Here you will find a collection of practical articles to help you make intelligent choices about the type of exercise options that would be most beneficial for your particular body type, your current lifestyle and of course your overall fitness objectives.
Physical activity is critical to maintaining long term health and vitality, as it helps keep your bodily functions operating at peak performance. It therefore provides the following benefits:
- Increased energy and vitality for daily living with an improved sense of well being and a more positive mind set.
- Reduced risk of health problems associated with obesity, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.
- More youthful appearance, which increases self esteem and keeps your career window of opportunity open longer.
- Increased muscle strength and better balance, so that life's daily tasks (i.e. picking up your children, doing regular housework, carrying bags of groceries, shoveling the snow, planting and tending your garden, etc.) are much easier and require less time and energy.
- Stronger bones, resulting in greater functionality with fewer falls as you age in years.
- More limber, looser joints, giving you more mobility with less pain and stiffness.
- Positive method of stress release that renders you both physically and mentally better prepared to deal with life's ongoing challenges and frustrations.
Conversely, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to obesity and its related health issues of diabetes, heart disease and cancer, to name a few. When your body is struggling to compensate for the internal damage these diseases are causing, it has less energy to spare for the demands of normal everyday living. This means you will feel more tired and drained on a regular basis, have less motivation to do the things you need or want to do, be more susceptible to illness and start to show the physical signs of aging more quickly. All these can lead to depression, which further stresses your system and increases the levels of fatigue, apathy, illness and aging in a downward spiral.
Although you may be feeling fine now, don't wait for a health crisis to occur before you start an exercise program. It will be harder on you both mentally and physically, since you're starting from a position of weak health. You don't need to start big. In fact, baby steps are preferable because they will allow you to more easily incorporate an exercise program into your daily routine so that you can stick to the program long term.
The following articles will provide useful information related to various aspects of exercise and exercise programs. Please note that I am a Certifed Personal Trainer through Certified Professional Trainers Network (CPTN) and will use my expertise in this area to ensure everything posted is both practical and safe. However, if you currently suffer from any specific health issues and/or have been living a sedentary lifestyle for an extended period, please check with your physician prior to starting any type of exercise program.
This section will be updated regularly, so check back often for new material.
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Like many things in life, starting a new weight training program can be a little overwhelming. When you're not overly familiar with the equipment and your trainer (or a more experienced workout partner) starts talking in a language you don't quite follow, enthusiasm can quickly change to frustration.
Understanding basic workout terminology will help you better comprehend the instructions and explanations provided to you, and thus go a long way towards alleviating the anxiety and stress all of us naturally feel when trying something new. It will help you better relax, go with the flow and enjoy the experience.
So to help you out, here are a few basic terms you will hear around the gym or see used in most weight training instructional manuals.
- Rep - Short for repetition. Refers to the number of times you execute a specific movement, such as a biceps curl or a shoulder press.
- Set - A collection of reps done without pause. Traditionally, a person does 3-4 sets of each exercise before moving onto the next one.
- Program - A collection of exercises done for a predetermined time period, usually anywhere from 8-16 weeks. Programs quite often identify the number of sets that are to be done for each exercise, as well as the number of reps to do for each set.
- Resistance (isolation) training - Traditional free weight or machine training, where each body part is trained separately from all other body parts. The body is in a stationary position, so that the specific body part being trained is fully isolated and trained in a single plane of motion (i.e. forward, backward, up or down).
- Functional training - Training that mimics the body's natural movements and thus works multiple body parts together. Movements tend to be multi-planar (i.e. circular or twisting as opposed to straight line up and down, left to right or forward and backward) and involve the core (abdominals and lower back). Traditionally used for sports-specific training (i.e. honing a particular stroke in swimming or increasing the throwing speed/distance in football), but now being adopted by some of the more forward thinking body building coaches and personal trainers.
- Machines - Kind of a catch all name that refers to weight training equipment where weight is set by inserting a pin into a weight stack. The machine mechanics are structured in such a way that the person using the machine is forced to exercise in a narrowly defined range of motion so that potential injury is minimized. Machines move in single plane motion only and thus can be used for resistance training, but not for functional training. Many trainers start their clients on machines before moving to free weights so that various movements can more safely be learned.
|Incline press machine||Cable cross machine||Seated leg curl machine|
- Free weights - Generally refers to either barbells or dumbbells (see definitions below), although there are "free weight machines" where weight is physically added to the machine as opposed to being set by placing a pin in a weight stack. The key difference between free weights and machines is that with free weights range of motion is not restricted and so for free weights the use of stabilizing muscles is required to hold the barbells and dumbbells steady. Free weights are thus the better option for more experienced trainers because strong stabilizing muscles are key to injury prevention when lifting heavy objects outside the gym. (Note that from this perspective the term "free weight machine" is a misnomer - free weight machines guide movement just like the regular machines do so they are not really "free"; the term free weight refers to the fact that weight must be physically added as opposed to being set with a pin.)
- Bench - Used with free weights. Some benches are completely flat, but others come with adjustable slots or pin mechanisms so that the bench can be set at varying degrees of incline or decline. Many chest exercises are done in a lying position (although at too great an incline it's more the shoulders being worked), as well as some triceps exercises. Shoulder, biceps and some triceps exercises are generally performed in a seated position.
|Flat bench||Adjustable bench set on an incline|
- Barbell - A long metal bar which allows weighted discs to be added evenly onto each end, thus making total weight on the bar adjustable for each user. If the gym supplies them, clips (the technical term is actually "collar") are added to each end of the bar to hold the weights in place and prevent them from shifting if the bar is not lifted evenly (which can happen if one side of the body is stronger than the other). Most gyms have "Olympic" bars, which are just over 7 feet long and weigh approximately 45 lbs (actually 20 kg or 44.1 lbs, but this is generally counted as 45 lbs as it makes calculating total weight on the bar much easier). You will usually find EZ curl barbells as well, which are bent in such a way so that your wrists and hands are kept in a more neutral position (with less stress on the wrist joints) for exercises like biceps curls.
|Olympic Barbell||EZ Curl Barbell|
- Plates - The weighted discs that go on each end of the barbell. There are standard sizes - 2 1/2 lbs, 5 lbs, 10 lbs, 25 lbs, 35 lbs and 45 lbs - which are mixed and matched to create the total desired weight on the bar. Note that "plate" can also specifically refer to the 45 lb disc (largest size available) - if someone says "I can press a plate", they mean the bar with one 45 lb plate on each end of the barbell, which equates to 135 lbs (the 45 lb plates on each side plus the 45 lb weight of the Olympic bar).
|Barbell plates||Spring loaded clips to hold weights on barbell|
- Dumbbells - Handheld weights which allow you to perform the same exercises as with a barbell, only with separate weights in each hand. (Dumbbells lead to more even muscle development since it forces your weaker side to work just as strong as the stronger side - with barbells your stronger side naturally pulls harder than your weaker side unless you remain very focused on preventing this from happening. They also permit more free range of motion so that your stabilizing muscles are better worked.) At the low end of the scale, dumbbells are available in 2 1/2 pound increments (i.e. 2 1/2 lbs, 5 lbs, 7 1/2 lbs, 10 lbs, 12 1/2 lbs, etc.). After 35 lbs, they appear to be available in 5 lb increments only. Most commercial gym weights are solid metal, but some weights designed for home use are coated in rubber.
|Commercial dumbbells|| ||Hex shaped dumbbells|
- Adjustable dumbbells - More often found in home gyms, these dumbbells rest in a base and allow you to change the amount of weight attached to the handle through selector pins or other similar means. Adjustable dumbbells are not cheap, but they are cheaper than if you were to buy a full set of dumbbells ranging from 2 1/2 to 50 lbs. They are also much more space efficient, as the individual dumbbells do take up a lot of room. However, I personally find them too big and awkward to work with comfortably.
|Boflex adjustable dumbbells|| ||PowerBlock adjustable dumbbells|
- Presses - In weight training, any movement that extends your arms or legs directly away from your body - i.e. chest press, shoulder press, leg press. Chest presses or shoulder presses can be done with either barbells or dumbbells as well as with machines, leg presses are generally done using machines only.
- Flyes - An upper body (chest) exercise done either lying on a bench (flat, incline or decline position) using dumbbells or standing upright using a machine or tubing. Starting position is with your arms extended to the side and then the dumbbells (or tubing) are brought together in front of you (above your eyes when lying down or at chest level when standing up). Works the inner chest muscles (i.e. your cleavage).
- Curls - A movement that brings either your wrists or your ankles towards your body, i.e. biceps curl (where your wrist comes up to your shoulder) or a leg curl (where your heel comes up to your butt).
- Extensions - A movement that moves your wrists or ankles away from your body, i.e. triceps extension (where your wrist moves away from your shoulder, which works the triceps, or the back part of your upper arms) or a leg extension (where your heel moves away from your butt to straight out in front of you, which works the quads, or front part of your thigh).
One of the busiest areas I see in any gym is generally the cardio section. There are all kinds of people in all shapes and sizes running, walking, cycling, gliding, striding and climbing their way through their workout. For most of these people, fat loss is their main goal. But while regular cardio exercise is great for overall cardio (heart) health, cardio training alone is not an effective long term fat loss strategy, particularly for people with a lot of body fat to lose.
Why? Because our bodies are extremely smart and efficient. Think about when you were learning to ride your first bike. Odds are you struggled initially, wobbling a fair bit and perhaps even falling a few times before you finally got the hang of it and began cycling naturally, without having to think about it at all.
Our bodies go through a similar learning process with every physical activity, including cardio exercise. At first the body expends a lot of energy during the first few workouts as it learns the muscle movement pattern. The more cardio you do, the better your body learns the muscle movements. And as the body learns it gets more and more efficient, so that less energy needs to be expended to do the same movements.
This means that over time you will expend fewer and fewer calories doing the same cardio workout, until the point comes where the weight loss initially experienced at the start of your training program slows and perhaps even stalls. Every body is different and therefore how long this process takes varies from person to person, but sooner or later we all experience it.
So in order to keeping dropping the pounds, you will have to increase the intensity of your cardio workout, either by going faster or by going longer. While this may be okay at first as your improved cardio strength allows for it, eventually the level of speed and/or length of time required to burn the same level of calories becomes impractical.
The solution: resistance training. Using resistance training to build muscle mass will induce greater fat loss long term than cardio exercise. That's because muscles require nourishment (i.e. calories) to survive and so the more muscle mass you have on your frame the more calories you will burn on a daily basis to maintain it.
Although you do indeed burn extra calories during a cardio workout (on average a 155 lb person running 5 miles per hour will burn about 560 calories per hour, depending on their metabolism and level of fitness), soon after the workout is over your body slows down and returns to its normal metabolic state so that you are no longer burning additional calories. However, as you put more muscle mass on your body, your metabolic rate increases to support the additional muscle fibres so that you are now burning more calories per day - all day, every day. In fact, each pound of muscle you add will require an additional 30-50 calories per day to sustain it.
Not only that, your body will require additional calories to repair existing muscle fibres and build new ones after each workout. (When you lift weights you create small micro-tears in existing muscle, which stimulates your body to build additional muscle so it can better handle the weight lifting demands placed on it.) Over the long term, once you also factor in the calories burned during the actual resistance training itself (on average a 155 lb person weight training vigorously for an hour will burn approximately 420 calories per hour), resistance training will burn more calories than cardio training. (Incidentally, there are approximately 3500 calories in 1 pound of body fat.)
The bottom line: Cardio alone is not the best long term solution for fat loss and weight control. Because it increases your daily metabolic rate, building muscle mass through resistance training will burn more calories more consistently over the long run, which translates to a slimmer you (all other factors, such as diet, being equal). You do not need to be hugely muscled to experience this benefit, any amount of new muscle will make a difference long term.
Combining both cardio and resistance training together can be a good initial jump start to achieving your fat loss goal. However, you must take care not to overdo the cardio, otherwise at some point you will start to burn muscle mass rather than fat and start going backwards.
Not convinced? Then next time you're at the gym, take a look around and note which people have the leaner physiques - the ones on the cardio equipment or those lifting weights. Then check out the leanest people doing the cardio - odds are you'll be able to tell from their physiques they also lift weights. The plain and simple fact is that if you want to be lean like these people, you will need to train like these people. Cardio alone will not give you the results you seek.
The Health Benefits of Weight Training
A significant amount of research has been devoted to evaluating the benefits of strength training in recent years, and the findings suggest weight training should be an essential part of any fitness program. Weight training, when combined with cardiovascular endurance and flexibility exercises, will contribute to a well balanced, injury free lifestyle.
Research has also shown that although men are stronger in terms of absolute strength due in large part to their body structure and higher testosterone levels, muscle fibre in women is just as strong as in men and so women should train like men to obtain maximum benefits. Women are often counseled to train with lighter weights and use slow, controlled movements, but light training that does not stimulate muscle growth will not provide any of the health benefits outlined below.
Following are key strength training benefits for women. As a woman who has worked out for over ten years and done so quite seriously for the past three, I can assure you that these benefits are real. Although I am currently forty five years old, I feel better today than when I was in my twenties. I have fewer aches and pains than I did ten years ago and a recent bone density test (I'm considered higher risk because of my small frame and fine bone structure) indicated my hip bones had an effective age of 20. So if you're not currently participating in any sort of strength training program, I highly recommend you give it a try and experience these many benefits for yourself. You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain!
- Enhanced quality of life. Strength training makes you stronger, so that daily chores such as vacuuming, lifting children, carrying groceries, etc. are much easier and there is less risk of hurting your back or pulling other muscles when engaged in these activities. You're less dependent on others to help you with more demanding tasks, so you can work to your schedule instead of someone else's. Strength training also fights the effects of sarcopenia (age related loss of muscle mass, strength and function), which not only makes daily activities more difficult to perform, it also slows metabolism so that there is increased chance of weight gain.
- Visible change in body structure. Losing weight without increasing muscle will not result in an overall change in the shape of your figure. In other words, if your body is pear shaped and you lose weight through diet and cardio exercise alone, you'll simply be a smaller pear. However, when you add strength training to the mix, muscle toning occurs so that the pear shape transforms into a tighter, leaner you.
- Increased resting metabolism. The more muscle you have, the more calories you require on a daily basis to maintain it - as much as 30-50 additional calories per pound of muscle. Many people incorrectly believe that cardio exercise is better than weight training for weight loss, but that's simply not true if you look at it from a long term perspective. You may burn 200-300 calories on the stairmaster or treadmill, but once you finish your cardio workout your metabolism gets back to normal and that's the end of it. However, for each pound of muscle you add through strength training, you burn 30-50 calories per day, every day. So as you build muscle your daily caloric requirements increase, making fat loss that much easier. (*For additional information on why cardio alone should not be used to promote weight loss, see Why Cardio Alone Is Not Recommended for Fat Loss.)
- Increased bone density. Strength training has been shown to reduce deterioration and even build spinal bone mineral density so that the risk of osteoporosis is greatly reduced as we age. This will contribute to a healthier, happier and more mobile lifestyle in our "golden years".
- Stronger ligaments and tendons. Strength training builds stronger ligaments and tendons and the stronger these connective tissues, the better they will support the joints. This makes your joints much more capable of withstanding stress so that an unexpected twist or accidental pull will not lead to as serious an injury.
- Fewer aches and pains. Strong muscles, ligaments and tendons help keep everything in alignment and functioning properly and the improved flexibility gained by strength training also reduces the likelihood of pulled muscles, joint strain or back pain.
- Reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer. Strength training has been shown to increase the level of good (HDL) cholesterol and reduce the amount of bad (LDL) cholesterol in the blood, as well as lower blood pressure. (Combine strength training with cardiovascular endurance training to maximize these effects.) This is particularly important after we reach menopause and the protective benefits of estrogen against heart disease (and osteoporosis) are lost. Strength training appears to improve the way our body utilizes sugar, which will reduce our risk of diabetes. The American Cancer Society reported in January 2007 that physical activity protects against breast cancer and perhaps also the return of cancer after treatment.
- Improved self confidence and self esteem. You will feel healthier and look better, which in turn will make you feel better about yourself. Interestingly enough, a Harvard study found that 10 weeks of strength training reduced clinical depression symptoms more successfully than standard counseling did and that women who strength train commonly report feeling more confident and capable as a result of their program.
Based on bits and pieces of conversations I've overhead in the gym over the years, it seems there is a common misconception about women and strength training that I would like to clear up right now. Unless you are a genetic freak, you will NOT get big muscles from weight training. Women do not have enough testosterone in their system to promote huge muscle growth without taking steroids. (I know because I've been trying to gain size for years!) What you will get is nice muscle tone and definition that makes you look fit and healthy. Just make sure you work all muscle groups to avoid visual (as well as muscular and postural) imbalances.
Information to prepare this article was obtained from the following sources. For additional information on this topic, please see: The New England Wellness Web, About.com: Weight Training, About.com: Sports Medicine, weightlossresources, The Physician and Sportsmedicine
Nonspecific back pain (pain from an unknown cause) is one of the most common complaints treated by physicians and close to 4 out of 5 people will experience some sort of back pain at some point in their lives. This pain could be acute (sudden or severe) or chronic (re-occurs on a periodic basis). Acute pain is usually related to muscle strain caused by some specific incident and will go away completely within a few days, but chronic pain is ongoing and can therefore be quite debilitating.
I believe our sedentary lifestyle and lack of regular exercise is a major contributor to chronic back pain. This is because the core muscles associated with our lower spine and network of supporting ligaments grow weak from lack of use and then are unable to adequately protect our spinal network from trauma caused by normal daily activities. However, we can take steps to minimize our risk of falling victim to chronic back pain by strengthening these core muscles so that they can adequately protect our spine. Even if you do not currently experience lower back pain, strengthening your core muscles is good insurance against being troubled with it in the future. (Not all chronic back pain may be due to weak core muscles, so if you are currently a victim of chronic back pain please discuss this article with your physician before attempting any sort of core strengthening program.)
I myself suffered from chronic lower back pain as a teenager and through most of my twenties, and I sympathize wholeheartedly with anyone who suffers from it now. If you're fortunate enough to have never experienced it yourself, understand that one of the main reasons it's so debilitating is that there's no escape from it. It doesn't matter whether you're standing, sitting or lying down - there's no relief from the nagging ache. It hurts to move and it hurts to remain still.
In my late twenties a visit to the Back Institute opened my eyes to the possibility of permanent relief from the chronic pain. After reviewing my X-rays, the physician there explained to me that my problem was due to weak core muscles and gave me some core strengthening exercises, promising that if I did them faithfully there was no reason why I could not live pain free. The exercises worked and I still do a modified version of them to this day. They take only a few minutes a couple of times per week, but the benefits are 24/7.
So based on my personal experience I encourage all chronic back pain sufferers to take heart as there is a good chance you can finally escape the pain. (But please speak to your physician first to see if there is any reason why core strengthening exercises may not be helpful for your particular situation.)
I also encourage all women who are currently lower back pain free to incorporate core strength training into their exercise program to ensure they remain that way. And if concern about protecting yourself from possible future suffering doesn't motivate you to take protective measures now, then consider this: another key benefit to core training is a trim waist and great abs! (This link will take you to the client section of my Strength and Conditioning Coach's web site. The photos of me are now a few years old, but if you scroll down the page you will see that my abs are quite defined. I built them to this level by doing a modified version of the exercises provided by the Back Institute.)
The Core Muscles Defined
Core muscles are those which hold your body upright, maintain your balance and keep your trunk stable while your limbs are active. The core includes your abdominal, back, pelvic floor and hip muscles.
Rectus abdominus: The center abdominal muscle (6 pack area) which moves the body area between the ribcage and the pelvis.
Transversus abdominus: Lies underneath the rectus abdominus and stabilizes the trunk and maintains internal abdominal pressure.
External oblique muscles: Situated on each side of the rectus abdominus and move the trunk in the opposite direction. (That is, the right external oblique muscle turns the body to the left.)
Internal oblique muscles: Located just inside the hip bones and twist the trunk in the same direction. (They work with the opposite external oblique muscle - the left side internal oblique and the right side external oblique contract together to twist the trunk to the left.)
Erector spinae: Located inside the grooves on each side of the spinal column, for supporting the spinal column and facilitating movement.
Multifidus: Also located inside the grooves, but at the very bottom of the spine. Helps make the bottom vertebrae work more effectively and prevent/reduce degeneration of the joint structures.
These muscles are located just underneath the pelvis and provide support for the pelvic organs (bladder, intestines, uterus), as well as maintain control over bladder and anal sphincters. (Note part of these muscles can be damaged during pregnancy and childbirth, and also sometimes through c-sections or hysterectomies. Damaged pelvic muscles can also lead to pelvic organ prolapse where pelvic organs (vagina, bladder, rectum, or uterus) protrude into or outside of the vagina.)
Hips muscles are those which cause movement of the hip in six different directions - flexion (brings two body parts closer together), extension (moves two body parts further apart), lateral (towards the outside) rotation, medial (towards the centre) rotation, adduction (towards the midline of the body) and abduction (away from the midline of the body ). Involves a minimum of 17 different muscles, although some additional muscles can also be included, depending on who you're talking to.
Core Strengthening Exercises
When core muscles are weak, other muscles have to work harder to compensate. This creates imbalances and can lead to such injuries as twisted knees and pulled shoulders. So working to keep your core strong will help your whole body function more effectively and maintain your mobility as you age.
Since your core consists of several different muscle groups working together, it's important to strengthen all of them to avoid imbalances that can lead to poor posture and a bad back, the very thing we're trying to avoid. Therefore, you need to perform a variety different core exercises to ensure each muscle group is adequately worked.
A study by the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University looked at a variety of common abdominal exercises in order to determine the best ab strengthening exercises. Listed below are the top 3 for three of the four abdominal muscles.
For the Rectus Abdominis:
- Bicycle Crunch Exercise
- Captain's Chair Exercise
- Ab Crunch on an Exercise Ball
For the Obliques (both external and internal obliques):
- Captain's Chair Exercise
- Bicycle Crunch Exercise
- Reverse Crunch
For the Transversus abdominus:
The Transversus abdominus was not specifically looked at by the Biomechanics Lab research group, but here is an exercise you can use to strengthen this muscle. I don't know the official name, so let's call it the "Suck in Your Gut and Hold It" exercise.
The exercise itself is quite simple and can be done anywhere. Simply exhale fully and pull your stomach in tight, like you want your belly button to touch your spine. Hold for 30-45 seconds (continue breathing so you don't pass out, but do so lightly enough that it doesn't interfere with the exercise). Repeat this a few times.
If you'll recall, one of the functions of the Transversus abdominus is to maintain internal abdominal pressure, so the premise behind this exercise is to strengthen the muscle so it can continuously hold your stomach in to make it look as flat as possible.
Here are some good back exercises taken from bigbackpain.com that I consider both safe and effective. However, as the site points out, it is always a good idea to warm up your back first before doing any these exercises. The idea behind warming up is to lightly stretch the muscles and increase blood flow to the area you wish to work so that injury is much less likely to occur. Light stretching afterwards will help prevent your muscles from tightening up too much.
- The Bridge (Strengthens several core muscle groups): Lie flat on back and bend knees at 90-degree angle, feet flat on floor. Raise buttocks off floor, keeping abs tight. (You can activate abs by coughing - concentrate on contracting these muscles.) Shoulder to knees should be in a straight line. Hold for a count of five. Slowly lower buttocks to floor. Repeat five times.
- The Plank (Strengthening exercise for back and abdomen, as well as arms and legs): Lay on stomach, place elbows and forearms on floor. In a push-up position, balance on your toes and elbows. Keep your back and legs straight (like a plank). Hold position for 10 seconds and then relax. Repeat five to ten times. If this exercise is too difficult, balance on your knees instead of your toes.
- The Wall Squat (Strengthening exercise for back, hips and legs): Stand with your back against a wall, heels about 18 inches from the wall, feet shoulder-width apart. Slide slowly down the wall into a crouch with knees bent to about 90 degrees. If this is too difficult, bend knees to 45 degrees and gradually build up from there. Count to five and slide back up the wall. Repeat 5 times.
Kegel exercises are arguably the most well known pelvic muscle exercise, and were invented by Dr. Arnold Kegel in 1948 as a method of controlling incontinence in women following childbirth. They are simple to do and can be done anywhere.
Begin the Kegel exercises by emptying your bladder. Then tighten the pelvic floor muscles and hold for a count of 10. Relax for a count of ten and then repeat the process 10 times.
Although this sounds quite easy, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center the pelvic muscles can be difficult to identify and isolate and their web site therefore includes some tips for correctly isolating the pelvic muscles. The site also warns that over-exercising these muscles will cause muscle fatigue and could lead to leakage of urine, so don't go overboard when working this muscle group.
About.com:Physical Therapy lists some hip muscle strengthening exercises that can be done at home without any equipment.
- Leg Lift: Lie on your right side. Bend your right leg, and rest your left foot on the ground. Slowly lift top (left) leg 2 feet off the ground. Hold for five seconds, then slowly lower the leg. Repeat 5 times, then change legs.
- Hip Flexion: Stand up straight. Lift your right leg off the floor; bend it so that you create a 90-degree angle at the hip. Hold for five seconds, then slowly lower the leg. Repeat 5 times, then change legs.
- Wall Slide (Similar to Wall Squat listed above under back exercises but not dropping down as low): Stand upright with your back against a wall and feet shoulder width apart. Slowly bend your knees, sliding your back down the wall for a count of 5 until your knees are bent at a 45-degree angle (do not bend too much further than this as it will cause increased strain on your knees). Hold this position for 5 seconds. Begin straightening your knees for a count of five, sliding up the wall until you are fully upright with knees straight. Repeat 5 times.
For those of you who want to get serious about strengthening your core, my Strength and Conditioning Coach, Scott Abel, has developed a killer DVD where he personally demonstrates a number of really effective core exercises and explains how to put them together to obtain maximum results. The DVD is packed full of good information that anyone at any fitness level can make good use of; beginners simply need to tone down the intensity at first until they can properly learn the exercises and develop enough strength and stamina in their core muscles to handle a higher intensity.
Information for this article was taken from the following sites: Health Line, spineuniverse, About.com:Sports Medicine, All Spirit Fitness, Wikipedia.
Broadly speaking, any codified combat fighting system can be classified as a Martial Art. However, in today's common usage it collectively refers to the various fighting systems developed in East Asia. My personal experience is with Taekwondo, a Korean based martial art which loosely translates as "the way of the foot and fist" or "the way of kicking and punching". Taekwondo is considered a "female-friendly" martial art because it focuses more on lower body kicking than upper body punching, and women tend to be proportionately stronger in the lower half of their body.
While I was training and teaching Taekwondo (I hold a second degree Black Belt), I learned there are a great many benefits to be gained through practising martial arts. Following is a brief summary of these benefits so that you can decide whether martial arts training is something you would like to pursue for yourself and/or other family members. Though I will write specifically about Taekwondo, I do believe that most of these benefits would apply equally to any of the other popular martial arts.
Benefits of Taekwondo Training
- Functional benefits - Practicing Taekwondo is great functional training that teaches your various body parts to work together with much improved strength and efficiency. Simple tasks such as walking the dog, climbing the stairs or getting in and out of the car become much easier because your body movements are more natural and flowing.
- Improved coordination - Punching and kicking specific targets (i.e. training pads or sparring partners) greatly improves your hand-to-eye, foot-to-eye and overall body coordination so that you become much more precise in your movements both inside and outside the dojang (training room).
- Improved flexibility - Taekwondo classes typically start and end with warm up and cool down stretching to promote muscle flexibility and maximize range of motion for normal body movements. I'll never forget the day I turned to look over my shoulder before changing lanes, and suddenly realized the usual strain on my neck was gone!
- Improved focus and concentration - A key part of martial arts training is ongoing repetition done for the purpose of self improvement, so that each time you repeat a specific movement or pattern (also known as forms or katas, depending on the martial art) you strive to make it more precise than last time. This requires a person learn to really pay attention to what they're doing and not allow their mind to wander. That's one of the many reasons why martial arts training can be so beneficial for children - focus and concentration learned in the dojang translates to improved focus and concentration at school.
- Increased confidence -I personally developed an increased sense of pride and self confidence as I learned to skillfully execute specific movements and techniques which at first seemed too overwhelming to ever fully master. And I saw others do the same - it was very rewarding as an instructor to witness frustration transform to elation as my students (both children and adults) realized they were doing it right, and indeed doing it well.
- Increased self respect, as well as respect for others - While most adults coming into the club were respectful of instructors and fellow students, many children and young adults initially entered the club with a chip on their shoulder and a rather disdainful attitude towards authority. However, they quickly learned this type of behaviour was not socially acceptable within the club and so it wasn't long before they developed a more respectful attitude. Not only that, they began to hold their own heads higher as they were afforded the same respect from everyone else in return.
- Improved public speaking skills - When in charge of a large class of Taekwondo students (or a smaller group within the main class) and expected to maintain discipline and control while keeping the class moving at a reasonable pace, feeling shy or self conscious very quickly takes a back seat and soft spoken individuals learn to speak loudly and with more authority. The skills I developed by leading Taekwondo classes have carried over into my professional life as I am now much more comfortable presenting to my peers in group meetings.
- Self defense - If attacked, Taekwondo training can provide a woman (or man) with enough of an edge to make a difference should she choose to defend herself. By knowing how to throw a kick without losing her balance or a punch without breaking her thumb or wrist, at the very least she has a true choice whether to resist or submit to her attacker. (I'm not suggesting that any woman stand and fight while she still has the opportunity to run. There is no replacement for displacement - in other words, no matter how good you are, if someone twice your size and weight pins you down you're in big trouble - but a well placed solid kick or punch could slow down your attacker long enough for you to make a successful escape.)
- Community and camaraderie - The martial arts way is for more experienced practitioners to help the less experienced ones in an open and non-judgmental manner. It is recognized that while not all club members have the same physical abilities, they all share the same potential to become the best they can possibly be. This philosophy fosters a sense of community and camaraderie within the club, which adds a truly enjoyable social dimension to the training experience.
- Stronger family relationships - There were a number of families in my Taekwondo club where one or both parents trained together with their children. Some of these parents told me they believed their shared family Taekwondo experience had brought them closer as a family and as a result channels of communication were much more open. They felt more confident their children would come to them if any serious issues with school or friends were to arise.
Limitations of Taekwondo Training
- Inflexible training schedule - Taekwondo classes generally follow a standard weekly schedule, with some time slots open only to beginners, some to advanced students only, some to children, some to adults, and then the remainder to all belts and all ages. If your particular time slot doesn't work for you, too bad.
- Hit and miss instruction - A key aspect of the martial arts philosophy is that by sharing your knowledge as you move up the ranks, both you and those you work with will benefit. However, very little, if any, instruction or guidance is provided for how to effectively teach another person, so there is no guarantee the mentor (a more senior student) you work with knows how to teach, or that they will teach you correctly. (Be aware, though, that student instructors rotate regularly so that all students get an opportunity to teach, which means you will not always be working with the same person. So poor instruction during one class does not equate to poor instruction for every class.)
- Hit and miss instructors - The "learn as you go" philosophy often leaves new student instructors floundering when it comes to their "teaching personality". Some cover up their insecurity by being overly tough and are seen as "mean" by the kids, while others are so shy they are essentially ineffective. However, most students don't take long to adjust to the teaching experience and some of the younger kids turn out to be really quite good, even when coaching adults. In the end, there are really only a small handful of true bullies who revel in the power trip.
- Philosophies differ from club to club - Whether a given club operates with a traditional philosophy (the mind is trained along with the body), focuses more on patterns or more on sparring, or is primarily a fight tournament oriented club will depend on the philosophy and objectives of the Master Instructor (usually the club owner). Because not all clubs are the same, you need to make sure the philosophy of the club you join fits with your personal philosophy and expectations.
Taekwondo Training Practices and Techniques
Because training philosophies differ from Master to Master and thus from club to club, no two clubs will follow the exact same training program (unless of course they are both owned by the same person). However, most Taekwondo clubs will employ similar training practices and techniques in one form or another, with varying degrees of emphasis placed on each.
- Kicking drills - Single or combination kicking (i.e. a roundhouse kick followed by a back kick), done either on the instructor's count or on your own count while moving from one end of the training room to the other. The repetition is done to build strength and fluidity, and includes a bonus cardio benefit. Alternatively, you may kick pads held by other students to develop both precision and proper kicking technique (kicking the air is NOT the same as kicking a solid target).
- Patterns - A pattern is series of choreographed movements that incorporate the fighting stances, punches and kicks taught in class. Patterns are based on the ancient teachings and so all clubs who follow a particular style of Taekwondo will perform the same patterns. However, interpretation may be different from club to club. At competitions I have seen the same pattern performed very differently by competing clubs - some emphasize speed of movement while others slow the pattern down and focus on power and precision.
- Sparring - One on one "fighting" with other club members, which gives everyone the opportunity to practice what they've learned safely and under controlled conditions. This in no way attempts to mimic real world fight situations - sparring is governed by very strict rules of conduct whereas street fighting has no rules.
- Self defense techniques - Though not part of traditional Taekwondo training, some clubs will periodically offer practical self defense training seminars for its female members (and perhaps to recruit additional female members) that may employ principles and techniques from other martial arts.
- Board breaking - Generally not part of the regular training curriculum, board breaking is often done by the more senior ranks during testing sessions (where students are evaluated to see if they are ready to progress to their next belt level). In addition, board breaking is almost always done during demonstrations and competitions. (For the record, board breaking is more a test of mind over matter than brute strength. The human body is a surprisingly powerful weapon if you know how to use it correctly. But punching through several boards hurts no matter how strong you are, particularly if you don't connect with the boards properly or fail to punch "through" them.)
What to Look For in a Martial Arts Club
If you think martial arts training is something you might enjoy trying, you may find the following suggestions helpful.
- Ask if you can watch a class or two before you actually commit to sign up. A good club will have a comfortable seating area in front of a glass wall so that parents can watch their children train. (Be wary of clubs that do not allow you to see what's going on in the training room. I'm not saying these clubs are bad - in many cases a closed training room is merely a limitation of the facility. But it pays to be cautious, since I did hear one father's story about how he opened the door of another club's training room one night and discovered his son was simultaneously sparring two older, more advanced students who weren't being that gentle on him. Now there's not necessarily a problem with two-on-one sparring as it can be a great learning experience when it's adequately supervised. However, if I were a parent I would want to be personally supervising it myself!)
- Make sure you watch more than one class so you have an idea of what to expect as you progress through the ranks. Ask yourself if the type of training you see is something you think you would enjoy. Examine the mix of people in the training room, keeping in mind of course that the type of class you're watching will affect mix. But ask yourself if you think you would enjoy training with the type of people you see in the club.
- Talk to a few people after the class and ask them what they enjoy most about training at that particular club. You can also speak to any parents who are also watching the class. The majority will be quite willing to tell you what benefits they believe their children are getting from their Taekwondo training. (And if they have any issues with the club, they'll most likely be more than happy to let you know.)
- Ask to have the cost structure fully explained to you. Clubs might have an initiation fee that may or may not include the cost of your uniform. There is also an annual or perhaps monthly fee. Check if there are any limitations on the number or type of classes you can attend. Another consideration is protective equipment for sparring. Clubs may provide chest protectors, but you most likely will be responsible for head gear (generally mandatory) as well as forearm/shin pads (optional) should you want the added protection. There may also be a fee charged for testing sessions, which you will have to pay each time you move up in rank.
- Ask about the ranking system and how you qualify for the various belt levels. Are there restrictions on how often you can test? (The answer may give you some indication whether the club uses testing as a revenue generator or as a more traditional recognition system where a belt level can only be earned by demonstrating marked proficiency with the required material.)
- Ask about the training philosophy of the Grand Master. Is there a spiritual side to his training and how is it manifested in the training room? How much time does he focus on pattern training versus sparring? How involved is he with the more competitive side of Taekwondo and are there a lot of tournament competitors in the club? (If so, there is a possibility that this elite group of competitors are the favoured students who receive more attention than the rest of the students, but this is by no means always the case.)
- If you are considering martial arts training for your child, be cautious of starting them too young. If they are still too immature to focus on a repetitive task for any length of time, the experience could be very frustrating for them and quite harmful for their self esteem if they can't do what everybody else is doing. My club didn't normally take children under the age of seven, but if the child already had an older sibling in the club we might accept them at 5-6 years of age. The exception would be if the club you're looking at specifically caters to the younger kids by offering age restricted classes and instructors who are specially trained to work with pre-school aged children.
A Brief Overview of the More Popular Martial Arts
Some of the more popular martial arts are listed below, classified by county of origin. This is by no means an exhaustive list - China alone has hundreds of different styles.
All martial arts can be classified as either hard or soft. Hard styles, such as Karate or Taekwondo, use force to combat an opponent. Soft styles, such as Aikido or Hapkido, redirect an opponent's own force against himself.
Japanese Martial Arts
- Karate - Literally translated as "empty hand", Karate is the most popular of the Japanese martial arts. Wikipedia defines it as a "striking art" which uses punching, kicking, knee and elbow strikes, and open-handed techniques such as knife-hands (aka "karate chop"). Some styles also include grappling, locks, restraints, throws, vital point strikes and the use of weapons.
- Aikido - Translated as "the way of unifying (with) life energy" or "the way of harmonious spirit". A grappling art, the principle behind Aikido is to blend with the motion of the attacker and redirect the force of the attack using various throws and joint locks. Training is usually done with a partner where one party attacks and the other redirects.
- Jujitsu - The "art of softness" or "way of yielding". Also a grappling art which seeks to redirect an attacker's force against him using pins, locks and throws. Although the art was originally developed by the Samurai class to defeat an armed opponent without the use of weapons, some styles do include weaponry. Jujitsu is considered by some to be the father of all Japanese martial arts.
- Judo - The "way of gentleness", in reference to the indirect way an opponent's force is used against him. Judo, an Olympic sport, is best known for its competitive component, which involves throws, grappling and forced submissions through joint locks or chokes. Traditional Judo also includes strikes, thrusts and some weaponry, but for safety reasons these moves are strictly forbidden in competition.
- Kendo - Kendo, or "way of the sword", is the art of sword fighting practiced by over 6 million people worldwide. Strikes are allowed to seven target areas on the body (top of the head, left and right side of the head, both wrists, torso, and throat), which are covered by armor to protect from severe injuries. Because many attacks against these targets can result in fatality, certain body parts are off-limits to practitioners who are not senior experts.
Korean Martial Arts
- Taekwondo - "The way of the foot and fist" or "the way of kicking and punching" is South Korea's national sport and now an official Olympic sport. It is also the world's most popular sport in terms of number of practitioners. Techniques include kicks, jumps, spins, hand-strikes and blocks.
- Hapkido - "The way of coordinating energy," "the way of coordinated power" or "the way of harmony". In terms of style, Hapkido falls somewhere in the middle of hard and soft. The idea is to remain relaxed and move in the same direction of the opponent's force to throw him off balance. Movement patterns tend to be circular, which makes it easier to control an opposing force, and both footwork and body positioning are used for leverage. Joint locks and throws are used during close range fighting. Hard kicks and strikes are also employed, as are traditional weapons such as the short stick, cane, rope, nunchaku, sword and staff.
Chinese Martial Arts
- Kung Fu - Dating all the way back to the 12th Century, Kung Fu represents a number of different fighting styles that have evolved over the centuries, including the famous Shaolin Temple Kung Fu from Northern China. Some Kung Fu styles incorporate animal movements, some emphasize body fluidity and faster movements, and still others focus on hand technique and footwork. Typical Kung Fu weapons are the broadsword and the butterfly knives.
- Tai Chi - Also known as Tai Chi Chuan, translated as "supreme ultimate fist" or "boundless fist". Most people equate Tai Chi with slow, controlled movements, but many styles of Tai Chi have secondary, faster paced forms. Composed mostly of forms (solo routines), Tai Chi is practiced by many people strictly for the health benefits it offers. Balance and coordination along with muscular strength and control are key benefits of this martial art.
Brazilian Martial Arts
- Brazilian Jujitsu - Popularized by the Gracie family during the early years of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) franchise and based on techniques borrowed from Japanese Jujitsu, this art focuses primarily on grappling or ground fighting. Leverage and proper technique, including joint locks and choke holds, are utilized to successfully defend against larger, stronger opponents.
- Capoeira - Created by African slaves, Capoeira incorporates martial arts, music and dance. Fight-dances would take place inside a circle of spectators, while other members of the group played instruments and sang. Some forms of Capoeira still follow this traditional setting. Capoeira is primarily based around kicking, as a slave's hands were normally manacled. Head butts, elbow strikes and sweeps are also key components.
For more information on these or any other martial art, www.martial-arts-info.com and www.typesofmartialarts.com are two interesting sources.
Have you looked into the Pilates programs offered in your area? From infomercials to Hollywood celebrities, Pilates is getting a well known name as a global phenomenon. With the focus on strengthening your core, aligning your posture and increasing your flexibility, there isn't much left to be desired from a fitness regime. Best known for providing long lean muscles and increasing muscular strength, Pilates can calm your mind, allowing you to focus and gain control in other areas of your life.
After practicing and teaching Pilates for a number of years, my business partner Leslie Brown and I have motivated and witnessed many clients in transforming their bodies and outlook on every day life. While we are aware of the popularity and reputation that Pilates is being recognized for, we believe in staying true to the fundamental principles and deep centering that comes from this practice. Many clients enquire as to the difference between Pilates and Yoga and while they are both very gentle, Pilates builds inner body strength within and is a continuous flow of movement; like a dance.
Pilates is a toning and alignment technique created by Joseph H. Pilates (1880-1967). It is an approach to fitness that is for everyone and anyone looking to change their lives to feel better. It offers a solution to those with restricted mobility and to elite athletes. It is motivating for both men and women and is not judgemental to their current physical abilities.
Our best tips when visiting your local Pilates studio:
- Make sure your instructor is certified by a reputable fitness organization.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions throughout your session, the deep focus on centering and breathing required can leave you feeling overwhelmed.
- Wear clothing that is comfortable and easy to move in.
- No shoes required; socks or bare feet are all you need.
- Check to confirm that mats are provided.
After your session you will leave feeling taller and stronger with a better appreciation and awareness of your body. Be mindful of quality over quanity and remember that Pilates is a journey not a quick fix.
Always exercise in a safe and responsible manner. Please be aware that as with most physical activities, there is always a risk of injury associated with weight training and other exercise programs. While I have made every effort to describe how to perform the exercises outlined on this site in a safe manner, note that every body is different and so not all exercises can or should be peformed by all people. Therefore, if you feel pain or discomfort when attempting any of the exercises described on this site, please stop immediately.
It is always important to consult your physician before starting any exercise program, especially if you have been sedentary for an extended period of time. This is particularly true if any of the following apply to your current medical condition:
- chest pain or pain in the neck and/or arm
- shortness of breath
- a diagnosed heart condition
- joint and/or bone problems
- currently taking cardiac and/or blood pressure medications
- have not previously been physically active
|In addition, if you have any chronic medical conditions (such as diabetes or arthritis) or risk factors (such as smoking or being more than 20 pounds overweight), and have not discussed exercising with your doctor, you should do so before beginning. Exercise is often an important part of the treatment for such conditions, but you may have some limitations or special needs that your doctor can tell you about.
If none of these apply to you, start gradually and sensibly. However, if you feel any of the physical symptoms listed above when you start your exercise program, contact your physician right away.
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