitting in your chair with your knees facing forward, place one hand on your right knee and the other hand on the arm (or seat) of the right side of your chair. Twist your upper body only to look behind you and hold for 5-10 seconds.
2) Sitting in your chair with your knees facing forward, place one hand on your left knee and the other hand on the arm (or seat) of the left side of your chair. Twist your upper body only to look behind you and hold for 5-10 seconds.
Repeat 5 times.
CROSS BODY SHOULDER STRETCH
1) Extend one arm in front of you and then move it in a sweeping motion towards the opposite side.
2) Using your free hand, reach up and hold your active elbow or shoulder, pressing it closer to your body gently. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then switch to the other side.
Repeat 5 times.
SIDE & BACK OF ARM STRETCH
1) Extend arm upward and then bend at the elbow, letting your hand dangle behind your head.
2) Using your free hand, hold the elbow of the active arm and pull it gently toward the midline of the body.
3) Tilt your upper body to the side opposite your active arm. Your hips should remain stable. Hold this stretch for 5-10 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
Repeat 5 times.
1) Pick your leg up from the floor. Slowly rotate your foot as if you are drawing a large circle with your toes.
2) Complete 10 circles rotating clockwise, and then reverse direction and perform 10 counter-clockwise circles.
1) Flex your foot with you toes reaching upward toward your body. Hold for 5-10 seconds.
2) Point your foot reaching your toes as far away from your body as possible. Hold for 5-10 seconds.
Repeat 10 times.
1) Scoot to the edge of your chair. Grab your ankle and pull it toward the back of your thigh, stretching your leg downward so that your knee points toward the floor. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then switch to the other leg.
Repeat 5 times.
* This can also be performed standing up.
1) Stand up and step one foot forward, bending the front knee. Keep the back leg straight.
2) Lean forward to stretch your calf. You may also place your hands on your desk or a wall and press into it to get a deeper stretch. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then switch legs.
Repeat 10 times.
BACK CURL/LEG STRETCH
1) Lift your knee up as high as you are able and wrap your arms around it. Pull it into your chest.
2) Curl your back forward to hug your knee as tightly as you can. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then switch legs.
Repeat 10 times.
1) Kick one heel out, extending fully and locking your knee into place.
2) Point your toes up toward your body and hold for 5-10 seconds, then switch legs. For a deeper stretch you may hold onto your leg or foot and pull yourself in gently, leading with the chest, NOT the head.
Repeat 10 times.
SINGLE AND DOUBLE LEG LIFTS
1) Lift one leg off the ground as high as you are able, locking the knee and pointing your toes up towards the ceiling. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then switch legs. Repeat 5 times.
2) Raise both legs as high as you are able, locking the knee and pointing your toes up towards the ceiling. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
Believe it or not, this is REALLY IMPORTANT! Whether or not you realize it, your face ends up strained from your workday too. In order to loosen and relax it, wiggle your eyebrows, move your jaw, stick out your tongue, move your lips around and generally look like a fool for a good 30 seconds or so. You'll be glad you did because your face will be entirely relaxed afterward!
IN YOUR CUBE
In addition to the stretches and exercises mentioned in the "At Your Desk" section above, there are many more things you can do to combat the tightness, soreness, weakness and overall malaise of sitting at a computer too long in your cubicle if you have a few minutes during lunch. I'll be going over more of these at a later date, but for now here are a few to start you off:
1) Start with feet shoulder width apart, toes facing forward.
2) Keeping your back straight and chest proud, lower yourself as if sitting in a chair. Your knees should remain over your ankles or at least over your feet -- do not hyperextend your knees.
3) Return to standing position, squeezing your glutes.
Repeat 20 times.
1) Begin with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, toes pointed at a diagonal away from your body at an angle that is comfortable for you.
2) Keeping your back flat and chest proud, lower your body down with your knees tracking over your feet. Imagine that you are trying to sit down but are sideways in a narrow passageway -- your butt should not be sitting back but moving straight down.
3) Return to standing position, squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement.
Repeat 20 times.
SUMO SQUAT HIP FLEXOR STRETCH
1) Move into the lower end of a sumo squat.
2) Press the backs of your hands into your knees as firmly as you are able. You will feel a stretch in your hip flexors. Hold for 5-10 seconds.
Repeat 5 times.
SUMO SQUAT BACK STRETCH
1) From the same sumo squat position, place one palm against the knee on the same side of the body, turning to face away from the knee being pressed. Stretch your arm out as straight as you are able. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then switch sides.
Repeat 5 times per side.
1) Kick one leg up as high as you are able while keeping it straight. At the same time, windmill your opposite arm back, up, and then forward reaching towards the toes of your kicking leg. Use your free arm to counterbalance.
2) Repeat with the other leg and arm. Perform 20 kicks per leg (or 40 total kicks).
1) Place your feet hip width apart and then squat down and hold (or sit in a chair). Raise your arms up at a diagonal in front and above you as if making the letter "Y".
2) Rotate your arms down and straight out to your sides, as if making the letter "T".
3) Rotate your arms back at a diagonal behind you as if making the letter "A".
Repeat 10 times.
HIGH KNEE HUGS
1) Extend your arms back behind you, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
2) Bring one knee up while bringing your arms forward, wrapping your hands around your bent leg and pulling it in towards your chest. Hold for 5 seconds and then release your leg, bringing your hands back behind you to squeeze your shoulder blades together again before repeating on the other leg.
Repeat 10 times per leg (20 total high knee hugs).
1) Begin with your heels, hip, entire spine and shoulders are flat against the wall.
2) Place your hands and elbows against the wall along your sides. Keeping your shoulders, elbows, backs of your hands, hips, heels, and spine all against the wall the entire time, slowly bring your arms up and overhead.
3) Bring your arms back down again, double-checking to ensure your body remains against the wall.
Perform 10 times.
1) Place your elbows on the floor underneath your shoulders. Your hands should be facing palm down on the floor for the best and most active stretch.
2) Lift your knees off the floor so that you are balancing on your toes and elbows. Pull your belly button in towards your spine, engage your core, and keep your legs in line with your back in a straight line. Your butt should not be up in the air and you should be looking a couple of inches forward so that you do not strain your neck.
3) Hold this position for 15-30 seconds, then drop down to your knees and relax.
Repeat 5 times.
SIDE PLANK REACH TO EXTENSION
1) From plank position, take one arm and reach through the gap between your body and the floor as far as you are able.
2) Using the same arm, rotate and reach your arm up above you with fingers stretching to touch the ceiling. Let your eyes follow the length of your arm.
3) Repeat 10 times, and then switch to do 10 more on the other side.
1) Start from a tabletop position on your hands and knees. Knees and hands should be shoulder width apart directly under hips/shoulders and your back should be flat with your belly button pulled in towards the spine.
2) Exhale all of the air in your lungs, squeezing tightly as you arch your back like a cat. Your head will lower, following the curve of your spine.
3) Inhale and expand your diaphragm and belly as far as they will go, looking upward and bowing your back.
Repeat 10 times slowly.
1) Start from a tabletop position on your hands and knees. Knees and hands should be shoulder width apart directly under hips/shoulders and your back should be flat with your belly button pulled in towards the spine.
2) Extend one leg and the opposite arm out as far as you are able, keeping your shoulders and hips pointed toward the floor and level.
3) Repeat on the opposite side.
Perform 10 on each side (20 total reps).
1) Begin by lying flat on your back with your arms to your sides, palms facing the ground.
2) Bring your heels as close to your rear as you can.
3) Lift your butt off the ground as far as you are able, squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement and holding for 5 seconds before releasing back down to the floor.
Repeat 20 times.
Power Up Your Energy
A common struggle for most of my clients has been related to overall feelings of tiredness and a struggle to find enough energy to cook or become more active. There are several different strategies to combat the sensation of exhaustion, and so today we'll be going over what all you can do to boost your energy levels so that you may improve your overall health and wellness.
Sleep is the one of the primary culprits of chronic fatigue. Even if you are in bed for the appropriate amount of time, your sleep may not be restful or you may have an ongoing sleep debt that needs to be recuperated before you will see benefits from improved habits. I discussed this topic including strategies to improve your sleep hygiene on last week's post, All About Sleep.
The next major factor which helps decide your overall energy levels is your nutrition.
Limiting the amount of processed food you eat will help ensure that you are consuming a greater mix of nutrients. Studies show that three-fourths of the average American's diet includes moderately (15.9%) to highly processed (61%) foods and beverages. The amount of convenience food we eat is ever-increasing, and it's affecting our overall health.
Eating foods and consuming beverages low on the glycemic index will help prevent sugar crash or reactive hypoglycemia. High-GI foods contain simple sugars and starches that are quickly processed. After these have been absorbed, you may feel a sense of tiredness, lethargy, irritation or even hangover. Avoid white bread, pasta and rice as well as breakfast cereals, yogurt etc with added sugars; eat whole grains and complex carbohydrates with high fiber (5 or more grams per serving).
Include protein with your carbs to maintain sustained energy throughout the day. Protein helps control blood sugar levels, thus assisting in preventing sugar spikes and crashes. Great energy-boosting snacks are those with both carbohydrates and protein in a balanced mix.
Try making whole fruit-and-veggie smoothies to boost nutrient and fiber consumption -- I recommend trying the 7-Day Green Smoothie Challenge. Bear in mind that these still contain sugar and calories, but these recipes are solid, tasty and packed with vitamins. The challenge (which is FREE) even includes a shopping list for the week and a guidebook to help you along the way.
Use caffeine to your advantage, but don't overdo it as it may cause insomnia (especially if consumed after 2 PM) and lead to dehydration as it is a diuretic. Caffeine provides an energy boost, but too much and you may get the jitters. Avoid energy drinks as they are often laden with sugar -- sometimes as much as 10 teaspoons per serving.
Limit your alcohol consumption as it is a sedative that is particularly strong at midday. When you drink, do so in moderation at a time when you don't mind winding down.
I've mentioned foods you should avoid above, but here are some things that you should eat:
I talked all about hydration in a prior post. Believe it or not, this plays a role in your energy levels! Review A Hydration How-To for more information.
Exercise helps you sleep more soundly at night, and also gives your cells more energy to burn while also circulating oxygen throughout your body. When you work out, your body produces epinephrine and norepinephrine, stress hormones which in modest amounts can make you feel energized. You don't need to join a gym to reap the benefits, though: even a brisk walk around the neighborhood is a good starting place for boosting your energy.
STRESS AND OVERWORK
Stress-induced emotions consume vast amounts of energy. If you cannot reduce your level of stress, consider the following suggestions for management:
Working too much is one of the primary culprits of fatigue. You can overwork yourself not just professionally, but also via family and social obligations. Try to work on streamlining your "must do" activities; set your priorities in terms of the most important tasks and pare down those which are less important. You may need to ask for extra help at work, or from your domestic partner or roommate at home. It is important to note that you cannot give 100% of yourself to each of these areas of your life consistently without eventually burning out; something has to give. When considering your priorities, it may be a good idea to discuss with your domestic partner or a good friend.
Jala Prendes, NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist