Tag Archives: Exercises

An ideal 20 minute workout for the mind and body

Only have 20 minutes for a quick workout? Keep it interesting and effective by incorporating several types of movements done with a focus on precision . Below is one suggested program. (Psst. Always consult a professional trainer, or your doctor before embarking on a new workout regime.)

5 MINUTES An intense cardio boost ( jump rope (my favorite), sprints, jumping jacks, burpees, etc)

8 MINUTES Pilates/Yoga – or a combination of moves that stretch and strengthen the body ( Good selective Pilates moves include: “Roll Ups” “The 5’s series”,  “Swan” or back extensions, lying side legs, and “Teasers”).

5 MINUTES Traditional strength training (pull ups, chin ups, push ups, dips, and/or planks – forearm planks for weak core and wrists) Builds much needed strength for neck, shoulder, and back tension.

2 MINUTES Deep breathing to bring you back to a calm, relaxed and refreshed center.

It’s always good to mix it up. Extend one part of the routine for another after a few weeks to keep your muscles from settling into movement habits. And work with a professional instructor every now and then to get the most out of those 20 minutes. Every body is unique and has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Enjoy every minute!

 

Is running in Los Angeles bad for your health?

In Downtown Los Angeles there’s a film – not of celluloid, but of soot – covering everything, from shop displays in the fashion district to the tables at high-end cafes.  Blowing your nose at the end of each day proves you breathe it in as well. And when I saw so many people jogging and biking through the streets here  – in this fitness obsessed city – I seriously began to wonder “This just can’t be good for you… right?”

Why exercise outdoors in a city known for smog? It seems counterintuitive. I decided to do a little research and find out if it is really harmful, or just a bunch of hot air.

The American Lung Association releases a “State of the Air” report every year.  In 2011, Los Angeles was #1 in ozone pollution in the country, and #2 in year-round toxic particle (soot) pollution. According to The ALA and a 2008 study by the National Research Council, air pollution aggravates asthma, heart and lung disease and diabetes, and can have a severe effect on children, stunting lung growth. Diesel emissions have been linked to cancer. According to the state Air Resources Board, 9,200 Californians die prematurely each year because of dirty air. Research has also connected a higher risk for these diseases directly to exposure from exhausts of heavy traffic and busy highways.

Now imagine running in that air! You increase your intake of oxygen while running, and subsequently the amount of pollutants. The Beijing Olympics weren’t so long ago as to recall the struggle many Olympian faced when training and competing in China’s own pollution problem.. US Olympic Mountain Biker Adam Craig, went into bronchial spasms because of the air. It’s like suffocating. Craig was unable to fully breathe in the air his body needed. 30 minutes into the competition, he had to quit.  And he wasn’t alone. Many athletes experienced similar problems performing at their peak in the pollution.

While Los Angeles might not be as bad as Beijing, and smog and soot levels have dropped in Southern California over the last decade,  the region still has the highest levels of ozone nationwide, violating federal health standards an average of 137 days a year.  Apparently, it’s getting better, but unfortunately not quick enough to make an impact on our health…sorry Angelenos.

So what can we do? Give up our cars, build reliable, and convenient public transit, plants more trees, and offer more pedestrian and bike friendly means of getting around town…like, tomorrow. And if none of that is happening in the immediate future? Then be smart about activity. Check the air quality before rigorous outdoor activity. My Environment on the EPA’s website provides hourly air quality forecasts. Airnow.gov is another  site providing air quality maps. If you must workout outside, do it when traffic is light. Early morning hours are ideal.

So it seems the answer is yeah…running in Los Angeles is bad for you. But, what’s worse – not exercising at all, or doing it in a polluted city?  Both can cause shorter life expectancy and an array of diseases. Until there’s more research, I’d venture to assume it’s better to exercise than just sit on the couch…though you won’t catch me running through the streets of LA, for fitness purposes anyway, anytime soon.

Stretching and Flexibility. Things to consider before you begin.

Sitting all day – day after day – our bodies become stiff and sore quickly. Suddenly, we feel old beyond our years. It’s no wonder stretching and flexibility practices like yoga and Pilates are so popular, by opening up our bodies and releasing tension we move better and breathe easier.

But is too much of a good thing no good at all? Stretching and flexibility benefits are hotly debated in the physio world. Some say do it, others say don’t and with scientific backing in both camps, it’s hard to know which way to go.

According to some studies, including this one from The Stanford School of Medicine,  dynamic stretching regimens seem the most effective way to stretch – if you feel you need to. Dynamic stretching involves movements while lengthening muscles and connective tissues and could be more effective than static stretching at reducing injuries and soreness. Static stretching is what is most commonly thought of as stretching – holding a position for 30+ seconds.

But if you are looking to do the splits, backbends, or become an extreme yogi, watch out. Dr. Shirley Sahrmann, a professor of physical therapy at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis once said in an NYTimes article, ”In my business, I have more problems with people who have excessive mobility than limited mobility.”

Being overly flexible without the strength to hold up the body structure is a huge problem. If you are already a highly flexible person, perhaps it’s time to add a little strength training.  If you are overly tight, a little dynamic stretching couldn’t hurt. Ultimately, a balance of the two is better than one extreme or the other.

Here are a few recommendations for stretching and building flexibility safely:

1. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY Don’t compare yourself to Joe-schmoe in the front of class and copy what he is doing. He could be doing it wrong. If something feels painful, awkward or just not right, ask the teacher, modify or stop. Know what you need.

2. KNOW YOUR INSTRUCTOR Make sure your yoga/pilates/tai chi/circus/etc instructor is familiar with the concept or idea of dynamic stretching. They should also know your weaknesses, injuries and at least, how to keep you safe. Beware the new class that has you immediately trying extreme flexibility tricks that aren’t supported with complimentary strength.

2. WARM UP Do light cardio – jumping jacks, jump rope, jog, whatever, for at least 5 – 10 minutes before doing any kind of muscle stretching.

3. FIND THE WORKING MUSCLES Pay equal attention to the supporting muscles that are contracted and fighting to keep you in the stretch.

4. BREATHE It releases tension and muscles strain. Stretching should not equal pain.

Your 5 minute workout at work starts NOW

Let’s get straight to the point:

You sit too much. You are supposed to get up regularly. You are supposed to move around. You’ve just stumbled upon your chance. It takes 5 minutes. Considering how much time gets sucked into computer zombieland, it’s a small amount to ask. Here we go…

#1. Knee lifts while sitting

Knee lifts and holds, while sitting up straight

Sit up as tall as you can, arms by your sides. Scoop the abdominals in towards the spine to help you gain supported lift. Lift the right knee, pushing the left foot firmly into the floor. Balance and hold 10 seconds and switch. Do 3 sets. Pay particular attention to your hips and pelvis. No shifting your weight from one hip to the other. Keep them evenly weighted. If the right knee is up make sure the right hip is firmly planted and vice versa. No slumping or rounding the back. Sit up tall! Trying this on a balance ball later gives you more feedback.

DON'T DO THIS! No slumping or rounding of the upper or lower back.

#2. Chair dips

Chair dips, option 1. Bend and straighten the arms, keeping shoulders broad and away from your ears. Draw belly into spine.

2 options: hands on your chair handles (easier) or hand on the seat (harder). 10 dips, bending the elbows as far as you can and then straighten the arms. Your body weight is supported by your legs and feet as you move. Keep the spine straight, belly scooped and neck stretching long. Most important, keep the shoulders down away from your ears. This provides more arm work and a chest stretch.

Chair dips, option 2. This one is more challenging. Squeeze legs together, belly in, and shoulders broad.

#3. Balance on one foot

Stand up. If you have heels on, slip them off. (What’s one minute? Your feet will thank you). Standing on one foot with abdominals scooped and posture lifted, hold for 30 seconds. Switch.

Balance on one foot while standing as tall as you can. Opposite knee is high off the ground. Try for 30 seconds to one minute.

#4. Knee bend/Arm swings

Bend the knees and swing the arms across the body, exhale.

Straighten back up, stretching the body back up towards the sky. Swing the arms out and up. Deep inhale.

This one is akin to Radio Taiso, the Japanese morning workout. It should be invigorating and full of movement. Separate the feet shoulder width apart. Bend the knees and swing the arms across the body. Straighten the legs, lifting up through the spine and swing the arms up and out to the sides in a big stretch. This exercises needs a swinging rhythm and momentum. Take deep breaths as you move. 10 times.

#5. Elbow circles

Elbow circles

Sit back down. Gently touch fingertips to shoulders. Reach outward to opposite walls through your elbows. Draw large smooth circles in space with the elbows. Take Deep Breaths. Keep you head floating up towards the ceiling. Keep your head lifted and smile.

A clearer visual of elbow circles

That’s it!  5 minutes (maybe less). Now back to work. …Or, maybe it’s time for lunch.

What it means to scoop the abdominals

Wrong kind of scoop

You are in a Pilates class and the instructor says. “scoop your belly!”, do you:

A. Think, “What the heck does that mean?! I can’t scoop anything.

B. Suck in your gut, and hold your breath.

C. Give up on this weird Pilates stuff and take kickboxing next week instead.

This “scoop” is not only an essential part of traditional Pilates, but a fundamental muscular awareness for all types of sports and activities, including sitting at your desk.

To scoop the abdominals one must engage their transverse abdominal muscle, often referred to by movement therapists as the TVA. This is the deepest abdominal muscle. When engaged the TVA muscle contracts like a corset around the waist. It supports the pelvis and spine creating the “pulled-in” look.

The Transverse is like a corset, pulling the waist in

Too often I meet people who exercise, but still complain of belly bulge and back pain. While chasing the perfect “6-pack”, we focus on building the top abdominal layer – the rectus abdominal muscle. Although feeling the burn of this outer layer of muscle, if you are unable to engage deeper muscle support the back moves unsupported, and the belly pushes out…and you are actually a few steps further from a 6-pack, than when you started.

A 6-pack cannot exist on one muscle alone, it takes the whole body. The TVA  is just one of many muscles that makes up the core, however it is the muscle that creates the scoop.

Here are a few suggestions to help you master your scoop:

Belly in/Belly Out Quadruped

Step 1. Allow belly and organs to drape towards the floor. Keep the spine straight and still. No arching

Step 2. Draw the belly and organs in and up towards the spine. Again, don't move the spine. It remains planked.

On all fours (if it bothers your wrist, a forearm position is fine) Plank the spine. Do not allow the back to sag or round. Holding this table position, allow the belly muscles to relax towards the floor. AGAIN,  no spine movement, only the belly. Exhale and draw the belly muscles in and up towards the chest – like you are scooping your guts up and into the back of the ribcage. Hold this scoop for 3 breaths and then allow the belly to release down towards the floor again, maintaining a flat spine. Try this 5 – 10 times.

Leg extension Quadruped for Core

Add a leg extension for a more difficult core challenge

Once you feel the scoop,  try maintaining it while sliding one leg back and stretching it out. Hold this position for three breaths, while keeping the spine planked (no sagging back). Hold 5-10 seconds. Switch legs. Press into all the finger joints to help lift out of the wrists. Can also be done on fists or the forarms. Try doing 5 sets.

Deep belly sitting

Practice scooping while sitting at your desk

This one can be done sitting at home, at your desk, or at the opera. No one will know you are working out, but they might comment on your good posture.

Sit up tall, and imagine vacuuming in the abdominal wall. Hold while taking 3 gentle breaths. Release.

The vacuuming feeling is akin to a pair of tight pants as you pull up the last bit of the tight zipper. That is your TVA. Another image is if someone were to give you an upper cut to the belly button, punching in and hooking up…not a pleasant thought, but it works.

Scooping pulls in and up - like an upper cut to the belly. ewww

You never want to overwork just one muscle. It takes a coordinated effort from all muscles to keep the body balanced and strong. There is some debate over what the TVA does and how important it is to work. No matter, the awareness of the muscle is extremely valuable to a better understanding of yourself and how you move.

Practice!

Four exercises in under 10 minutes to firm your core

How fit is your center?

It’s not about how many crunches you can do. Did you know if you overwork your abs, you could end up with back pain and no flatter a front? Your center is not just the muscles you look down at and sigh, but your whole trunk: front, back, sides, top and bottom. A fine balance in all of these muscles is necessary for a strong core.

Here’s a simple test to determine how you measure up:  Hold a forearm plank as long as you can. 1 minute is good. 2 minutes is excellent. Less than 1 minute? We have some work to do.

During the above test, really pay attention to what you are feeling. These feelings speak volumes about what and where you are weak, strong, tense, etc.

Do you feel your low back? Then your abdominals and deeper core muscles are not lifting to support your trunk and they need to be strengthened.

Do you feel your neck tension or elbow pressure? Then you upper core muscles, like the lattisimus dorsi,  (ie the muscles that push your armpits down towards your hips) need to be strengthened.

What’s your body telling you? Different pains and strains mean different muscles are out of balance. Tuning into your body and developing the awareness of what is being felt is the first big step to finding core balance and strength.

To build overall trunk strength, try this simple core challenge.

Performing these exercises at least 5 days a week. It should take less than 10 minutes. Even after a few weeks, you will feel the difference:

#1. THE FOREARM PLANK

Up to 2 minutes. Pinch glut muscle together. Lift abdominals up towards the spine. Keep your neck long (front and back), and maintain an open chest, with the collar bones trying to peek out.  Balance forearms on a stability ball to mix up the challenge. Starting on the knees is a-ok!

#2. SIDE FOREARM PLANK:

1 minute each side. Keep hips lifted. Belly pulled in (tighten the waist muscles all around like a corset), and chest stretched open.

#3. BACK EXTENSIONS: Keeping hips and top of thighs on the floor. Hands under armpits. Press into palms and lengthen chest and back up and out, away from legs. No pinching in the low back  nor strain in the neck allowed. If you feel this, angle your arch less.

#4. BIRD DOG:

On hands and knees, scoop the abdominals up and in towards the spine. (Think of putting on a tight pair of pants, trying to get the last bit of zipper up).  Extend the opposite arm and leg away from the contracted center.  If both arm and leg together is too hard to balance, start with extending just the legs. Hold the extended position for 10 seconds then switch sides. 5 -10 sets.

That’s it. Start simple and slow. 4 exercises. Less than 10 minutes a day. 5 days a week.  It will make a noticeable  difference within a few weeks, and who knows…maybe those 10 minutes will inspire you to add more activity throughout the day. Good luck!


Presidential Fitness – Claim your Award

TO BE FIT

Ah, the joys of doing the presidential fitness test in junior high. As if we all weren’t awkward enough, mix in memories of bad P.E. classes and…well, not a lot springs to mind because I blocked them out. I do remember the mottled red t-shirt and ill-fitting, infinitely uncomfortable polyester shorts.

Looking back, it’s such a wonder why the education system can’t make physical education more adventurous and pertinent. Light anatomy, injury prevention and creative exploration of personal activity goals, could help stave off the obesity epidemic and stress levels, in part.  But this is a topic for another day. I digress.

While you don’t have to don the old itchy shorts, you can redeem your junior high years by taking the presidential ADULT fitness test. Yes, this test does keep following you. At least you don’t have to perform it in front of the school jocks. Trying this with a friend could make for a fun-filled hour of laughter… at each other. The test is filled with oldies but goodies observing general flexibility, endurance, strength, and aerobic fitness. Here it is, in brief:

  • Timed 1 mile walk
  • How many push ups can you do in 1 minute?
  • How many half sit ups (or chest curls) can you do in 1 minute?
  • Sit and Reach: Sitting on the floor, legs stretched out, belly scooped in, how far can you slide your hands along the floor?

Big fun, right? Sometimes, we have to start somewhere, and this isn’t a bad place to begin. Again, a partner in crime makes this more palatable and fun-ny.

I know. What you really want is an award – specifically from the President that says, “You made it. Go you!” Your prayers have been answered. The President is offering a Presidential Active Lifestyle Award, or PALA, for those of us who can’t live without acronyms.

The program has promise. It’s a simple, realistic, attainable goal – 30 minutes of activity, 5 days a week, for 6 out of 8 weeks. Done. Award please. It doesn’t have to be 30 consecutive minutes. Spread it out throughout the day. Taking the stairs at work, counts. Walking the distance of the parking lot, counts. Every little bit adds up.

Did I mention the award looks pretty official? You could place it on the mantel next to your child’s, or your own childhood, trophies.

You can even up the ante with the Presidential Champions Challenge, building on more activity to earn points towards supremely awesome medals: 40,000 points for bronze, 90,000 for silver, 160,000 for gold, and a whopping 1 million for platinum. I’d be sure to wear it around my neck at all times, if I were you.

Once moderate movement sets in, don’t be surprised at how steadily you feel better. It doesn’t take much and it works! I move to become adults in revolt, in the name of reclaiming our presidential fitness award. If you complete it, send me your photo with your award and we will post them. Just remember, 30 minutes of activity, 5 days a week, 6 out of 8 weeks. Good luck. See you on the other side.