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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness

Alternate hard and easy

Alternate days of more and less intense training for best results.

In any training program, you should follow a day of hard, intense exercise with one or even two days of “easy” training. This gives the body and mind time to recover before the next “hard” day. In addition, this helps prevent overtraining and encourages variation in your workouts.

Optimizing Performance: Common errors in abdominal training

Training your abdominal muscles helps strengthen your core and develop that “six-pack,” but only if you do it correctly. Here are some tips to help.

There’s probably no other body region people work on so hard to get results than the abs. The common goal of sporting a “six-pack” is why abdominal equipment machines make up the largest part of the commercial fitness industry. People are constantly searching for the key to the washboard stomach they desire, whether it’s the newest fad piece of equipment or traditional bodyweight-driven exercises.

Unfortunately, many of these abdominal exercises provide little improvement to the target musculature and inadvertently place the lumbar spine in a position that could lead to lower back pain and injury. Just a few examples of hip-flexor-dominant exercises that can place the exerciser at risk are supine leg lifts, supine leg lifts with partner-assisted push down (a partner pushes down on the raised legs while the exerciser attempts to decelerate leg movement), hanging leg lifts, leg levers (lying supine while maintaining feet six inches off floor), and leg levers with unilateral or “scissor” kicks are.

To understand why these movements are both inefficient and contraindicated, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the abdominal anatomy. The rectus abdominis, the primary “six-pack” muscle responsible for the flexion that occurs during a curl-up, extends from the pelvis to the lower sternum. It is not involved in moving the legs. The hip flexors are responsible for the leg movements in the exercises mentioned above, while the rectus abdominis and associated muscles attempt to stabilize the spine Without adequate stabilization, the strong pull of the hip flexors leads to a marked anterior tilt of the pelvis. The abs are often unable to maintain stability, and the strong pull of the hip flexors causes the pelvis to tilt, creating an increased curvature in the lower back that compresses the lumbar area. Over time, this can lead to back pain and injury.

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re unable to maintain a stable spine position, or if you have a history of lower back pain or injury, these exercises should not be performed. There are other abdominal exercises that you can use to train more efficiently and more safely.

Crunches

Even the most novice exerciser will be familiar with this common abdominal exercise: the bent-knee abdominal curl-up, or “crunch.” It has replaced the traditional sit-up as a staple in abdominal training due to its ability to recruit the abs without excessive hip-flexor activity. By varying hand placement—across the chest, behind the head, or extended overhead—the difficulty of the movement can be increased.

Crunches with a stability ball

A popular method to increase the difficulty of crunches is to perform them with a stability ball. Therapists have used stability ball training for years, and they are now becoming a common sight in gyms, as well. By reducing stability, the ball forces the exerciser to use his or her core-stabilizing muscles to maintain position, increasing the challenge to the abs. The result is a significantly greater amount of abdominal activity when compared with regular crunches.

Standing crunches

A method of ab training not used often is the standing crunch, in which you flex and rotate your torso in various ways from a standing position. During the high to low “wood-chop,” for example, the rectus abdominis and oblique muscles are active during both the downward and upward phases. With rotation, emphasis is concentrated on the obliques. These exercises also have more “real-world” functional relevance, as they mimic everyday movements. In addition, various types of resistance—such as medicine balls, cables, resistance bands, and cords—can be used to make these exercises more difficult.

It’s important to be aware that many common abdominal exercises are not only ineffective but, more important, can place stress on the lower back. Try one of the safer alternatives above, focusing on correct form. The right abdominal training can benefit your trunk muscle strength and endurance, increase core stability, and improve functional movement—and can also start you on your way towards developing your “six-pack” abs.

Avoid that flab!

Don’t wait until you need to lose weight! Start now and avoid it altogether. Your body will thank you.

Carrying extra weight in the form of fat has many downsides: It not only impairs your self-image, but it also hinders your athletic performance, leads to disease, and contributes to the aging process. What’s the best way to lose that extra flab? While intense resistance and endurance training—such as lifting weights and running—will achieve great results, experts say that the best form of fat loss is fat prevention. Here are a few tips to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid fat accumulations:

  • Find activities you enjoy, like swimming or running with a friend.
  • Participate in community events that encourage exercise.
  • Get outdoors with your children and pets.

Remember that it’s important to begin slowly and increase exercise gradually so that physical activity is an enjoyable experience. You can get more tips from this news release by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Find time to exercise

Running to keep up? Try running—or walking or climbing or playing—through everyday life instead to get and stay fit.

With the schedules of most Americans more hectic than ever, many individuals find it difficult to fit in a long run outside or make the trip to a gym. Here are some simple ways to change your lifestyle and get some exercise: If you live near a place you go to regularly, such as the grocery store or a friend’s home, try walking instead of driving. According to the American Hearth Association, for every hour you walk, you could add up to two hours to your life! If you have children who like to play, whether at the park or at home, play with them. It will keep your children healthy, too. Instead of sitting down to watch your favorite TV show, invest in a few pairs of dumbbells or resistance bands and work out while watching that show. If your house has stairs, there are all kinds of exercises you can do on them.

Every small thing you do adds up, so whether you try bicep curls with groceries or climbing on the monkey bars with your kids, you’re doing something to help keep your body healthy. For lots more about how to fit fitness into your life, check out Get Moving! from the American Heart Association.

Plan a complete training program

If you want your training program to really optimize your performance and fitness, you need to incorporate four kinds of exercise: aerobic, anaerobic, strength, and flexibility.

In order to reach your optimal performance level and minimize injury, you should incorporate aerobic, anaerobic, and strength training into your training program, and also give your body time to adapt as you work towards your fitness goals. Just last month, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) published its new guidelines for exercise professionals, the first update since 1998. (Warning: ACSM publications tend to be a bit technical, but they have great information for the motivated reader.) Among other things, it emphasizes the need for diversity.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart muscles and improves your heart’s ability to pump blood as needed when you are active. Some examples of aerobic exercise are walking, running, cycling, fitness classes, and any other type of activity that requires movement of your large, lower body muscles. This type of exercise can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases, lower your resting heart rate, and improve your breathing, and your tolerance to more vigorous exercise.

Anaerobic exercise

With anaerobic training, you will see significant increases in your muscular strength and speed. Basically, anaerobic exercise involves exercising at such a rate that your bloodstream can’t get enough oxygen to your muscles to meet the demands. It can be achieved with any activity that produces brief spurts of high-intensity activity, including sprinting and sports such as football, basketball, and soccer. Weight lifting and interval training can also provide anaerobic exercise. This type of exercise helps your body become better at higher levels of exercise with less fatigue.

Strength Training

The third key component to a complete exercise program is strength training, such as using weights or resistance equipment. Not only can it enable you to increase your strength and muscle size, it can help you build stronger muscles that will enable you to lift heavier loads. However, you need to plan your strength exercises so that they maintain the mobility and stability of your muscles as well as build size and strength. Your muscles need to maintain or increase their range of motion to help prevent injury. The ACSM also has recommendations on how to ramp up your strength training.

Flexibility

The final link in the fitness chain is flexibility. Long debated by the exercise community, flexibility exercises have earned new respect by way of a “Position Stand” just released this year by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). It summarizes the value of flexibility exercises as improving range of motion and stable posture (the ability to keep your body in a stable, balanced position). The report covers the various methods of stretching that can be incorporated into a complete training program. The ACSM’s June 2011 press release includes an excellent summary of these new guidelines—which cover all aspects of exercise—as well as a link to the complete document.

If you incorporate all four of these types of exercise into your training program, you will have a healthy heart and lungs and more endurance (aerobic exercise), speed and power (anaerobic), and range of motion (flexibility training). And by diversifying your exercise regimen, you will feel fresher and be less likely to become bored. Best of all, you will be on your way to Human Performance Optimization!

Jump for fitness

Plyometric training involves the kind of muscle contraction you experience in jumping. Using it as part of your exercise routine can improve your athletic performance.

One review of studies on the effects of plyometric (explosive jump) training, or PT, suggested that plyometric training can enhance vertical jump ability and leg power for healthy individuals. This training can be as simple as drop jumps, counter-movement jumps, alternate leg bounding, and hopping. And there are PT exercises for the upper body, too! The purpose of PT is to improve your athletic performance by increasing the speed or force of muscle contraction that enables you to jump higher, run faster, throw farther, or hit harder during a game. The full article is available online from the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Strength training to optimize performance

No exercise program is complete without strength training. It contributes to your strength, speed, and size—and makes you look good, too.

In order to improve your athletic performance, you need to include strength training in your workout routine. Having a solid strength-training program can help you meet your sports and performance goals more easily by improving overall strength and delaying fatigue. Including this type of training will help you get bigger, faster, and stronger to stay a step ahead of your competitors. Your program should focus on the major muscle groups: chest, back, thighs, calves, biceps, triceps, and shoulders. Training these areas will help you become a better athlete while also improving your physique. For more about how to incorporate strength training into your routine, read the Strength Training Section of the Sports Fitness Advisor website.

No place to exercise?

Not having a place to exercise is no excuse. The whole world can be your gym if you just put a little thought into it.

The last excuse a trainer wants to hear from a client is that they don’t have enough space—or the right space—to exercise. The truth is that with a little effort and imagination, you can find a whole world of places and practices to improve your strength and endurance. Just think about all the free equipment outside at the park, on your way to work, or at your child’s school playground. You can make use of just about anything. Want to gain upper body strength? Start climbing the monkey bars and don’t stop ‘til you drop. Or try push-ups—a great way to get moving without standing in line at the gym. All you need for walking or running is a good pair of shoes and any path, road, or bike trail—the same places work for a bicycle, too, and they don’t cost a dime. By now you should be getting the picture. Just get rid of that mental block about needing a special place or equipment that is keeping you from getting a healthy, fit body. Just think of all the new forms of exercise waiting for you the minute you walk out the door! Here are five simple exercises to get you started.

Ditch the elevator

Bored with going nowhere on that stair climber at the gym? Try using real stairs, and get where you are going while exercising.

A good way to keep up with your daily workout goals is by giving up the elevator and making good use of the stairs. Stairs will not only get your legs and arms moving, but they will also raise your heart rate. What’s more, you need to take breaks from your daily tasks, and exercising during that break can help you think through what you’ve been working on. Working a little stair-climbing action into your day can be as convenient as—and healthier than—walking to the soda or snack machine. The first couple days will be the hardest as you focus on breaking the elevator habit and getting all your muscles reactivated. Stick to it, and you’ll soon find that the climb is easier and you feel better about yourself. It’s good for you and your heart, so why not start using the stairs more, wherever you are: at home, at work, or at the park? Even better, it’s free!

Stop and go: Benefits of interval training

Interval training is a time-efficient way to improve strength, speed, and endurance while improving your body composition and reducing cardiovascular risk.

Interval training alternates high-intensity movements such as running or cycling sprints with a recovery phase that consists of rest or low-intensity movement such as walking or slow cycling.   Interval training improves your cardiovascular fitness, ability to burn fat, and ability to tolerate lactic acid build-up while lowering your risk for cardiovascular disease. Overall, adaptations from interval training can lead to improvements in strength, speed, and endurance while improving your body composition. Interval training is a time-efficient way to improve your fitness.

A basic interval training session could include sprinting on the straightaways (100m) of a standard track and walking the curved portion (100m). Or alternate 30-second bouts of high-intensity exercise with recovery bouts. Initially, start with rest periods longer than the work periods, and work up to equal time periods as your fitness improves. If you are out of shape, have health problems, high blood pressure, or joint problems, check with your physician before starting a high-intensity training program. Read this article on the Mayo Clinic website if you would like to know more.

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