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Staying Safe in the Weight Room

Weight training has many benefits– in addition to helping you increase strength and muscle tone, it can also help you to decrease fat and improve bone density. With the benefits of weight training becoming more widely known, people are beginning to realize that lifting weights isn’t just for bodybuilders, and are starting to incorporate weight training into their fitness routine. However, it is important to be aware of proper weight training techniques in order to benefit; using incorrect technique will not only cheat you of the benefits of weight training, but will also put you at risk for injury.

If you are new to weight training, you should work with a trainer who can teach you proper form and technique, and help you develop a personalized weight lifting regimen. Even if you’ve been lifting weights for some time, you can still benefit from time with a trainer, who can help you to identify any problems with your technique and help you to make any needed changes to your weight lifting routine.

Once you are ready to begin, there are a few things to remember when working with weights:

  1. Make sure you do a proper warm-up. Five to ten minutes of a low intensity exercise, preferably one that involves all the muscle groups, will help to increase heart rate and blood flow, signaling to your body that you are about to work out.
  2. If you are new to weight lifting and unsure of your technique, consider using machines before you start using free weights. Machines help to ensure that you are in the right position for good form.
  3. Start out slowly, with a weight that you can lift for a set of 12-15 reps. Once you can comfortably do 15 reps, increase the weight by 5-10%. Lifting too much, too fast can result in injury.
  4. Pay attention to your form. Using proper form will give you better results and will help you avoid injury. If you are unable to maintain proper form during an exercise, you may be lifting too much weight or doing too many reps.
  5. Don’t hold your breath. Holding your breath while lifting weights can result in a dangerous increase in blood pressure. You want to exhale as you lift weight, and inhale as you lower weight.
  6. Lift and lower weight in a slow, controlled movement. Jerking weight up or using momentum to lift weight won’t give you the results you are looking for, and can lead to injury.
  7. Make sure your routine is balanced. Exercise opposing muscle groups, such as the biceps and the triceps, equally to ensure symmetry and balance.
  8. Listen to your body. Generally, that burn of fatigue you feel after a workout is normal, but if you feel a sudden, sharp pain at any time during your workout or pain generally, stop immediately – don’t try to work through it. Try doing the exercise again with less weight after you have recovered.
  9. Give your body enough recovery time. Break up your workouts so you avoid working out the same muscle groups two days in a row.

Timing food and drink to benefit your workouts

The timing of meals and drinks can make a big difference to your workout. Making smart choices can mean more energy and strength, and can help you avoid dehydration, indigestion and sluggish energy.

You’re the expert when it comes to knowing how you feel after big meals or going several hours without food—so take that knowledge to the gym. If you feel sluggish after eating a large meal, make sure you time your workout for three or four hours later; this can help prevent digestive troubles, cramping and slow reaction time.

However, you may find that not eating a snack before a workout brings similar results—feeling tired, slow to react or weak. Low blood sugar levels can produce these effects, so for most people it feels better to either eat a snack right before and during a workout or eat a smaller meal two to three hours before you work out.

Some general points to keep in mind are:

-Have breakfast- it’s important to fuel your body in the morning because most of the energy you got from the food you ate the night before is probably gone. Have a healthy meal but if you’re working out within an hour of finishing your breakfast, make it a small meal. If you’d prefer to eat breakfast after working out, grab a sports drink or something that will get your blood sugar up like a piece of fruit.

-Eat something after your workout- have a meal that contains both carbohydrates and protein to help your muscles recover. Carbohydrates are stored primarily in your muscles and liver as glycogen, which is needed for energy; diets containing at least 50 percent of calories from carbs will help your body store glycogen. Protein is key for muscle repair and growth.

-Stay hydrated- in addition to helping replace lost fluid, drinking water is important to your body because it helps your blood remove waste from cells and carry nutrients to them. Also, your body doesn’t just lose fluid, your body also loses electrolytes during exercise, so you’ll want to make sure you are getting enough electrolytes in your diet and drink water to help get them moving through your system before, during and after your workout. You may want to take in a sports drink that has electrolytes if you are exercising for more than an hour.

Remember to listen to your body—if any of the tips above don’t agree with your system, skip them and do what feels the best for you.

Common Fitness Mistakes

Feel like you’re not reaping the benefits of your exercise regimen? You may be guilty of making some of these common fitness mistakes that prevent you from achieving your fitness goals.

Taking on too much, too soon. This is one of the most common fitness mistakes that people make. In the excitement and momentum to get started on a workout program and begin seeing and feeling results, many people tend to do too much, too quickly, which can put them at risk for injury.

Expecting immediate results. Getting in shape takes time, commitment, and hard work. By having unrealistic expectations, you set yourself up for failure, and can discourage you from continuing with your workout routine.

Skimping on the warm up and cool down. It’s important to take 5-10 minutes to warm up before your workout to allow your muscles to adjust to the demands you’re about to place on them and reduce risk of injury. Similarly, take a few minutes to stretch and lower your heart rate after your workout. Stretching while your muscles are still warm will help to improve flexibility, and help prevent soreness. Just be sure not to bounce during stretches, which can increase your risk of pulling or straining muscles.

Falling into in a rut. Besides becoming incredibly boring, after doing the same exercise routine at the same speed and intensity over and over, your muscles become very efficient and adapt to the workout. This may cause you to hit a plateau, because as your muscles adapt, they use up less energy, and you’ll burn fewer calories.

Not adjusting weight machines. Weight machines are not one size fits all, so it’s important that you adjust exercise equipment to fit you. If you are unsure how to adjust the machine or what settings are appropriate for you, ask a trainer or staff member at your gym to help you.

Overlooking cross training. Many people tend to do only cardio OR strength training, or focus only on particular muscle groups. To improve overall fitness, it’s important to have a well rounded exercise regimen that incorporates both cardio and strength training, and works your whole body.

Insufficiently hydrating. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty before you reach for your water bottle; by then you’re already on your way to dehydration. The American Council on Exercise recommends drinking 7-10 ounces of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise.

Using Poor Form. You’ll benefit more from doing fewer reps using proper form than you will from doing endless reps using improper form. Additionally, using poor form can lead to injury. The most common form faux pas people commit when exercising include jerking while lifting weights, extending the knee beyond the toes when lunging or squatting, and clasping hands behind the neck during crunches.

Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.

How to start a running program

Running is great cardio exercise and doesn’t require an expensive gym membership or equipment. If you don’t have much experience with it though, it can be hard to start a running program.

Before you start, check with your doctor to make sure running is safe exercise for your current state of health.

The next step is finding a comfortable pair of running shoes. The right shoes can prevent shin splints, blisters, sore muscles and sore joints. Paying a little extra for a lightweight, breathable, high quality shoe can really make a difference.

There are many different terrains you can run on, each with pros and cons. Asphalt sidewalks are easy to find and usually provide a smooth surface which may prevent tripping, but the hard surface can be hard on your joints. Running tracks or dirt surfaces are easier on your joints but may be less accessible. Trails offer beautiful scenery but you need to watch out for roots, rocks, holes and anything else that may cause you to trip, fall or twist an ankle. Wherever you run, make sure it is a safe area and wear reflective clothing, if need be.

If the resource is available to you, speak with a personal trainer for tips on technique and safety while running. The American Council on Exercise recommends the following motions:

-Keep your elbows bent at a 90 degree angle and squeeze them in at your sides. Keep your hands relaxed and do not twist your upper body or drive your arms across your torso.
-Drive your arms from the shoulders, not the elbows, and keep your shoulders down and relaxed. These techniques will increase your power and help you run more efficiently.
-Try to lean forward slightly from the ankles, not the waist, and bring your knees up a bit higher as they swing forward.
-Avoid unnecessary movements like excessive bouncing.
-Keep your head level with the ground.
-Hit the ground with your heel and then roll forward onto the ball of your foot. From there, push off with the front part of your foot.

Find a length of time and frequency that feels right to you—generally not less than 20 minutes, three times a week—and alternate between a brisk walk and a jogging pace. It’s important to stretch before and after a run, as it may prevent injury and muscle soreness.

You should always listen to you body—if you feel that your pace or intensity is too extreme, pull back a bit. Take a day or two off between running and consider following a strength training program on those days off in order to balance your muscle development. When you feel ready to increase the time of your runs, slowly add a couple of minutes each week.

Don’t do too much too soon, as you may burn out and lose interest. Also remember that you won’t necessarily lose weight or build noticeable muscle in the first week or month. “Be consistent,” says USA Track and Field star, Lolo Jones. “Don’t stop just because you may not see immediate changes.”

Ready to take a running Challenge?

How To Create S.M.A.R.T. Goals for Weight Management

Setting goals can help to provide direction and motivation towards achieving lasting change in your life. This is especially true when starting a weight management program. However, all goals are not created equal. Goals that are vague or unrealistic, for example, may in fact sabotage your efforts, leaving you feeling discouraged when you don’t reach them. The Mayo Clinic has created a goal-setting approach to help you successfully manage your weight, called S.M.A.R.T. Follow these guidelines to create your weight management goals and start on the path to success!

                  S = Specific

                  M = Measurable

                  A = Attainable

                  R = Realistic

                  T = Timely (or Tangible)

    Specific. Make sure that your goals are clear and specific. Incorporating a plan of action into your goals will help you to focus your efforts. For instance, instead of setting a vague goal to “lose some weight,” a more specific goal would be: to lose 10 pounds by jogging 5 miles, three times a week.

    Measurable. When setting goals, be sure that you structure your goals so that you have a way to measure your progress. Being able to track the progress you’ve made will keep you motivated to stick with your plan. “I want to look good in a bikini” is an immeasurable goal, and won’t allow you to track your progress along the way. Re-worded as “I want to lose 15 pounds in three months,” you now have a goal that you can measure by weighing yourself regularly and recording the dates of your weigh-ins to see if you’re on track towards reaching your target date.

    Attainable. When you identify goals that are most important to you, you begin to find ways to achieve them. However, if you set goals based on someone else’s expectations (such as your doctor or family member telling you you need to lose weight), or that are too far out of reach, it is unlikely that you’ll commit to them.

    Realistic. Setting goals that are realistic and achievable are crucial to your success. While they should be ambitious, your goals should also represent objectives you are both willing and able to work towards achieving. Sometimes it is helpful to break large goals up into smaller goals.
    Timely (or Tangible). Creating a timeframe in which to achieve your goals gives you a set target to work towards. Without a timeframe, your goals may be too vague and won’t force you to commit to them. The “T” in S.M.A.R.T can also stand for Tangible, meaning that you can experience it with one of the senses. Tangible goals are easier to make specific and measurable, thus making them more attainable.

    Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Boost Your Workout with Interval Training

Interval training has long been a key component of training routines for athletes. But this method of exercising can benefit anyone, not just trained athletes. Interval training, which consists of alternating intervals of high-intensity exercise followed by a lower-intensity recovery period, can help you add some variety to your workout while also helping you to burn more calories and improve your aerobic capacity, allowing you to work out longer or more intensely.

Interval training can help you get the most bang for your buck out of your workout, by incorporating both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise relies on oxygen for energy production and refers to low to moderate intensity activities that increase your heart rate and breathing, but can be maintained for longer periods of time. Examples of aerobic activities include jogging, swimming, and cycling. Anaerobic exercise relies on energy stored in the muscles instead of oxygen. Though anaerobic exercise is not as effective for burning fat as aerobic exercise is, anaerobic exercise helps burn fat indirectly by increasing the metabolic rate after your workout is complete. Due to its high intensity level, can only be sustained for brief periods of time. Anaerobic activities include sprint running, spring swimming and weight lifting.

Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise have specific benefits. Aerobic exercise helps to strengthen the heart and lungs, burn fat, lower blood pressure, and improve your cholesterol profile, while anaerobic exercise helps to build and strengthen muscle, increase metabolism, and strengthen bones. However, during intense exercise, your muscles produce the waste product lactic acid, which can contribute to sore muscles. An accumulation of lactic acid can leave you feeling exhausted and in pain. By alternating exercise intensity, interval training can help to reduce the buildup of lactic acid in muscles.

So how do you create the right interval training program for you? Interval training can be done with several different types of activities, including running, biking or swimming. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula; the length and intensity of each interval depends on what you hope to achieve with your workout, and your general level of fitness. You may want to speak with a trainer to develop a personalized interval training program.

If your goal is to increase your general fitness level, you can structure the length and intensity of your intervals based on how you feel that day. For example, you may choose to alternative two minutes of jogging with 30 seconds of sprinting, and slowly increase the length of your high-speed intervals or decrease the length of your recovery intervals throughout your workout.

If you have a more specific fitness goal in mind, you may want to take a more scientific approach to creating a program and create specific goals based on the following factors: intensity of each interval, duration of each high-intensity interval, duration of recovery interval, and the number of repetitions you would like to complete.

However you decide to structure your interval training program, always be sure to warm up for a few minutes before your workout, and cool down at the end.

Always remember that before you begin any diet or exercise program you should consult your physician.

How To Relieve a Side Stitch

The side stitch, also referred to as exercise related transient abdominal pain (ETAP), is a common condition experienced at one time or another by most people who regularly engage in sports or exercise.

Characterized by a sharp, stabbing pain just beneath the ribcage, this frustrating cramp occurs most frequently during vigorous activity that involves a lot of up and down movement, such as running or jumping. The pain is caused by a spasm of the diaphragm muscle when the ligaments extending from the diaphragm to the internal organs (particularly the liver) are stretched.

Though it can occur on either side of the abdomen, the side stitch occurs much more frequently on the right side. Why is that? When you inhale, your lungs fill with air, and your diaphragm is forced downward. When you exhale, your lungs contract and your diaphragm rises. While running, approximately 70% of people exhale as their left foot hits the ground with only about 30% of people exhaling as their right foot hits the ground. The latter group is more likely to experience side stitches. As the right foot hits the ground, gravity pulls your internal organs, including the liver, downward. If you are exhaling at the same time, then your diaphragm rises as your lungs contract, resulting in stretching of the diaphragm. This repeated stretching can lead to spasms in the diaphragm.

To treat a side stitch, it is best to stop, or at least reduce the intensity of, the activity that caused the stitch. Take deep, even breaths until the pain subsides. Applying manual pressure to the painful area can also help to alleviate the pain. If you tend to exhale as your right foot touches the ground, try to adjust your stride so that your left foot hits the ground as you exhale.

There are also steps you can take to prevent side stitches from occurring in the first place:

  • Stretch thoroughly before exercising, focusing on the lower back and abdominals.
  • Avoid eating for one to two hours before a workout, because food in the stomach can create more force on the ligaments and increase cramping.
  • When running, make sure to take deep, even breaths, as shallow breathing leaves the diaphragm consistently raised, not allowing the ligaments to lower far enough to relax.
  • Drink more fluids to avoid dehydration, which can increase muscle cramps.

When Is the Best Time to Exercise?

There are many theories out there concerning when the best time to exercise is. But the first question to ask is what is your goal? Because for some people, “the best time” means the time when we are strongest or burn the most calories; for others it’s the time that fits into our schedules or makes it most likely that we’ll stick to a routine long-term. Or it could even be the time that whatever event you’re training for is starting, like an early morning marathon.

Let’s take the first scenario—you want to find out when your body is most ready for exertion. We’ll assume that you’ve tried a few different times of day and can’t determine which is working best for you (because if you already know your body well enough and know when you workout most efficiently, you can stop reading now).

The human body follows circadian rhythms, which result from the firing of neurons originating in the hypothalamus region of the brain. These rhythms are set according to the 24-hour cycle of darkness and light and regulate things like your body temperature, metabolism and blood pressure (that’s why you feel awful when your sleep schedule gets out of whack).

You’ll probably have a more productive workout when your body temperature is at its highest because your muscles are warm and more flexible. Studies show you have more power, quicker reaction time and resting heart rate and blood pressure are low. For most people, body temperature is highest during the late afternoon (it’s usually lowest about one to three hours before you wake up in the morning).

All this doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have time to exercise in the afternoon or can’t realistically commit to a long-term routine of working out at this time. If you know you’re more likely to stick to working out if you do it in the morning, then that’s the most important thing to concentrate on.

If you’re training for a specific event like a morning marathon or afternoon event then it may be best for you to train at the time that you will be performing. You’ll get a better sense of how your body can perform at that time of day and you’ll get into a habit of exerting energy at that time.

How to choose a personal trainer

If you’ve decided to start working out with a personal trainer but don’t know how to be smart about finding one, read on.

You may have heard about specific trainers from friends, or seen trainers at your gym. No matter where you find them, the first thing to consider is your safety. You should be sure to work with someone who has a current certification accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Don’t train with someone who is not knowledgeable about the human body and who could put your safety at risk. It’s a good idea to ask to see the person’s certification and to make sure it’s current. You can also call the NCCA to look someone up in their system or to make sure their status is current.

The next step is to ask for references. You may not need this if the trainer comes personally recommended by someone you know very well, but it may still be a good idea. Try to speak with people who are at the same fitness level as you or have the same goals (like training for an event or just trying to get a little more fit).

Once you’ve narrowed down the list, speak with your potential trainer(s). See if you feel comfortable in your interactions and make sure you are able to communicate well and freely with each other. Be sure to bring up any health conditions, pre-existing injuries, goals or concerns and see if the trainer responds in a way that makes you feel confident about his or her knowledge and interest in training you.

Next, it’s time to talk money—find out what the trainer charges for sessions. Many factors can come into play, such as the trainer’s experience and credentials or whether he or she needs to travel to come to you or if you will meet at your gym. Go over the cancellation policy and billing procedure; if you’re not totally clear on these processes you may end up incurring extra fees.

If your trainer is not an employee of a fitness facility you should find out if he or she carries professional liability insurance.

Your final steps should be to make sure that your schedules are compatible, you can both easily get to the location where you’ll be working, and any other miscellaneous concerns that may come up.

If you have additional questions or concerns, consider calling the NCCA or visiting their Web site.

*Mention of specific companies or brand names does not imply any affiliation, connection, association, sponsorship, or endorsement between such company and this material or Twinlab, including its affiliates, and further, nothing should be construed as implying that this material or the goods of Twinlab originate with or have the sponsorship or approval of such company.

How to buy an elliptical trainer

Because of the convenience and cost effectiveness of having exercise equipment right in your home versus going to a gym, many people are choosing to buy elliptical trainers for low-impact cardio exercise.

A quick search online will give you an idea of the top brands, and many websites feature reviews from people who have already made purchases. Read through those and look for trends in satisfaction or dissatisfaction with different brands. You also want to find brands that offer a warranty and servicing or calibrating (if you choose a model that requires calibration).

Another thing to consider is whether or not you want a motorized model. If you opt for a motorized machine, make sure you have an adequate power supply in your home—and that you want to pay a higher electrical bill.

Before you head to the store, find out how much space you have available for the trainer and take those dimensions with you. You don’t want to bring it home and find out there’s not enough room for it. You need to consider the space above your head, as well, since you’ll be elevated above the floor when you’re on the machine. You should also consider whether or not you’ll be storing the machine between uses, and if so, make sure you have enough storage space.

Once you get to the store, try out the models you’re considering. Check for noise levels, stability and sturdiness, format of the control panel and ease of use. When you’re on the machine, make sure your posture doesn’t feel strained and your range of motion is not cramped or limited. Obviously, you want to be sure your feet fit the pedals.

Pro bodybuilder, Todd Jewell, explains that it’s also important to take your weight into consideration. “I am a large man weighing in at around 300 pounds in the off-season, so I have to make sure that the equipment I use will hold up to that amount of weight over a long period of time,” he says. In other words, don’t be stingy, spend the extra money if it means you’ll be safer and the machine will last longer.

Finally, before you start using your trainer, be sure that you know where all the controls are and if you have a motorized model, that you know where the emergency off-switch is.