The 10-Minute Workout You Should Do Every Day

Here’s a question for you: If you exercise regularly, what type of workouts do you normally do? Do you run several days a week? Lift weights or do bodyweight resistance training? Maybe you attend a high-intensity Bootcamp or CrossFit class. But how often do you train for balance, mobility and range of motion? If you’re like me, not often enough.

Having worked with clients spanning all age groups, I’ve been lucky enough to get a snapshot of the typical progression (or regression, really) of physical functionality that happens as we age. While I have witnessed loss of aerobic function and strength, I’ve never seen it reach the point where it seriously impairs the ability to carry out the activities of daily living. That’s not the case with balance, mobility and range of motion, though. I’ve worked with clients who have complained of difficulty climbing or descending stairs due to poor balance, or feeling awkward getting in and out of their car because they’d lost so much range of motion in their hips. The scary part is that these clients weren’t what I would consider old. It’s become evident to me that the current nature of our collective work, which involves sitting down for many hours a day, shoulders rounded forward and heads bent to look at a computer screen, is causing a premature loss of functional fitness that’s seriously impairing our quality of life. Fortunately, there is something we can do about it.

I developed a series of five exercises that anyone can do in under 10 minutes. If practiced regularly, this sequence can help you maintain your sense of balance, your range of motion in the hips, knees, spine and shoulders, and improve your overall mobility. This is as helpful for people in their thirties as it is for those in their eighties. You can easily incorporate these exercises into a warm-up before your strength training workouts, or do them as a stand-alone sequence at any time of day. Get the detailed instructions and a little more background on the benefits of the workout in this article I wrote for NextAvenue.

 

Note: This post was originally published on WellCuratedLife.com.

Fix Your Aches and Pains With Exercise

We all know that we should exercise regularly because it’s good for us, but if you suffer from musculoskeletal joint pain, some exercises are better than others. This was a topic I covered recently for the PBS website, NextAvenue.org.

In the article I explained the benefits of using functional or corrective exercises to coax the body back into proper alignment, and re-learn how to move. Hours of sitting hunched over at a desk, sitting in the car, and sitting on the couch have wrecked our bodies. The result is often neck, back or hip pain that can radiate outward, affecting other areas of the body as well. While better sitting posture is key to preventing a relapse back into this cycle of pain, in order to get out of that cycle in the first place, you have to correct your posture and your movement patterns. And surprisingly, many of the traditional exercises you might be doing could actually be making matters worse.

Why Bicep Curls Are Bad For You
Exercises that isolate a single joint and only work one muscle group at a time are generally a bad idea. These exercises include bicep curls, dumbbell raises (front or lateral, with a straight arm), hamstring curls, the “pec deck” and leg extensions. For starters, exercises like these involve moving a weight at the end of a long lever (your body part), which generates a lot of force (read: strain) on the acting joint. In the case of bicep curls, it’s the elbow joint, for hamstring curls and leg extensions it’s the knee joint, and for dumbbell raises and the pec deck, it’s the shoulder joint.

The second reason these exercises are a bad idea is that they can easily create muscle imbalances in the body. I call these exercises “vanity moves,” because they are usually performed for the sole purpose of growing or shaping muscle. The problem with that is we favor these exercises to the exclusion of other exercises. Because we are a mirror-obsessed society, we tend to focus most on what we can easily see: arms, shoulders, chest, abs, thighs. We pay less attention to our upper back and glutes, and completely neglect the many muscles of the lower back and hip complex. So we develop muscular asymmetries, which exacerbate our already bad posture and movement patterns.

Finally, single-joint exercises simply don’t produce any real strength or functional advantage. You may be able to move 150 pounds on the hamstring curl machine, but that doesn’t do anything for you in real life. The same is true for bicep curls: hoisting a heavy bar looks cool, but when’s the last time you lifted anything other than a weight using only your elbow joint and the muscles attached to it?

Do This Instead
It’s much better to spend your time in the gym doing multi-joint, compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, pushups or bench presses, pull-ups or lat pull-downs, and overhead presses. These exercises not only mimic our actual movement patterns, but they require a lot more energy (read: calories) to perform, and they elicit a greater metabolic and hormonal response, leading to faster strength and muscle gains. Most importantly, though, when done correctly (under the guidance of a good trainer), they can also correct your postural deficiencies and help erase those aches and pains you thought were just part of life now.

For more information on functional and corrective exercise, check out my article at NextAvenue.org. For expert guidance in setting up your own functional exercise program, contact me for personal training services.

Building Better Warm-ups

Better Warmup

In my last post, I made the case for why you should never skip the warm-up before you exercise. I ended by saying that a good warm-up should start off slowly with simple, low-intensity movements and gradually build in complexity and intensity, ending with movements that closely mimic the exercises you’ll be doing in the workout itself. Today, I want to give you a few different warm-up templates you can use to create your own workout-specific warm-ups.

Cardio Workouts
If you’ll be doing a cardio workout, the most important aspects of your warm-up will be to wake up the nervous system and warm up the muscles and core body temperature. If the workout will be intense, as with sprint intervals or hill repeats, then you should also incorporate some exercise-specific movements at the end of the warm-up. If you’ll be going at a steady pace throughout the workout, then simply ramp up your intensity at the end of the warm-up and transition right into the workout. Here’s a warm-up template you can use for cardio workouts:

  • Core and Breath Work: Start off by practicing a few rounds of belly breathing, both lying on your back and on all fours, then work your way through some simple core exercises like the Cat/Camel stretch, Bird Dog pose, and Glute Bridge.
  • Light to Moderate General Warm-up: Next, spend 5 – 10  minutes warming up your entire body. Transition from light intensity (such as walking) to moderate intensity (such as light jogging, high-knee marches, etc.)
  • Workout-Specific Muscle Activation: For higher intensity workouts, end this warm-up with a few exercises or drills that will activate the primary muscles you’ll use during the workout. If you’ll be doing a hard, hilly bike ride, then lunges are appropriate; if you’ll be doing sprint intervals, spend a few minutes doing skips and strides. Increase intensity gradually from moderate to high during this phase of the warm-up. When you’re finished, you should feel ready to jump right into the workout.

Strength Training Workouts
Before lifting weights, it’s important to raise muscle and core body temperature and to put your body through a series of motions that closely or exactly match the exercises you’ll be doing.

  • Core and Breath Work: Start off by practicing a few rounds of belly breathing, both lying on your back and on all fours, then work your way through some simple core exercises like the Cat/Camel stretch, Bird Dog pose, and Glute Bridge.
  • Light to Moderate General Warm-up: Next, spend 5 – 10  minutes warming up your entire body. Transition from light intensity (such as walking) to moderate intensity (such as light jogging, high-knee marches, etc.)
  • Exercise-Specific Warm-up Sets: Before you perform any “working sets” at your target weight, do one to three sets using body weight only, or very light free weights. If you’ll be doing barbell squats, for example, start with a set of deep knee bends, and then do a set of barbell squats with the bar only before adding plates. For bench press, start with pushups and then press the bar only before adding weight. If you’re working with dumbbells, simply start with empty hands and go through the range of motion, then use a set of very light dumbbells for your second warm-up set.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)/Bootcamp-Style Workouts
If you plan to do a high-intensity, body weight calisthenic workout, your primary goals during the warm-up are to raise your muscle and core body temperature, and to move all of your joints through a full range of motion.

  • Core and Breath Work: Start off by practicing a few rounds of belly breathing, both lying on your back and on all fours, then work your way through some simple core exercises like the Cat/Camel stretch, Bird Dog pose, and Glute Bridge.
  • Light to Moderate General Warm-up: Next, spend 5 – 10  minutes warming up your entire body. Transition from light intensity (such as walking) to moderate intensity (such as light jogging, high-knee marches, etc.)
  • Exercise-Specific Movements: Finish your warm-up with exercises that move your joints through a full range of motion and mimic the exercises you’ll be doing during the workout. For example, warm up your shoulders with arm circles, forward and backward, and then do the arms-only movement of jumping jacks. Warm up your hips with some side-to-side and front-to-back pendulum swings, high-knee marches and butt kickers. Then, before your first round of high-intensity work, do a quick circuit at half speed, or do modified (easier) versions of the exercises. For example, do some knee push-ups, half lunges and shallow knee bends. If your workout will include plyometric (jumping/explosive) exercises, incorporate some skipping and hopping into your warm-up.

By including a comprehensive warm-up into your workouts you’ll not only help prevent injury, but you’ll get your body ready to exercise at peak intensity, helping you to maximize performance and fitness gains, as well as calorie burn.

Don’t Skip The Warm-up!

We’ve all been told that we should warm up before exercise, but many of us (myself included) often skip this part of the workout in the interest of saving time. That is, I used to skip it, before I learned how important warming up really is.

My first inkling came when I interviewed Meb Keflezighi, one of the top marathoners in the world (and arguably the top US men’s marathoner) for an Active.com article back in February. “If I’m short on time,” Meb told me, “I cut my workout short, but I never, ever skip my warm-up or cool-down.” He considers his devotion to warming up a top reason why, at  the age of 40, he is able to remain injury-free and highly competitive against much younger athletes.

Fast forward a couple of months to the start of my latest coaching certifications – the Spartan Group Exercise (SGX) and Spartan Obstacle Specialist (SOS) certifications. For those who don’t know about it, the Spartan race series is considered the toughest among obstacle course races, cramming 20-25 military-style obstacles over 3-mile, 8-mile, 12-mile or full marathon-length courses. Needless to say, the level of fitness required to compete at these events – and the potential for injury – are both high. That’s why, from day one, the program emphasizes incorporating good warm-ups into every workout.

What a Warm-up Should Be

The purpose of a warm-up is to prepare the body for exercise in several different ways.

  • First, it should quite literally warm the body up, raising muscle and core temperatures by several degrees.
  • Equally important, the warm-up should wake up the nervous system and tell the brain to get ready for activity.
  • For a warm-up to be safe and effective, it should begin with simple, slow, low-intensity movements and progress gradually, increasing the complexity and intensity of the movements until the brain and the body are ready for the workout ahead.
  • The best warm-ups will end with exercises that closely mimic the movements you’ll be doing in the actual workout.

This may sound like a lot to tack onto the front end of a workout, but a good warm-up will have you ready to exercise safely and at peak performance in only around 10 to 15 minutes.

For some tips on specific warm-up exercises for different types of workouts, stay tuned for my next blogpost: Building Better Warm-ups.

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Running For Weight Loss

Warning: This is a nerdy post that involves math.

In a recent assignment for Active.com, I was tasked with simply laying out how many calories a person could expect to burn doing various types of running workouts. As I did the research for the article, it quickly became clear that there was nothing simple about it at all.

First I examined the variables that can determine the rate of calorie burn for a particular individual, given a particular running workout. Contained within that problem, there are actually two sets of variables – one set relating to the individual’s physical characteristics, and the other set relating to the workout itself. Where the individual is concerned, age, total body weight and body composition are all significant factors, while hormonal influences on metabolism play a smaller, and largely indefinable role. When it comes to the workout itself, pace and incline are the two primary factors, with running surface and wind having much smaller influence.

Since I didn’t want to set up a performance testing lab in my loft, I looked for the best online calculators that could give me a decent average for number of calories burned while running. It turned out that in looking for the best, I had to settle for the least bad. While most web-based activity calculators take bodyweight and running pace into account, it pretty much ends there. I was surprised that none of them used age, which has been shown to be pretty reliably correlated with relative metabolism, and I was disappointed to see that the few that used body composition did so as a function of gender (as a group, women tend to have less muscle and more fat per pound of body weight than men, but individual statistics vary widely). In other words, any online calorie calculator you use is bound to be pretty inaccurate. Using a wearable device or app-based calculator that accounts for more of your personal data, and especially one that uses GPS to track elevation gains during a run, will be much more accurate (but still not perfect).

I couldn’t just write that in the article, though, so I ended up using my favorite online calorie calculator at ExRx.Net to get ballpark calorie burn estimates for a number of different workouts. While that was fun and exciting for me (I’m a numbers nerd, especially where exercise is involved), I was blown away when I clicked on a link below the walk/run calculator that took me to this Walking and Running Energy Efficiency Page. If you hate charts and graphs with statistical dots, you don’t have to look at that page. What it says is simple to understand and hugely gratifying for me, since I have been saying it to my clients for years:

Running burns way more calories than walking does.

“Duh!” you’re thinking. But that’s because you didn’t look at the chart/graph. Running at the same speed as walking burns up to 70% more calories. If a person walks at 3 miles per hour, he or she burns roughly 52 calories per mile per 100 pounds of body weight. However, if he or she jogs at that blindingly slow pace, the calorie burn increases to 89 calories per mile.

And here’s something I was really shocked to learn: Although walking faster increases the number of calories burned per mile, running faster has the opposite effect. Yes, the slower you run, the more calories you burn per mile. The reason why is that it’s so inefficient for your body to jog at a slow pace, but that efficiency improves as you run faster and faster. For those who want to lose weight, this adds new fuel to my argument about Why You Should Run Really Slow.

Note that the “per mile” bit is important, though. If you only have twenty or thirty minutes to get in a workout and you want to maximize calorie burn, then running as fast as you can during that time will burn the most calories (because you’ll be covering much more distance than if you run slow). However, if you’re going to log two or three miles on a Sunday afternoon, you’ll actually be doing yourself a favor (calorically speaking) by throttling back to the slowest possible pace you can keep and still be jogging but not walking. Here’s a little math to illustrate the different options you have:

You weigh 200 pounds (keeping it simple for math purposes)
You walk at 3 miles per hour for one hour = 3 miles
3 miles X 52 calories/mile X 2 (this is the weight factor) = 312 calories burned

You jog at 3 miles per hour for one hour = 3 miles
3 miles X 89 calories/mile X 2 = 534 calories burned

You run at 6 miles per hour for 1/2 hour = 3 miles
3 miles X 81 calories/mile X 2 = 486 calories burned

You run at 6 miles per hour for one hour = 6 miles
6 miles X 81 calories/mile X 2 = 972 calories burned

So, you can see that you burn many more calories per minute by running faster, but not per mile. It really just depends how fast you are willing/able to go and for how long.

If you hate jogging, no matter how slow, or you have some physical limitation that doesn’t allow it, then you can still get a really good calorie burn by walking, as long as you push the pace. Adding an incline will also increase calorie burn a significant amount, but if there’s a choice between going faster or going uphill, you can probably squeeze out a few more calories by maxing out your pace over flat terrain than walking or jogging more slowly uphill.

101 Exercises You Can Do At Home

As a fitness professional, I’ve heard every excuse imaginable for why people don’t exercise. A couple of my least favorites are, “I don’t have room in my house for a home gym,” and “I don’t have any good exercise equipment.” For well under $500 (less than a one year membership for just one family member at most gyms) you can put together a comprehensive, compact home gym that allows you to work your entire body effectively in the comfort of your own home.

Rather than describe it to you in words, we made this short video which demonstrates 100 exercises you can do with a home gym that fits into a 2′ X 4′ space. I’ve included a list of the exercises, in the order shown, below the link to the video. Enjoy!