Filed under: Exercise
Running is a great exercise to help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Running improves your cardiovascular system by strengthening your heart muscle and improving your circulation. As your heart muscle becomes stronger, your heart can pump more blood more easily. This helps deliver more oxygen to fuel your working muscles and remove byproducts such as carbon dioxide.
With the holiday season upon us, finding time for our usual workouts can sometimes be difficult. Two great physical fitness resources are the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Each has online workouts that you can try for free.
For a total body workout that you can do at home with free weights, try this total body workout from ACE that includes videos of the warm-up, the workout, and the cool-down. For a total body workout without additional equipment, try this at-home workout.
If you have less time, try this Basic Bodyweight Strength Training Program from ACSM.
Fit in these workouts in at home through the holiday season to keep you on track.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu—or BJJ—focuses on ground fighting techniques, also known as grappling. You can start your training at a level appropriate to your physical fitness, but ultimately you will find that your endurance increases as your opponent also learns the techniques designed to dominate. Although BJJ requires little to no physical strength—mainly technique and balance—you will find that your muscle tone and mass increase gradually without requiring weight training.
Swimming is an excellent way to reduce the risk of disease. It works your entire body and activates all the major muscle groups; contributes to muscle strength, flexibility, posture, and endurance; promotes weight loss and stress reduction; and improves cardiovascular conditioning by lowering your resting heart and respiratory rates and making blood flow to the heart and lungs more efficient. Swimming is also very low risk for injury because it places stress on your bones, joints, and connective tissues, thanks to the buoyancy of the water. Swimming 15 to 30 minutes each day can have a very positive effect on your overall health.
Overuse injuries are a common risk associated with the rigors of physical training. A healthy tip to implement into your training program is to gradually increase your training workload by just 10% each week. This will help—but not guarantee—to reduce the risk of muscle or joint injury such as tendonitis or stress fractures caused by repetitive trauma. In essence, keep the progressive changes in your activity levels gradual, listen to your body, and make incremental adjustments in time and intensity until you reach your new fitness goals.
Many who suffer from a lot of stress also have high blood pressure and do not exercise. People who practice some form of activity or exercise benefit from less stress associated with personal, family, and work situations. Reducing stress will improve your health. Exercise helps improve your stress tolerance and also can strengthen your cardiovascular system, increase endorphin levels, and keep you mentally focused. Bike rides, power walking, and yoga are some of the many inexpensive, time-efficient ways to improve your general fitness and reduce stress. The Mayo Clinic has more good advice on how and why to reduce stress.
If you exercise in the cold, consider these tips from the American Council of Exercise (ACE; Exercising in the Cold) to stay safe. Check how cold it is before you go out, and do not exercise if the conditions are too extreme. Be sure to dress warmly (keep your head, hands, and feet warm) and dress in layers that can trap insulating dry air near your skin. In addition, avoid blowing air into your gloves and mittens because it will add moisture, which will cause your hands to be colder. For more detailed information, you can read the original American College of Sports Medicine position stand: prevention of cold injuries during exercise.
Continuing to work out is important because you do not want to lose the strength and endurance you have built up. Reversibility occurs when training stops or decreases. To ensure that you don’t lose your progress, you must “use it,” or else you will “lose it."
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.
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.
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.
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.