What don’t gyms want you to know?

There are a lot of things that gyms don’t want you to know, but probably the most important one is that they are unnecessary.
Gyms don’t want you to know that you can get the same benefits working out at home as you can at the gym.  You don’t have to pay a membership, you don’t have to drive there during rush hour, and you don’t have to dress in a germy, crowded locker room.
Your body’s basic exercise movements are: push, pull, rotate, squat, and lunge.  There are exercises that you can do without machines in the comfort of your own home, the park, or even your office that can cover all these bases.
In fact, you are better able to develop core stiffness without the use of gym machines, since using machines doesn’t recruit your core muscles while doing cardio exercises.  When you’re doing free, functional exercise, your body’s natural balancing mechanisms kick in and get stronger, and that builds core strength.  Just plain old walking is superior to machines–even ellipticals can increase lower back pain.
Thousands of people get sick or injured at the gym every year.  You don’t have to pay for the privilege.  You can get all the exercise you need at home.

Bored exercising? Try this!

Jumping rope is great exercise.  It has some unique benefits.  You can do it whether or not you have a jump rope, or you can make a jump rope for yourself pretty easily.  One reason I like to jump rope is that the way you hold your hands while jumping rope tends to open up your chest and shoulders.  Many people have rounded shoulders from looking down at computers and other devices.  This posture can lead to many painful problems, but jumping rope makes you hold your shoulders back and chest open, encouraging good posture.
Jumping can help strengthen your bones, and doing it without shoes on can strengthen the arch of your foot, and enhance the mobility and stability of your ankles.  Jumping rope can also strengthen your core and improve your sense of balance.  It’s a great addition to a circuit of exercises–jumping rope for 30 seconds to 2 minutes in between strength exercises is a great way to maintain your heart rate and break up monotony.

Staying healthy at the gym

I was recently asked how to avoid germs at the gym. When I go to the gym, I make sure to carry a small, pocket-sized spray bottle of natural sanitizer. I make sure that I use natural sanitizers without toxic chemicals. I spray it on my hands or the equipment every so often.

One way that I avoid germs is to avoid using machines. I focus on bodyweight and freeweight exercises mostly for fitness reasons–these exercises promote stability and muscle balance–but another reason to go with them is because even if there is some equipment involved (weights, bands), there’s much less contact with it than with a machine exercise.

Never use the water fountain at the gym, always bring your own water to drink. If you use a treadmill, don’t hold on to the bar. If you see someone cough or sneeze, walk away while holding your breath so that you don’t breathe in the germs. Whatever clothing you wore at the gym, you want to change out of it as soon as possible and get into clean clothes.

The gym is a germy place. It’s easy to protect yourself, but you have to be consistent and protect yourself.

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Feel Better When You Get There

Thruway rest stops, airport bars, fast food–for some people, these are guilty pleasures of the road. If you’re traveling a long way for the holidays, make sure you don’t succumb to those temptations. If you plan ahead and eat well on the way, you’ll feel much better when you get there and have a better time with your friends and family.

If you’re flying, I’m assuming you bought your ticket weeks or even months ahead of time, so that should give you plenty of time to pack a lunch. I am a real stickler for clean, raw food. I also eat organic whenever possible. When I’m traveling, I make sure to pack raw food energy bars, and that’s mostly what I eat when I’m in transit–on the plane, at the airport, whatever.

The food that’s served on planes and in airports is almost always loaded with preservatives, salt, and additives. It’s also often high in fat and sugar, but I’m mostly concerned with the quality of food more than its specific macronutrient profile. Sugar is okay if you’re getting it from organic fruit, fat is fine if you’re getting it from extra-virgin olive oil, but at an airport you’re pretty much stuck with burgers, wings, fried odds and ends, and melted cheese on bread in one form or another. If you must, must eat something from an airport restaurant, get a salad with a simple oil and vinegar dressing. Your body will thank you later.

If you’re driving to your destination, pack a cooler with healthy food, along with fruit, nuts, and filtered water to keep your energy up on the road. Do not eat junk food at highway rest stops. Sometimes if you’re lucky you can get a salad or a yogurt parfait, but you really can’t be sure what has been added to that food to make it shelf stable. If you have to, you should go that route, but ideally you should eat healthy food from home whose ingredients you recognize.

When I arrive at my destination, I find the closest grocery store–preferably a Whole Foods or other natural food store, and stock up from there. You will enjoy your trip more if you actually feel good and have the energy to do the things you want to do.

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Running Mistakes

I was recently asked what are the best ways to avoid injury while running.  Those of you who are more familiar with my training philosophy will know that my stock answer to that is: don’t run.  Runners injure themselves at a higher rate than any other athletes, with some estimates ranging up to 90% of runners experiencing injury in a given year.

But what if you love to run?  What if that’s why you get out of bed in the morning?  Well, physical activity is a good thing, and if running is what you’re motivated to do, I won’t stop you.  Meanwhile, here are some tips on how to keep from getting hurt while you do it!

Some common mistakes runners make: not taking the time to run backwards or sideways.  Running backwards and sideways for short periods during your run will help you develop balance and overall muscle coordination.

Another mistake: using strength training machines like leg extensions, leg curls, and calf raises.  These isolate muscles and don’t allow them to work in concert with each other.

Don’t run with overly cushioned sneakers or sneakers with too narrow a toe box.  Sneaker manufacturers are now creating sneakers with a “zero drop” heel so that the heel and toe box are the same height.  Buying shoes with a high heel relative to the toe box  will add to the risk of injuries to your toes.  In fact, barefoot running is very beneficial for your overall health and running.

Don’t stretch muscles that aren’t tight; get a functional movement screen to determine what needs stretching and what needs strengthening.

Here’s some more advice that applies to everyone, not just runners: eat organic food as much as possible and drink as many ounces of water as half your body weight in pounds.  Get eight hours of quality sleep, eat chia seeds and other sources of Omega 3, 6, and 9 to reduce inflammation.  Running can create up to ten times your weight in impact force on your joints, where walking only creates about double your weight–keep that in mind.

So, if you feel the need to run, go ahead, but for goodness’ sake take care of yourself!

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Winter Workouts

The best ways to stay active in winter are ways that incorporate fun. Many people opt for indoor exercise during the winter–gym workouts, mall walking, etc. But I think it’s extra important to get outside and take advantage of the opportunities we have to enjoy what little sunlight there is and breathe in fresh air.

One of the most obvious and convenient outdoor winter workouts is shoveling snow. Don’t treat it as drudgery–put in some headphones, get a rhythm, and pay close attention to your posture. It’s a great workout, but it’s also very easy to hurt yourself if you don’t make sure to have stable footing and lift with your legs as much as possible. You work your core, arms, and legs, and if you get into it enough, it’s also a great cardiovascular workout.

Another great exercise in the snow is building snowmen! This activity requires you to bear crawl while pushing a progressively heavier ball around, and then lift and place the ball. It’s such a great full-body workout that I almost want to find a way to simulate it for my clients!

If you dress well, you can also do regular outdoor exercise like walking. Make sure you keep your extremities warm but let your core body breathe a little bit–go heavy on hat/headband and gloves and lighter on jacket and pants. You’ll be much less miserable that way.

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Fitness Trends

I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go in 20 years as a fitness pro. Our knowledge of fitness and the human body is constantly evolving, and one trend that I am glad to see go is the use of machines in athletic training. We now know that machines like ellipticals don’t mimic real life movements, and therefore aren’t as safe or effective as natural mody movement exercises. Shoulder, knee, and back problems are epidemic, and we want people to cultivate good posture and mindful movement whenever possible.

One trend that I’m glad to see starting is “primal movements.” For instance, bear crawling on the floor recruits all your major muscles from your fingers to your toes. Another trend I’m excited about is whole-body health. What I mean by that is incorporating sleep, meditation, and alternative modalities into the fitness plan, and not just exercise and nutrition.

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Support your exercise with these tips!

I was recently asked my best tips for staying in shape besides exercise and nutrition. Obviously, exercise and nutrition are very important, and it would be hard to call yourself “fit” if you didn’t put in work in both categories. However, there are other things you can do that support your efforts and keep you happy and healthy.

First, my number one tip is to get plenty of sleep and “working in”. By working in, I mean meditation, tai chi, or whatever you do to re-charge. These will help you get more results out of your workout, and they’ll also help you maintain the discipline needed to keep up your routine.

Second, it’s to find ways to support healthy movement and posture. In that area, the best change you can make is to get a standing desk, and to use it without shoes on. Sitting all day is not good for you, and these days many employers will fund or at least subsidize the switch to a standing desk. Standing with no shoes on activates the 26 muscles and 33 joints in your feet, which gives you better balance and posture. This will help you prevent pain and injury, and it burns more calories.
The next best thing would be to sit on an exercise ball. That will keep your core active while you are sitting down. You’ll burn more calories and help your posture that way.

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Bulk up or tone down?

As a fitness pro with over 20 years in the business, I have noticed more women wanting to get “strong,” as opposed to strictly having a weight-loss goal. I think there’s been increased visibility of muscular women in popular culture–people frequently cited Michelle Obama’s “guns” as attractive. There’s also an increased awareness that being muscular is healthy, and that adding muscle won’t cause you to “bulk up” unless you follow very specific (and potentially unhealthy) nutritional and exercise plans. Rather than bulky, most people who build muscle through resistance exercise become more “toned” looking.

The best way to put on more muscle is to use resistance exercise. I tend to favor body weight exercises such as TRX bands, push ups, pull ups, etc. The best way to make sure you get the results you want is to work with a pro who can monitor your form and technique and push you a little farther out of your comfort zone while making sure that you don’t hurt yourself.

Stretching Strategies

 

I have over twenty years of experience in fitness, and my opinion is that you should only stretch muscles that are too tight, shortened from too much flexion, or otherwise imbalanced.

You should get a functional movement assessment from a fitness professional to determine which muscles are short and tight. Those muscles are the ones you should stretch before and after exercise. You can stretch them every day, and once a day is enough. Hold your stretches for 10 to 20 seconds.

When you stretch, you allow your joints to move in orthopedic ranges of motion. It’s important to increase your range of motion and be flexible because you are constantly needing to “load and explode” muscles in different positions. Just getting out of a chair or sofa can be hard if you have tight legs. If you are an athlete, it’s even more important to be flexible. For example, if you’re a golfer and you have tight shoulders and hips, you’ll never have an efficient backswing.

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