Friday, January 29, 2010

10 Fab Fitness Tips for when it's Damned Cold Outside!

Sixteeen degrees BELOW ZERO this morning!

Fortunately, there isn't much wind and the forecast is for plenty of sunshine. But still. It's damned cold out there!

So, what's a Minnesotan to do when we're looking up at zero for a few days?

Well, as it turns out lots!

Check it out: My top 10 things to do when it's nothing short of damned cold outside.

  1. Defrost your freezer. Box or bag up all of your freezer items an move them to the garage, deck, patio, or your car. They will stay plenty frozen for the 12 or 15 hours it might take to defrost your freezer. Hopefully, you'll need to take a flight of stairs or two in the process to burn a few calories! And while you're at it, thaw out and prepare at least one of the items you bought because it's good for you, but you just haven't gotten around to preparing. We all have them, and you know what I'm talking about: liver, frozen brussel sprouts ... that bison steak. Also, check the expiration dates on anything pre packaged. If it's expired, just throw it out!
  2. Drink. And drink a bunch ... of water! Temps this cold reduce humidity levels indoors and out. Heating systems dry it out even more! And because of the cold, most of us don't seem thirsty, so we tend to hydrate less. Got a slight headache? Maybe you're dehydrated. Sip on a hot cup of green tea, or a cup of hot water if you need something warm in your hands. Otherwise, plan to consume at least 8 ounces of water before each meal today.
  3. Bake some squash or yams ... the more yellow or orange the better. In 20-some years of working with clients on diet, the yellow and orange vegetables tend to get neglected more often than almost anything else. Technically classified as caretenoids, they are low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol, and a good source of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium and Magnesium. They are also a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Potassium and Manganese. Complete nutrition facts here, for baked with added salt, so you can/should reduce your sodium intake by cutting back on (or eliminating) the added salt ... especially if hypertensive. Plus, your oven will add some heat to your home!
  4. And while the oven is hot, Roast some pumpkin and squash seeds. Low in Cholesterol, they are a good source of Protein, Vitamin K, Iron and Copper, and a very good source of Magnesium, Phosphorus and Manganese. This food is, however, high in fat, especially saturated fats, so you'll want to sprinkle them on salads and use sparingly in other dishes.
  5. Go to the gym! With the New Year's resolutes out in full force, it's guaranteed to be warm and humid in there! Or call Fitness Together if you don't like the crowds or humidity, but really want to heat it up!
  6. Book a trip to someplace warm ... like hot enough to require that you eventually shed some clothing. Facing an immediate deadline for exposing otherwise well covered body parts will help keep you focused this Winter. Click here to connect with my good friend Renata at AAA for some travel tips.
  7. Get some sun. Rarely does it get this cold with a lot of cloud cover. Grab a book, your notebook computer ... or whatever ... and find a sunny window to sit near for an hour or two. Some physicians believe that a good portion of our winter ailments are due to sun derived vitamin D deficiency.
  8. Women, schedule your annual breast exam. While October is breast cancer awareness month; if you missed it then, schedule it now.
  9. Men, check your prostate. While heart disease is still your best chance of checking out early, cancer is #2 and colon cancer is one of the likelier villains. Very treatable when caught early; very deadly when not. Pick up the phone right now and get it scheduled!
  10. Register for my Our Highland Park Client Appreciation Event NEXT SATURDAY! You don't need to go or call anywhere cold; JUST CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

So, even though it's not (Rio de Janeiro forecast) 85 degrees outside, there are still plenty of things to do to stay fit and healthy!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Having a (medicine) Ball with Exercise!

For the same reason that home exercise equipment doesn't work for a lot of folks, training at my own personal training studios doesn't work too well for me personally. Oh, there's plenty of equipment to keep me interested, and with which I can get a great workout, but there are simply too many distractions about.

I really, really do need to get out of my 'work' environment to get an effective 'workout.'

In doing so, I encounter many of the same challenges a lot of you do when working out at large public facilities. And this time of year can be especially frustrating. Whether it's morning, noon, or night, it seems I'm always bumping into equipment contention.

So, as they say, let's make lemonade out of these lemons!

And the way we're going to do it is by using one of the oldest pieces of exercise equipment known to mankind ... the medicine ball. In fact, did you know that medicine (med) balls have been used in physical therapy since 1000 BC?! Sizes and shapes vary from 1 Kg to 11KG, but all medicine balls will be soft enough to bounce on a firm surface (like a wall or floor). Indeed, it's ability to absorb impact is what makes a ball a medicine ball.

What's even better is that while you'll frequently find the benches, the bars, and the pin select equipment in use at the club this time of the year, you will ALWAYS be able to find an unused med ball and a few square feet of open space.

What's more, most of the exercises you do with a med ball are compound exercises that incorporate a LOT of major muscle groups and burn tons of calories!

A couple of tips before you get started:
  1. Keep to the edges and the corners of the gym floor to avoid widely flung bars and cables;
  2. Always start with the lightest weight ball available when learning a new med ball exercise;
  3. Gradually use (over weeks and months) heavier and heavier balls as you develop competence and strength.
Here then, are a few simple med ball exercises. Use one or two of them to supplement your workout, or use all of them for a complete workout!

Walking diagonal lunges with a gentle hand to hand shot-put-like overhead toss (works the glutes, deltoids, and improves balance). Hold a med ball in one hand close to your ear as a shot putter would. Step forward into your lunge keeping the ball near your ear. Then, as you step up out of the lunge to a standing position push the med ball overhead with one hand like a shot putter might. Keep control of the ball as push it over hand over head to your other hand. Lower the ball to shoulder height near your other. Lunge with the other leg and again, pass overhead to the other hand as you recover. Pause between steps and keep your head up!

Explosive seated overhead throw and catch against a flat wall (trains your lats and core). While sitting upright, and like an overhead two handed basketball pass, throw the ball into a wall and catch it on the rebound. NOTE: You might need to wander into a lesser used area of the facility ... perhaps even the basketball court or an unused racquetball court to find a non-mirrored wall and space enough to make this safe to other gym rats. You do not want to hit another gym member with a med ball! And you should not throw med balls against a mirror!

Sit-up and overhead throw to partner/trainer (abs, lats). Like the overhead throw, but this time start with the ball overhead as you lay flat on your back on the ground about 3 feet from your partner. Perform a situp with the ball overhead (a strong back is required!) and complete the exercise with an overhead throw to your trainer. While recovering from seated upright position back to lying prone, have your partner toss you the ball back. You can catch it anywhere, but is most effective if your partner throws to and you catch it over head. Repeat until fatigued.

Explosive squat position basketball chest pass against a wall (gluts, delts, triceps). Begin facing a wall about 5 feet from it. Perform a basic squat with the ball grasped at chest height. As you recover from the squat position (and are raising up to a standing position) forcefully chest pass the med ball to the wall. Be sure your arms are fully extended when you release the ball. Catch and repeat until fatigued.

Russian Twist on the floor. An exercise specifically for your abdominals, balance on your butt with feet and torso lifted off the floor to form a 'V' with your body. Suspend the med ball with two hands above your abdominals. Twist at the waist to your right while balancing on your butt to rotate the ball to above your right hip. Then twist in the other direction to move the ball in a twisting motion (abs, obliques) to atop of your left hip ... all the while keeping the ball suspended off of your body. Repeat until fatigued.

Overhead karate-type chops. Wile standing w/ feet shoulder width apart and with a slightly bent leg, grasp the ball with two hands. Raise the ball overhead. Then, while keeping your arms fully extended, bend at the waist and accelerate the ball downwards towards one foot, but don't let go of the ball! Recover by bending only at the waist (keep those legs and arms mostly straight) standing upright again with the ball overhead, and arms fully extended throughout the motion. Bend at the waist again , but this time accelerate the ball downwards towards the other foot. Again, don't let go! Repeat until fatigued.

Once you have those exercises down, here are a few more advanced movements:

Single arm supported dumbbell rows: support yourself in a plank/pushup-like position with one arm fully extended atop of a med ball. Then, grab a very light dumbbell with the other. Balance on the ball with the extended arm while knocking out a few single arm dumbbell rows with the other. You'll train Tris, Delts, Pecs, Core, Traps, and Lumbar with just this one exercise! CAUTION: Do NOT do this exercise if you prefer to avoiding attention. It's a difficult exercise and turns a lot of heads.

Mostly for biceps, but with significant core stability and balance training, try doing some standing dumbbell curls while standing on top of the med ball! Yes, on top of the med ball. It's actually easier than you might think. Getting on top of the med ball is, of course, the trickiest part. You should try this with lots of open floor space and WITHOUT dumbbells before trying it with dumbbells. Find the largest, softest ball you can find to start with ... it will squish flatter onto the floor and roll the least. Use harder, smaller balls as you get better.

There are a few techniques for getting up onto the ball, but my favorite is to start with your left foot (for righties) atop of the med ball just left of the ball's crown. Then, without hesitation, simply step up with the other foot and place it just to the right of the ball's crown. The key is to try to keep the ball from moving as you step up onto it with the second foot. It takes some practice, but do persist. I've been doing this exercise for years to try to improve upon one legged balance needed to help my suffering hockey game. Even to this day it sometimes takes me 6 or 8 attempts to get up on top of the ball.

Once you're standing on top, simply perform alternating dumbbell curls as you would do standing. Just don't fall of the ball! Try to 'wrap' your feet around the ball to put as much foot in contact with the ball as possible to improve control.

Last, if you're truly at an advanced fitness level without any lower back ailments, try some of what I call offset med ball pass push ups. Assume a normal push up position, but with just one hand atop of a smallish (3 K) med ball. The fact that you'll have one shoulder naturally higher in this position (it being over the ball) makes it an 'offset.' In a single explosive move, execute a accelerated push up by pushing simultaneously against both the floor and the ball. At the top of the movement (you'll need a bit of 'hang time' here) roll the ball from the hand with it towards the hand without it, and control it under the new hand as you recover from the push up ... then recede to the floor. Repeat for 15 and you, my friend, are king/queen of the gym!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Reaching your Fitness Resolution

We're halfway through January and already about half of the Americans who resolved to live healthier and be fit have drifted away from their plans by now!

What's worse, in just 2 more weeks fully 93.8% (according to a Johns Hopkins University study) will have abandoned their fitness programs!

What's going on here!?!

Well, it's not an exact science, that's for sure, but a big part of it is the lack of results. Or, more accurately, I should say it's the lack of measurable results. Indeed, one of the most critical errors people make in January is to monitor their progress with the bathroom scale. While that might be right for some people at some point, it's flat out wrong for most people starting a fitness program in January.

Here's why. Exercising forces the body to adapt. In fact, the less fit you are the more dramatic the adaption. Your body creates new and more efficient neurological pathways. You add mineral content to your bones increasing its density. Blood volume increases. And yes, you both increase the size of, and add muscle fibers to your frame.

All of this blood, nerve tissue, bone, and muscle is lean body mass.

And adding lean body mass is
a healthy way to make you stronger, live longer, and is one of the keys to weight loss!

Each ounce of additional lean body mass is living, 'breathing', calorie-consuming tissue. Increased strength not only allows you to move more weight and burn more calories when you workout, but the additional lean body mass will also burn more calories when you're at rest.

You can think of muscle tissue as your primary fat 'burning' facility. The more muscle you have, the more fat you can burn!

The trouble is, all this lean body mass also adds to your overall body weight! So while all of that exercise is burning calories and reduces your body fat, that same exercise is offsetting the fat loss with an increase in lean mass! So the scale doesn't move. Or doesn't move much.

In an effort to get you back on track, my tip this week is simple:

Pick One and ONLY One Fitness Goal this Month! And make that goal anything other than weight loss.

Fitness Goals can be one of many things:
  • Cardiovascular Condition;
  • Muscular Strength;
  • Muscular Endurance;
  • Flexibility; and
  • Body Composition, which includes body fat.
What most people don't realize is that the most direct path to reducing body fat is usually found through initially improving the less interesting goals of improved Cardiovascular Condition, Muscular Strength, or Muscular Endurance.

So, make it easy on yourself, and pick one and only one non-composition related fitness goal to work on this month! If you haven't been getting the cardio in, make that job #1. And ignore the scale at this point. Your primary goal is to establish and maintain consistency with your program.

Improving Cardiovascular Condition helps both establish a consistent pattern of aerobic exercise, and lays the foundation for more intense cardio training to follow. In addition to the 10 minute warmup and 10 minute cool down prior to and following your strength training efforts, you should also be completing an additional 30-45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 3 times per week.

Or take a strength or muscular endurance test at the beginning of the month and then again at the end of the month. Record the percentage improvement. Pushups to failure are a great muscular endurance test. Or, leg press twice your body weight to failure. Check with your trainer if unsure of how or what to test.

Next month, pick and focus on a different individual fitness element! In a few months, you'll discover that not only has your body composition improved along the way, but you'll also have a more complete appreciation of how a balanced fitness program keeps you motivated month after month, year after year, and decade after decade.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wading Through January Gym Jams

It happens every year.

One of the top New Year's Resolutions year in and year out is getting fit and living healthier.

Tens of Thousands of Resolve Resolutes join gyms to make it happen.
Most of them will be gone by March, but they're here now, and cannot be neglected.

Here then, are my 10 top tips for making your workouts effective within the present river of resolutes.
  1. Go Early. Way early. Particularly on the weekends, traffic in the bigger, busier fitness centers doesn't really get too annoying until after 9:00AM
  2. Plan for working body parts instead of specific exercises. You will regularly bump into unexpected contention for equipment as you navigate through your workout. Make lemonade out of lemons by training the same body parts on new/different equipment rather than wasting time waiting around for your 'regular' equipment to free up.
  3. Give your self a bit of extra time to deal with diversion & distractions. More people and less equipment availability will mean more 'hunting' time than normal. Add an extra 10 minutes of time to your workout to handle the unexpected, including parking.
  4. Exercise by proximity. As you are finishing up with an exercise, don't look further than you can throw your towel for the next piece. Chance are, if you need to walk more than 50 steps to get to your next exercise, it will be gone by the time you get there.
  5. Don't stray too far away from your equipment. Be sure to leave a towel & water bottle on your equipment to help mark territory.
  6. Turn around slowly, and always look before turning. Neophytes are unpredictable and carry bars, plates, and dumbbells in unimaginable ways. Save yourself a headache and look before moving.
  7. Perform large and multiple muscle group exercises. They burn more calories and can better optimize your workout time by hitting more muscle tissue. Additionally, they tend to be among the least used pieces of equipment in the gym. Examples here are good old fashioned flat bench bench presses; barbell squats; and Barbell Rows.
  8. Plan to do some cardio both at the start of and at the end of your workout. The warm up and warm down are both important by themselves, but in planning for two cardio events you'll double your chances of getting the equipment you prefer.
  9. Don't expect that loaded bars are being used. Gym newbies are notorious for leaving bars loaded even after long abandoned. If you see equipment that appears to be abandoned, it probably is. Stand nearby your potential find, and look in 360 degrees for anyone willing to make eye contact with you. If you don't see anyone, just ask someone near you if they've seen anyone on the equipment. If they haven't, consider it yours!
  10. Don't go at all! You'll still need to exercise, but use January and February to broaden your fitness experience with outdoor activities. It's been an outstanding year for both snow (cross country skiing, and snowshoeing) and ice (most outdoor rinks were open 2 weeks early this year).
Or, Give me a call and we'll train you in private to avoid all of the above!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Resolution vs. Commitment

Are you resolve to improve your Health and Fitness this decade?

Or are you truly committed? defines resolution as " a formal expression of opinion or intention made." It also defines commitment as " a pledge or promise; obligation." I hope you agree that there's a serious difference between expression of opinion and an obligation.

It's like the ham and eggs breakfast: the chicken is opinionated, while the pig is committed.

As we begin a new decade, let's resolve to be committed to our health and fitness rather than opinionated about it.

It's the commitment, above all else, that counts. Setting specific, concrete goals is of course important (and more on that next, and in the following weeks), but committing to reach those goals is critical.

"The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will." - Vince Lombardi

Reaching our fitness goals will not happen casually. There are too many distractions. Too many obstacles. Too many excuses. Indeed, reaching our 2010 Health and Fitness goals requires a genuine, sincere, pull-no-punches commitment.

Here's one way: Lay it on the line!
One of the best and most natural motivators in life is the spirit of competition! Having a concrete, time bound competitive deadline event to work towards is one of the most effective ways to keep your program on track!

Generally speaking, the more expensive and more highly publicized, the better! If you really, really, really want rock hard six pack abs and buns of steel, seek out and enter a physique competition. Send in your entry fee right away.

Or, seek out and enter a 10K run, or a short mountain bike race. Or, given all of that fabulous snow out there, enter a cross county ski event! The City of Lakes Loppet is just around the corner, and has events ranging from non-competitive trail tours to highly competitive races.

Whatever event you pick isn't important. What's important is that you register.

That's your commitment. Because with your registration fee on the line, you are far more likely to prepare for, and then complete the event. Preferably, find something with an entry fee of greater than $50 (just high enough to bother you if you don't show). Further, do tell as many of your friends and family about the event as possible!

Because nothing will keep you motivated, help you push through those last few burning reps, or pound out that final 200 foot climb like knowing that you're putting it all on the line in front of your own personal audience 3 weeks from Sunday. It works.

Afraid of crowds? Make it personal. Find a friend, family member, training partner, or trainer and place a personal bet. Pick a specific, or small collection of fitness elements ... resting heart rate, body fat percentage, total push ups in 1 minute ... (whatever you like!) ... and a testing date 4 weeks from now. Place $50 each into escrow somewhere. Winner takes all on test date. Believe it or not, this works! I've seen people work their butts off (quite literally!) for bragging rights and a t-shirt!

Or, if you've tried everything, and are ready to kick it up a notch, enter our 12 Week Transformation Contest!

Maybe you'll win the contest and spend 8 days in Jamaica. Or, maybe you'll merely end up looking and feeling 20 years younger. The important part is that you've committed.