Movements That Build Muscle: The Deadlift

Does the Deadlift Build Muscle?

Exercise enthusiasts may pose the question, “does the deadlift build muscle?” The short answer is yes, and to a noteworthy degree. The deadlift, properly executed, offers a full body workout that is not duplicated by other movements. Muscle fiber recruitment is staggeringly high in this basic lift, as a variety of muscle groups are engaged in the fundamental task of lifting an inert bar off of the ground.  From a biomechanical standpoint, this makes the movement complex, increasing the difficulty of the lift and making the necessity for proper technique especially important. To further understand how the movement builds muscle, consider some facts related to the deadlift.

Augmented Hormone Production

Movements that involve larger muscle groups at high weight and maximal intensity facilitate the secretion of hormones, most notably, testosterone. Increases in testosterone increase neurological efficiency and functionality, thereby increasing muscle size and strength.[1]

Increased Muscle Fiber Recruitment

As a basic, heavy movement, the deadlift requires greater force production from a larger number of muscle groups than most other exercises. As force is created, muscles recruit additional motor units to meet the challenge of extra weight.

Primary Muscles Exerted

  • Back Extensors – The upward and downward portions of the deadlift employ the back extensors. As the bar is lifted from the ground to the knee, the back extensors contract concentrically. The lowering movement (knee to ground) causes the extensors to extend eccentrically.  Studies have conclusively demonstrated that the deadlift engages the extensor muscles to a greater degree than similar exercises intended to work the same muscles.[2]
  • Abdominal and Trunk Stabilizers – Since the deadlift is a free-weight exercise with some imbalance, a number of stabilizer muscles are used to steady the weight. Since the body is in a prone position and must counteract the imbalance, considerable effort must be given to controlling the bar during the motion.[3]


The deadlift, while tremendously efficacious, can be extremely dangerous with improper form. Great care should be given to spinal posture, foot placement, chest position, and bar path and proximity to the body.

  • Spinal Posture – Flexed trunk muscles galvanize the back to lift the weight. Excessive leaning can place significant strain on the lower back, increasing the potentiality for injury. The torso should not parallel the ground, but should be angled upward to diminish strain on the lower back. The torso’s posture should be inflexible and taut to support the vertebrae.
  • Foot Placement – The feet should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart, and pointed slightly outward. This will allow the knees to bend and lengthen throughout the movement without excessive strain.
  • Chest Position – The chest should be pushed out, thus allowing the back to remain in a straightened position.
  • Bar Path and Proximity to the Body – As the bar is lifted, keeping the bar in close proximity to the body allows the torso to remain taut without rounding the lower back.

[1] Hales. Improving the Deadlift: Understanding Biomechanical Constraints and Physiological Adaptations to Resistance Exercise.

[2] Nuzzo; McCaulley; Cormie; Cavill; McBride. Trunk Muscle Activity During Stability Ball And Free Weight Exercises.

[3] Hamlyn; Behm; Young. Trunk Muscle Activation During Dynamic Weight-Training Exercises and Isometric Instability Activities

Originally posted 2014-01-06 17:19:14.

Activities You Should Try: Trail Running


If you are weary of the stuffiness and stagnation of indoor running and the inflexible discomfort of hard pavement, you might consider trail running. As a unique and memorable exercise experience, trail running affords you an exhilarating and therapeutic outlet, allowing you to view scenery, inhale fresh air, and reconnect with creation. Consider the following benefits of trail running:

Physical Benefits

Trail running challenges both the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems in unique ways. Trail surfaces are riddled with rocks and depressions, making vigilance and precision a necessity, and enhancing coordination and agility. Muscles rarely utilized must adjust to the trail, working to stabilize the body against rough landings. The body compensates for uneven surfaces by running on the balls of the feet, rather than the heel, protecting the body from unnecessary jarring.

Also of benefit are the continuous ups and downs of the trail, allowing for intermittent phases of exertion and recovery. One’s cardiovascular system is employed to a significant degree on the uphill portions of the trail, with recovery following during the downhill portion. Muscles are worked in different but equally beneficial ways. Downhill gradients work muscles eccentrically, or extend them to anticipate the shock of the landing. This does cause some immediate tearing and muscle damage, but torn muscles will ultimately be stronger upon a full recovery. Uphill portions work the muscles of the legs in a concentric manner, or contract them to create force for movement.

Psychological Benefits

Urbanization and technology have revolutionized our thinking and way of life to a disturbing degree, so why not take the opportunity to “get away from it all.” Mountain trails teem with natural life, and offer a combination of solitude and atmosphere that is noticeably dissimilar to the pressure and hubbub of urban environments. Trail running not only gives the mind the normal benefits associated with running (such as the release of endorphins) but adds to them enjoyment and invigoration gleaned from being in the natural world.

Because competitive and time-obsessed running can make running a chore rather than a desire, trail running can help a runner focus on the experiences of running that are enjoyable rather than mundane. A trail offers a constant change of scenery, various surfaces and obstacles to overcome, and a nonstop challenge. Rocks, trees, and sunshine offer a therapy all their own. With the added enjoyment that comes from being in creation, the distance and duration of the run naturally become secondary considerations, and the experience of running itself will become preeminent.


  • Hydration and Nutrition – Prehydration should be routine preparation for trail running. Make sure you drink plenty of water prior to hitting the trail! Also, make sure you drink plenty of water while on the trail. Depending on the outside temperature, the body may use more water than you think.
  • Equipment – If you have weak ankles, trails can be especially unforgiving. Shoes that provide extra ankle support are a necessity.


Douglas J. Casa, PhD, ATC, FNATA, FACSM, Rebecca L. Stearns, MA, ATC, […], and Carl M. Maresh, PhD, FACSM. Influence of hydration on physiological function and performance during trail running in the heat.

Baechle, Thomas, Earle, RogerNSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

Photo by GORE-TEX® Products 


Originally posted 2013-11-04 06:42:37.

Exercises You Should Try: The Lat Pull-Down

benefits-muscles-lat-pull-downWhether you are canoeing, skiing, swimming, or climbing, your back muscles are catalysts in creating the requisite force necessary for good performance. As the primary force-producing muscle in the back, the strength of your Latissimus Dorsi is a key determinant in your ability to climb a challenging rock face, to propel yourself on the slope, to generate force on your backstroke, and to give more thrust to your canoe paddle. If you haven’t already, you may want to consider making the lat pulldown a staple of your exercise regimen.


From a physiological standpoint, the lat pulldown activates the Latissimus Dorsi, Posterior Deltoids, and Rhomboids. Muscles involved to a lesser degree include the Biceps and forearms. The concentric or descending portion of the movement contracts and shortens the Latissimus Dorsi, activating motor units across the upper back. Also important is the eccentric or upward phase, which lengthens muscle fibers, aiding muscle recruitment and strength. In addition to stimulating hypertrophy in muscles, the pulldown also improves communication between neurons, bolstering your coordination and ability to perform pulling movements with greater efficacy.


Studies have shown that hand positioning can have a significant effect on the effectiveness and value of the lat pulldown. Commonly used variations include wide grip anterior, wide grip posterior, and close grip and supinated grip. Theories abound as to which variation is superior to which. Also common is the assumption that any alternative is as good as the next. It is true that alternative grips can target different muscle to different degrees. However, numerous studies have concluded that the wide grip anterior approach is safer and more successful in targeting the Latissimus Dorsi muscle than any other method.

In using the wide grip anterior variation, an effort should be made to focus on the role of the Latissimus Dorsi muscle in the movement. A common mistake is to pull with the biceps, rather than relying on the back muscles to produce the needed energy. Consequently, the secondary muscles can easily transcend the role of the primary muscles in the movement, which can defeat the purpose of the exercise.


  • Avoiding Questionable Variations – The behind the neck variation can place excessive strain on the shoulders. Pulling the bar downward in back of the head is at the very least unnatural and awkward, and at the most potentially dangerous. Any variation you use should include exclusively frontal movements, to reduce tension on the neck and shoulders.
  • Incorporating Alternate Exercises – You don’t have to have a sophisticated machine to reap the benefits of the Lat pulldown. As an excellent and arguably superior exercise, the pull-up is a similar movement that replicates the motion to a significant degree. Granted, the pull-up does require more upper body strength than the lat pulldown. But this strength can be built through a dedicated and deliberate approach to building strength in the upper back through exercises such as the lat pulldown.


Signorile, Joseph e; Zink, Attila J.; Szwed, Steven P. A Comparative Electromyographical Investigation of Muscle Utilization Patterns Using Various Hand Positions During the Lat Pull-down

Baechle, Thomas, Earle, Roger. NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

Photo by sportsandsocial

Originally posted 2013-11-04 06:27:56.

Exercises You Should Try: The Seated Row with Chest Support


Reasons to Try the Seated Row with Chest Support: Rowing is a physiologically intuitive motion, bringing natural and rhythmic exertion to the muscles of the upper back. While the movement properly practiced is natural and beneficial, bad habits involving poor technique can place undue stress on the lower back. As an exercise that combines this beneficial motion with a support mechanism to ensure proper form, the seated row with chest support is an exercise you should consider.  By placing very specific demands on the upper region of the human back, this exercise forces activated muscle groups to respond and strengthen, while protecting the lower region of the back against excessive strain and potential injury.  Consider some of the benefits of the chest-supported row:

Enhancing your Back’s Function

Integrating a rowing motion into your routine can improve the functioning of your back. As a rowing motion that activates the Latissimus Dorsi, Teres Major, Rhomboid, and Posterior Deltoid, and Biceps Bracii, the seated row with chest support galvanizes the major muscle groups of the upper back. This increased workload brings about neurological and muscular changes in the aforementioned muscles, aiding muscle tone, function, size, coordination and strength. Improved function in the upper back is also helpful in the prevention of shoulder and chest injuries.

Aiding your Technique

Rounding your back during a rowing exercise places exorbitant stress on the lower back, leaving you vulnerable and prone to injury. As the name suggests, the seated row with chest support has a padded mechanism to ensure that your back remains flat during the motion. With greater ability to perform this exercise properly, you will be able to better focus on engaging the muscles of your back.

Balancing your Push-Pull Variation

Any good routine will have a balance mixture of pushing and pulling motions. Focusing on one type of movement to the exclusion of the other can result in strength inequity and greater vulnerability to injury.  As a reciprocal movement to the bench press, the seated row with chest support gives you a motion that balances your routine. If you spend a disproportionate amount of time on pushing motions, consider this exercise as a way of complementing and enhancing your exercise sessions.


  • Start Light – As with any new exercise, the body needs time to adjust to the movement. Getting the biomechanics down is not automatic, and thus requires a good amount of time and practice. Keep the movement steady and controlled, and avoid rocking. Move deliberately and gradually. Try light weight and high repetitions in your initial sessions, get the technique down, and add weight as you feel more comfortable.
  • Be Consistent – In realizing the benefit of any exercise, it is important to perform it with regularity. Your body needs time to adapt to the motion and benefit from it. If you are wondering why you are not benefitting from the exercise, set up a routine and stay with it!
  • Be Creative – You don’t need a machine or gym membership to incorporate this motion. You can replicate it easily with a slightly inclined bench and some dumbbells.

Reference: Baechle, Thomas, Earle, Roger. NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

Originally posted 2013-10-24 13:16:50.

The Reality of Overtraining

Is there such a thing as too much exercise? When it comes to fitness, we may be tempted to think that no duration is too lengthy, no frequency is too common, and no intensity is too excessive for physical training. But consider the reality of overtraining, a phenomenon in which an individual trains too much, bringing about weakness, decreased functionality, exhaustion, muscular and cardiorespiratory regression, and even psychological malaise.

Categories of Overtraining

It is possible to fall into one or both of the following overtraining categories:

  • Muscle Group Overtraining– Individuals who focus disproportionately on a specific muscle group or anatomical area can put themselves at a higher risk for overtraining. How does this happen? Consider the following scenario. You would like to improve strength and muscle mass in your lower body, so you focus excessively on strength training techniques such as squats, lunges, calf raises and stairs. You believe that training for two hours is better than training for one, training 6 days is better than training 5, and doing 7 sets is better than doing three. In sum, you have bought into the philosophy that more is always better. So you perform lower body exercises on consecutive days, for lengthy gym sessions, at a relatively high intensity.

Of course, the aforementioned exercises (squats, lunges etc.) are beneficial. But

think about how a muscle group responds to a sustained challenge with little to no rest and recovery. We know that bouts of intense activity will leave muscles torn down, depleted of energy stores, and in need of nutrition and rest. After an exercise session, the body begins two distinct phases, healing and growth. Once muscles and connective tissue are taxed in a bout of physical activity, muscles are repaired, connective tissue is strengthened, and the body returns to its pre-workout condition. Body systems then begin a process of compensating for workout trauma by increasing tissue in the targeted area, thus increasing strength and readiness for the next bout of exercise. To engage the recovering area in exercise prior to full recovery is to short-circuit this process of healing and growth, leaving the area unready and vulnerable for the next challenge.

  • Generalized Overtraining– When the entire body is driven to exhaustion, overtraining is a more systemic problem. This kind of overtraining is often a corollary to muscle group overtraining, but often comes as a result of training that is more comprehensive in its approach. Both cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal systems are depleted of energy and given inadequate time for recovery.

Awareness of Overtraining 

Though overtraining is a common syndrome, it is fairly hard to pinpoint and detect. Since it often results in decreased energy and performance, athletes often redouble their training efforts, a choice which in turn which further inhibits their progress and perpetuates this downward, cyclical spiral.

To avoid overtraining, consider incorporating some of the tips below:

  • Take a periodic week-long respite. It may be difficult to convince yourself of the benefit of this, but your body will thank you. I have found that a week off gives me renewed vigor and vitality when I return to exercise.
  • Get enough rest each night. Your body uses this time to rebuild and renew itself. Do not discount the importance of a good night’s sleep.
  • Vary the intensity and duration of your sessions. The body responds well to challenge and variation, so don’t be afraid to change it up.


NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

Originally posted 2013-10-08 12:17:54.

Benefits of Ice Baths (Cold Water Immersion Therapy)

As a standard recovery technique used heavily by athletes the world over, the ice bath is regarded as an effective way to get the body ready for its next challenge. If you are like me, you may not be thrilled at the prospect of immersing your body in excruciatingly cold water. Wouldn’t a warm bath and a hot cup of coffee bring just as much benefit? Admittedly, it is easy to be reticent when considering the notion of generalized icing (as opposed to isolated icing – see my previous article on the Benefits of Icing). It certainly is not the most comfortable or convenient option. But the research indicates the body has a very specific response to cold water immersion and that ice baths may be beneficial.

The Body and Cold Water Immersion (CWI)

 An ice bath can help enhance the speed and comprehensiveness of your recovery. Consider the following post-workout benefits:

  • Facilitating Fluid Transport – The immediate effect of Cold Water Immersion on the body is vasoconstriction, or the shunting of blood flow from extremities to interior portions of the body. The fluid transported away from extremities includes left-over waste fluid, which left alone would fester in muscle tissue, slowing recovery and even causing muscle soreness. Immediately following Cold Water Immersion, fresh blood free of waste is circulated throughout the extremities, enhancing recovery and preventing delayed onset muscle soreness.
  • Aiding Nervous System Function – Intense physical activity disturbs the “rest and digest” component of the nervous system, also known at the Parasympathetic Nervous System. This disturbed function continues in the minutes immediately following a workout, creating an overall state of flux in the body’s systems. Studies show that Cold Water Immersion is a boon to to Parasympathetic function, acting as a kick-starter in the minutes following a workout. And since the Parasympathetic Nervous System controls the process of recovery, this speeds the body’s recuperation from intense activity.

Tips for Incorporating Cold Water Immersion (CWI)

Taking an ice bath is not something you would want to do every day, but it can be a great way to boost your readiness if you have two bouts of intense activity planned very close together. Below are some ideas for working an ice bath into your post-exercise routine.

  • Immediacy – For best results, you will want to take the bath while your body is still warm. If your body has already cooled, the benefits of CWI will be lost.
  • Brevity – While it may be uncomfortable to take an ice bath longer than 15 minutes, it can also be dangerous. Extended exposure to frigid water can increase chances of hypothermia and frostbite.

Ice baths can be helpful, depending on your fitness level and goals. It is recommended that you check with your doctor before trying this or other methods for post-workout recovery.

References: “Effect of cold water immersion on postexercise parasympathetic reactivation,” M. Buchheit , J. J. Peiffer , C. R. Abbiss , P. B. Laursen, American Journal of Physiology

Originally posted 2013-10-02 16:38:00.

The Benefits of Icing and Best Practices

the benefits of icing physiological techniques swelling injuries

Are those weekend bouts of exercise leaving your body with aches and pains? Are you taking any steps to prepare your body for your next workout session? Post-workout icing is an effective and under-utilized method for reducing inflammation, soreness, and enhancing the healing process. If you’re not consistently icing, take  time to consider your body’s positive response to and the overall benefits of icing. Then use the strategies at the end of this article to get the most from your icing practice.

 Physiological Response

How does the body react to temperature therapy at the cellular level?

  • Cellular Response – At a fundamental level, muscles exposed to high degrees of resistance and pressure will develop microtears, which is also called microtrauma. Severe muscle soreness and connective tissue strains can cause cellular damage. In this case, cell membranes are breached, leaving cells damaged and in need of recovery. Cellular function itself is inhibited, and fluids accumulate in the cell and surrounding tissue, further impeding the healing process. Reducing the cell temperature through ice application relieves the cell’s burden to process and eliminate fluid, thus promoting cellular efficiency and healing.
  • Reduction of Inflammation and Muscle Spasms – In a more general sense, larger injured areas receive an augmented flow of blood, which in turn can increase swelling and cause further inflammation. Nerves will also become increasingly sensitive, and thus increase the likelihood of painful spasms and contractions. Applying cold pressure to the injury site causes blood vessels surrounding the area to constrict, inhibiting the flow of fluid and lessening the inflammatory response, muscle sensitivity, and the potential exacerbation of the injury.

 Proper Methodology

We know that icing is beneficial. But how does one go about it most effectively? To maximize your benefit, consider creating a precise plan using timing, target, and duration.

  • Timing – When it comes to icing, time is of the essence. A crucial window of time is available immediately following an injury, when the area in question is especially prone to swelling and inflammation. It’s during this window that the area is particularly responsive to an immediate and direct application of ice. Injuries that are not treated soon will inflame and swell, further irritating the area and inhibiting the healing process. One crucial thing to remember is that icing should only be a post-workout treatment. Cooling and numbing your muscles prior to physical activity can increase the chances of injury.
  • Target Area – When it comes to icing, it’s best to concentrate on one area at a time. A specific application point will give the problem area the attention it needs, reducing swelling and contributing to healing.
  • Duration – Application of ice for a protracted period of time is not only unnecessary, but can actually reverse the intended benefit of reducing inflammation. A reduction of soft tissue temperature to a great degree for a prolonged period can trigger a bodily response of blood and fluid to the injured area. Though recommendations as to duration vary, most agree that it is acceptable to ice between 10 to 20 minutes. 

Reference: Soft tissue thermodynamics before, during, and after cold pack therapy. (Enwemeka CS, Allen C, Avila P, Bina J, Konrade J, Munns S.)

Originally posted 2013-09-18 13:04:02.

The Benefits of Using a Foam Roller

How to Use a Foam RollerLooking for a way to loosen, massage, elongate, and maintain problematic muscle tissue areas? You may want to invest in a foam roller. With a technique that closely imitates massage therapy, a foam roller can substantially benefit your muscle health and performance. And it isn’t a pain to haul around. Designed as a cylindrical foam tool, it is light and portable enough to take on your next exercise excursion.

Alleviating Tension and Elongating Musculature
Muscles that are subjected to frequent bouts of strenuous activity may develop trigger points, or areas of muscle knotting and tautness. These inflexible sites can cause localized pain in a specific anatomical area, or generalized pain throughout an anatomical region. But irritation and muscle discomfort are not the only problems trigger points can cause. Muscle movement is also inhibited, limiting one’s range of motion and ability to move freely. Muscles that are particularly susceptible in the lower body include the Gastrocnemius and Quadriceps muscles.

In looking at the physiology of trigger points, it makes sense that the gentle pressure of a foam roller will loosen the surrounding tissue, increase circulation and blood flow, lessen pain, and relax the problem area. For instance, applying light, pulsing stress to the medial portion of the Gastrocnemius will release some of the pressure and tightness in the trigger point, allowing slackening in the muscle and increased mobility.

Purposes of Foam-Rolling

  • Lessened pain: Foam rolling applies direct pressure to muscle adhesions, allowing them to loosen, heal, and ultimately decrease the amount of tenderness and irritability experienced.
  • Increased circulation: Foam rolling can augment circulation to your muscles, increasing the amount of nutrients and oxygen they receive.
  • Speeded recovery: Muscle scarring is the result of recurring muscle tears, and left alone can eventually lead to injury. In a fashion similar to a massage, foam rolling can break down the scar tissue, bringing healing and growth to muscle tissue.
  • Improved flexibility: Rigid muscles are loosened by this simple technique, bolstering range of motion and muscle maneuverability.

Suggested Methods for Use

  • Self-massage: As its name makes clear, rolling the roller is a popular and effective technique. Moving it back and forth while simultaneously applying pressure to an isolated area is the equivalent of a tissue massage. The rhythmic movement adds to muscle relaxation, and gives the entire body a general feeling of comfort. Lengthier muscle groups in the lower body lend themselves well to this method.  
  • Bodyweight: One’s bodyweight can be used to massage posterior regions that would be difficult to self-massage otherwise. For example, it’s common practice to rest one’s leg on top of a foam roller, using the arms to stabilize the body, while simultaneously rolling back and forth on the roller.  Using bodyweight also allows the application of increased pressure to a tense area.  
  • Pre and post-workout: Using a roller prior to a fitness session can increase the readiness of your muscles, warming and preparing them for the workout. As a post-workout technique, foam rolling can improve nutrient flow to deprived muscle tissue.
  • Consistent and abbreviated use: Adding foam rolling as a component of your daily routine will allow you to realize the results outlined above. Focus on isolating problematic areas on a daily basis, making this practice a consistent part of your exercise session.

Recommended Products:


Sources: “Roller-Massage Increases Hamstring Range of Motion,” found on PubMed; “Acute Effects of Self-Myofascial Release Using a Foam Roller on Arterial Function,” found on Pubmed; “An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force,” found in The Journal on Strength and Conditioning Research.

Originally posted 2013-09-04 11:49:01.

Exercise and Stress Reduction

paddleboardersWith anxiety and depression cases reaching record numbers, society has an exploding mental health problem. Although an alarming amount of medications are prescribed to counter this problem, physicians overwhelmingly agree that a consistent exercise routine can be remarkably effective, significantly lowering feelings of anxiousness and despondency. If you suffer from chronic or periodic anxiety and depression, exercise can be a boon to your mental health.

If you consider fitness activity to be an exclusively physical endeavor, you may need to reconsider the mental benefits of exercise. Fitness is not only about your physique but is a holistic endeavor in which the physical and psychological components are inseparable. A body and mind working together in concert harmonize to bring about total health. A bout of exercise should ideally engage and stimulate your mind and body. So the next time you skip a workout, consider what your mind may be missing.

Depression and Anxiety Alleviation

If you suffer from depression and anxiety, exercise can provide significant relief. Consider the specifics of how exercise can help you feel better:

  • Activating key neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters such as Serotonin and Norepinephrine are activated and released, increasing neural communication and facilitating the building of new pathways. These newly-formed avenues allow your mind to break away from cyclical thinking patterns.
  • Increasing blood circulation and oxygenation. An augmented flow of blood to the brain provides it with more oxygen, bolstering cognitive function and stability. Mental processes become more efficient and require less energy.
  • Promoting relaxation. Muscle fibers enter exercise sessions with tightness and inflexibility. Exercise warms the muscle fiber, increasing elasticity and allowing the muscle to stretch. This increase in length decreases the amount of tension and contributes to muscle comfort. This relaxation has an isolated effect on the muscle, but also has a generalized effect on the body, causing the mind itself to feel relief.
  • Regaining psychological and emotional control. Anxiety and depression can throttle you and make you feel helpless and ravaged. A vortex of worry can take your mind by force, ravaging it and leaving you weak and vulnerable. Exercise provides you the opportunity to take charge of something, namely your fitness level. You can set goals, work toward them, see progress, and ultimately capture the objective. With this success you can regain your confidence, ultimately taking back your mind and thoughts. Your command of this area will bring with it a sense of accomplishment, improving your confidence and overall well-being.

Making Your Workout Therapeutic

Here are some suggestions for gleaning mental benefit from your workout routine:

  • Get outside. Fresh air, scenic views, and sunshine can be refreshing to the body and the mind.
  • Integrate basic movements. Fluid and simple motions can relax the mind and soothe the emotions, so choose to incorporate basic activities that involve movements that repeat themselves. Some ideas include biking, hiking, walking, running, kayaking, paddle boarding, and swimming.
  • Dig deep. Bringing a high degree of intensity to your workout will give you a sense of accomplishment and help you feel confident.

References: Health Fitness Instructor’s HandbookNSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

Originally posted 2013-08-29 09:00:54.

How to Gain and Maintain Motivation to Exercise

Joshua Tree Rock Climbing at SunsetWhen it comes to exercise, psychology is immeasurably important. Motivation is the “it” factor in physical fitness. Your level of motivation will determine if, when, how, and why you exercise. Your source of motivation will also influence how hastily you quit, how doggedly you persist, and how you generally view physical activity. Lack of motivation will drag you down, cause inconsistency, and ultimately discourage your athletic pursuits.

Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Motivation

Self-determination theory posits that motivation can be subdivided into two categories:  First, there’s intrinsic motivation, the impulse arising from pure enjoyment or pleasure.  Second, there’s extrinsic motivation, which is based on obtaining some specific result. A person can be influenced by both kinds of motivation simultaneously, or can be pulled more by one than the other. Those who are constantly focused on established goals such as getting a chiseled look, a smaller waist, an impressive time, and so on are more extrinsically motivated, and are thus more likely to abandon exercise when the outcome is achieved. Those who derive pleasure from physical activity itself are more intrinsically motivated, and stand a better chance at developing fitness habits that will last a lifetime.

Increasing Your Motivation

To stay motivated, do some introspection and bolster your motivation. Develop dissatisfaction with negative thinking and superficial goal setting. Brainstorm ideas that will further your commitment to and enjoyment of healthy living. Here are some ideas for strengthening your intrinsic desire to exercise!

  • Make Exercise Enjoyable. As was discussed above, much is made over the end result of exercise, but fitness is more than a result. It’s an experience. Exercise will ultimately bring physical change in the future, but it can also be internally therapeutic in the present. So, craft a routine around fitness activities you enjoy. If you despise a particular exercise, replace it with one you like. Don’t spend every morning on the exercise bike if you have an affinity for swimming. If you like free weights, don’t spend your gym session on machines. Overall, incorporate what you love into your daily routine.
  • Love Your Workout Exercise Environment. You will find exercise much more enjoyable in a pleasant environment. If you are stagnating in a dank garage or basement and the sun is shining outside, take your workout outside. If you detest a treadmill, find a local track and walk outside. If you love the indoors, don’t force yourself to stay outside. Consider joining a local gym. Ultimately, find a fresh, airy, cool place to exercise and be open to switching it up periodically.
  • Modify Your Routine. It’s basically axiomatic to say that “variety is the spice of life.” Applied to exercise, this adage can make your routine more interesting and beneficial. Deviate from customary routine, and try something new. If you love the outdoors, take a day hike, try trail-running, train for a 5k, or go mountain biking. If you like resistance training, experiment with supersets, burnouts, and other methods that lend variety to your routine. 

The forced and regimented nature of “staying in shape” causes many of us to cringe at words like “exercise” or “working-out.”  Regain the enjoyment that came from staying active when you were a kid by making exercise a form of play.  If you love it, you’ll keep doing it.   

Sources: Baechle, Thomas, Earle, Roger. NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

Originally posted 2013-08-16 15:06:13.