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.

Physiology

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.

Biomechanics

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.

Considerations

  • 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.

Sources:

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

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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.

 Suggestions:

  • 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.

Sources:

NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

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

5 Great Strength Training Moves for Runners

Believe it or not, training for running a race involves more than putting miles on your running shoes. Strength training is an important part of race training. Integrating strength training into your running routine will help prevent injury, build up supporting muscles, and increase speed over time.

Running activates numerous muscles throughout the body, but one of the most important areas is the “core.” The core includes the abs, back, and hips.  According to Runner’s World, core strength improves running performance and reduces risk of injury. I can personally vouch for the importance of core training too.  Last year, when I didn’t include core training in my preparation for a race,  I experienced breathing issues, as well as the much-feared “side stitch.” Avoid the mistake I made and be sure to train your core for better running performance.  

One great move to increase ab strength:

Planking. Planks can be done from the forearms or hands in a basic push-up position, as well as on each side of the body to target your obliques. Hold a front plank and side planks for 30 seconds each (or no longer than you can maintain perfect form) for severals set. Or test your strength to see how long you can hold the plank (with proper form).

Some moves to increase lower back strength:

If you’re a runner, it’s crucial that you give special attention to strengthening your lower back. I suffered a back injury a couple of years ago, which had to do with the fact that all I was doing in my training was running. Lower back pain is common today, a product of sitting in the same position for long periods at a desk, or at the opposite spectrum, from standing in the same position all day. The mild back pain caused by lack of movement can generally be relieved with strength training. (Be sure to check with your doctor if you have moderate to severe lower back pain before attempting any of these exercises.)

Bridges. Lie on your back with feet on the floor. Tighten abs and glutes to raise your body off of the floor towards the ceiling. You can do a number of reps in a rhythmic up/down motion, or hold the position for a period of time. Do 15-20 reps or one 30 second interval for a set.

Back extension. This move can be done with an exercise ball or with weights. Lie face down on an exercise ball, with hands behind your head and feet against a sturdy object (such as your couch or a wall). Squeeze your glutes and raise yourself slightly off the ball until your body forms a straight line. Hold the raised position for 30 seconds or do 10-15 repetitions for a set.

(See links below for more lower back exercises.)

Here are some moves to incorporate to develop supporting or stabilizing muscles in your legs:

You’d be surprised at how many runners neglect training their legs, since they figure they are getting their leg workout in when they run. Yet, running without strength training can cause weaknesses and imbalances in the leg muscles. When these supporting or stabilizing leg muscles are weak, incurring an injury while training or racing is more likely.

Single leg squats. This move focuses on building stability in each leg. Stand in a squat position, but place more weight on one side and only keep the toe of the other foot on the ground. Squat down, with back straight and focus on the one leg going down and up. Do 10-15 of these on each side for a set.

Dead lifts. This move simultaneously works multiple leg and core muscles, including the hamstrings, glutes, quads, and back muscles. With legs slightly bent (to prevent injury) stand with feet at a hips-width apart, free weights or bar in front of you (with bar centered over the top of your feet). Keeping your back straight, bend slowly at the waist until your weights or bar come to your knees (or wherever you feel comfortable). Focus on feeling an equal stretch in your left and right hamstring. Do 15-20 reps for a set. Read this article for more on dead lifts.

You can use all of the moves in this article for a quick strength training routine to support your running, doing 2-3 sets of each. Remember, focus on form over quantity for the best results!

Questions:

Do you integrate strength training while training for a race?

Have you ever been injured while training for a race? How are you healing and/or preventing this from happening again?

Sources: Runner’s World article: Strength TrainingRunner’s World article: The Core of the MatterDiary of a Semi-Health Nut: 10 Moves for a Strong Lower Back.

Originally posted 2013-09-24 15:38:07.

Surf-Specific Strength Training

56th_2012_09_29-7Wave surfing requires a unique combination of anaerobic and aerobic strengths.  A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that the the primary activities performed by surfers can be broken down into the following percentages:

  • Aerobic Paddling – Approximately 54% of time in water
  • Anaerobic Sprint Paddling for Waves – Approximately 8% of time in water
  • Standing and Riding Waves – Approximately 4% of time in water

Correlating well with these activities, another study found that top competitive surfers had one primary strength in common: anaerobic paddling power.  While there are undoubtedly a number of others skills involved in surfing, paddling power is perhaps the most important factors for being able to catch the waves that provide the best rides.  

Once a wave is caught, however, a number of other factors come into play. The four primary athletic abilities surfers should work to improve include: 

  • Pulling power and endurance: Anaerobic rowing power is directly related to paddling power.  Improve paddling power by performing barbell rows, cable pull-downs, seated rows, and cleans. Use heavier weight to gain strength (an amount you can do about 5 sets of 5 reps with) and higher reps to build muscle and paddling endurance (for example, a weight that you can perform 4 sets of 10 with). 
  • Pushing power: Pushing power is essential for the “pop-up” phase of getting up on the board while catching a wave. Improve pop-up power by performing push-ups (especially plyometric versions like claps push-ups or using a medicine ball), bench-press, and burpees.
  • Core Strength/Balance: One you’re up on the board, turning and controlling the board requires balance and twisting at the hips; it’s all in the core.  There are a variety of ways to build core-strength.  Deadlifts and squats are two of the best core and leg strengthening exercises, but there are other-surf specific exercises that are good too.  Some surf-specific core-exercises include performing kettle-bell cleans while balancing on a Bosu ball, performing squats on a balance board, or walking a slack-line.  
  • Squat Strength: Squat strength is another important part of getting up on the board as well as controlling it once you’re riding a wave.  Squat/leg strength is closely related to core strength.  Some great exercises include squats, cleans, wall-sits, and box jumps.

Remember, surfing requires a unique set of endurance and power, so be sure to vary your workout.  Also, in all of the studies related to surf performance, overall strength wasn’t as important as relative strength.  In other words, how well you’re able to surf is directly related to your ability to effectively and quickly move your own body weight.  Weight-lifting with explosive but controlled movements will help you develop the power you need to catch waves swiftly and effectively.  

For a few examples of surf-specific exercises, check out the videos below.  Have fun!

References: Association Between Anthropometry and Upper-Body Strength Qualities With Sprint Paddling Performance in Competitive Wave Surfers; Physiological Demands of Competitive Surfing; Anaerobic and Aerobic Fitness Profiling of Competitive Surfers

Photo Credit: Andy Langeland

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Originally posted 2013-09-19 14:09:43.

Weight-Lifting Exercises to Improve at Rock Climbing

Improving at any sport always makes it that much more enjoyable, and climbing’s no exception.  Of course, the best way to improve in climbing is to climb, but incorporating other workouts can speed the process along and provide a boost when stuck in a climbing plateau.  According to research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, the two athletic abilities most correlated with climbing ability are the one arm lock-out and grip strength.  There a number of weight-lifting routines that can easily and  effectively improve these two abilities (there are also some great body-weight exercises, but that’s for another post). Here’s are the best weight-lifting options for improving climbing:

Cable Lat Pull-Downs and Variations: While cable  pull-downs don’t exactly mimic the muscle movements of a pull-up (or rock climbing), it is a very similar workout that targets the same major muscle groups.  The advantage of incorporating lat pull-downs into your workout is that you can focus specifically on back and arm strength by controlling technique and weight.  While weight can be added to pull-ups, it’s easier to add more weight to cable pull-downs.  Also, by doing one-armed pull-downs, cable can make it easier to focus on building equal arm strength.  

Try doing various repetitions, such as 3 sets of 8 to build more muscle or 4 sets of 4 to build strength.  Build climbing-specific strength by adding heavy weight and pulling the bar down and holding it in the flexed-arm position at the bottom for 5-10 seconds.

Weighted Pull-Ups and Variations: Weighted pull-ups perfectly mimic the primary muscles (including those in the core) that are involved in climbing.  The increased resistance will help build strength and climbing-endurance.  Even if you can only do a few pull-ups, doing one or two pull-ups with extra weight strapped on can help provide significant strength gains.

Try the same variations used with cable pull-downs.

Weight Pinches/Holds: A pinching grip is one of the more important, climbing-specific grips.  To build pinching strength,find a weight plate that is smooth on both sides, such as a rubberized plate, and squeeze it without bending your fingers, perform 6 reps of 10sec holds.  Remember to use the heaviest weight that you can still perform this exercise.  To build palm-gripping strength for round holds, grab the bottom of a kettle-ball and perform a similar routine, cupping the weight you would when palming a basketball.  

Wrist-Curls: This is one of the classic forearm strengthening (and thus grip strengthening) exercises.  Grab a barbell with an amount of weight you can perform 4 sets of 10 with.  Sit on a bench and place your arms on your knees, with your wrists placed just past your knees, then curl the bar towards you, using only wrist movement.  

Strapless Deadlifts: Usually deadlifts are performed primarily to strengthen the body’s major muscle groups (back, core, glutes, and quads), but they can also provide one heck of a forearm workout.  To focus on exercising your forearms, lift an amount of weight that you can hold in your hands for about 10 seconds, and perform 3-4 repetitions.  To avoid injury start to lower the bar before it slips.

Strong-Grip Technique: For all of the above exercises, especially the deadlift, experiment with gripping the bar as hard as you can during the execution.  Squeezing while lifting will more fully activate the muscles involved, as well as improve grip strength and endurance.

Sources: “Prediction of Indoor Climbing in Women Rock Climbers,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning; Relationship Between Anthropometric Characteristics of Indoor Rock Climbers and Top Roped Climbing Performance,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning

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Originally posted 2013-09-14 15:35:40.

The Art of Resting Between Sets

Rest and hydration between set is very important!!! #gym #gettingfit #weigths #goodlife #nopainnogainDuring a strenuous bout of exercise, stopping can be the hardest thing to do. Anyone who has played high school sports is hardwired to “GO, GO, GO!” This mentality is admirable, but it can be detrimental to your fitness goals. While it can become easy to rush through rest periods in the gym, slowing down is crucial to achieving an optimal workout.

Why is rest important?
Cutting your rest too short can result in sloppy lifts and possibly injury; on the other hand, resting too long can make your body stagnant and sluggish throughout the rest of your workout. While you are lifting weights, your body is going through tremendous changes. Intense muscular tension will cause increased blood flow, an elevated heart rate, an increase in blood pressure, and neural fatigue. Following your set, rest is necessary for your body to return to a normal state. You can measure your heart rate and/or blood pressure before your first set to determine where you need to be during the following the set, but this method can be quite cumbersome. Simply timing your rest is a much easier way to determine if you have rested long enough.

How long is long enough?
The intensity and repetition range of your workout determine how long you should rest. If your program is aimed at stability or endurance, your rest periods don’t have to be very long, as your body isn’t experiencing excessive fatigue. Very intense, heavy lifting, however, requires long rest periods. Whether endurance or strength-focused, timing is important, but don’t fee like you have to be a stopwatch-dictator; “ball-parking” your rest periods is fine. If you are listening to music, one way to estimate your rest period is to note where you are in the song when you end one set and keep an eye on the time until it is time to start the next set.

Stability/Endurance Timing
The minimum rest period you should use between your workouts is 30 seconds. If you are a novice weightlifter or engaging in stability/endurance exercises, you should rest 30-60 seconds between sets of 12 or more repetitions. The only exception to this rule is if you are doing super sets. During super sets, you pair two exercises together. Instead of doing Exercise A, rest, Exercise A, rest, Exercise B, rest, Exercise B, you do Exercise A, go straight to Exercise B, and then rest.

Hypertrophy Timing
To develop hypertrophy (the scientific name for muscle growth) your repetitions will be lower, requiring longer rest periods. Hypertrophy gains are best when you lift at a high intensity around 8 to 12 repetitions per set. Developing muscle mass requires dedication and very hard work. At the end of these sets you will be spent, not only wanting, but needing rest. The minimum rest for hypertrophy training should be 45 seconds; I would suggest the upper end of 90 seconds, maybe even 2 minutes, if you are working hard.

Strength Timing
Although you will notice strength gains lifting in the hypertrophy spectrum, the biggest strength gains will come from a lower repetition range. Sets of roughly 4-6 repetitions per set will give you the biggest strength gains. This will require long rest periods; shoot for 3 minutes.

Power Timing
Power is developed from extremely low repetitions of very heavy weights. Whether you are engaging in power lifting (competitive squat, bench press and deadlift) or Olympic lifting (power clean, snatch and clean and jerk), most of your sets will consist of a single repetition. Due to the intensity of power exercises, your sets should not consist of more than 3 repetitions. VERY long rest is needed when lifting in this style; 3-5 minutes per set is normally required.

Application
As mentioned before, don’t go crazy if you are 5 seconds over or under your ideal rest period. The purpose of rest is to let your body restore its energy supplies and reach relative stasis  before starting the next set. The most important aspect of your recovery is letting your nervous system reset. When you’re just beginning to feel that your muscles are ready for another set, your nervous system probably isn’t. If you start lifting before your nervous system is ready, you put yourself at great risk for injury. There’s just one caveat — try not to rest more than 5 minutes between sets.  After about 5 minutes your nervous system loses its “edge” and your lifts could suffer as a result.

Originally posted 2013-09-10 12:18:09.

Insta-Strength

building strengthIncreasing your strength can be a very long, difficult journey. Many people give up trying to increase their strength, because it can be so challenging. After initial strength gains, plateaus set in and frustration ensues (for further reading, check out Kenny Hager’s great article about busting through stubborn plateaus). Lucky for us, there are certain techniques that can be used to increase strength instantly. While they’re not guaranteed, I’ve personally had success using the following strength-increasing techniques:

  • While holding a bar or dumbbell, crush the bar with an insanely tight grip. Pavel Tsatsouline, a Russian trainer and former Soviet Special Forces trainer, teaches the value of this technique in his book “Power to the People.” Pavel explains that when you powerfully flex your fingers around a bar, the surrounding muscles are recruited more heavily than when using a light grip.
  • Begin squats by “spreading the floor.” This is an old school powerlifting technique that helped improve my squat. Spreading the floor begins after you have taken the bar off of the rack but before you begin the lift. Concentrate on planting your feet into the ground and isometrically — without movement — contract your hips as if you could move your feet out to your sides. Also tighten your glutes before beginning the lift to slightly rotate your knee caps to the outside. These movements — abduction and external rotation — are two functions of your glutes. Recruiting your glutes prior to and throughout the lift will protect your knees and allow you to lift heavier weights.
  • Learn to utilize intra-abdominal pressure. Your core is like a big coffee can — the bottom is your pelvic floor, the walls are your core muscles, and the lid is your diaphragm. When you are breathing properly your diaphragm expands downward, causing you stomach to expand. When you are bracing your core and breathing diaphragmatically, the pressure of your breath pushes outward while your muscles resist the pressure. This action causes tremendous pressure throughout your core and stabilizes your spine. Apply this to every exercise and you may see gains while protecting your spine!
  • Sometimes holding your breath is appropriate while lifting weights. When you fully exhale you lose nearly all of your intra-abdominal pressure. During difficult lifts, hold your breath during the eccentric (lengthening phase) and until you reach the sticking point. The sticking point is the most difficult part of the lift, and it will vary from person to person. Believe me, when you reach it, you will know. Once you reach the sticking point let out very small powerful breaths to propel yourself through this difficult phase. Always reserves some of your breath for stabilization purposes though! DO NOT use this technique if you have high blood pressure!
  • Improvement in life can seem near impossible at times. Whether you are trying to increase your patience, pay off debt, or break a bad habit, moving forward in life can be downright frustrating. This frustration appears in nearly every fitness program as well. Hopefully these tips can help you progress through difficult times in your fitness journey.

Sources: Pavel Tsatsouline, Power to the People; Pavel Tsatsouline: “The Evil Russian Speaks: Part 1,” accessed from http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance_interviews/the_evil_russian_speaks_part_1]; Stuart McGill, Ph.D.; Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance

Originally posted 2013-09-09 12:24:01.

Gym Fears and Misconceptions

gym fears and misconceptions crowdedWhile I recently posted an article about the benefits of exercising outdoors, there are many of us who deal with the full effects of all four of the lovely seasons created for us to enjoy. You may live in an area, for example, where you encounter loads of snow, trucks spewing gravel, icy sidewalks, or rainy downpours.  These types of conditions don’t always make it easy to get out for a sunday stroll or a morning bike ride.  Thankfully, gyms and fitness clubs are there to provide convenient and comfortable places to exercise in on a consistent basis, even when there’s a windchill factor of -15 degrees outside.  In addition to comfort, gyms typically offer a full range of free weights and weight machines, which, when used properly, promote lean muscle mass and improved bone density, both tremendous health benefits.  Some gyms even provide extra perks like  groups fitness classes, saunas, or hot tubs.

Yet, working out with a bunch of other people in fitness gear can be uncomfortable and demotivating.  It might be the close quarters. It might be cabin fever. It might be the mirrors that are  scattered around the room, reminding us of the winter weight we have gained.  Maybe we’re embarrassed by our poor workout skills or our awkward attempts at trying to use the weight machines correctly.  

We’re often all too aware of the people around us, watching us, judging us. Whether they’re judging our workout attire, our form, or how much sweat is accumulating during our vigorous workout, we might be under the false assumption that “everyone is watching.” Others-consciousness,  it can keep us from enjoying our workouts or even going to the gym on a regular basis.

The thought process might be “when I get leaner/stronger/tanner/skinnier I will go to the gym to work out.” The thing is, we might never be what our mind sees as “perfect.” Wanting to be “perfect” or “good enough” before stepping into a gym is not only unwise for our health but for our self-esteem as well.

Though I’ve personally never had a weight issue,  I still used to avoid  group fitness classes like the plague. I was afraid that I would look uncoordinated or wimpy using the smallest weights. Every time I told myself I would attend a class, I always made up some lame excuse, when really I was just scared of what other people might think.

If any of this pertains to you, the only thing that stands between you and better health is your way of thinking.  Meditate on and believe the truth: You were perfectly created by a God who does not care what your waist size is, who does not care how much weight you can bench. He loves you just as you are right at this very moment. Going to the gym or heading outside for a run should not be about making yourself perfect (or your own definition of perfect). It should be about changing your overall health so that you feel good and can enjoy all of the activities in your life that you love. Making an effort to get regular exercise is about being a good steward of your body and preventing an array of health issues.  By taking full responsibility for your health, you’ll be able to enjoy an abundant life and be there for your loved ones.

And you know what? Chances are, the only one who is really concerned about your outfit/weight/sweat stains is you.

I finally went to that group fitness class that I was so intimidated by, and of course I LOVED it. There were people of varied shapes and sizes and fitness levels, so I did not stand out like I thought I would. I began attending this class as often as I could and noticed I was growing stronger and having fun doing it. I’ve since moved to a different state, but you can bet that I am looking for a new gym now. I’ve decided not to be intimidated by group fitness classes any more.

You too can make a decision for better health!  Sign up for that gym membership or class that you have been avoiding all of this time. Love yourself and your family enough to start working on your fitness. In no time at all you might even enjoy doing what you once dreaded.  

Originally posted 2013-08-30 09:00:08.

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.